The Duel In Sixteenth-Century Italy

As a note, this was my final thesis for my undergraduate degree. It was written almost six years ago and my study of swordplay, period combat, and writing as a whole has evolved since then. That said, I still find this to be a useful resource to look back on. As such, it seems the best thing I can do with this work now is to share it with the public here. I hope that in your reading of it you find something of value and continue to help spread the passion for the study of history and the martial arts.


Duels are something that have always captured our imaginations, be it Andrew Burr against Alexander Hamilton or The Man in Black against Inigo Montoye.  Very few people though, know much about how duels were actually fought.  Many of us have an image of slapping someone else with a glove followed by twenty paces at dawn.  This image, like many in popular culture, has very little to do with historical fact.  What I aim to do is to delve into how people got into duels, how duels were fought, and finally how they were perceived.

My aim is to both show the level of formality and regulation behind duels as well as to dispel them as something pure that “real men” did back in the day.  The duel was a complex institution, intertwined with honor and Western society.  As this paper progresses it will gradually narrow down, going from the more general to the specific.  It will begin with the setting, sixteenth-century Italy, and will continue on to the very particular weapon of the rapier.

There are four questions this paper asks.  The first is, “What did people at the time mean by the word ‘honor’?”  Honor was the supposed basis for all dueling.  Thus, we must first explore what is meant by honor before we can address the duel.  The second question is, “What did a duel look like?”  This is meant to get down the specific rules detailing how dueling was done as well as how a duel might have come about.  The third question is, “What is a rapier?”  The word “rapier” in an anachronistic one and at the time they were generally just referred to as “swords.”  This is similar to how “gothic art” was at the time just referred to as “modernist art.”  Both gothic art and the rapier are considered now to be discrete and clearly distinct.  The final question is, “What did people at the time think of these duels?”  To our modern sensibilities it would seem insane to put your life on the line for something as silly sounding as “honor.”  Yet, clearly, people at the time found dueling to be of a rather high level of importance. 

In terms of sources, this is a particularly narrow field.  I was limited from the start in not being able to read Italian and thus only relying on translations and those who have read sources from the time in their original.  Most sources at the time dealing with duels spent a lot of time teaching you how to win one, but not a lot on the mechanics of the duel.  Although the mechanics of swordplay are of particular interest to me, they are not the primary focus for this paper.


In the Italian peninsula honor grew out of a code called the scienza cavalleresca (the chivalrous science).  For them, this was the basis of all civilization.  In a pre-capitalist society, your role in society was largely determined by birth.  There was a place for everything, and ideally, everything stayed in its place.  Without this code of honor, everything would come crumbling down.[1]  As with many things during the Italian Renaissance, it was the ancient Greeks and Romans that were looked back upon as the definitive sources on the matter of honor.

Out of all of the classical thinkers, it was Aristotle who was most often quoted.  In fact, Aristotle was held in such high regards that thinkers such as Antonio Bernardi, who was himself a cleric, pushed aside the bible in favor of Aristotle when discussing honor and the duel.[2]  In a time lacking in the embracing of religious plurality, a popular cleric preaching the words of a polytheist over his own holy book and not being punished is indeed something of great significance.

There are a variety of quotes from Aristotle that were bantered around during the sixteenth-century in order to understand/prescribe what honor entails.  One such statement was that, “honor is the prize of virtue and is paid to none but the good.”[3]  The idea behind this is that if you are virtuous, others will see this and will then consider you honorable.  To anyone though who has consistently put in hard work to help others while receiving absolutely no recognition, this statement might appear problematic.  Although in an ideal world, all “virtuous” people would be praised, it is not hard to see that someone could be considered honorable by the public eye despite their true nature.

Honor was not considered to be an entirely isolated attribute.  It was instead something that was defined and given by those around you. [4]  For these writers, both parties in the bestowing of honor were considered inherently virtuous.  Yet it was the one who bestowed honor that gave the honor value.  So if you received praise from a thief, it would not necessarily have mattered what you did to receive that praise.  The praise he gave you would still be tainted.

Despite most writers of the time falling in line with Aristotle, there were those who strayed.  Some objected to Aristotle’s idea that honor was defined only by the one who had bestowed it upon you.  Instead, it was something you had on your own, regardless of what people thought about you.[5]  If you stopped a brick from falling one someone’s head, you would be honorable.  For them, your being honorable would not be judged based on whether or not anyone saw what you did, but instead it would be based on your actions and intentions.

For those who bought into Aristotle’s virtue ethics, there were two virtues in particular that honor was based on: the virtues of valor and justice.  This was defended based on the idea that, “a man is most useful to others by means of his valor in war, and his justice in both war and peace.”[6]  A man bleeding out on the street does not care about how good of a father you are, or how much you went to church.  All that matters to him is whether or not you can help him.  Thus, Aristotle’s proponents argued, honor was at the very least only relevant when it affected someone else.  It is also important to note here the bifurcation between times of war and times of peace.  Here we see that people at the time saw these as very distinct states with completely different rule sets. 

It is important to remember the significance of honor in sixteenth-century Italy.  For honor was, “preferred to one’s father, one’s ruler, one’s country, and life itself. ”[7]   Italians at the time viewed honor as something natural and inherently existing.  Thus, since everything from your father to your prince, were considered to be “instruments” of nature in order to secure the natural order, this natural order might also be referred to as society’s honorable discourse.  So even if your prince forbade you from entering into a duel, you should nonetheless go into the duel since your duty to your prince was secondary to your duty to honor.  Although you could rightly sacrifice your life for your prince, you were not supposed to sacrifice your honor for him.  To be dishonorable was to go against everything that was important.  For although you may have owed allegiances, these existed only because honor was there to serve as a foundation.  Thus, if someone claimed you were not honorable, it is plain to see how important it might be to refute them.

This noble language though, did not always hold true in reality.  For example, the great fencing master Marozzo “noted that although many knights professed to prefer death with honor rather than life with shame, the number who had acted in accordance with this assertion was small.”[8]  So although defending your honor was indeed important, not everyone was necessarily ready to put their life on the line for it.  It is important to remember that rhetoric and practice hardly ever line up.

There were two groups that were assumed not to have honor.  The first of these were those considered to be infamous.  The second of these were those who were considered not to be capable of possessing honor.  Being infamous could come about through a few different ways.  The first, and most obvious, is through nefarious deeds that could lose you your honor.  Others though, were considered inherently dishonorable.  These included, “inn-keepers, actors, usurers, those who made gain from prostitution, and those whose birth was illegitimate.”[9]  Many of these were people who were thought to engage in inherently unnatural conduct.  Children born out of wedlock, though, had the opportunity to redeem themselves through being particularly virtuous, or if their parents got married later on.

