The History of Piracy

Spotlight on Pirate Stede Bonnet

The history of piracy can be traced back to the 14th Century BC. At that time,  a group of ocean raiders known as the Sea Peoples attacked ships from the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations. Likewise, privateering uses similar methods to piracy. The main difference is that the captain acts under orders of the state to capture ships belonging to an enemy nation. The authority and backing of the government made privateering a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors as opposed to piracy. Keep reading more below to learn about the history of piracy and privateering.

Influence of Privateering 

Later, piracy further expanded during the Age of Piracy in the 16th and 17th century. Narrow channels that allowed shipping to follow predictable routes also created opportunities for piracy, privateering and commerce raiding. For example, the waters of Gibraltar, the Strait of Malacca, Madagascar, the Gulf of Aden, and the English Channel are channels that made it geographically easier for pirate attacks to occur.  As stated above, privateering was essentially raiding that was sanctioned by the government. Privateers were hired as sea raiders with the goal of capturing commercial vessels that flew the flag of declared enemies. Privateering required a letter of marque and reprisal that was signed by a monarch. It could also be issued by a local governor or other lesser officials, too. As payment for the letter of marque, the government officials typically received a portion of the booty. Examples of famous privateers include Francis Drake, Henry Morgan, and William Kidd.

Famous Pirates

Later, during the early 18th century, famous pirates began to emerge. Some of the most popular famous pirates included Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, and Bartholomew Roberts. The stereotypical image of a pirate was typically a man with a peg leg, an eyepatch, and parrot on his shoulder. This iconic image of a cheery, adventurous, and charmingly-accented sailor was not based in reality. Instead, a real pirate was usually a desperate thief who would use torture and violence to adquire treasure.  

Punishment for Piracy

After the mid-18th century, piracy became a criminal act. Consequently, the punishment for piracy was death. For a time, the incidence of pirate acts declined. However, later in the 18th century and early 19th century, piracy made a comeback. At that time, it was  promptly stamped out by the British navy. When the navy caught pirates, they would hang pirates from cage-like devices called gibbets. These terrible devices were shaped like the human body in order to hold the body together. The purpose of gibbeting was to punish the criminal even in death. This gruesome practice also served to warn the general public to obey the law and avoid piracy themselves. Later, the bodies of the pirates would hang in the gibbets for years creating a terrible sight and foul odors until they decomposed into a skeleton. The frightful practice of gibbeting reiterated that piracey was an act of high treason that no longer was accepted in society. 

We hope you enjoyed this article about the history of piracy. Looking for a way to step back in time and live like a pirate for the day? If so, book a tour on the Jolly Roger pirate ship in Cancun. One of Cancun’s top tours, the Jolly Roger pirate ship is a day of world class entertainment, gourmet cuisine and adventure on the open sea. Plus, they have implemented various health and safety protocols to keep guests safe during the tour. Make sure to reserve your tickets in advance as they sell out fast. 

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