Bert Gevaert

Pour l’honneur? Duelling in the army of Napoleon - by Bert Gevaert (APD6/2)

pp. 39-76

Abstract – Duelling and Napoleonic history go together like a horse and carriage. Though strictly forbidden and disliked by Napoleon, duelling was a very frequent phenomenon in the Grande Armée. It is even possible to speak about a ‘duellomanie’, which caused many (deadly) victims. Nevertheless, for various reasons soldiers crossed blades and duels went according to certain unwritten rules. After an official invitation to go to a certain place at a certain time, a duel, fought with specific weapons, took place under the watchful eye of seconds. Sometimes these duellists wanted to kill their opponent, but in many duels the only intention was to cause a (light) wound. Although duels were honourable and a symbol of masculinity and bravery, they also caused many soldiers to die, not for their country, but in a fight without purpose.

Keywords – saber; blade; smallsword; spadroon; Napoleonic warfare; Napoleon; duelling; Material culture; Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA); History

The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon (Bert Gevaert) - APD4/1(2016)

Citation Information: Acta Periodica Duellatorum. Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 103–151, ISSN (Online) 2064-0404, DOI:, May 2016


Though Napoleonic warfare is usually associated with guns and cannons, edged weapons still played an important role on the battlefield. Swords and sabers could dominate battles and this was certainly the case in the hands of experienced cavalrymen. In contrast to gunshot wounds, wounds caused by the saber could be treated quite easily and caused fewer casualties. In 18th and 19th century France, not only manuals about the use of foil and epee were published, but also some important works on the military saber: de Saint Martin, Alexandre Muller… The saber was not only used in individual fights against the enemy, but also as a duelling weapon in the French army.