History of rapier swords (rapiers). Fencing swords. Sword history.
Rapiers are long, thin, single-handed swords designed for thrusting more than cutting. They were first developed in the 1500s in Spain as a dress sword and became very popular as a civilian weapon for self defence and duelling.
Characteristically, a rapier’s hilt was very ornate to protect the bearers hand. Initially this was in the form of a number of rings extending from the crossguard to the heavy, ornate pommel, though in later designs these were fitted with metal plates for even more protection and ultimately led to the Spanish cup hilt, where the hand was protected by a hemispherical cup from which the blade projected.
The blade was straight, usually a metre or more in length and less than 2.5 cm wide. Some schools of duelling advocated the use of cutting strokes and in such cases the blade was sharpened to a cutting edge, either along the length of one edge, a fraction of that edge or rarely along both edges. However, a strong school advocated the use of the rapier as a thrusting weapon only, and in these instances the blade bore no cutting edge.
Classical fencing schools claim to trace some of their influences from the mostly Italian schools of rapier swordsmanship, however the weapons and techniques are distinct and one should not be confused with the other. Such are the similarities, though, that in modern culture they are often used interchangeably.