Another group considered dishonorable was those whose ancestors had acted dishonorably.  In fact, if you abandoned your lord in battle, refused to fight in defense of the Church, or let an insult to your honor stand, you and your descendants all the way through your great-grandchildren would be considered dishonorable.[10]  This, as well, is an attitude that has been largely tempered in the past four hundred years.  Children with parents in prison may face being stigmatized, but were your great-grandfather not to respond to an insult, it is unlikely that anyone would think less of you.

A third group considered to be dishonorable was the Jews.  The reasoning for this was that not only had the Jews killed Christ (they did not), but that they were also, “obstinate and treacherous usurers who are always sinning by their cruel methods of making money”[11]  Despite being forced into money lending by not being able to own land and by nobles attempting to circumvent rules about not charging interest when loaning money to other Christians, the Jews were nonetheless seen as the source of many of society’s woes.  At a time when the issuing of blood libels stating that Jews required the blood of Christian babies in order to bake matzah (a bread associated with the holiday of Passover), it should not be at all surprising that they were also thought to be inherently dishonorable.

There were also those that were considered to be incapable of being honorable.  Whereas being dishonorable was seen as something negative, this was seen as something neutral.  This group included both women and children.  Both were thought to be incapable of reason.  Even if some occasionally showed some glimmer of intelligence, it was thought that that could never equate to that of a man’s.[12]  This did not though, remove women and children entirely from the field of honor.  Were you to insult a woman’s honor, it would in turn reflect upon her husband or father.  In many places, insulting someone’s woman was considered a higher transgression than insulting a man directly.

The Mentita

Before we continue, let us first examine what was sufficient cause for a duel.  First and foremost, duels were not meant to replace the court system.  If a claim could be proved in court then that is where it would be settled.  The point of the duel was to, “bring to light a hidden truth.”[13]  Thus, the duel served in auxiliary to the courts in order to address claims that courts could not.  There were indeed cases brought to court with little to no evidence to back them up.  Even though these might have qualified as quarrels eligible for duels, they would not be eligible for a duel if they had first been tried in court, “even if it did not end with a verdict”[14]  Here we see that the idea of double jeopardy present in the fifth amendment to the United States’ Constitution has a history that reaches beyond even the Enlightenment.

The duel, as an institution, was also set up to deal with issues that courts were not.  It is not the role of the court to legislate morality.  Duels, however, existed in order to deal with attacks on someone’s honor.  Whereas courts generally only get involved when there is an issue of property or physical damage at stake, duels dealt with something less tangible.  Were you to have taken to court someone who had called into question your daughter’s (who was, essentially, your property) virginity, the case would likely be dismissed since it is not the court’s job to make sure that no one is ever offensive.  You would have had to take action, though, since otherwise your honor would have been tarnished.  Here the duel provided a formal outlet.

In order to best explain the intricacies of the mentita, or “giving the lie,” I propose the following example.  Giuseppe has just been accused by Camillo of insulting Camillo’s actions on the battlefield.  At this point, Camillo has set himself up to be the plaintiff and for Giuseppe to be the defendant.  This, in its simplest form, entails Giuseppe exclaiming, “You lie!”  By doing this Giuseppe thereby issues the mentita, setting up a duel to take place.[15]  We have at this point the claim of an offense and a refutation of that claim.

Which of the two parties issues the mentita is of extreme significance.  The reason behind this is that the defendant is the one with the choice of arms.[16]  Let us say that Giuseppe knows that Camillo despises fighting with sword and cloak, but that he excels with sword and dagger.  Whenever Camillo tries fighting with a cloak he gets his own sword stuck in it.  However, when he takes out sword and dagger, he is able to skillfully hand off his opponent’s sword to his own dagger, thus freeing up his own sword.  Giuseppe, on the other hand, is just the opposite.  Thus, whichever of the two chooses the arms will have a fairly significant chance of winning the duel.  At least by the early sixteenth-century, it had even become common practice for the plaintiff to not know the weapons being fought with until he arrived to the duel.[17]  This might seem impossible since each party would have to provide their own arms, but in actuality, most of the technicalities would be dealt with by the duelists’ seconds so that someone with a clear head could take care of everything.

There is an important lesson about dueling culture that can be learned from all of this.  If you accuse someone of doing something so serious that it would be considered a legitimate reason for fighting a duel, you better be ready for what your opponent picks as weapons.  By giving the defendant the upper hand, Italian culture (and dueling culture to a broader extent) ensured that duels were taken seriously.  Were the choice of arms in the hands of the plaintiff, then a neighborhood bully could go around accusing people of heinous acts, knowing they would likely come out on top.  Instead, it was set up so that you would only challenge someone if the issue was sufficiently pressing or significant.  If those around you thought the challenge was damning enough, they might not do business with you if you did not stand up and defend yourself.  If you were considered duplicitous or treacherous, then people might wonder if they would ever get back any money they invested in your business.  They might also be afraid of being judged for doing business with a dishonorable man and thus being shunned themselves.  On the flipside, if your supposed grievance was not deemed sufficient or was seen as plainly absurd by the surrounding community, it would not be considered a legitimate complaint.  As such the duel would not go through.

While Giuseppe does have the advantage of getting to choose the arms, the scales are not tipped entirely against Camillo, for Camillo gets to decide the location (campo franco). Specifically, “the campo franco, or secure place, was a place where the two combatants would not be a) prevented from conducting their trial or b) be subjected to the interference from either party’s supporters.”[18]  It is important to remember here that while a significant part of popular culture at the time, dueling was oftentimes illegal depending on where and when you were (which will be explored more in depth later on).  In places where duels were legal though, the campo franco would generally be on public grounds (alla macchia).[19]  Dueling alla macchia would have been the case if Camillo had failed to successfully petition a local lord for use of his land.

It was important that the campo franco chosen did not appear to be incredibly favorable to Camillo.  Were Camillo able to choose land that would give him a significant advantage, this would only work to encourage bullies to go around challenging people to duels.  If you knew about hidden roots or sinkholes that your opponent did not, you could walk into a duel knowing you would probably win.  This, in turn, would put the validity of Camillo’s claim in question.  Were his claim true and his victory God-given, why then would he have to unbalance the odds?  Would not his victory be preordained?  As a man trying to prove his honor, picking a campo franco that favored him would undercut Camillo’s cause.

At the beginning of this chapter I offered a fairly simple, straightforward example of a mentita being issued.  I shall now delve into each aspect in more detail by looking at what other possibilities exist.  The first aspect is the initial injury.  In the example I gave, Camillo had received an initial injury comprised solely of words.  Alternatively the initial injury could have been a deed (e.g., a slap).  Regardless of what kind of injury was received, “the plaintiff will give the defendant an injury (always of words), which takes the form of the accusation, to which the latter will issue the mentita.  In an injury of deed, it is the one receiving the injury who has the burden of proof because the cause of the duel is not the material injury itself, but rather the accusation that the injury had been unjust.  This accusation, in case of an injury of deed, would come from the one who was injured in deed.  In other words, in this case the injured is the mentito, therefore the Actor.”[20]  Let us say that Giuseppe had struck Camillo across the face and Camillo had reacted by saying that the strike was unjustified.  In that case Giuseppe would remain the defendant and therefore the one issuing the mentita.  Had Giuseppe instead insulted Camillo’s honor on the battlefield, prompting Camillo to strike him, Giuseppe could then come back and say that the strike was unjustified since his previous statement had been true.  At this point Camillo would be able to respond saying, “You lie!  I hit you because you were spouting falsehoods about me.”  Here Camillo would become the defendant and be able to choose the arms.  To complicate matters even further let us say that no one else is in the room while this debacle occurs, or that at least there had been no other witnesses to Giuseppe calling out Camillo’s honor on the battlefield.  Here, in response then to Camillo’s calling Giuseppe a liar, Giuseppe could then retort saying, “You lie!  I said nothing of the sort about your comport on the battlefield.”  Here Giuseppe would become the defendant, thus possessing the all-important choice of arms.  We can take away from all of this how formalized and convoluted an institution dueling was.  So much so that it even had rules that you could game.

Now let us examine who would be able to engage in a duel.  As noted in the chapter on honor, you had to have been an adult male who was not Jewish.  We have examples of women engaging in duels in fourteenth century Germany, the most notable example being that of Hans Talhoffer’s martial arts treatise.  However, rights have hardly progressed in a linear fashion and as such, by the sixteenth-century women were no longer allowed to engage in duels.  The other necessity was that those engaging in the duel be two equal parties.  This requires them to be the same in both class and number.  So if someone of a lower class challenged someone of a higher class to a duel, the latter could refuse the duel without having their honor tarnished.  Although the vast majority of duels were fought between two individuals, there are multiple accounts of formal duels fought between groups.  For example, “The Challenge of Barletta (1503) was a famous example of a duel in which the two equal parties were not individual but two groups of 15 knights each.”[21]  Just as Giuseppe could have insulted Camillo’s comportment on the battlefield, so too could he have insulted that of Camillo’s entire unit.

Next let us look at the different kinds of mentita.[22]  There are a variety of ways you would have been able to call someone out as a liar.  The most basic form is a mentita certa.  This is the kind of mentita illustrated in my initial example.  A mentita certa entails that someone says something about you that you believe is false and you proceed to call them out on it.[23]

The next type is a mentita condizionale.  Here we return to how the system of dueling might be gamed.  This is not meant to imply that this kind of mentita is necessarily dishonorable, only that it is much easier to manipulate than a mentita certa. The mentita condizionale is, as the name implies, a conditional mentita.[24]  Let us say that before Camillo accuses Giuseppe of anything, Giuseppe had stated that if Camillo ever says that Giuseppe questioned his honor on the battlefield, that Camillo would be lying.  Giuseppe is implying here that if Camillo has not accused Giuseppe, that Camillo has not lied.

Like most everything else in dueling, things can become even more complicated.  In response to this mentita condizionale Camillo could retort with a mentita certa by saying that Giuseppe has lied about Camillo accusing him.[25]  At this point Camillo would become the defendant, putting him in a superior position.

Alternatively, Giuseppe could have offered an extremely vague mentita condizionale in an attempt to secure the choice of arms.  These were actually given their own subcategory entitled a mentita generale.  Within this there are two further types.  With the first one Giuseppe could say that anyone, without specifying whom, is a liar if they say X of him.  The second would be for Giuseppe to call Camillo out on insulting his honor without specifying what the insult was.  With the first example, Camillo would not be required to respond since his name was not listed.  With the second, it would not be considered a fully legitimate and binding mentita (thus not requiring a duel) until the offense was specified.[26]  It is easy to see how ridiculously general these could be.  In the first situation it would be plainly ridiculous to force someone to speak up and answer the call to duel if they had ever said anything bad about anyone else.  Although dueling may have existed in large part to discourage people from slandering one another, people were still people back then, and as such, they occasionally made less than positive comments about one another.  With the second situation, we can see that although you might be able to call someone out in public without stating what they did, this alone was not a sufficient condition for a duel.  It may work as a trick to play on a guilty conscience to make it seem like you knew what happened.  However, without having any specific to back it up, the other party would not be expected to meet the challenge.

The next type of mentita is a mentita speciale.[27]  The mentita speciale, “is given to a particular person, about a particular stated fact (as opposed to just an accusation of moral character).”[28]  Let us return again to our original example.  Let us say that Camillo had issued a mentita saying that Giuseppe had lied about Camillo’s actions on the battlefield.  Had Giuseppe merely said Camillo was dishonorable on the battlefield, it would not be specific enough to be considered a mentita speciale.  However, had Giuseppe said that Camillo had abandoned his fellow troops at a particular battle though; it would then be considered a mentita speciale.  At this point Giuseppe could issue a retraction by stating that he did not say anything of the sort.  If that happens, that would mean that Giuseppe had not issued a mentita of his own since he is not accusing Camillo of anything, all he has done is to try to prove his own innocence.  Let us say that Camillo had only flimsy evidence of Giuseppe’s statement.  At this point it would be dangerous for Camillo to issue a mentita since Giuseppe could easily issue one in return, “with a stronger legal value.”[29]  This would be the case were Giuseppe able to produce a witness with Camillo only basing his claim on rumor.  Before putting your life on the line, it is important to remember to have sufficient evidence to ensure you retain the choice of arms.

The final kind of mentita is that of a mentita sciocca.  This, unlike a mentita generale, was considered inherently abusive, as opposed to just being possibly abusive.  The reason for this is that issuing one of these would secure you the choice of arms.  Although you would not be likely to see one of these, it still would have been a logical (in the formal sense) possibility.  These were thought of as absurd situations such as Giuseppe saying that if Camillo ever said X of him, that Camillo would automatically be a liar.  Another would be attacking Camillo’s very thoughts by saying that if he even thought of saying X about Giuseppe, he would be a liar.  Finally, this would also include a situation where Giuseppe called Camillo a liar if he either did or did not say X of Giuseppe.[30]  It would hardly have been considered honorable to say that regardless of a person’s actions or intent, they are necessarily a liar.  So although these kind of mentita existed, they were hardly respected as legitimate.  If Giuseppe issued a mentita sciocca against Camillo, and Camillo was already looking for a way to pick a fight with Giuseppe, he might be brash enough to respond to Giuseppe’s mentita.

