Monday, April 13, 2020

Historically-Based Weapon Dimensions


Toward the end of this post you will find a statistical comparison between some modern and some museum rapiers to see if the weapons which are being constructed and used stand up comparatively to those which were actually used during the period. This involved a bit of research, a bit of number crunching, and is really only a preliminary analysis as compared to what could have been done. It is not really the point of this post.

I tend to use a slightly heavier weapon than is usually used by most people. It is weighted more toward the hand, and so the point of balance (PoB) is somewhat closer to the hilt. This is the way that I like my swords to be weighted and balanced. I am not alone in this feeling, but there are others who do not feel this way. They want lighter weapons with a different PoB because they want the weapon to be quicker. This is where I ask the question about the similarity of the weapon they are using to the historical sources that they are using... blank stares.

Is it necessary to consider the importance of the dimensions of the weapon that you are using in comparison to the treatise that you are studying? Is it important? This is the question that should be being asked when a sword is being selected, at least once you are comfortable with the using a sword and you are looking more deeply into the treatises. Some of the authors even give recommendations as to the dimensions of the weapons that should be used, and people using the texts should follow them. It makes a difference.

The actions which are presented in treatises are dependent on the weapon which is being used, and the weapon it is being used against. This affects the way the weapons will act, and act against one another. If the weapons are not of similar statistical construction to those of the period (within a tolerance), it makes it difficult to recreate the text. In an extreme example, one would not use a foil in an attempt to recreate a longsword text, nor would one use a longsword to recreate a foil text. The weapons simply do not act properly against one another, or against weapons of the appropriate kind.

Should a person then go to the extreme of having a weapon for each text that they are studying? Not quite that far, you could, but it could get quite expensive if you want to expand your knowledge and learn from quite a few. The first weapon should be one of comfort, a weapon that you are comfortable with and suits you, this coincidentally may suit one of the treatises, this tends to be the way. It may even suit several, as many texts are of a similar make and design in their aim and teaching. Only when you move to something which is quite different should a new weapon should be sought.

Below, as indicated in the beginning, is a statistical comparison between five commercially available rapiers and five museum examples taken from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The purpose of these examples is to give a brief overall sort of "broad brush" examination of to see how the modern examples match to historical examples. What must be noted is that this is one selection of weapons, in both cases. A different selection, in both cases, could lead to different results.

Commercial Weapon Statistics

The statistics which appear below are the ones for weapons which are available online. Hence, this is only a very small selection of the weapons which are available. There are weapons from three different manufacturers to broaden the scope of possibilities and to broaden the statistics available. These weapons were selected because they gave the information that was purposeful for this discussion and because they were weapons which are used for the recreation of Renaissance use of the rapier. These statistics will be used as a relatively representative example of the weapons commercially available "off the shelf" i.e. with no customisation.

Hanwei SH1098 43" blade Practical Rapier
Blade length: 110cm, Overall: 124cm, Weight: 1160g

Hanwei Wood Grip rapier
Blade length: 93cm, Overall: 113cm, Weigh: 930g

Hanwei Practical Cup Hilt
Blade length: 94cm, Overall: 113cm, Weight: 907g

Castille Economy Rapier
Blade length: 102cm, Overall: 113cm, Weight: 816g

Regenyei "Standard" guard rapier
Blade length: 105cm, Overall: 122cm, Weight: 970g


The Average of the weapons placed above worked out by adding the various statistics up and dividing by the number of weapons present is as follows:

Blade length: 100.8cm, Overall: 117cm, Weight: 956.6

This weapon is truly an average of the weapons present in this comparison and demonstrates a direction in this collection to weapons which are under one kilogram in weight. These statistics need to be compared to a selection of historical weapons for comparison.

Museum Pieces

The historical pieces below have been selected from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have been selected on the basis of statistical data available and also form of weapon applicable to the current research. This narrows the information which is collected, this is true. However, broadening the sample will only result in an increase in data which will result in confusion as the form of the weapon becomes in doubt. The other element is that not all of the pieces have the same data collected and same data available was an important factor.

Rapier ca. 1600
Blade Length: 112.2cm Overall: 127cm, Weight: 1162g

Rapier ca.1610-20
Blade Length: 105.4cm, Overall: 122.2cm, Weight: 1530.9g

Rapier (hilt ca.1630-40, blade 17th century)
Blade Length: 95.9cm, Overall: 111.4cm, Weight: 567g

Rapier ca.1610-20
Blade Length: 104.1cm, Overall: 120.2cm, Weight: 1275.7g

Rapier early 17th century
Blade Length: 105.4cm, Overall: 121cm, Weight: 794g


The Average of the weapons placed above worked out by adding the various statistics up and dividing by the number of weapons present is as follows:

Blade length: 104.6cm, Overall: 120.36cm, Weight: 1065.92

This weapon is the average of the weapons which have been presented. There are a couple of examples which are significantly below one kilogram, but there are also examples which are also quite a bit above one kilogram so this average weight is not surprising.


Modern Average: Blade length: 100.8cm, Overall: 117cm, Weight: 956.6
Museum Average: Blade length: 104.6cm, Overall: 120.36cm, Weight: 1065.92

When the Modern and Museum Averages are placed side by side. In this small sample there is not much of a difference in any of the areas noted. What will be noted is that the weapons which were selected from the Metropolitan Museum were all of a later period design, rather than an earlier period, and this would most likely change the statistics. Consideration should be made for always comparing the weapons which are being used against the weapons that were used for an accurate representation of what is being practiced.

Historically-based weapon dimensions are something that should always be a consideration for the historical fencer. These dimensions can be explicitly laid out by the author of a treatise, or they can be found in historical examples in museum collections. These dimensions can make a significant difference in deciding whether or not a particular technique will work or not. While it is not necessary to have a weapon for each treatise that is studied, it is important that consideration is made for the weapon which is appropriate to the study of that treatise.