As the Middle Ages drew to a close, firearms, such as the matchlock, became more common. Other weapons evolved as well. Consequently, the Knightly suit of armor began to fade into obscurity and so did the weapons meant to combat the armor, such as the mace and war hammer. The need was for a faster, lighter tool. Enter the rapier.
The term “rapier” is believed to have come from the Spanish espada ropera or “sword of the robes.” In other words, it was a dress sword more common among the civilians. Were they truly “faster and lighter”? Yes, in comparison to swords of that time. However, rapiers were far from the sleek, elegant-looking blades depicted in modern times. In fact, they resembled the medieval swords that preceded them, with a long and narrow body, a blade over an inch thick, and a hilt with a heavy quillon.
Before the Renaissance, the rapier was exclusive to the elite but the weapon soon gained popularity among the masses, especially the merchant class. It was a self-defense tool and a status symbol. However, the rapier did not win over the military ranks; its effectiveness in the battlefield was questioned. Armor, though outdated, was still worn, and soldiers preferred a heavier tool to wield.Over time, the rapier’s hilt and blade became lighter and shorter, respectively, as swordplay necessitated the lightest and most effective weapon possible. The result was the “small sword” which consigned the rapier to history in the 18th century.