After an accusation was made and the final mentita (of whichever sort) was issued, both parties would return home.  Upon returning home, the plaintiff (likely with the help of his lawyer) would sit down and write what was called a cartello.  The, “cartello was a binding document in the form of a written challenge from the plaintiff, which prompted a riposta or ‘riposte’ from the defendant, which would either include the recusation or the election of arms.  The cartelli had to follow an appropriate form, starting with the defendant’s name and last name, followed by a terse and direct statement of the facts and ending with the plaintiff’s signed name and the signature of three witnesses of as high a rank or reputation as possible (best if military officers).”[31]  There are a few things that can be taken away from this.  The first is that a mentita might be issued without the intention of choosing arms.  Although it is unlikely that Giuseppe would willingly cede the right of arms to Camillo, he was still able to if he so chose.  Next we see that duels were not something you went into by yourself.  You wanted the highest status people you could get to back you up to ensure that your claim came across as legitimate.  People would be much more likely to believe you if you had Lord Baldesar backing you up as opposed to Nicoletto the farmer.

Like with the mentita, there were multiple kinds of cartello.  These included, “The cartello proper, the rogito (signed by a notary) and a manifesto (to be pasted on walls instead of delivered).  It was specified that the best way to issue a cartello was to both hand-deliver it and to publish it as a manifesto, to give the counterpart a reasonable chance to see it.  All these cartelli had to go through the judicial authorities.  Failure to comply with specifications regarding content, style and delivery method could lead to the disqualifications of the cause.”[32]  Although by this point both parties knew that a duel would take place, it was important that they both show up in the same place at the same time.  Also, in places where dueling was illegal you would never deliver you cartello in the form of a manifesto.  Were you likely to be arrested for dueling, no one would expect you to publicly post your intent to commit a crime, nor would you be expected to go through the local authorities.  You would still have witnesses sign the document; it is just that these witnesses were likely to be your personal friends and relatives as opposed to your local lord or military commander.  In places where dueling was legal, it would be acceptable to deliver your cartello only in the form of a manifesto if you so chose.

The next part of the mentita was the choice of arms.  There were three nonexclusive categories that arms could fall under.  The first of these were offensive arms.  Was it with swords, spears, daggers, lances?  If so, what kinds?  The second category was that of defensive arms.  Was armor to be worn, were there to be shields used?  Lastly, was the duel to be fought on horseback or on foot?  The, “choice of arms had to meet two legal criteria—that of parity and that of capacity.”[33]  Parity meant that the weapons must be equal in length, sharpness, and make.  Capacity meant that the plaintiff (Camillo) would need to be able to obtain and afford the weapon, as well as physically be able to use it.  Social status did not always imply wealth.  Titles were something you were generally born with, regardless of financial choices you or your predecessors might have made.  So although two combatants might be of the same class, it could be the case that the defendant would be able to afford to fight on horseback in full armor while the plaintiff would not be able to.  Also, if the defendant demanded the plaintiff fight with a weapon they were unable to wield, the plaintiff could at that point back out without recourse.  If it was known that Camillo’s left hand had been cut off in battle, it would be hard to believe Giuseppe’s claim if he demanded that they fight with two-handed swords.  Generally, though, Giuseppe would realize this and would likely pick a one-handed weapon so as not to come across as trying to game the system.

I would like to note two things here.  The first is that by the middle of the sixteenth-century, fighting a duel from horseback had fallen out of fashion.[34]  The reason for this trend was that duelists did not want to share their victory with their horse as the horse could easily be the deciding factor.  If one horse maneuvered better, or one horse suddenly bucked, the tides could easily be changed. However, with both combatants on foot, the outcome was up to them and them alone.  The second is that at the time, the noblest of these options was to fight only using offensive weapons.[35]  Without any armor you wanted to be darn sure you were right (and that God was on your side), because the smallest lip up could lead to you being skewered.  Even if you were able to slay your opponent, there was still a reasonable chance that they would have mortally wounded you too.  As this proved to be the riskiest option, armor was often seen on the dueling list.

Seeing as the two parties were furious enough as to wish to kill each other, they would not meet again in person until the duel took place.  Thus, all communication would be done through emissaries delivering the cartello and the riposta.  Once the arms had been finalized, “each party would send an emissary to the opponent to ensure that no subterfuge would take place”[36]  This emissary would serve as collateral and would dissuade either side from fleeing.  From this we can see that duels were not merely quarrels between individuals.  They necessitated great amounts of trust between the duelists and their friends.  Whether it was signing your name to a possibly illegal document or going to the opposing party’s house to serve as collateral, those assisting the duelists had to have had great investments in preserving the honor of the duelists.  If, for instance, Camillo was the head of his household, the honor of everyone in that household could be on the line.  If you were the descendant of, or worked for a man considered to be duplicitous, people would likely suspect you of the same.  Most people back then did not travel very far from where they were born, so stories of how you were the son of a man who abandoned his commander, would circulate throughout your entire life.

The Duel

File:Capo Ferro 36.jpg[37]

            The mentita has been issued, the cartello has been signed and sent, and the riposte has been sent in return.  The place and the arms have been solidified.  There would then be a period, generally about forty days, before the duel took place.  This was intended both for each party to get in shape and to set their affairs in order.  It was generally no longer than forty days (with exceptions for being called up to war or being ill) in order that each party might have a speedy trial.[38]  Duels were often the result of brooding tension between households, or other such groups.  Ideally, a duel would function to settle these instead of prolonging them.

            After this time had passed, both parties would arrive at the campo franco.  This would typically occur a few hours before sunset (more on that later), not at sunrise like popular media often leads us to believe.[39]  When the two parties arrived, they would typically, “be accompanied by their godfathers, who absolved the same role as the witnesses in the cartello—and indeed could be the same people.  The arms would be brought out, and a witness from each side would inspect them to ensure that no subterfuge had taken place.  Then, the herald would read the cause of the duel”[40]  At this point the herald would give the defendant (in the case of our example, Giuseppe) one last chance to retract his mentita and avoid going through the duel.  For the sake of education let us say that Giuseppe at this point still maintains that Camillo is a liar and that he did not insult Camillo’s honor.  At this point the herald, “would issue a warning to the spectators, demanding silence under penalty of death.  This was done to ensure that no sudden noise or shout would influence the outcome of the trial.  Lastly, the herald would sound his trumpet, at which point the duel would begin.”[41]  At public sporting events, it is not uncommon to hear an audience chanting in favor of one side or the other.  This becomes a different matter entirely, though, when death is on the line.  Outside interference would work to make the claim of either party less legitimate.  As well, if someone who had arrived with Camillo, shouted out Giuseppe’s name, for instance, this would be seen as Camillo having to rely on trickery in order to win, and thus his claim would be deemed illegitimate.  However, where before the duel occurs, an illegitimate claim could be dealt with peacefully, since no one would be in immediate danger, during the duel it could lead to an unjust death.[42]  As such, a harsher disincentive was required.

