On knives and daggers strapped to the thigh or back

Anonymous asked we-are-knight: I’m finding all these back carry and why it’s a nope really interesting. What would be your take on the media showing shorter swords or daggers being u sheathed from a horizontal position on the back of the wait or from the ever so famous thigh sheath?

we-are-knight replied: It can functionally work, but the point of such drawing methods is for a surprise element, taking a weapon out of a hidden spot. @we-are-rogue can tell you more here, I should expect. 🙂

For knives, a thigh holster is absolutely feasible, practical, and (in modern contexts) common. It’s not subtle, of course, but if you strapped a knife to your thigh you obviously weren’t aiming for subtlety. Also popular with divers.


Or maybe you DID aim for subtlety, and it was a thin knife and you then wore a skirt over it. This won’t allow you to draw as fast as lightning, but will definitely conceal your (thin) blade.


Horizontally at your back, behind your waist, is also real and practical in modern contexts. Drawing from that position comes very naturally. If you carry a backpack above it, it’s still easy to draw, and won’t draw that much attention. It doesn’t need to be a small knife, even machetes are carried like that. [x] Of course, if it’s small, it’s easier to hide. But most of the time the reason is convenience, and the logistics of carrying too many things, not setting up for a sneak attack.back

Historically, the cinquedea may have been sheathed that way. It’s how modern reenactors do it in Venice (admittedly aiming for tourist attraction first and historical accuracy second, but still):

cinq reen

A detail from a 1501 Italian painting shows a cinquedea worn like this, not quite horizontally, but at the small of the back:


Also an Italian mural from 1490 shows an ear dagger sheathed somewhere in the general… rear area:ear

And another from the same period appears to depict a rondel dagger. In both of these the dagger hangs from the belt along with a purse.


In a 1631 painting of a scuffle, sometimes attributed to Velázquez, we see a man drawing a dagger (possibly a stiletto or similar) from a horizontal position:


Another 1628 Velázquez painting shows a parrying dagger securely strapped at the back, diagonally:


These details are from paintings by Valentin de Boulogne, French, circa 1620-1631:

This is from a Flemish engraving, 1619-1628:


This left-hand dagger, with quillons and thumb-ring, is from a Flemish painting, circa 1627:

Allegorie van het Schepengerecht van Gedele in Gent - Th

And I think I’ve seen a miniature from the Hundred Years’ War showing a rondel dagger carried horizontally at the small of the back, but I can’t find it right now, I could be mistaken. However, there are portraits of men in armour with a dagger hilt protruding behind them: here is one of Cosimo I de’ Medici (c. 1570), and one of Joachim II. of Brandenburg (c. 1520) with a rondel.

Of course, paintings are not photographs, and there are all sorts of reasons artists might depict a dagger worn like that other than “it’s actually how people wear it”. Maybe it was symbolic, maybe it was aesthetic, or maybe they really liked to draw butts. But with so many examples in so many different contexts, I think we can safely assume it happened some of the time.

There’s also gaucho knives. The gauchos (cowboys of the South American pampas) often carried a long knife diagonally behind their back, and in fact still do.gaucho1gaucho2From Abel A. Domenech’s A Short Essay About Gaucho Knives: Facón, Daga, Cuchilla and Puñal:

“Customarily, gauchos carried their long bladed knives across their lower backs, crossed through their tirador (wide belt) and with the edge upwards. This enabled them to carry a very long blade easily, especially when riding a horse, and also to unsheathe it very quickly and ready to cut. […] Smaller knives, with blades of not more than 13 or 15 cm and with metal or wooden handles, a smaller version of puñales, are usually carried on the front and are called verijeros. This name of verijero comes from the carry position, on the front near the right side of the belt buckle (rastra) and near the groins, a part of the body popularly known locally as verija.” 

For size comparison:

So the facón (first and second in the pic above) was worn at the back, the verijero at the front, and sizes in between were usually worn at the front or side.

So it’s not a lot, but it’s not unheard of either, and at least the cinquedea (and the machete…) is a large blade, you can call it a “short sword”, conventionally speaking.

VERDICT : Sure, it’s feasible and practical and a real thing in both historical and modern contexts. But not all historical contexts. In most cases, we know for a fact that people wore their daggers at the front or side and showed off a lot.

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