Different Types of Pirates Through the Ages

Updated on December 1, 2019
angela_michelle profile image

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else be destined to repeat it.

Depiction of Pirates in a plunder.
Depiction of Pirates in a plunder. | Source

Just as there has always been murder and thievery, the moment merchants went on the water; there was piracy. I don't mean the stealing of movies and music online, but piracy as in "arr matey" a pirate! There are many kinds of pirates: corsairs, Vikings, Buccaneers, and privateers. Each had their own era and their own philosophies of what was a "good' pirate, but some pirate codes were consistent throughout all pirating. A pirate in the most simple definition is a seafaring criminal who attacks ships regardless of nationality, during both times of war and times of peace for the sole purpose of thievery and or revenge. The focus on theft, explains why they refer to stealing downloads off the Internet as piracy.

Piracy is still around today, although organized piracy has ended, which may be in part due to steam engines that could sail even without wind, which was a significant disadvantage for pirate ships that relied on sails. Pirates today can be found in the South China Sea and East Africa. Although instead of boats with sails, you will find them on very small speedboats,

Julius Caesar was once held captive by pirates. Once he escaped, he tracked down and killed every single one.

A Pirate Raid

Sometimes they would burn a ship after a raid.
Sometimes they would burn a ship after a raid. | Source

Did pirates really bury their treasure?

Probably not! There have not been any found treasure maps. Plus, pirates were known for living lavishly, which means they spent most of what they had as soon as they got it.

Viking Statue

Vikings are very revered even today.
Vikings are very revered even today. | Source


Viking is old English for pirates. When one uses this term, they are referring to pirates from the eighth to the early twelfth century. Many of these pirates roamed the North Sea. Unlike later pirates, these Scandinavian warriors would raid villages inland, not just on their shipping routes.

Another unusual aspect about Vikings, they allowed both males and females to join. They often called the women Valkyrie after the Norse goddesses who rode into battle to escort dead warriors to Valhalla.

Pirates have been known by many different names. Each name is unique to a specific type of pirate in a particular era. These names cannot be used interchangeably, as they each carry their own meaning.


Another more dignified version of a pirate was called privateers. They were referred to as the gentleman pirate because they only attacked enemy ships. During times of war, government officials could legally commission a civilian sailing man to attack an enemy city or ship. They considered privateers a section of the state navies. Often these privateers were no gentleman, as there was often a temptation to fight non-enemy ships, which is why they are not well-respected in today's mind's eye. They crossed that fine line between gentleman and pirate. French referred to their privateers as Corsairs.

The infamous Blackbeard began his journeys as a privateer but was better known for his days as a real full-fledged pirate.

Privateers were considered distinguished pirates, but pirates nonetheless.
Privateers were considered distinguished pirates, but pirates nonetheless. | Source


Corsairs emerged in the ninth century and sailed along the Mediterranean. They were very selective on the ships they would attack; therefore, instead of attacking when first seeing a ship, they would wait to see if the vessel had anything of value first. Sometimes this would take hours and even days following a boat with the captain looking through a spyglass. Corsairs also often would be checking to see how well armed these ships were. If they were more equipped than the Corsair's craft, they might avoid them in fear of being defeated themselves.

BlackBeard the Buccaneer

Blackbeard is one of the most famus Buccaneers.
Blackbeard is one of the most famus Buccaneers. | Source


Buccaneers were pirates that were initially French and English game hunters. They lived in the Caribbean, or more specifically, on the island of Hispaniola in the sixteenth century. These men that lived here were social outcasts that lived their lives as religious or political refugees, criminals, exiles, deserters, runaway slaves, and indentured servants, who lived off wild pigs and cattle. They got their name after the art of smoking meat over a fire on green sticks that were called boucans.

At first, the Buccaneers only traded with passing merchants and would exchange goods such as meat. Spanish ships were brutal to them, which caused these game hunters to develop a deep hatred for the Spanish. So much so, that they began actively attacking Spanish ships and settlements. They then learned that piracy was a much easier way to live.

Two separate names often described the French buccaneers: freebooter and filibuster.

