The modern definition of the term piracy is “violent or criminal acts at sea”, and most people will think of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and other such infamous pirates of the Golden Age. This is not terribly far from the reality, however, because this version of the words has only been in use since the turn of the 17th century.
History of Piracy
The history of piracy at large is much longer, over 3000 years long depending upon your interpretation of the meaning. The word Peirato (meaning pirate) was first used in roughly 140 BC by Polybius, a Roman Historian, and then again by Plutarch in 100 AD. Plutarch was, however, the first to give a definition of piracy which he described as those who attack, without legal authority, other ships and maritime cities. Perhaps the first pirates, of Plutarch’s description, were the Vikings though they were not called such at the time. Rather they were thought of as bandits or raiders.
Sea Thieves and Privateers
Another popular meaning behind the term was “sea thieves”, this was largely the meaning in English society, which was established in the 17th century AD. This is perhaps the earliest instance where shade of the contemporary definition can be found. This marks pirates “outlaws” who could be killed even by people who were not soldiers or guards. The first instance of international laws regarded piracy for this reason, and because most acts of piracy were committed out with the boundaries of any country. The issue was that Governments and Monarchies were muddying the waters by issuing permits to commit piracy against enemies during war time. These crown appointed “privateers” were still pirates, and were treated as such by enemies if caught, but had permission to attack specific ships and people.
Some of the most infamous pirates of the Golden Age were privateers at some point or another, and when the war that gave them legitimacy ended they often continued as they had before regardless of no longer having permission. Of course we could expect no less! Though this is but a brief overview of the evolution of the term “piracy” and the men attached to it, we hope it has been informative in some way or another.