Tools of the Trade: German Rugger

“Tools of the Trade” is an ongoing series highlighting antique weapons/equipment pertaining to Western swordsmanship. It will feature hi-res photography and statistics, but also will address the tools from a martial artist’s point of view. Click on each image for the full resolution.

Southern Germany or Central Europe, circa 1500
by Bill Grandy

Location: The Finnegan Collection (Private)
Overall length:  15.25 inches (38.735 cm)
Blade length:  10.875 inches (27.622 cm)
Blade width (measured 1 inch from tang at widest point): 1 inch (2.54 cm)
Blade thickness at spine: 4.5 mm at tang meeting point; 4 mm at midpoint; 0.75 mm at 1 cm from point
Point of Balance: 2.625 inches (6.668 cm) (NOTE: POB would be different if the grip still survived)
Grip length: 4.125 inches (10.478 cm)
Weight:  4.27 oz (121.052 g)

This late medieval/early Renaissance knife can be called a rugger or a bauernwehr. The words can sometimes be interchangeable, although rugger tends to imply a more tapered point, as with this example, whereas bauernwehr tends to imply a more cut-oriented blade. The term bauernwehr loosely means “peasant’s defense weapon”, although despite the name, fancier versions were carried by the upper classes as well. The heyday of these weapons was the latter half of the 15th century and throughout the 16th, particularly in the German speaking lands.

This particular example is in excavated condition, and the grip has long since been lost to time. When reading the measurements it is important to remember that this would have had more weight in it’s original form, as it would have had more metal before the corrosion as well as still having the grip. The most common grip material for this type of weapon was two scales of wood rivetted onto the faces of the tang, although horn and bone examples were also known. Some versions completely enclose the tang, though the most common style would have a “full tang” construction where the front and spine of the tang were visible. The latter is most likely how this knife was constructed when new, based on the width of the tang.

The holes along the tang are where the grip would have been rivetted on, and near the blade there are two rivet holes close together. Most likely at this spot there had been a bolster with a nagel (nail) rivetted through. The nagel is a protrusion at the guard perpendicular to the blade, and was very common on this type of weapon as well as its cousins, such as the larger sword-sized langes messser. Fencing treatises dealing with the langes messer show how the nagel is often used to aid in parrying or controlling another weapon. Unfortunately, no known fencing treatises survive that detail the use of the rugger/bauernwehr, although it is not far-fetched to make an educated guess on techniques based on blending contemporary messer and dagger treatises.

This particular knife is lightweight and would have been quite maneuverable had the grip survived. The blade does not show signs of repeated sharpening in the way that simple tools often do. This suggests that it was intended as a weapon first and foremost, not a basic utility knife that would require regular re-sharpening. It tapers to a fine yet robust point, one designed with thrusting as a primary function as with many similar sized daggers, although the edge is still quite sharp where it has not corroded off. This would have been a formidable self defense weapon for a person of the period to carry in day-to-day life.

About the author: Bill Grandy was previously the Director of Historical Swordsmanship at the Virginia Academy of Fencing, where he had taught professionally for 20 years. He is now retired from teaching. His HEMA studies began in 1998 (back before anyone called it “HEMA”), though he practiced modern sport fencing since the late 1980’s, and spent most of the 1990’s practicing Aikido before eventually giving up both when he found his true passion with the historical western fighting styles. His specialties are the German Liechtenauer tradition of swordsmanship as well as the Renaissance Italian rapier, though he tries to find time to work with numerous other weapon arts whenever he can. Bill has traveled extensively to study both period fencing treatises as well as antique arms and armor, and he has also been invited regularly to teach at major HEMA events.

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