            Within the campo franco there was a space set aside for the duel to occur separate from where the observers would stand.  This space was called a staccato and was demarcated by either a fence, or by poles connected by a rope.  The only people allowed near the staccato were the combatants, their seconds, and a third party acting as the judge/referee.  The role of the seconds would be to inspect the other party’s arms to ensure they met the agreed-upon parameters.  The seconds would fight in the duel if the intended combatant was unable to or had not arrived.  These seconds were also likely the ones who signed and delivered the cartello and the riposta.  Spectators, such as the lord whose land this might be fought on, were confined to standing outside of the staccato.[43]  Discrepancies in the size of the staccato were necessary to accommodate either for more than two combatants, or for the use of horses. Were any of the combatants to touch the ropes, they would instantly be considered the loser (more on winning and losing in just a bit).  Thus, indefinitely backing up would not have been considered a legitimate strategy.

Even at this point, the roles of plaintiff and defendant are not yet finished with.  As part of the role of the plaintiff, it would have been Camillo’s duty to begin with the first committed attack.[44]  It might seem that moving first would be advantageous, such as receiving the ball in football.  When it comes to swords (or any other handheld weapon), though, the opposite is the case.  By giving an attack you have limited the amount of options available to you as your movement gets closer and closer to the point of no return.  Although the defendant must respond to this action, their options are kept significantly more open.  They could counter with a parry, a void of the body, stepping off line, intercepting their opponent’s blade with an attack of their own, or any other number of moves.  So by being the one who issued the initial challenge, Camillo loses both the choice of arms as well as the ability to counter the first move however he pleases.

Once the duel began, there was no stopping until a winner was determined.  There were no rounds, no time-outs, no water breaks.  There are accounts of duels starting earlier in the day and raging on for hours on end.  For example, we have accounts of combatants starting on horseback, fully armed, and ending up wrestling on the ground with one party holding a dagger and the other empty-handed.  Once the trumpet had sounded, all of the noncombatants just stood back and watched.  The only time there would be interference would be if the judge saw something particularly egregious occurring, such as a hidden weapon being produced.

Let us say that both parties have arrived, that Giuseppe had not confessed to being in the wrong, and that neither of them touches the ropes of the staccato.  At this point, there are three ways the duel could be decided:  One of them is injured to the point of no longer being able to fight, one of them dies, or both of them die.[45]  In the last case, whichever one of them survives longer after being mortally wounded is deemed the winner.  Although that might not do them much good in the grave, it will impact how those attached to them (servants, family members, etc.) are perceived.  To demonstrate how this could happen, let us say that Camillo stabs Giuseppe in the heart, mortally wounding him.  However, Giuseppe, before he succumbs to his wounds, manages to stab Camillo through the skull, killing him instantly. 

This situation may initially come off as absurd.  However, there are multiple accounts of people surviving for surprising amounts of time after having suffered from being mortally wounded.  We have multiple accounts from duels in period were combatants were able to continue fighting long enough to kill each other after being stabbed through the chest.  There are even some of combatants being stabbed in the chest, proceeding to bludgeon their opponent to death, and going on to live.  Backing this up are multiple modern medical records of individuals surviving for surprising amounts of time after being stabbed in the heart, or being similarly mortally wounded.  Although much has changed these past five hundred years, being stabbed in the chest remains, medically, the same.  For instance, “in 1936, a paper was presented to the American Association of Thoracic Surgery in which thirteen cases of stab wounds to the heart were cited. Of these, four victims were said to have collapsed immediately. Four others, although incapacitated, remained conscious and alert for from thirty minutes to several hours. The remaining five victims, thirty-eight per cent of the total, remained active: one walking approximately twenty-three meters and another running three blocks. Yet another victim remained active for approximately ten minutes after having been stabbed in the heart with an ice pick, and two managed to walk to a medical facility for help.”[46]  Thirty-eight percent might seem like a small chance for most things.  However, you start to consider the odds a bit differently when your life is on the line.  So, even if you stabbed your opponent in the heart, one of the more vital areas of the body, there was still a good chance he would be capable of returning the favor, leaving you both there to die.  Being stabbed in the heart is an extreme example, but this just goes to prove that a duel ending in both parties being mortally wounded would not have been unlikely.

As has been mentioned earlier, there are many actions you could take within the duel that would show you to be disreputable.  Within the duel, even if you are the only surviving party, you could have gotten there by means that would have deemed you as the loser, or at the very least make the outcome disputable.  These included weapons being broken or dropped (not disarmed), a horse being killed, randomly thrown kicks and punches (as opposed to clean technique), producing forth an illegal weapon, or setting a trap in the ground beforehand.[47]  It was the job of the judge of the duel to determine what was considered unacceptable according to the previously agreed-upon rules.  Within these constraints though, there were still many techniques that we may now consider ungentlemanly.  There was still quite a bit of grappling, taking out your opponent’s legs (either with sword or with hand), pommel strikes (where we get the word “pummeling”), joint breaks, multiple stabs to the same area, as well as a litany of other techniques.  There are many accounts of duels ending as particularly bloody affairs with one combatant standing over the other and bashing them repeatedly with his weapon.

In popular media we often see duels as something that was fought to first blood, instead of to the death.  However, this, “was scorned as ridiculous and cowardly, even as late as the 1890s.”[48]  Instead duels were fought until either everyone in the crowd agreed that there was a clear winner and that no further fighting was required to demonstrate this, or that one combatant was no longer able to continue fighting.  This latter, and more common, case occurred either due to an incapacitating blow, or because one of the combatants had died.  This idea of fighting to first blood really does not pop up until the popularization of the epee.  Epee duels emerged as a reaction to dueling being increasingly outlawed.  By fighting to first blood, it was much easier to pass dueling off as respectable, instead of as a barbarous leftover from times past.  As a result of this, the whole body is target in Olympic epee fencing.  This is opposed to foil (originally a training simulator for smallswords, descendants of rapiers themselves) and sabre, the other two categories of Olympic fencing, where only the torso is considered a legitimate target.

The duel is a form of consensual violence.  Violence, both then and now, comes in many flavors.  Surely it is wrong to attack someone randomly on the street.  However, we generally have no ethical problems with two people entering a boxing ring.  Boxing, unlike the street, is considered “civilized” since it has rules and takes place within certain physical bounds that work to contain the combatants as well as to separate them from everyone else.  This way, violence is unable to spill over into a crowd of people who had not consented to violence.  In boxing it is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to knock your opponent out.  Other maneuvers (such as kicking) are looked down upon and can function to instantly cede the match to the other party.  This too, was the case in dueling.  However, although both boxers know that there is a chance of receiving a fatal blow, killing your opponent is considered to be morally wrong.  This is the major line between dueling and other forms of consensual violence, whether or not death is an acceptable outcome.  Those who supported and or participated in the institution of dueling supported the idea that the individual ought to be able to consent to possibly lethal violence.  Whereas we generally support the idea that lethal violence ought to be a tool of the state (e.g., police and military) and that the individual is justified in implementing it only in cases of self-defense, duelists believed otherwise.  It is important to remember though, that dueling was illegal throughout many of the Italian states during the sixteenth-century, exemplifying that consensual, lethal violence was hardly something that was universally supported.

