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Tag: sword text

UPDATE: this was posted on April 1st, and was, as some readers spotted, a giant jape. For more details, see here.

Oh. My. God.

As you may be aware, I have spent most of this year in Italy, and much of that time looking for insight into the systems I teach. While I was there, I found a treatise; probably in the Fiore/Vadi tradition. It features two women, exemplifying the art of arms as applied to the falchion (or messer, or storta). The original is in private hands: fortunately, the owner is a reader of my books, so agreed to let me post them.

I could not be more excited. These are relatively low-resolution files, so some detail is lost (but I will be getting the max-res ones soon, and will share, of course). It starts with six guards, Porta di ferro, Posta alta, Posta di Finestra, Dente di Chingiaro, Posta Frontale, and Posta di Vera Croce:

Judith f3vJudith f4r




The text goes:

Porta di ferro

Son la porta di ferro forte
Aspeto per dare al nemico morte.

Posta Alta

Son la posta soprana e altera
Per far difesa aciascuna manera

Posta di finestra

Questa sie posta di finestra
Che de malicie sempre la e presta.

Dente di chingiaro

Con mortal posta de denti cinghiare
Chi cerca briga assa glinposso dare.

Posta frontale

Son posta frontal tanto sicura
De taglii epunte mainon faro cura.

Posta di vera croce

La croce vera contra ti voglio fare
In mi le toi punte non poii entrare

Then we have four plays, beginning with a parry from the left side.

Judith f4vJudith f5r


The text with them goes:

[1st play]

De la sinestra facio mia deffesa

Fatta la coverta subito faro loffesa.

[2nd play]

Traro il colpo come il maestro ha detto,

Fendente ala testa o punta in petto.

[3rd play]

Questo contrario che io te facio

Entrarti nel mezana ligadura del bracio

[4th play]

Con questa partita ti butto al terra

Non mai tu po farai la guerra.

Then we have a crossing from the right, followed by six plays (for seven total on that side), and a definition of the weapon:



Judith f5vJudith f6r

Judith f6vJudith f7r


The text reads:

[5th play]

Le spade della destra son incrossade

Se la via e aperta, sempre intrare.


Levo la mano con la storta in erta

Traro nella faccia cum la coverta.


Fiero con la spada dalaltra parte

Questa lo faccio con tutta mi arte.


Col pomo martelando alsuo mustaccio

Guardando bene che tu non piglii impaccio

[9th ]

Piglo sua spada in mezo le mantenir

Cum taglo e punta io lo posso ferir.


Con la punta erta e la mano basso

Scambio la punta, in un solo passo.


Per la volta fata amia spada presta

Con quella di feriri non faro resta.


La Mesura della Storta [this paragraph is not in verse.]

La mesura della storta vol esere dal mano fin ala terra cum filo dritto e punta e fa chel taglio falso quatro dita inpunta.

In overall structure, the book follows the usual pattern: guards, followed by technical actions. The last “play” is actually a definition of the weapon, as we see in Fiore and Vadi’s armoured sword section, and in Vadi’s dagger section.

The content will be pretty familiar to medievalists; all of these techniques can be found in the longsword sections of Fiore; and many of the verses are very like ones we find in these other treatises.

Why women, though? And why Judith?

That question, at least, is easily answered. In medieval art, and indeed much later, the biblical character Judith was a favourite; as it allowed the artist to depict nekkid women with swords. Or dressed women with swords.

You can get the general idea here, in this version of the story by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi


The story is told in the biblical (Apocryphal in some traditions) Book of Judith. In short, Judith’s tribe was being attacked by the Assyrian army lead by Holofernes; the night before the battle, she seduced her way into his tent (hence the nekkid), hacked off his head, and took it back to her leaders in a basket (I’m pretty sure that’s where Lois McMaster Bujold got that fabulous scene in Cordelia’s Honor).

My favourite version of the theme in paint is this by Botticelli, which you can find in the Uffizi, along with it's partner image, the discovery of Holofernes:


Now, before everyone gets TOO excited, you should be aware that this has not been authenticated, and there is much work to be done examining the art and the text for possible correlations with other manuscripts. But oh my, I am falling off my chair in glee.

Please share this with everyone: our martial heritage should not be kept in the dark, but in the great tradition of Wiktenauer, let's get this stuff out there to everyone who might be interested.

OR DON'T: I posted this reveal on April 2nd, but on the principle that it's unlikely that everyone will spot it, I've copied and pasted it here:

April Foooooool!!

Yesterday, I gave the impression that I had found an authentic medieval Italian falchion treatise. But actually it was the work of Heidi Zimmerman (the Meyer plates printing genius), an anonymous calligrapher friend, and yours truly. I got the idea long ago, and while talking to Heidi over skype one day, asked her in on the jape. My contribution was to design the system: I chose the guards, the techniques, and so on, and I wrote the “medieval Italian” verses. Which are largely stolen from Fiore and Vadi.  I framed the images I wanted in the salle, with Ville Henell and Ilpo Luhtala, and took photos, which Heidi drew and painted. Then the calligraphy was added, and our treatise was made real. I also roped some friends in to boost the signal; not everyone who appeared to believe did so! Thanks Neal, Mike, and all the usual suspects.

