|For other uses, see Jolly Roger (disambiguation)|
- "Now we pause to appreciate the beginning of the raid proper. First we will unlock the main gate...then lower the flag and replace it with a Jolly Roger. That's the signal to our rickett-ridden crew, and they'd best be watching for it. Ready, lad? Yo ho!"
- ―Jack Sparrow to Will Turner[src]
The Jolly Roger was the name for any of various flags that pirates flown to identify themselves, usually before attacking another ship. The most famous and traditional variation of the Jolly Roger was the skull and crossbones, a flag consisting of a human skull above two long bones (although swords were also common) set in an X-mark arrangement, usually depicted crossing each other directly under the skull, on a black background. This design was used by several pirates, including Captains "Black Sam" Bellamy and Edward England, but pirates often add special features to reflect their personalities.
Some Jolly Roger flags also include an hourglass, another common symbol representing death in 17th- and 18th-century Europe. Despite its prominence, plain black flags were often employed by most pirates in the 17th-18th century. Historically, the flag was flown to frighten pirates' victims into surrendering without a fight, since it conveyed the message that the attackers were outlaws who would not consider themselves bound by the usual rules of engagement—and might, therefore, slaughter those they defeated. The same message was sometimes conveyed by a red flag, though meant that the crew would fight to the death.
Origin of the name
- "I intend to see to it that any man who sails under a pirate flag, or wears a pirate brand, gets what he deserves: a short drop and a sudden stop."
- ―James Norrington to Elizabeth Swann[src]
The earliest known mention of the Jolly Roger is in Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, published in 1724. The book mentions that both Bartholomew Roberts and Francis Spriggs both called their flag the Jolly Roger, though the flags were different and neither were the popular skull and crossbones design.
As early as 1704, pirates were referring to their flags as Rogers and in 1703, one captain referred to his flag as "Old Roger". The name Roger derives from the word rogue, meaning a wandering thief or vagabond. The name "Old Roger" was another name for the devil.
Less popular theories include the name being derived from the French term "Jolli Rouge" (meaning "Pretty Red") or from the name Ali Raja, a famous Indian pirate.
Origin of the design
- "I thought it would be nice to run up me flag on our maiden voyage. Will you do the honors?"
- ―Jack Sparrow and Kwame[src]
Bones and skulls have been a sign of death since early Rome. Skulls and long bones have been displayed in catacombs, crypts, and graveyards since the Middle Ages. Bones were used because they lasted long after the rest of the body was gone. Later, carvings of the skull and bones were used to remind people who entered that they would one day die also.
The use of plain black flags was more common than flags with the skull and crossbones. When the skull and crossbones was used, they were often modified by the captain. The Welsh privateer Henry Morgan was the first captain who flew the typical skull and crossbones on a red background. Three and a half decades later, the pirate captain Edward England used the same flag, but with the black background, a design which was later adopted by many other members of the Brethren of the Coast. The same flag, but with the reversed colours, was used among pirates to signal parlay. For unknown reasons, many pirates believed that England's design was the first typical pirate flag.
Gallery of notable Jolly Rogers
Behind the scenes
- Hector Barbossa's flag (the skull with cross swords) is the best known flag used throughout the Pirates of the Caribbean universe. It was seen in the trailer for Armada of the Damned, and is currently the only pirate flag to appear in more than one POTC film. While appearing in the trailers and featurettes for Dead Man's Chest and On Stranger Tides, the flag never made an appearance in the films themselves, though it can been seen very briefly in a shot of the Black Pearl in a bottle. In the script for The Curse of the Black Pearl, the skull on Barbossa's pirate flag was described to be exactly like the skull imprinted on the Aztec gold medallion.
- According to the official website for At World's End, Sao Feng's flag was purple with a golden hand holding a sword and Chinese letters on it. For unknown reasons, The Pirates' Guidelines book shows the historical flag of Edward Low (the red skeleton on a black background) as Sao Feng's flag.
- It was shown in On Stranger Tides that Blackbeard had a flag with a large skull with flames, revealing his passion for dark magic. However, in real world history, Blackbeard never used dark magic. In the film's junior novelization, Blackbeard's flag featured the skeleton of the devil sticking a spear into a blood red heart.
- One of Marc Davis' concept artworks shows Henry Morgan holding the red Jolly Roger with the white skull and crossbones. In real-world history, the Jolly Roger wasn't used by pirates before the end of the 17th century, almost a decade after Morgan's death.
- Jolly Rogers can be seen in several Disney Parks locations, including at the entrance of the Tortuga Tavern restaurant and in the 2012 attraction The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow.
- Pirates of the Caribbean (ride)
- The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow
- Jack Sparrow: The Pirate Chase
- Jack Sparrow: The Sword of Cortés
- Jack Sparrow: Silver
- Jack Sparrow: Dance of the Hours
- Jack Sparrow: Sins of the Father
- The Price of Freedom
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Isles of War
- Legends of the Brethren Court: The Caribbean
- Legends of the Brethren Court: Wild Waters
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (First appearance)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Missing Pirate
- The Accidental Pirate! (First identified as the Jolly Roger)
- Open Sesame!
- The Buccaneer's Heart!
- Going Overboard!
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (video game)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Master of the Seas
- LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game (Non-canonical appearance)
- Pirates of the Caribbean (film series)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Jack Sparrow
- The Price of Freedom
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Complete Visual Guide
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: The Visual Guide
- The Pirates' Guidelines
- The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook