A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
The Cinquedea by Lutel: Threat or Menace
A hands-on review by Gene George
The cinquedea enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries. Ewart Oakeshott, in his book Archaeology of Weapons, states that "(b)efore about 1460 or 1470 it seems to have been unknown, and there are no specimens which can be said with certainty to have been made after about 1520". Only achieving popularity in Italy, and unlike other fashions of the Italian Renaissance, cinquedeas did not seem to spread to the rest of Europe.
Typically quite broad at the quillons, the "five fingers" wide blade gives the cinquedea its name. Cinquedeas ranged in size from small belt daggers to full-sized swords. De Rocca in Swords and Hilt Weapons points to the cinquedea as primarily a fashionable civilian weapon, rather than a piece of military hardware. Oakeshott speculates that the cinquedea style is directly derived from classical Bronze Age and early Iron Age Greek and Mycenaean weapons.
One of the appealing qualities of the cinquedea form is that the broad blade makes an excellent canvas for etching or engraving, and indeed many examples are literally covered with intricate artwork. Even the more plain examples usually bear attractive multiple fullers that could only be created on a blade of extreme width.
Although the cinquedea eventually lost the battle for novelty and was discarded, it remains a unique sidearm that was very much a product of its time. The question every student of historical weapons seems to ask about the cinquedea is "is it a sword or a dagger?" The cinquedea form has been documented with blade lengths from six to nine inches long to full-sized battle swords. There is even a photograph of a very large cinquedea-like two handed bearing sword shaped like a giant pie server. The average size documented by Oakeshott is stated to be 15" to 20" and 3 1/2" to 4" at the hilt.
Lutel produces a number of moderately priced historical replicas. Based in the city of Opava in the eastern Czech Republic, Lutel uses modern techniques to recreate historical arms and armor. Their designs show good attention to detail and excellent craftsmanship. My business dealings with them have always been prompt, professional and courteous. My orders were acknowledged quickly and progress was easy to monitor on their Web site.
This piece doesn't seem to duplicate any particular historical sword, but it exhibits all of the characteristics of the classic cinquedea: A wide, stiff blade with multiple fullers, downward pointing curved quillons, and the distinctive hilt style that Oakeshott claims is derived from classical sword and dagger hilts.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Lutel of the Czech Republic.
For the purposes of handling, this Lutel piece seems to be right around average. My answer to the dagger vs. short sword question is that this particular cinquedea is a short sword pure and simple. The blade is very stiff and suited to thrusting even with a rounded point. The trowel-like point would produce terrific wounds on an unarmored opponent. The wide, rather flat blade can also be used for hacking cuts that few blades this size could match.
Moving the weapon around is relatively easy, as balance is quite good. This is a short sword with more presence and authority than most simply due to its slightly greater weight carried in a compact package. Much like some earlier Viking, migration, and "dark ages" period swords the rather angular hilt and pommel are difficult to grip using a "hammer" grip with the handle running straight across the palm. Placing the pommel at the heel of my hand seems much more natural and would make for a good strong thrust. This seems to be a feature on cinquedeas bearing similar pommel shapes and the same handling notes apply here.
The sword was shipped sharpened and displays good edge geometry with no secondary bevel. It has what I would consider a good working edge and there would be no real need to do more than keep it maintained. It isn't razor sharp as some production swords arrive, but has enough strength and sharpness to do any thrusting or cleaving required of it.
Fit and Finish
Lutel has done a good job in presenting a well-made piece. The blade shows good form and a radical distal taper from 1/8" at the hilt to approximately 1/32" at the broad spatulate tip. The blade has six fullers in three rows of 3, 2, and 1 and these are deeply and precisely cut. The blade and fullers are finished moderately well with some hand polishing required to remove fine scratches, especially in the hard to reach areas of the fullers. Overall the sword is tight and fittings precisely matched with little to no gaps. The wooden hilt is dyed black and is either oak or walnut (I think it is oak) with a pair of brass florets on each side that add an elegant and subtle design touch. The scabbard echoes the 3, 2, and 1 layout of the fullers and has a leather locket with pinking and knot work carving and is finished with a metal chape. Overall the effect is striking and this sword would be right at home slung at the right hip or across the small of the back of a young bravo out for a night of carousing in the dark and dangerous streets of Florence or along the canals of Venice.
Even though the cinquedea form was in fashion for only a few decades, it remains a popular piece with collectors of reproduction arms. Why is this? Perhaps it's because the cinquedea represents one of the first efforts of Renaissance artisans to blend ancient form and function in an intentional design aesthetic. That speaks to a lot of collectors, myself included.
The Renaissance was a time of rebirth of classical values, and more importantly, a time when these values were systematically applied to everyday objects to enhance them both in terms of appearance and function. The cinquedea form swords and daggers represent an interesting change in the approach to weapons and in the art and science of making, decorating and using them.
No longer were swords and daggers mere tools to be used, but they had become canvases to display the art and artifice of the Italian Renaissance. This is evidenced in not only the cinquedea but in almost all forms of weapons produced. Maybe the fact that the cinquedea had such a brief period of use before fashion passed it by makes it all the more valuable as an indicator of the mood and mindset of our forefathers.
About the Author
Gene George has been fascinated with weapons and armor as long as he can recall. A former archaeologist and historian, he lives with his wife 14 miles west of where they filmed The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and 60 miles North-Northwest of where they filmed Captain Blood (1935). He has a big pile of swords and wants more.
Photographer: Gene George