Swords & Rapiers: A Singular Moment

Re. That Gideon question, were long swords and rapiers used concurrently in real life?

Yes, with a few minor caveats. The Rapier dates to the 16th and 17th century. By that point in history, the longsword was in the process of being replaced by the sabre as a military sidearm, but they still existed and saw use. This also puts the rapier in the same timeframe as the two handed swords (like the Zweihander and claymore.)

The tricky part about this is that the rapier was never a military weapon. Some did see battlefield use, but the rapier was designed as a civilian defense and dueling blade. The lighter weight even made rapiers attractive as fashion pieces for a few decades. In the 16th and 17th century, if you were part of the up and coming middle class, it was fashionable to carry a rapier as a sign of wealth.

In that sense, there is a reasonable attitude of someone with military training in the 17th century looking down on the rapier. It’s an incredibly lethal weapon in trained hands, but most of the people carrying them wouldn’t know how to use them effectively, and that could certainly reflect on an individual’s attitudes for the weapon as a whole.

If you’re a military veteran with decades of experience campaigning on the frontiers of the empire, who came home to see all those pretty boys and stuffed shirts flourishing ineffectively with “French needles,” you could easily think that the sword was as useless as it’s wielders.

The civilian applications of the rapier meant it stuck around after it was no longer viable on the battlefield. The 16th and 17th centuries are the tipping point for European gunpowder infantry. So, while the rapier continued as a fashion piece, soldiers were moving to muskets as their primary weapons, while their sabres were restricted to situational use, and (for officers) emphasizing orders.

I’m unsure on exactly when the longsword fell completely out of use. The problem is, longswords, sabres and greatswords moved into more ceremonial roles over time. Sabres are still used ceremonially today (technically, so are longswords), but the easiest one to track are the greatswords. Because they were a primary weapon (and not a sidearm), these only saw battlefield use for a few decades in the 16th century (I think it was ~1500-1550, but I could be off by a few decades.) So, we’re talking about a very specific moment in history there.

It’s also worth remembering that the term, “longsword,” encompasses over two dozen different major varieties of blades (ironically, this includes the greatswords, which is why I keep bringing them up), dating back to the 8th or 9th century, so while there were longswords that were contemporary with the rapier, some had fallen out of use centuries earlier, while others were relatively recent developments.

So, were they contemporary? Yeah, kinda. There were other swords that were contemporary with the rapier, but is one of the last iterations of the sword.

-Starke

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