- "Perhaps on the rare occasion pursuing the right course demands an act of piracy, piracy itself can be the right course?"
- ―Weatherby Swann[src]
Piracy is the term given to robbery at sea, or sometimes on shore, by an agent without commission from a sovereign nation. Those who commit the act of piracy—and by extension, robbery, pillaging, or plundering at sea—are known as pirates. Piracy in the Caribbean was regarded as the Golden Age of Piracy, which began around 1700, and continued up throughout the late 1740s and the early 1750s. Two of the most infamous pirate bases in the Caribbean were Port Royal and Tortuga.
Pirates have been around since people began transporting goods through sea. The earliest known pirates were the Sea People, who pillaged and plundered the Mediterranean Sea in the 13th century B.C. The ancient Illyrians had spent years pillaging Roman and Greek vessels in the Adriatic Sea. The piracy in the old times was mostly prominent in the Mediterranean, although there were the Vikings in the Northern seas. Mediterranean pirates were hunted down by powerful empires, such as Greek, Roman, and Persian; while the Vikings flourished and conquered new lands.
Piracy in India
Ever since India war exploded between the two kingdoms in the southern peninsula of India, there has been a need for fresh supplies, and the easiest way to get them was to raid the trade routes coming from Persia to Africa. European pirates also saw treasure in this area and began to pillage Mughal vessels and ships transporting pilgrims heading to Mecca for their annual pilgrimage. This constant raids sparked a war between Portugal and the Mughal Empire, because Portuguese pirates captured a ship belonging to the Mughal queen. In the 18th century, the famous Maratha privateer, Kanhoji Angria, ruled the seas between Bombay and Goa. The Marathas demanded the East India Trading Company to pay a fee if sailing through their waters.
Piracy in Asia
In the 13th century, the Wokou made their debut in Asian waters, terrorizing ships and harbors for 300 years. Piracy in this area started when the Mongol fleet retreated from the area. Marooned Navy officers began setting up small fortresses and headquarters in rivers, hiring foot soldiers and mercenaries, and building up a Junk fleet. However, the most powerful pirate fleet belonged to Chinese pirates in the mid 18th century. Large scale piracy began affecting the Chinese economy greatly, they preyed on vital trading routes and cargo ships. The downfall of piracy in this area was credited to Portuguese smugglers that sold tropical goods at a better price than the Wokou, destroying a very important source of income in their empire; driving them back to their seafaring activities. The Wokou where somewhat eradicated when they made peace with Korea and Japan.
Piracy in North Africa
The Barbary Corsairs were a threat in the Mediterranean Sea. They where operating since the Crusades, robbing and pillaging Christian vessels, making the Christian pilgrims slaves in their ships. The coastal villages and ports from Spain, Italy, and Mediterranean islands, were under constant threat of a pirate raid. Eventually, these places were deserted, the Barbary pirates spread out into the Atlantic Ocean and even reached Iceland. Tripoli was a city they used as a pirate base. Between 1 million and 1.25 million Christians were made slaves and sold.
Piracy in the Caribbean
- "Pirates are different from merchant vessels or the navy. A captain's word is law during battle, but pirates pride themselves on being more or less equals."
- ―Jack Sparrow[src]
The Caribbean was the most prominent area for piracy. The vast loads of Aztec gold traveling from the New World and Spain was the perfect target for aspiring swashbucklers. Colonies were settled in the islands and on the mainland, triggering trading routes and transportation by sea. Many people became pirates shortly after the end of the Spanish Succession War. Buccaneers began arriving in the mid-late 17th century. The buccaneers were people that smoked meat over a structure called a buccan, thus earning their name. The buccaneers lived on the island of Hispaniola, selling their smoked goods to passing ships. After the Spanish slaughtered their pig cattle, the buccaneers, not knowing any other job to do and seeing the fleets of gold being transported in open waters, turned to piracy. Pirates were rising in fame and some were forever immortalized as the most fearsome pirates that have ever sailed. From the Bahamas to Trinidad to the Florida Keys, no merchant ship was safe from pirates.
- "Pirate is a title?"
"It is very important to them, like secret handshakes and the Brotherhood."
"It's a way of life, dear boys."
- ―Tumen, Jean Magliore, and Laura Smith[src]
Though they were chased like animals by the navies of the European countries, pirates were far away from being just a bunch of lawless thugs. Most of them lived by the rules written in the Pirata Codex book, though some of them saw the Code more as guidelines than actual rules.
Many pirate crews had some type of ship's articles that all members of the crew had to sign. In many of these articles, divisions of power were discussed. However, it is difficult to say how effective these divisions of power were. Many pirate ships were ran by a captain who was the ultimate power on board the ship. Pirate captains like Blackbeard and Hector Barbossa ruled their ships with an iron fist, and only a few dared to challenge their rule.
In other cases, a pirate captain was voted on by the crew and his authority was only absolute in the heat of battle or when giving chase. At other times, the captain's wishes could be dismissed by a simple majority vote of the crew. Pirates tended to like their captains to be not too aggressive and not too meek: a good captain had to know when a potential victim was too strong for them, without letting weaker quarry get away.
Well-run and organized pirate ships were more successful, and ships that lacked discipline and leadership generally didn't last very long. The duty of the pirate captain was to secure plunder for his crew. However, even those weren't secure in their positions. Jack Sparrow was mutinied and marooned by his own crew because of his altruistic nature in using non-violent methods over fatal encounters. Edward England's crew mutinied because their captain decided to spare their prisoners.
Pirate crews included men of all nations and races of the world. Unlike the societies of the Old World, women were equal to men among pirates. Some of them, like Laura Smith and Esmeralda Maria Consuela Anna de Sevilla, were capable enough to become captains of their own ships.
Most pirates despised slavery. Some pirate captains like James Misson and Bartholomew Roberts allowed former African slaves to join them and fight with their crews. Other pirates weren't better than any slave trader. Men like Christophe-Julien de Rapièr and King Samuel saw African slaves only as a commodity to be sold.
While piracy was predominantly a male activity or occupation, a minority of historical pirates have been female. Pirettes, like other women in crime, faced issues in practicing this occupation and in punishment for it. Among the women pirates, Anamaria and Angelica were the more commonly known.
By the 18th century, there were hundreds of Chinese pirates. They wore traditional Chinese clothes, sailed junks and fought mostly with traditional Chinese weapons. Among the Chinese pirates, Mistress Ching and Sao Feng were the most well-known.
- "It seems the only way a pirate can turn a profit anymore...is by betraying other pirates."
- ―Sao Feng to Hector Barbossa[src]
- The Brethren Court
- Will Turner
- Bootstrap Bill Turner
- Davy Jones
- Jolly Roger
- James Sterling
- Nathaniel Hawk
- Henry Morgan
- Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts
- Black Smoke James
- Mary Reade
- Isenbrandt Jurcksen
- Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Story of the Robust Adventure in Disneyland and Walt Disney World
- The Price of Freedom
- Pirates of the Caribbean (film series)
- The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook