While the most talked about sword in maritime combat is the cutlass, other swords were used both in fact and fiction. Swords most likely encountered during the golden age were hangers, smallswords, and sabres. Rapiers also had the likely hood of being used in the early periods of piracy. In early pirate movies, the weapon of choice was often an epee or rapier. Even in later pirates of the Caribbean movies, sabres, scimitars, and epees tend to be portrayed.
Probably the second most popular sword used was the hanger. Both military and civilian (hunting) hangers were produced. The hanger was a small sword with a blade between around inches (64 cm). Hangers had light blades and were primarily used for self defense. Often they had a shell guard to protect the hand. They were less rugged that an cutlass and often carried as a status symbol by gentleman and officers.
Rapiers were long slender bladed swords designed for thrusting and often used in duels. The rapier was popular in the 16th. The rapier's blade could be sharpened its full length, part of the length, or not at all. The long slender blade got its strength by the cross section the blade. The blade of a rapier was often now more than one inch (2.5cm) at the hilt tapering down to a very sharp point. The blades length was often around 40 inches (1 meter). Despite the length, it was a popular weapon design in in the 16th and 17th century and was used aboard ships. While this type of sword was called a Rapier by the English, it was known by other names in other countries. Italy, Spain and France called this sword a spada, espada and epee (or espee).
Besides the long slender blades, the rapier is also famous for elaborate hilts designed to protect the hand.
Smallsword (small sword)
The smallsword is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting. As the name suggest, the smallsword has a shorter blade and is indeed similar to the rapier except the blade is a full third shorter. The smallsword was popular between mid 17th and late 18th century and would have been probably the third most encountered sword at sea during Golden age of Piracy. It is thought to have appeared in either in Holland or France and spread quickly across the rest of Europe. In the right hands, a smallsword was deadly, but it took great skill and practice to master the use of the smallsword. Most of today's fencing technique's can be traced back to smallsword drills. The foil and epee are the modern day predecessors of the smallsword.
The is the modern derivative of the original duelling sword, the rapier, used in sport fencing. Épée is French for "sword". epees have long slender blades with a triangular shaped cross section for strength. The blade of the epee is around 3 feet (90cm) making it longer than the small sword but shorter than the rapier. The rapier was also called an epee in France during the 17th and 18th century but as you can see, the epee of the 17th century is not the same as the modern day epee.
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