But lest you think I am a lying toad, not so! Every word of the revelation yesterday was true. Let me explain, by adding in the missing information.

“Previously unknown Falchion treatise” is true. It is a treatise. About the falchion. Unknown to almost everyone. And I discovered it in my shared Dropbox folder.

As you may be aware, I have spent most of this year in Italy, [TRUE] and much of that time looking for insight into the systems I teach. [TRUE up to a point] While I was there, I found a treatise [in my dropbox folder]; probably in the Fiore/Vadi tradition. [Well, it is!] It features two women, exemplifying the art of arms as applied to the falchion (or messer, or storta). The original is in private hands: fortunately, the owner is a reader of my books, so agreed to let me post them. [Yes, Heidi does read my books.]

Every word of what followed was true. But my glee was caused by mischief-making, not by finding an original treatise…

But seriously, folks; if we ever do find a medieval Italian falchion treatise, I think it will look like this. These actions can all be found in, for instance, Lecküchner's treatise, and in Italian sources for the longsword. The structure is very Fiorean, and follows the logic of his sword in one hand plays. The number of guards, numbers of techniques, and so on, are all very much in the model Fiore set.

I should also point out that we were very careful to make it just “wrong” enough that it could not be passed off as a forgery. My overriding brief to Heidi was that if the original is found in a hundred years, nobody in the medievalist world could reasonably mistake it for an authentic medieval document. Well done all of you that spotted the many “errors”. Most obviously, that great big falchion at the end is indeed a picture of Cosimo de' Medici‘s falchion from the Wallace Collection. From about a century after this is supposed to have been written. That was meant as a little clue….

Anyway, I hope you all had fun with this (though it's obvious from some of the internet chatter that some folk were really annoyed, which I find baffling). I have been thinking a lot about stortas (Italian falchions), and how odd it is that we have lots of surviving originals, and lots of German sources for the equivalent messer, but nothing in Italian. So this is an exercise in predictive archeology: if such a treatise ever does come to light, I think it would look like this. I'm planning to write up a proper analysis of the “system”, with translations of the verses, and why I think it would look like this, but I'm in the process of moving back to Finland right now, so it will have to wait.

I raise a glass to tomfoolery, and to Heidi! For more of her art, go see Draupnir Press.


[There is some cool stuff in this post, but the actual identification of the famed titmallo is wrong: full story here! GW]

One of my favourite passages in Il Fior di Battaglia is this, where Fiore shows the use of a poison-dust pollax:


Have some poison dust sir!

The text that goes with it is hilarious. The text above the image reads (in Tom Leoni's translation)

This axe is hollow all around and filled with a corrosive powder that makes it impossible to open the eyes as soon as it comes into contact with them–and may even cause permanent blindness.

I am the axe, heavy, cruel and lethal, and I deliver bigger blows than any other handheld weapon. If I miss with my first attack, the axe becomes a useless liability. But if I don't miss, my axe can come to the rescue of any other handheld weapon. If I am accompanied by good weapons, I can defend with the pulsative guards of the sword.

Oh, my lord, my noble lord the Marquis! I've put so many dirty tricks in this book, I know you'll never resort to them. But read them anyway, just for the love of knowledge. 

And he then goes on to give the recipe. Tom's translation is:

This is the recipe for the powder that goes in the axe, as I showed in the previous picture. Take the milk of the thyme and dry it in the sunlight or in the oven, and make a powder out of it. Take a pinch of this powder and an ounce of powder of fior di preta, and mix them together. Then put the mixture in the axe. This can also be done with any fine caustic powder — as you can find some fine ones indeed in this book. 

Where la latte dello titimallo is translated as  “the milk of the thyme”. This has always struck me as unlikely as a) I've never heard of thyme having milk and b) thyme is generally considered a friendly herb.

One of the great benefits of running a school such as mine is that many of my students, off their own bat, go and dig up interesting stuff about the Arts we practise. One such student, Kliment Yanev, has just returned from a work trip to Trieste, and sent me this (quoted with permission):

I had the pleasure of meeting Carlo Fonda, someone born on the language border between Veneto-Giulia and Friuli, particle physicist, science disseminator, and most importantly local wildlife expert. He took me on a tour of the nearby mountains and showed me a plant with some interesting properties. It is covered by a thin layer of sap, which when exposed to light turns caustic and burns the skin. It can be handled safely in the dark, as long as all remains of the sap are removed from the skin before it is exposed to any light. Modern Italian name is “dittamo”, Latin “Dictamnus Albus”, not far from “titimallo”. Common in Friuli, even more common on the slopes of the Adriatic coast, but available almost everywhere in Europe.

This seems very convincing to to me: we have found our titimallo! (No, I will NOT be including this play in our basic syllabus. Put that mortar and pestle down!)

And get this: there is a poisonous herb that can only be collected by the light of the moon (how would you find it at night, pre-flashlight?)  and processed in the dark; pick it in daylight and you may go blind! How totally fantastic is that?


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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