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Finding buried treasure: the 1608 Giganti.

It is an exciting time to be a swordsman. Especially one concentrated on historical swordsmanship. As interest in the Art grows, so there are more pairs of eyes watching out for buried treasure. And in 2012, Piermarco Terminiello found some. To wit, the long-lost Second Book of Nicoleto Giganti, hidden in plain sight in the deWalden library at the Wallace Collection. This book was so obscure that already in 1673 Pallavicini mocked him for saying he’d write one and not following through. But here it is, and it is a little gem. To Terminiello’s credit, he published his findings (with Joshua Pendragon) with some alacrity: his translation of the book came out just before Christmas last year.

As it is part of the mission of the school to further the Art by making the treatises available, and to support this kind of work, I of course bought the book, and not just the paperback: this book also comes in a lovely leatherbound edition. Readers of this blog may be aware of my feelings on proper bookbinding.


So, what does this book contain? I will teach a seminar on its contents (basically a walking tour of the highlights) on February 23rd,  but in the meantime, here is an overview of its contents.

Firstly, it is intended to be read by those who already have Giganti’s first book, from 1606. You can download a scan of the original here and buy a copy of Tom Leoni's translation here. This is a must-read for any serious rapier enthusiast; it’s by far the clearest and simplest rapier source we have, and deals with the sword alone and the sword and dagger. It emphasises the use of the lunge, and clearly explains the basics of the Art. In contrast, the 1608 book covers a wide range of combat situations, including defence against multiple opponents, and even defence with only a dagger, against a spear!


In case you have not already bought this book (Go! Buy!), or indeed if you have it already and want a handy contents reference, this is what you get:

(All page references are to the hardback edition, they are the same in both, as the hardbackery is stuck onto the paperback covers. Ingenious.)

7-8: a short foreword by Toby Capwell, of the Wallace Collection

9-17 Introductory material, a concise but informative overview of:

9: Giganti’s life and work.

10: the historical trail of the second book.

11: the accusations of plagiarism levelled against Giganti by Hynitzsch in 1677, which was probably done by unscrupulous publishers long after Giganti’s death.

12: the discovery of the book.

13-4: Giganti’s employers: serious knightly pirates, the Order of Santo Stefano; and about his Patron, Christofano Chigi.

15: the relationship of this book and its contents, to the 1606.

19-145: the book itself. Which comprises:

19: Title page

23: Letter to the Patron

25-6: Preface to the Reader. This is where the meat begins. Here Giganti discusses what he is trying to achieve in this book. This is mostly concerned with dealing with other weapons, defending against cuts (of which he says there are three types; “concerted blows” learned from masters, natural blows, and artful blows), and using the pass (instead of the lunge which was the main offensive footwork in Book 1).

28-49: Parrying cuts of various types. This includes 7 illustrations, and 9 sets of drills. 47-49 are another preface, which would actually be more helpful coming before the plates.

51-79: Rapier and dagger plays of various types, including 13 illustrations, and a particularly detailed discussion on finding the sword, on pages 68-69. At this point Giganti puts two plates together, to show two stages of the action, which is very unusual in a rapier treatise.

80-106: Plays of the sword alone. These include 13 illustrations. Page 95 is titled “method of defending… with a counter-disengage” though, oddly, the description of the play does not include one. Especially interesting is the last set of four, which are grapples: the first (on 98-99) has you grab the sword hand and thrust; the second (on 100-101) has you grab the sword hand and cut; the third (on 102-3) has a similar grab but done with a twist to disarm, and threaten a thrust; the fourth (on 104-5) has a wrap and pommel strike (huzzah!). As with the first section, on cuts, he concludes this section with another preface (106).

107-128: Plays of the sword with other weapons. This starts with a preface on 107, and continues with two illustrations and a page of discussion of the sword and rotella shield, including how to hold it, and that it is “good at night, when attacked by more than one opponent”. This is followed on 112-115 with two illustrations and a page of discussion of the targa (a kind of square buckler), then the same (on 116-119) of the sword and round buckler. The sword and cape gets twice as much space (120-127), and he goes so far as to distinguish between wrapping it once or twice around your arm.

129-143: The cool stuff. This section begins with a one page preface, in which Giganti promises another book, “dedicated to the dagger alone against a variety of weapons” due out “next year”! (If it was ever written it is lost to scholarship). This section covers  plays of the dagger against another dagger (129-135), including four illustrations; a defence with a dagger against an opponent armed with a sword and dagger (two illustrations, one play, 136-139); then the same defensive idea executed against a polearm (140-143).

144-145: Giganti just can’t help himself: here he provides an advert, complete with an illustration, for yet another book, this time about “fencing entirely with the left foot forward”. Back to the archives, Mr. Terminiello, you have books to find!


I hope it is clear then that if you have any interest in the rapier at all, you should buy this book. My only cavil is that the original Italian is not included. This means that we are entirely dependent on the translation skills of Mssrs Terminiello and Pendragon. To be fair, this seems to be an accurate, high quality piece of work, but as a professional in this field it sets my teeth on edge to rely on someone else’s reading. Looks like I will have to go to the Wallace (again), and read the original for myself. Oh no, poor me. Surrounded by all those glorious swords and fabulous books, how will I cope?




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3 Responses

  1. I’ve been trying to develop a list of the parries Giganti uses against cuts. I know he specifies that parries be made with the forte of the sword but he is a little short on specifics in a number of instances. Those he does list appear to be a collection of stactic parries taken from side sword & back sword systems.

    My goal is to be as authentic as possible but I’m beginning to think Giganti was a pragmatist who adopted whatever methods he felt were effective. My own inclination is to fill in the missing bits with early back sword techniques as these seem to have had an influence on Giganti. However, I would appreciate any thoughts or guidance you could provide on this matter.

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