The History of the Jolly Roger Flag Skull and Crossbones

The Jolly Roger was not originally the name of a pirate ship, although in modern times it was made a popular name for a ship by JM Barrie in the stories of Peter Pan, where Captain Hook sailed aboard the Jolly Roger pirate ship. Rather, the true history of the Jolly Roger and its skull and crossbones stamp has its roots in something even more intriguing.

The History of the Jolly Roger Flag

open seas at sunset

The Jolly Roger was in fact a symbol that is said to have emerged from the times of the crusades, during The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14) otherwise known as Queen Anne’s War in Europe. While the true inspiration behind the skull and crossbones image is a topic for debate, ranging from gruesome stories involving necrophilia, Knights Templars and Catholicism, what is clear is that the Jolly Roger became a popular signature of pirates sailing mainly in the Caribbean and on the Atlantic Ocean during the Golden Age of Pirates.

The white skull and crossbones image, printed on a black background, often provoked immediate surrender among pirates’ victims upon hoisting the flag.  It was perhaps the first successful branding of the early modern period, albeit for criminal gains. Despite the Jolly Roger skull and crossbones being a symbol of piracy, the image also adorn the tombs within the cemetery at the Cathedral of Malta.