Sep 042012

Weapons Used During the Renaissance

Different types of rapiers

Collection of early modern swords (17th to 18th centuries) at the George F. Harding Collection of Arms and Armor, The Art Institute of Chicago. Posted by Claire H via wikipedia

One thing I have always enjoyed about going to the different renaissance faires, was that you always got too see the weapons the vendors had. You could hold swords, maces, daggers, shields, and a few other odds and ends. When you picked them up you had a mental image that connected you to the past. I have heard of some people stepping out of their life and imagining themselves in another life. Some of the most common weapons you would see are the sword and dagger. Firearms were just making it onto the scene, but they were not very accurate. I should also note that most of the pistols you see at a faire, were not around at that time period. The most common type you will notice is the Flintlock, the correct version would be a Wheellock or Matchlock, but they cost a little bit more. I should also note that you will see all kind of non-renaissance weapons as well. I have seen katanas, various steam punk items, down to lightsabers, and stormtroopers running around in kilts.


Swords are one of the most commonly seen weapons during renaissance faires. One this I was amazed at is there are actually so many different types they deserve their own pages. So I will try to give a brief introduction of a few of the swords that could be seen during the renaissance.

  • Rapier
  • A popular dueling weapon that was used in the 16th and 17th century. This can be both a stab/thrust styled weapon and a cut/slash styled weapon. If you see people walking around a renaissance faire with a sword on thier side, the rapier is likely the sword they are using. When I think of rapiers I always see the fancy hilts they have, which are used to protect the hand while dueling

  • Cut and Thrust Swords
  • This type of sword is similar to the rapier, except it has a heaver blade. If you tried to put this in the timeline it is easiest to see this sword as the bridge between the lighter rapier and the heaver sword you would imagine a knight using. Another interesting note is that you can also see a dull spot right over the guard that the wielder can use for extra leverage during combat. When you look at the larger swords (like two handed sword or great sword) you will see this dull spot s well.

  • The Back Sword
  • This is a sword that was worn on the backs of cavalry and infantry. The back sword is a cut and thrust styled sword with only 1 side sharpened.An easy sword to get an image of this type of sword is the katana that came out of the orient or the sword you would see an officer using in the Calvary.

  • The Small Sword
  • This sword came to prevalence in the 1700’s. It is sometimes called the court sword or walking sword. The primary use for this sword was self defense. Rarely the edges would be sharpened and it would mainly be a rigid shaft with a point on the end. This sword was the precursor to the modern epee and foil. Basically this was on oversized ice pick. It was made to get your point across in an argument.


Daggers are another commonly seen weapon at renaissance festivals. In my opinion the dagger are also the most useful weapon. Aside from the protective use, daggers can also be used for eating, and other general cutting. So what is a dagger? A dagger is basically a miniature sword. Some daggers have just a sharpened point like the stiletto, while other may have one or both sides sharpened, like the rondel. There are also many different places to hide a dagger, you can have one attached to your belt, hidden inside your belt, in your boot, up your sleeve, and plenty of other placed. Daggers were great at up close and personal fighting and used for self defense.
If you are going to wear one as part of your renaissance outfit, you might want to check with the faire you are visiting and see if it needs to be peace-tied. I should also not that a dagger is a good way to spice up your outfit. You can go with a simple belt knife to one with a fancy hilt or all the way to a bandoleer full of throwing daggers.


When I think of axes I almost always think of dwarves. I guess growing up with Dungeons and Dragons as well as novels like Lord of the Rings, re-enforces that idea. On the battle field, axes were used as a hacking tool. They would be used to take limbs off, just like in the woods a person would take a tree down. One thing I have notice while doing some historical research is that most axes where only single headed, the only 2 headed ax I have came across was the Labrys, which was used by the Greeks. Most of the axes would have a different tool on the other side. The tomahawk had a blunt tool for smashing, the bardiche did not have anything opposite the blade, and the halberd had a hook which would be used to pull someone off a horse.

Battle Axe

Battle Axe, with an ax blade on one side and a pointed end on the other


The mace is essentially the bigger brother of the club. They are generally a shaft of wood or metal with some sort of weighted head on it. When maces were used in combat, it was primarily a bashing weapon. Sometime over the course of the maces history, flanges were added. This allowed the wielder to put a lot of force into a smaller area and increase the damage done. Eventually the mace evolved to have spikes. This became known as the morning star.
Another interesting evolution of the mace is that it took on a ceremonial role. Funny thing is when you look at what a mace is and what a scepter looks like it makes you wonder.


Easiest way to imagine this is to think of Thor’s hammer. Mjolnir. This weapson basically looks like an oversize hammer with a blunt end on one side for smashing and sometimes a pointed end on the other side to piercing. If you are looking to do a viking orientated outfit using a war hammer would be a nice touch. If you are also planning on dressing up ans some sort of smith or other craftsman, you would most likely have a hammer of some sort.


The staff makes me think of Little John, Friar Tuck, and Daffy Duck (loved that episode). Basically it was a shaft of wood that could be used to assist in walking or carrying stuff over ones shoulder. Staves are good to decorate. You can do something like the staff Gandalf had with the crystal on top, or go with a plain shepherds staff. As a weapon staves could be used to bash an opponent, or keep someone at a length.

Pole Arms

These are not seen to often seen at faires except for some of the cast. You might see one if there is a royal guard there. Pole arms are close in weapons, that have been put on a pole. This allows a greater range for the weapon and can sometimes re-purpose the weapon. An example is you take the war hammer and place the head on a pole it is then called a Bec de Corbin. Some pole arms, such as the pike, were very long (15 feet or more) and then there are others that would be very short, such as the bardiche (about 5 feet long)


Behind swords and daggers, this is the most popular weapon you will see at a faire. This is also where you see the biggest historical error. Most people will have a flintlock pistol. The flintlock did not come into use to around 1660. The correct version of the pistol would be, more than likely, the wheel-lock or matchlock pistol. Personally I feel adding a firearm to your costume gives a hint of looking like a pirate.

I have to admit the hand mortar would make an excellent addition to anyone’s costume. Back in the 1590’s this would have been perfect to clear the line to the turkey leg stand.

Bows and Crossbows

Bows and crossbows are another rarely seen, but often though of weapon to see during a faire. While the English Long Bow would add a nice touch to your outfit, carrying one around would soon become a pain. In medieval time, the bow and crossbow was the artillery of the day, Though the bow did fall out of use completely in about 1642. One of the reasons given is that it took years to train someone to use a bow with proficiency, whereas a firearm would only take days. I think the story of Jack Churchill deserves a mention. Basically this guy, went to battle in World War II armed with a Scottish Broad Sword and a Long Bow. Come to think of it he was probably the last person to enter battle using medieval weapons.

Fighting Jack Churchill

Jack Churchill (far right) leads a with a sword in hand,

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.