A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Antoine Marçal Rondel Dagger
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
The knife is one of mankind's oldest tools. From ancient stone implements to modern blades, the knife and its martial cousin the dagger have served as both daily tools as well as weapons. Despite its timeless nature, though, its design has taken on many forms, always dependent on the knife's intended use.
The rondel dagger was a popular design in the Middle Ages. Named so for its distinctive disc-shaped guard and/or pommel, which were known as rondels, this design could be seen in period art throughout the later Medieval time period and even into the Renaissance. The design is quite prevalent in period fencing treatises as well, and is quite often illustrated in use in both unarmoured fighting and fully plate-armoured combat. While just about any dagger could be utilized for such fighting, the fact that this design was so commonly depicted is telling if we look at the properties of such weapons.
Rondel daggers vary in design. Nonetheless, a great number are single-edged with a sharp thrusting point. Some rondel daggers were not even sharp along the edge and in some cases were completely edgeless. These weapons were primarily thrusting weapons, even if they had the ability to cut. Medieval clothing oftentimes involved multiple layers for warmth, perhaps covered with some form of wool outer-garment. Slashing attacks would have little effect against an opponent except for exposed areas such as the hands. It is because of this that the thrust was the predominant method of attack.
Furthermore, when used in armoured combat, cuts were all but useless, even with swords. Thrusting into the exposed joints and openings of the armour was necessary to defeat a well-defended opponent. Quite often a knight was forced to subdue his opponent by closing in to grapple and wrestle him to the ground. In this scenario a weapon such as a sword would be too large and awkward for the close press, and was often dropped. The dagger would be quickly called into play for thrusting into the exposed openings of a pinned knight. It was important for the dagger to have a sturdy blade in order to handle such thrusts, as one did not want a blade snapping as it got caught between the plates of the armour, or as it thrust into mail defenses.
Even still, an edge was clearly thought to be useful, as evidenced by the many antique daggers that are sharpened. Slices to the exposed dagger hand are shown in period manuals for unarmoured combat. In armoured combat there are instructions to cut the leather straps of the opponent's armour once he is pinned on the ground. Ultimately, though, the thrust was the most vital aspect of dagger combat for the 14th and 15th century.
This dagger is the product of Antoine Marçal, a Canadian knife-maker. Marçal forges his blades and does his own heat-treating. Based on the images of his Web site, it seems he is no stranger to creating historically-based knives of various cultures. He also creates modern-styled ones as well. The Web site is written in both English and French side by side, making it easily accessible to those who speak either language.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Antoine Marçal of of Quebec, Canada.
This is the type of dagger that a person could easily describe as being "trusty". It has just enough weight to support hard thrusts. It has a long reach, long enough for the many hooking actions often required of dagger combat. For example, if my opponent and I are both holding the dagger in a reverse grip and he thrusts downwards from above, I may defend by lifting my arm to catch the oncoming attack forearm-to-forearm. The length of the dagger would allow me to wrap the blade over the opponent's arm to trap it against the sharpened blade while I simultaneously closed in to strike with the off-hand or throw the person over my hip.
The balance is nice. It has a good amount of heft that wants to move forward, but the user doesn't need to fight against the weapon to control it.
The dagger tip is quite acute, but is backed by an otherwise broad and thick blade. Having done tests into hard plastic, I am confident that the tip is well reinforced and hard enough to take punishment. The edge is very sharp, and if used to strike someone's dagger hand, would do severe damage. Because of the thick design of the blade, the edge is no razorblade, but it is still quite dangerous.
The grip is very comfortable. It is carved so that the center is slightly narrower than the ends, allowing a strong grip near the guard between the fleshy-portion of the palm by the forefinger and the thumb, yet leaving plenty of room for fine control with the rest of the fingers around the middle area. It is easy to hold this weapon in either an over-hand or under-hand grip, and the cross-section of the wooden grip is slightly ovular to allow a feel for edge alignment without having to look at the weapon. The pommel is flat enough so that I could push against it with the off-hand if necessary.
Fit and Finish
The rondels that make up the guard and pommel are also cleanly made. They are not merely flat discs, but are thick in the center where they meet the grip, and taper out to have thinner edges. This is a subtle detail that is prominent on period originals, yet many modern reproductions opt for the flat discs because they are easier to produce. I am happy to see the convex shape produced here. The steel is oil blackened and polished to an attractive, dark sheen. The rondels are not 100% centered, but this is only noticeable if you look specifically for imperfections. It is not something that I find to be a concern at all, as I barely noticed it myself.
The tang is peened over a reddened copper washer. The nice red color was a surprise to me, as this is not often seen, nor is it the type of red typically associated with copper. It adds a small splash of color to an otherwise austere weapon.
The grip is made of an unidentified exotic wood. The wood is solid and has a subtly attractive grain that does not overpower the rest of the aesthetics. The carving is expertly done, and feels very comfortable in hand. The grip is smooth, but there is no fear of it slipping due to the shape of the rondels, which hold the hand in place. There is enough room on the grip that one could also wear a steel gauntlet as well.
The workmanship on this dagger is very impressive. The fine skill required to create it is evident. It is an excellent example of medieval daggers, in terms of utility as well as aesthetics. The overall appearance of this dagger is one of serious function, but the form was clearly created with pride and craftsmanship. It is the type of weapon that would have been appreciated by a common soldier as well as a wealthy knight. I would highly recommend Antoine Marçal's work for anyone desiring such a piece.
About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.
Thank you to Jason Elrod for this wonderful gift.
Photographer: Bill Grandy