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Side Sword: The Predecessor of the Rapier Sword

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: October 30, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The Side sword is the direct predecessor of the long and thin Rapier and the successor of the Knightly sword. It is known chiefly as Sada da Lato (Italian) or Espada Ropera (Spanish) and was widely used in the medieval and Renaissance periods.

This article will discuss the unique characteristics of the Side sword and how it was used. You will also find out its uses and if it is any good today. Then we will explain its history and terminology as well as how it differs from other types of swords.

Characteristics of the Side Sword

Side Sword with Details

Looking at the Side sword, you will notice traces from the medieval Arming sword and the Renaissance Rapier. That is because this sword was the bridge between them.

Blade

European’s Side sword has a double-edged straight blade and a pointy edge. Whether Spanish or Italian, both swords share this characteristic. It is made of steel and can be used for slashing and thrusting strikes.

The blade’s overall length is 27.5 to 33 inches (70 to 85 cm). This makes it a perfect length for both close-range and long-range melee fighting scenarios. 

The blade width is around 0.8 inches (2 cm) at the neck (on top of the guard) and continues to get narrower toward the end. It has a ricasso (a part of the blade next to the guard which isn’t sharpened) for better and safer usage.

Guard

The guard of the Side sword can be of many shapes and sizes. This is because it gradually changed from the whole cruciform style to be an eye-catcher. It is why you can see lively shapes like circles, S forms, and so on.

The most typical guard has a padded outline. It simply looks like the outline of a padded guard but with metal on the outside. Sometimes this metal can extend all the way across the handle and even to the pommel.

This guard can offer much better grip and blade control as the user can actually place his fingers on it to attack with greater speed and agility.

Although very unique and good-looking, this guard can offer a defense mainly from slashing strikes. When defending against a thrust, the incoming blade can slip through them and injure the hands and fingers of the wielder.

Handle

The handle of the Side sword is usually made of wood and wrapped with leather, which is threaded and peened. It is very short and narrow, making this weapon mainly a one-handed sword.

The handle is usually around 4 inches (10 cm) long and offers a firm grip and balance. The metals will often extend from the guard, allowing for more protection and a better overall grasp of the handle.

You may find finger rings on the handle of the Side sword, which means the sword is likely used for fencing.

Pommel

Side Sword Guard
The various guard shapes that a Side Sword can have

The most typical characteristic of the Side sword’s pommel is that it is wider than the actual handle. It can be round, square, onion-shaped, or sometimes spiked. It is made this way to offer a better overall feel in the user’s hand.

It can be used in a battle to bash or, if held with the other hand, it can be used as a two-handed weapon for slashing or stabbing.

Scabbard

The side sword’s scabbard is made of thick leather but can also be made from wood. It is better to have a leather scabbard when carried on the user’s belt, so it is easier to sheath and unsheathe it.

The scabbard doesn’t usually touch the handle or the guard. Instead, it finishes, or starts, at the ricasso – the part which is not sharp on the beginning of the blade. 

Weight

The Side sword is light. Its overall weight is around 31.7 oz (900 grams). This makes it a very light weapon and an excellent striking tool in battle and fencing.

The point of balance is just next to the ricasso, which is on the blade on top of the guard. This makes it feel very good in your hand, and you can hold it pointed in the enemy’s direction without breaking a sweat.

Length & Size

The total length of the Side sword can vary from 31.5 to 39.3 inches (80 to 100 cm). It is the ideal length for use in fencing and in battle alike. This size enables you to use it with one or both hands.

Usage of the Side Sword

Side Sword winning a duel
The Side Sword winning a 1v1 duel versus a Rapier [Source]

The Side sword is amazing to use. It is light and has a very close point of balance. It is also remarkable and very quick, just like a Rapier, giving it an overall fantastic feel when in use.

You can do various strikes with it, whether slashing from the sides or thrusting down or up. It is perfectly sized, and when combined with the guard and handle, it will provide a very good feel and balance.

Fencing & Martial Arts

The Side sword is also a weapon that was used in fencing. Although it didn’t come close to the later rapier version, it was still a very common sword used for fighting in 1v1 duels. 

That is the case today too. If some sword users don’t like the thin and long rapier-like blades, they might prefer the Side sword as a dueling choice. There are many sword schools that teach the Side sword in Italy and Spain.

Some would even say the Side sword is a better fencing tool because it can be used for slashing too!

Is it a Good Beginner Sword?