            Now, violence was a much larger part of everyday life back then.  Part of it was due to the absence of modern police forces and techniques to help root out violence.  Another part was that wars were much more common and as such, so too was being a member of the military.  Victory on the battlefield, though, was not seen as high-up as victory in the staccato.  Part of it was that typically, your life was at a greater risk in the duel seeing as the opponent is always aiming at you in particular.  This is proved by the fact that even losing armies almost always have soldiers who return home.  More significantly, the outcome of a battle often had nothing to do with how well and valiantly you yourself fought.  If you had an incompetent general, then you could not rightly be blamed for the loss.  In the duel, though, how well you did is nothing but a direct reflection on your own capabilities.[49]  Thus it was the duel that held the higher status.

The Rapier

            Duels have been fought with a variety of weapons.  In fact, I suspect that duels have been fought with pretty much everything designed to be held by one person in order to kill another.  We know for a fact that duels have been fought with pistols, clubs, shields, flails, knives, and a variety of other killing devices.  To cover all forms of dueling is far outside the scope of this project, and as such I shall be focusing purely on the rapier.[50]         The rapier was the weapon of choice for dueling in renaissance Italy.  More specifically, the rapier, “is a long, straight-bladed cut-and-thrust single-handed sword optimized for the thrust and featuring a guard that affords good protection to the hand; the rapier sees its apogee between the last third of the Sixteenth Century and the end of the Seventeenth.”[51]  This was a weapon that had grown out of thousands of years of sword-smithing in Europe.  The appearance of the rapier’s long, thin blade teaches us two lessons.  The first, as mentioned, is that the thrust had become favored over the cut.  This is likely due to the increased popularity of the lunge during fighting, as well as studies in trigonometry being used to convince students that it is generally more efficient to thrust than cut.  The second is the advances in metallurgy needed to get to this point.  The increased popularity of the lunge as well as more encompassing guards may have contributed towards the thrust being favored.  However, it would not even have been possible for a rapier to have been created much earlier.  Steel that thin has to be rather sturdy if it is to be expected to take on anything that might come its way.  Earlier steel would simply not have been strong enough to meet such a demand.

[52]            There were three principles that governed rapier fighting: line, measure, and tempo.  Line was the path that either your or your opponent’s sword traveled.  If you stood with your sword in your right hand you would have your inside line, everything left of your outstretched arm, and your outside line, everything to the right of it.  As well, you would generally aim to keep control of your opponent’s line by placing your sword on top of his and moving his point “off line” so that it no longer pointed at you.  This was called gaining your opponent’s blade.  Measure, or what we nowadays might refer to as “range,” was divided into two.  First there was your narrow measure (mesura stretta) which would be anything you could hit merely by extending your arm.  Second there was wide measure (mesura longa) which was everything you could hit if you lunged or took a single step.  It was important to remember that your measure and your opponent’s might be different since you would likely be of different heights and have limbs of different lengths and if they could stretch to different degrees.  Measure would be partially determined by the length of your weapons and if there was any discrepancy between them.  Finally there was tempo.  Each single motion took up a single beat, or tempo.  Ideally, you would aim to reduce the overall number of tempo you required as not to waste movement.[53]  You could, as well, aim to move in mezzo tempo which meant that you would take your action in the middle of your opponent’s, disrupting their rhythm and plan of attack.

Despite being a primarily civilian weapon, the rapier was hardly a one-trick pony.  Rapiers were the first choice for the nobility and the upper middle class.  They were used for duels, sport, battles (on rare occasion), and as a self-defense tool.[54]  These were expensive swords, but were also made to last.  They would be passed down from father to son, and although they did occasionally break, were designed to withstand a good deal of abuse.  With that in mind though, it is important to remember that despite what we see in movies and read in books, people did not unsheathe their swords and point them at one another on a regular basis.

Rapiers were light enough (typically around 3 lb) that they could be carried around with ease, yet practical enough that they could deal with most any situation.  Walking out of your house, you would have no idea as to what might transpire.  The rapier was suited to defend against clubs, longswords, and even multiple opponents at the same time.[55]  It was not made to deal specifically with getting around shields or caving in armor.  Whether in self-defense or in a duel, you could not always predict what you would be facing.

Oddly enough though, rapiers were not referred to as “rapiers” in Italy at the time.  Instead, they were, “simply known as ‘spada’ (=sword), while in other countries like England, a sword may have been called a ‘rapier’ just by virtue of being used by a foreigner, especially an Italian.”[56]  Thus my usage of the word rapier is anachronistic in nature.    The word itself was of British origin (like the backsword) and was rejected by certain fencing masters at the time.[57]  As a result of needing to describe this atypical weapon, they likely invented the term “rapier.”

Perceptions of the Duel in Period

Despite how proliferous the duel was at the time, the duel had quite a few detractors.   Many writers at the time claimed that the duel was unnatural and inherently unreasonable.  They argued that whether or not you had dishonored someone, “could no more be proved by a duel than could one’s surpassing an opponent in running or in drinking”[58]  Anyone who has ever been in close proximity to a college sports team or a fraternity can tell you that this is an issue that still persists to this day.  Truth claims are in no way related to your skills in any particular field.  Unfortunately, perceptions of truth claims often are.  While codes of honor may call on you to act a certain way, reason might tell you to take a different direction.

            The sheer absurdity of the claim that violence proved whose voice should be listened to hardly went over the heads of writers at the time.  One even went so far as to ask sarcastically, “whether physicians, if they disagreed, should fight a duel to determine what should be the patient’s medicine.”[59]  The same goes for saying that because Camillo is a better fighter than Giuseppe, that Camillo did not abandon his post on the battlefield.

At the time many appealed both to and against a sense of following the laws of nature.  Some claimed that, “Violence is proper to wild beasts, and in the ability to use it they are superior to men . . . On the other hand, men can protect themselves by erecting walls and by enacting laws. All these facts show that man was intended to settle his differences not by fighting but by reason.”[60]  This assumes that humans are by nature rational, which is questionable at best, and that animals have neither walls nor governing rules.  That last part is plainly false seeing as animals such as gorillas and wolves clearly have an established power structure and that beavers clearly erect walls. 