Pirate Facts

Pirates were most dangerous and plentiful during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, although they existed long before. This period became known as the Golden Age of Piracy. The pirate life was not easy; it was lonely, hard-working, and full of a constant threat of death. But many who chose this life, was because being a pirate was more comfortable than their current position. Some pirates began their life after leaving the navy, because of low wages and cruel captains. Yes, captains onboard a pirate ship were often more considerate than on a navy ship, which was in part due to pirate ships being a democracy.

Other people joined a pirate's ship because they were young men looking for a life full of adventure. The captains did not always willingly accept all men seeking this lifestyle; each person had to be approved by the captain before joining a pirate ship. Often the captain would ask a recruit if they had a wife or children. If they said yes, they were denied onboard. Of course, there were the pirates that joined a ship to become rich. These men were often disappointed since riches and piracy rarely went hand in hand. The majority of loot was squandered on beer, gambling, and woman.

Why Do Pirates Wear Eye Patches?

Pirate Fights

Hollywood loves a good pirate fight. You will see long swords, significant weaponry, and extravagant battles. The truth is, pirate ships were probably some of the most well-equipped ships, which made them greatly feared by merchant ship crews; therefore, merchants rarely even attempted to fight a pirate, giving their loot willingly in fear of their own lives. One reason for this is because pirate ships would only attack boats that they felt they could win, and this was often obvious to the merchant themselves. They would rather lose their cargo than their lives.

Pirates were usually better at scare tactics than actual fighting. Although, if necessary, they had their weaponry on their side and would show no mercy. Often when trying to get a merchant to come close, they would pretend to be a fellow merchant requesting help such as water or other needed goods. When the other ship got close enough to help, the pirates would raise their jolly roger (a pirate flag) and begin to yell curses and other scare tactics to instill great fear on the merchant ship. It was then in the hands of the merchant's vessel, whether they fought until death or got their loot.

Why did pirates pierce their ears?

They truly believed that it would improve their eyesight, and good vision is important when you are out at sea!

Piracy Today

There are still pirates today. Although instead of large sloop ships, they will usually use small high-speed boats that allow them to escape sea patrol. Instead of cannons and cutlasses, they use AK 47 automatic machine guns.

I will forever be fascinated by pirate movies regardless of how little realism they contain. Even in the tamest pirates, there is some truth to the Hollywood portrayal of these fearsome men. Many very well known pirates are known today, like Blackbeard, yes he's real, as well as Pirates with a Bristol connection! There were even female pirates!


Blackwood, G. L. (2002). Bad Guys: Pirates. Cavendish: Benchmark Books.

Gibert, A. Y., Ward, H., & Andrew, I. (2006). Pirateology. Cambridge: Candlewick Press.

Hamilton, J. (2003). Pirates: A History of Pirates. Minnesota: ABDO Publishing Company.

Hamilton, J. (2007). Pirates: Pirate Ships and Weapons. Edina: Abdo Consulting Group Inc.

Harvard, B. (2002). The Best Book of Pirates. New York: Kingfisher.

Lincoln, M. (1995). The Pirates Handbook, How to Become a Roge of the High Seas. Dutton: Cobblehill Books.

O'Donnell, L. (2007). The Pirate Code: Life of a Private. Mankato: Capsone Press.

Platt, R. (2004). Discovering Pirates. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company.

Platt, R. (2007). Eyewitness: Pirate. New York: DK Publishing Inc.

Smith Jr., W. T., & Selinger, G. (2006). The Complete Idiot's Guide to: Pirates. Indianapolis: Alpha.

Williams, B. (2005). A First Look at History: Pirates. Milwaukee, Minnesota: Gareth Stevens Publishing.

Woodard, C. (2007). The Republic Pirates: Being the true and surprising: Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the man who Brought Them Down. Orlando: Harcourt Inc.

Questions & Answers

    © 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz


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      • profile image


        3 months ago

        You mentioned Black Beard as a Privateer. What about Frances Drake the Captain of the Golden Hinde?

      • profile image

        Lee Cloak 

        5 years ago

        Fantastic hub, lots of great detail, well done Thanks!

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        8 years ago from United States

        Actually this is a portion of what I am writing for a book intended for kids!