The Side sword is excellent as a beginner’s sword.

If you are thinking of choosing a fencing/fighting historical sword that can be used for dueling but isn’t like the light and long Rapier, this is the sword for you.

The Side sword is light and offers a firm grip. It is beautiful, and its overall feel, when you strike, will make you feel like a sword dueling expert. You can even practice with it at home by throwing ping-pong balls into the air and slashing them.

History of the Side Sword

History of the Side Sword
A 16th-century soldier with the Side Sword

The Side sword, which is sometimes called Spada da lato in Italian, was a popular type of sword in the 1500s. It is indeed a continuation of the knight’s sword in the middle ages, often called Arming or Knightly. 

It is also an early version of the Rapier used during the renaissance and later on. The Dardi school of Italian fencing taught how to use it, which affected the very popular and traditional Italian rapier fencing commonly seen in the 17th century and later.

It is believed that these types of Side swords were created in response to the many fights between civilians or soldiers, which injured the hands when using the Arming swords. This resulted in a slicker sword that was lighter and with a bigger guard.

The Side sword was used by civilians and the army, both with bucklers or without. It is called a Side sword because it would have been kept on the scabbard or the sides. Yet, at this point in history, it was mostly used as a regular, one-handed weapon.

Terminology

In reality, the terms Side sword and Arming sword were invented by modern historical fencers. The terms have more to do with the time period than with the shape of the sword or how it is used.

You can do anything with an Arming sword that you can do with a Side sword, and vice versa. The terminology did not differ at that time.

Even though Spada da lato, which directly translates into a sword of the side, is a period term. Fencing masters at the time almost always say ‘sword’ or Spada, as they had for centuries before. 

Sometimes it’s unclear what the physical difference is between them, which leads to the question if they are the same swords.

Are Side Swords and Arming Swords the Same?

Side Sword in Comparioson rotated
A type of Arming / Side Sword

Not really. Although some could say they look alike, they are different in some ways.

The Side sword came from the shape and appearance of the Arming sword, and some would say that it even evolved in response to the current battle usages of the Late Medieval Renaissance Era.

Origins

Arming swords can be any type of sword that had some sort of crucifix guard and were the result of the influence of the Viking swords in Europe. With time, bigger types of swords, like the longsword and broadsword, started appearing, and eventually, the Arming sword was also just called a Side sword.

However, the Side sword or the Espada came about in the late 1400 hundreds, possibly around 1480. 

Appearance

Side Sword
A normal-looking Side Sword

The Arming sword looks like a proper medieval sword. It has a wider double-edged blade that gets narrower and ends with a tip. The guard extends on the right and left to form a crucifix.

By contrast, the Side sword has a more renaissance appearance with a bit of medieval in the mix. The guard is rounded and shaped in various forms and usually has a knuckle blow. It can have long straight guards but often has rounded and closed metal lines around it.

Also, the blade of the Side sword is tighter and narrows down more towards the end, resulting in much faster-paced combat, much like the 15/16th-century sword combat.

Combat

The Side sword inspired fencing. This is an activity most often seen in Italy or Spain, where two soldiers or civilians engage in a duel. It offers a much faster-paced battle with a lot more precision. 

The Arming sword, on the other hand, was used in large-scale battles as both a one-handed and a two-handed weapon. It had even been used during the Crusades!

Side Sword vs. Rapier

Side Sword compared to Rapier Sword 1
Side Sword is from 80 to 100 cm long.

Side swords might just be the first European sword that could have been used for fencing or dueling. The Rapier was created directly after it, and its characteristics and appearance make it feel as though it is the best and only dueling sword.

You can use the Side sword as a dueling sword too, and it does its job very well. The Side sword has a much wider blade that gets tighter at the end towards the tip. It is also much heavier but still offers an outstandingly strong and firm grip. You can use it for thrusting and slashing alike.

Rapier Sword
Rapier Sword is from 115 to 135 cm long [Source]

The Rapier, on the other hand, is a very slim and light sword. The blade is slightly longer and much thinner. Because the blade is so thin, users are capable of attacking the target very precisely, which is almost hard to see. The grip is also offering balance, but because it is a lighter blade, it is much easier to hold the sword.

Conclusion

If you are a sword enthusiast who doesn’t love or cannot stand the Rapier types of fencing swords but might still enjoy a duel or two, the Side sword might be for you. It is very nimble and easy to use and is an amazing historical decoration piece too.

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