Others, instead, attempted to appeal to a sense of days gone by.  This idea was present throughout the Renaissance as seen in such phenomena as Neoplatonism and the Church’s rejection of Galileo due to his contradicting the ideas of Aristotle.  They claimed, falsely, that duels were clearly unnatural since the ancient Greeks and Romans had not participated in them.[61]  Thus, since these civilizations supposedly embodied being truly natural, what diverged from their practices was inherently wrong.

Appeals to nature and antiquity were used by the other side as well.  They saw the duel as an extension of self-defense, something in and of itself natural, since your honor was a part of your essential self.  They argued, as well, that there had indeed been progress made since the days of ancient Greece and Rome and that Aristotle was, on occasion, wrong.[62]  Thus, the duel was natural and a step forward from the days of old.

There were though, more compelling arguments put forth.  One was that the duel served as a poor judge since, “its judgment was unreliable and sometimes self-contradictory.”[63]  As we saw earlier, there were a plethora of methods with which you could game the system.  Even without these, duels could end up inconclusive.  If both combatants lunged simultaneously into each other’s skulls, both would likely die instantaneously.   Returning to our original example yet again, this would leave us with no way of knowing whether or not Giuseppe had really insulted Camillo’s honor. Although often times what really happened is somewhere in-between what each party said, there are cases where something either did or did not happen.  In cases such as this, it is highly problematic if the only witnesses are dead and the verdict remains inconclusive.

An argument for dueling (as well as the carrying around of swords on a daily basis) is that of deterrence.  This argument in particular has persisted and has evolved to deal with modern weapons.  If Camillo and Giuseppe get into an argument at a pub and draw their swords, there is now roughly seven feet of steel between the two of them.  If they’re smart they’ll both back up as they do this, which would mean that they would both be out of each other’s narrow measure.  Swords served as a visual reminder, as well, since there really is no way to carry around a three to four foot weapon on a daily basis without it being seen.

Additionally, duels, as an institution, did indeed provide some form of deterrence.  If Giuseppe went around town insulting everyone’s honor, he ought not to be surprised that someone might challenge him to a fight to the death over it.[64]  Camillo would be deterred, as well, from walking around accusing anyone of insulting his own honor since he would then likely be issued a mentita in return.  In addition, duels offered a sort of finality.  If one party was incapacitated or killed and the other was not, then the argument was ideally settled.[65]  Everyone knew who was right and who was wrong and the matter would be laid to rest.  Although in reality, a duel could lead to a cycle of vengeance, it was intended to serve as a finalized form of judgment.

Another argument was that duels prevented lesser evils.  By providing a formalized outlet for civilian violence, authorities could prevent worse events from transpiring.  These could include more “barbarous” acts such as assassinations or street brawls.[66]  Duels were often symptomatic of larger disputes between factions.  By having a formal way for one member from each group to fight it out, a larger fight could be avoided.

            Thus far we have seen both sides of the issue and the case against dueling seems pretty overwhelming.  Why then, we might ask, was the duel such an important institution?  The answer to that is simple, “it was approved by public opinion. Some held that custom must not be preferred to human and divine law.  They noted, furthermore, that the duelist did not receive the praise which was founded on virtue; he was not lauded by the judicious. This was because he preferred the approval of the rabble; he risked his life unnecessarily; and, if he was killed, he lost body, soul, and honor.”[67]  This notion would contradict most everything discussed thus far about the duel’s aim to preserve honor.  My response to this is that there are two ways of looking at honor.  The first of these is that honor is some sort of abstract virtue, independent of whatever might be popular that day.  The other conception of honor is whatever the public decides the signifier “honor” signifies.  If you believe that “honor” was valued at the time since it defined social interactions, then this is the conception for you.  If you however believe that “honor” transcends time and place, I offer you the former conception.

            Throughout the 1540’s, numerous city-states however, outlawed dueling entirely.  Cities and territories such as Naples, Venice, Milan, and Tuscany all enacted various sorts of punishments for dueling.[68]  These ranged from imprisonment, to the execution of both the duelists as well as to their seconds.

            Despite this, duels continued to flourish throughout the sixteenth-century.  Some of this was due to the laws against dueling being viewed as ridiculous.  It was also because there was hardly any consensus within the knights, the lords, or the lawmakers as to what the fate of dueling ought to have been.[69]  It is particularly hard to change long-standing customs when there is no general consensus on which way to go.  Dueling was an ancient institution, one that supposedly brought justice directly into the hands of the people.  The same people who might be tasked with enforcing the ban on dueling were often the ones most likely to engage in duels.  Also, punishing someone for being violent with a fine or more violence could be self-defeating.  In fact, “some would think that incurring this risk indicated bravery, those without property would provoke to duels men who had something to lose, and injury would be given to the participants’ innocent families.”[70]  As such, many at the time proposed that the duel be reformed to limit how often it might occur instead of outright banning it.

Dueling Statistics

In addition to looking at the arguments from both sides and hearing anecdotal reports, it is important to have a few statistics in order to best view the larger picture.  Looking at, “sixteenth and seventeenth-century Italy (contrasted with France)evidence suggests that despite a vibrant fencing culture, and a generally more violent society, death by the sword in civilian duels was not inordinately common. Most violence fell outside of duels, and stopped short of killing, while most fencers would never need to apply their skills to lethal effect.”[71]  Just like modern day martial artists, those at the time would likely train for years without ever having to directly employ what they had learned.  Were swordsmen required to call on their skills, it was much more likely to be in the context of self-defense as opposed to that of the duel.  Although dueling aimed to mitigate spontaneous violence, it was hardly able to do so entirely.

Despite the formal duel as explained here originating in the Italian states, it was France that saw the highest amount of duels per capita.  The numbers for dueling in France, “are significant (a homicide rate of 175 per 100,000 among French gentlemen, from duelling alone) but in perspective, they suggest only 1 in 570 French gentlemen were killed in duels in any given year. This equates to 1.8 deaths from duelling per 100,000 of the overall population.”[72]  So although the duel held a widely recognized role in society, it was not something that occurred all that often.

            On the other hand, there was always plain old murder.  With what evidence we have, we can estimate, “murder rates per 100,000 ranging from: 5 in late sixteenth-century Kent, 10 in Cologne from 1557-1620, between 20 and 36 in Stockholm from 1545-1625, to a high of 47.3 in Rome from 1560-1585 . . . the country with the highest homicide rate in 2010 was Honduras with 82.1, while in the same year the United States had a rate of 5.0”[73]  We can see here that despite the duel’s mystique and place of importance, people generally resorted to homicide instead.  Although there are likely those that used the duel as a way to justify murder, it was clearly not so wide-spread a phenomena that murderers across the board resorted to it.

