Arms & Armor Rondel Dagger
A hands-on review by Alexi Goranov

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Daggers have always been considered an essential military sidearm, yet between the end of the Viking era (circa 1066) and the mid 14th century very little artistic evidence exists regarding the nature of the daggers in use. However, after about 1350 almost every knightly effigy, brass, or painting depicts a dagger suspended on the right side or at the front of the belt. In the period between the mid-14th century and the end of 16th one can distinguish four groups of daggers, the differences being mostly in the shape of the grip: the baselard, the ballock (or kidney) dagger, the sword-hilted (or quillon) dagger, and the rondel dagger. The hilt of the baselard dagger looks like an "H" on its side. The ballock dagger has two globular protrusions at the bottom of the hilt that serve as guards. The sword-hilted dagger, as the name implies, has a distinct pommel and cross-like guard like its larger cousins. The rondel dagger usually, but not always, has two disk-shaped guards flanking the grip. Indeed the name "rondel" is a modern term applied to this type of dagger because of these disks (known as rondels). Even though all types of daggers were worn by 14th and 15th century knights, the rondel dagger is often described as an exclusively knightly weapon.

At least initially, the blade of the rondel dagger did not differ much from that of the other three types of daggers. Most 14th century examples are single-edged blades of varying lengths with strong thrusting potential. Many period illustrations show the rondel dagger being used with a stabbing motion, and the slender blades of the daggers made it possible for the point to easily find the openings in the armour of an opponent. This ability was an essential feature of the rondel dagger, as it was a weapon usually used as a last resort in the heat of the battle when there was little room for mistakes. In such instances, being able to dispatch a foe with a well-placed stab could have made the difference between life and death. The rondel dagger also was used to mercifully kill wounded soldiers. Due to this role, the rondel daggers (and daggers in general) are sometimes called misericordes, from the French word for "mercy".

Arms & Armor of Minneapolis is one of the leading companies in today's market of production and custom medieval and renaissance weapons. Virtually all the wares in their extensive lineup are faithful reproductions of existing period originals. The subject of this review is their Rondel Dagger (#110). It is based on a dagger depicted in a late 14th century fresco by Altichiero da Zevio.

Ordering by phone was quick and courteously received, and the dagger arrived within 3 weeks as promised. The package was well-prepared, and as a result the dagger experienced no damage during its travel. The blade appeared to have been well oiled, and there were no rusty spots or blemishes upon arrival.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:8.8 ounces
Overall length:16 1/4 inches
Blade length:12 inches
Blade width:1 inch at base, tapering to 3/8 inch
Blade thickness:1/4 inch at base
Grip length:4 inches
Guard width:2 1/16 inches (upper), 7/8 inch (lower)
Point of Balance:1 1/4 inches from guard

Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.

Handling Characteristics
Not much can be said about the handling characteristics of a dagger. It sits comfortably in the hand in either the "ice-pick grip" (a very common way of using the dagger) or the "hammer grip" (as is illustrated for rondel daggers in some period fighting manuals). The dagger was ordered sharp and it arrived with a good, even edge which was not excessively sharp (paper-cutting sharp). However, a sharper edge was obtained with little extra work.

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Dagger in Hand

The blade geometry and stiffness of the dagger indicate a very strong thrusting potential, and to test that, I performed stabbing tests against a solid wood plank. I held the plank vertically with one hand, one end against the ground, and held the dagger with the other hand. The plank thus had some "give" after being hit. I struck the plank with a downward stabbing motion. Before I conducted these tests I was concerned that the lower guard was too small and would allow my hand to slip down onto the blade during a powerful thrust. After striking the plank several times, I was convinced that my concern was unfounded. The dagger performed very well. My hand did not slip on the grip or encounter any obstruction from the guards. The dagger's point sunk about 0.45" in the plank. This did not cause any scratching or bending of the blade. This is to be expected as the dagger blade is appropriately heat-treated. These tests revealed no weaknesses in the construction or rattling of any sort.

Fit and Finish
This is an aesthetically stunning weapon. Its elegance cannot be fully appreciated until it is inspected personally. The blade features a prominent profile taper and a very gentle distal taper. The thick back of the blade gives it a pronounced triangular cross-section. The point is evenly executed to an almost needle-like sharpness. The last 2.25" of the back of the blade is evenly beveled to form a false edge. This is a feature found on period daggers. The blade has an even satin finish and its lines are cleanly executed, with no apparent wavering or undulations. The blade, regrettably, does not feature a maker's mark.

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Rondel Detail

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Tip Detail

No matter how well-executed the blade is, the beauty of the hilt is what captures one's attention immediately. The grip is made from a single piece of stabilized ash which is compressed between the two rondels that form the upper and lower guards. The lower rondel (at the base of the blade) is smaller than the upper one; this difference in size is a common feature of many period pieces. The tang is peened over a hexagonal rivet block. Indeed, the hilt is constructed around the symmetry of the hexagon. The grip is of hexagonal section, with six spiral flutes. The rondels are hexagonal in shape with inward-curving sides and ridges radiating from their center to their corners. These ridges correspond to the ridges of the grip. This is a very nice feature that illustrates the attention to detail at Arms & Armor.

The beautifully shaped rondels are possibly the most attention-drawing elements of the dagger. They were made by investment casting in mild steel and have virtually no flaws. The only discernable pits are smaller than the head of a pin and are noteworthy only because they add to the uniqueness and hand-made appearance of the weapon.

The scabbard for this dagger (sold separately) is solidly constructed from thick leather with a single seam on the back. The dagger fits snugly inside and is well protected. Prolonged storage of the dagger in the scabbard did not result in any rusting of the blade or lower rondel.

Arms & Armor has been improving their already great products steadily over the years, and their passion and dedication for their craft is clearly seen. There is little surprise that I was very satisfied with my purchase. I believe that this piece is a fine addition to my collection, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in purchasing a quality rondel dagger.

About the Author
Alexi is a postdoc in the biological sciences at MIT. He has had an outstanding interest in medieval military history and weaponry for many years, but only started collecting in late 2003. His main interests lie towards European weapons and warfare practices of the 13th and 14th centuries.

Author's Note
I want to thank Craig Johnson of Arms & Armor for providing important details regarding the manufacture of the reviewed dagger.

Photographer: Steve Maly; in-hand photo by Alexi Goranov

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