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        this is a cool website for kids

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        Very good point. I've thought about it, but I do LOVE the professor student interaction!

      • dallas93444 profile image

        Dallas W Thompson 

        10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

        Life is what you do while you are making plans. Distance education via the Internet is a great option for the "time challenged." Your pace, your time, no geographical "anchor..!"

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        dallas, actually I have, and someday might. I seem to not be able to get through school due to a severe illness, surprise adoption. It's funny, I joke that my life is one big accident (I even wrote a hub about it) because though I have plans for my life, my life has a mind of its own, taking twists and turns. I had a four point in college, but had to drop out of school three times for very significant things. Still, I love research, and someday will finish schooling, and go onto my phD and eventually teach of some sort. Who knows. Life never goes as planned so I'll never know until I get there. If that makes sense.

      • dallas93444 profile image

        Dallas W Thompson 

        10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

        Given you enjoy research, have you considered continuing formal education process. PhD program is built on the philosophy of conduction what is known and building on that... Perhaps if you are lucky, one grain of newly acquired grain of knowledge placed upon the growing cone of sandpile of existing knowledge...

        Enjoyed your topic and research,


      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        Very true. Oh wow, that's another topic I could study, the wild west. I'm such a dork. I think more than writing, I like doing research. :) I too, find pirates completely fascinating. I have so many more hubs, I could write on piracy due to my research. :)

      • Springboard profile image


        10 years ago from Wisconsin

        A truly fascinating subject, and an even more fascinating hub. It's not surprising that there is more legend and myth with regard to piracy than of truths...we always like to breathe a little extra life into our historical record if we can. Even the wild west wasn't as wild as the westerns portray.

        Still, there is no doubting that the old west times were rougher and tumbler ones than we experience today, and pirates then were still a scary lot.

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        Thank you!

      • Chapter profile image


        10 years ago from Indonesia

        Good hubpages with source (bibliography)

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        Lily, thanks, I find them fascinating as well.

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        Yes I did Pamela, actually this is just a shortened version of a much longer work.

      • lilly_dens profile image


        10 years ago

        great hub you have here! i always see pirates of earlier years as mysterious,dangerous and at the same time fascinating.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        10 years ago from Sunny Florida

        You did a lot of research on this hub and I had no idea there were so many different types of pirates. Very good work Thumbs up!

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        FCEtier, definitely let me know. I'll definitely follow you so I can see them, in case you forget. Wait, I already am! If they are relevant, maybe I could place a link one of your articles!

      • FCEtier profile image


        10 years ago from Cold Mountain

        Hey! I've got a couple of articles about pirates...I'll let you know when I get them up at hubs. Thanks for the above article!

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        Thank you so much Beth. I actually love doing research, so all of my hubs are always really well researched. I think I actually like research more than writing, which is kind of funny, because I love writing!

      • Beth100 profile image


        10 years ago from Canada

        I just love pirates (that said, the Capt'n knows who he is!) and I love this hub! You've done your research and presented an excellent hub!

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        Rose, it's funny that you say that, because as I typed this one up, I thought to myself. What adult is interested in pirates aside from myself. Actually I have found that with a lot of my topics and I get a kick out of people saying, "Hey, they fascinate me too." I'm like, "Really?"

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        Thanks Dallas! I actually have a much longer version of this that I have considered trying to sell for children's nonfiction. Good luck with your book, I'll check that out in just a couple of minutes. :)

      • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

        Angela Michelle Schultz 

        10 years ago from United States

        Yeah, definitely Jayjay! I looked over yours, and I'm going to definitely put a link to yours as well!

      • Rose West profile image

        Rose West 

        10 years ago from Michigan

        I really enjoyed this hub! Why is it that pirates are just so fascinating? They always make a good story. I learned some new things here, so thanks!

      • dallas93444 profile image

        Dallas W Thompson 

        10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

        ..Write a book ! Interesting.

        My main character, villain that he is, would eliminate "Pirates."

        Good research. Comments about: My book? Eyes Wide Shut: An Enigma

        Enter into google for web URL ..

        The best,


      • jayjay40 profile image


        10 years ago from Bristol England

        Great hub with lots of research, if you like I could do a link on my pirate hub to yours.


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