            By the end of the seventeenth century, dueling was practically nonexistent in Italy.  It had reached its peak just after the middle of the sixteenth-century (only a few decades after most of the major anti-dueling laws were established) and then steadily declined beginning at the end of the century.[74]  We have a handful of accounts of dueling occurring in Europe during the early twentieth century, but otherwise, dueling is something that had largely fallen off of the public’s radar.

            The reason for this is thought to be largely due to the increasing severity and enforcement of anti-dueling laws.  In Europe as a whole, though, dueling did not really go out of fashion until 1918.  While combatants had switched to pistols and sabers, the customs of the mentita and the duel stayed largely intact.  In fact, the nineteenth century saw a drastic number of fatal duels occur across the continent.  It was, though, the overwhelming blood of the First World War that finally turned the public’s opinion on settling private matters through the use of force.[75]  In an ironic twist it was violence that solved violence.


At this point we have seen just how immense an institution the duel was.  It was remarkably intertwined with the idea of honor, something which at the time was held as the basis for society.  Whether honor was internal or bestowed upon you externally, it was the dueling field where you went to ensure the opinion of those around you.  Despite it going in and out of legality, duels persisted for hundreds of years.  People sacrificed all they had for an idea, because for them that idea is what held everything together.  That idea, honor, is what gave everything around them worth.

The fact that honor was held in such high regard did not mean that men acted honorably.  Although the duel may have served as a deterrent towards unbecoming behavior, it was not as widespread as some might think.  Although its many rules likely kept many in check, it is clear that it was still a man-made system, and like all others of its kind, could be gamed.

            At the end of the day, though, the duel was abandoned as a form of judgment.  It was an excess of violence that ultimately brought the duel, as a form of judgment, to its knees.  People moved on and new values were established.  Although the concept of honor remains with us today, it is distinct from its ancestor.  The duel was both rigid and codified as well as brutal and violent.  We must now find new ways to evaluate our worth.

[1] Barbara Holland, Gentleman’s Blood:  A History of Dueling From Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk (New York:  Bloomsbury, 2003), 23-24.

[2] Fredrick Bryson, The Point of Honor in Sixteenth-Century Italy: an Aspect of the Life of the Gentleman (New York:  Columbia, 1935), 1.

[3] Fredrick Bryson, The Point of Honor, 1.

[4] Bryson, The Point of Honor, 2.

[5] Bryson, The Point of Honor, 2.

[6] Bryson, The Point of Honor, 3.

[7] Bryson, The Point of Honor, 5.

[8] Bryson, The Point of Honor, 5.

[9] Bryson, The Point of Honor, 10.

[10] Bryson, The Point of Honor, 10.

[11] Bryson, The Point of Honor, 10.

[12] Bryson, The Point of Honor, 9.

[13] Tom Leoni, “The Judicial Duel” In In The Service of Mars Volume I, edited Gregory D. Mele, 237.  Wheaton, IL:  Freelance Academy Press, 2010.

[14] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 239.

[15] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 239.

[16] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, page 240

[17] Fredrick Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel; a Study in Renaissance Social History (Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press, 1938), 45.

[18] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 238.

[19] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 246-247.

[20] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 240.

[21] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 237.

[22] I realize that in Italian, the word mentita is in fact singular.  I have avoided conjugating it here, though, in order to avoid confusion for readers who are not familiar with Italian.

[23] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 241.

[24] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 241.

[25]Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 241.

[26] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 241-242.

[27] As you might have noticed, these categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

[28] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 242.

[29] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 242.

[30] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 242.

[31] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 244.

[32] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 244.

[33] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 245.

[34] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 47.

[35] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 246.

[36] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 245.

[37] Ridolfo Capo Ferro, Great Representation of the Art and Use of Fencing (Sienna, Tuscany: 1610).

[38] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 246.

[39] I cannot speak hear for traditions in other areas of the world as to whether or not duels may have taken place at dawn like we see in so many movies.

[40] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 247.

[41] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 247.

[42] I use the term “unjust” here not to refer to our contemporary ideas of what is and what is not just, seeing as that could easily exclude dueling as a whole.  Instead I use the term to describe sensibilities of the time.

[43] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 246-247.

[44] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 247.

[45] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 247.

[46] “The Dubious Quick Kill,” last modified Mar 26 2006,

[47] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 247-248.

[48] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 249.  The emphasis here is from the original source and was not added in by myself.

[49] Leoni, “The Judicial Duel”, 238.

[50] “The rapier: facts, factoids and unanswered questions,” last modified Oct 28, 2011,

[51] “The rapier: facts, factoids and unanswered questions.”

[52] Capo Ferro, Grand Representation.

[53] I acknowledge that the word “tempo” is technically a singular form, but I have kept it as such in order to best communicate to an English-speaking audience.

[54] “The rapier: facts, factoids and unanswered questions.”

[55] “The Rapier Revisited,” last modified Oct 28, 2011,

[56] “The rapier: facts, factoids and unanswered questions.”

[57] George Silver, Paradoxes of Defense (England, 1599).

[58] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 87.

[59] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 87.

[60] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 87.

[61] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 88.

[62] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 90-91.

[63] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 88.

[64] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 91.

[65] Remember, double jeopardy meant that the duel could not be refought were there to be a conclusive winner.

[66] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 95.

[67] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 94.

[68] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 103.

[69] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 113.

[70] Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel, 99.

[71] “Fencing Culture, Duelling and Violence,” last modified Aug 5, 2013,

[72] “Fencing Culture, Duelling and Violence.”

[73] “Fencing Culture, Duelling and Violence.”

[74] “Fencing Culture, Duelling and Violence.”

[75] Holland, Gentleman’s Blood, 23-24.

Works Cited

Fredrick Bryson, The Point of Honor in Sixteenth-Century Italy: an Aspect of the Life of the

Gentleman (New York:  Columbia, 1935).

Fredrick Bryson, The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel; a Study in Renaissance Social History

(Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press, 1938).

Ridolfo Capo Ferro, Great Representation of the Art and Use of Fencing (Sienna, Tuscany:


Barbara Holland, Gentleman’s Blood:  A History of Dueling From Swords at Dawn to Pistols at

Dusk (New York:  Bloomsbury, 2003).

Tom Leoni, “The Judicial Duel” In In The Service of Mars Volume I, edited Gregory D. Mele.

Wheaton, IL:  Freelance Academy Press, 2010.

George Silver, Paradoxes of Defense (England, 1599).

“The Dubious Quick Kill,” last modified Mar 26 2006,

“Fencing Culture, Duelling and Violence,” last modified Aug 5, 2013,

“The rapier: facts, factoids and unanswered questions,” last modified Oct 28, 2011,

“The Rapier Revisited,” last modified Oct 28, 2011,

Published by Arik Mendelevitz

A martial artist since the age of 8, I picked up a rapier for the first time in March of 2008 and have never looked back since.

2 thoughts on “The Duel In Sixteenth-Century Italy

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