Names are goofy things. A bayonet was originally a folding knife from Bayonne that had nothing to do with firearms. (Kind of like the “Swiss Army Knife” of today.) Similarly, the stiletto seems to have been a particular kind of long dagger that was used to defeat armor. Like the bayonet, it’s now known for something different, and that’s what we’re concerned with today.
The commonality between the knightly weapon and the so-called assassin’s blade we’re concerned with is the blade. It’s usually a sturdy thrusting blade with a triangular cross-section that has no pretense of being a cutting weapon. Including its one-handed hilt, the whole thing is about the length of your forearm — which is not surprising, because that’s a really effective place to strap one.
To top it all off, this version of the stiletto doesn’t have much in the way of a hand guard. It’s only purpose is to keep your hand from sliding up the blade when stabbing it into a person.
Laws as Things to be Avoided
Modern reasons for concealing a weapon are complicated by the idea that openly carrying is somehow threatening, or that legal concealed carry can be a deterrent to criminal activity. No, our ancestors carried concealed either because it was completely illegal to carry, or because they were up to no good.
Leaving aside the “up to no good” part, the excuses why authorities might criminalize carry are many. The Romans, for example, didn’t allow weapons inside the pomerium — the religious border of the city that separated the chaotic outside world from the inner, civilized one. (This particular law produced some etiquette that seems odd today — for example, the military wasn’t supposed to enter the city proper, nor ambassadors from non-allied countries.) While part of that had to do with the rulers being afraid of the citizenry — especially in the days of citizen soldiers — people seemed to follow the rule because carrying in town was something that barbarians did. When violence did break out between mobs, they tended to fight with improvised clubs and paving stones.
And as Caesar found out, kitchen knives work just fine in a pinch.
Other Ways to Skirt Prohibitions
Concealing a prohibited weapon isn’t the only way to get around a weapons carry ban. Various tools can do double duty. Besides the aforementioned utility knife, canes and walking sticks suddenly come into fashion on implementation of a ban. (Put a fancy head on your cane, and now you’ve got something that’ll count as a mace instead of a club.)
And this doesn’t even count construction tools and farm implements that can be pressed into service. Some of them — hatchets and hammers — are small enough to carry.
Selected Concealable Weapons
(Final note: I might go through a long list of “peasant weapons” in a later post.)