Pirates – A Glamorous History

Now, hopefully nobody takes offense to this article.  I am a lover of all things pirate and I like to share some of the history and the wonder and the romanticism that is the world of the pirate – at least those pirates of the golden age and before.  I promise to flesh out more of the topics mentioned below in other articles later on.

Vikings
Here is where I always start when I begin talking about pirates.  The Vikings were some of the most tenacious beings every to travel the earth.  They were expert sailors and navigators, they were amazing warriors and they were most certainly the first pirates – at least in my opinion.  These Norse-men would board their square-rigged ships and sail to destinations as far flung as North America and, with some of the new evidence that has been found, the horn of Africa.  They were literally everywhere.  With loud bellows they attacked ships on sea and cities on land.  There were English cities that would take all their valuables and leave them on the beach just on the off chance that making the plundering easier for the Vikings might keep them from sacking the city…again.

One of the most interesting facts about the Viking is that if they found a place they liked they would just move in.  For a time the town of Dublin had many Viking inhabitants because they found it a nice place to stay.  When the Vikings invades the Roman Empire, they liked it well enough that you can still see some of these huge people in Roman art from that time period.  They were actually used as bodyguards by the ruling class.  Check into your Viking history and you will find that they were tenacious warriors and enemies that could have taken over the world had they wanted to.

Pirates of the Pacific 
The Pacific Ocean certainly had its own pirates and while they are not as well known, to westerner ears, as the pirates of the Atlantic, they were… are no less fascinating.

Unlike most European pirates, the pirates of China were business people beyond compare.  One of the most famous, Ching Shih, took over the pirate business of her husband upon his death.  Madame Ching, as she was known, terrorized the China Sea during the 19th century.  She was a brilliant business person but equally it was her ability to run a vast organization of pirates that made her wealthy and famous.  At one point she commanded over 1800 ships and 80,000 pirates.  Even Blackbeard on his best day would not have thought to rule that many.

Add to the history of the Pacific pirates their ability at ship design and you have the other reason for their place in the annals of pirate history.  For instance, the Korean Turtle ship may have been the first iron clad warship and was certainly one of the first ships to have full cover over the decking to deflect arrows and muskets.  Some turtle ships were huge and one was even rumored to have come to Europe with a traveling menagerie in its hold.

Golden Age of Piracy
Truly a golden age for those that were going ‘on account.’  With the expanding of the map, the New World, became the hot bed for piracy that it remained so until the late 1700s.  With plenty of men having knowledge of how to run a ship, how to navigate the waters and how to organize a crew it is no wonder that pirate captains found it easy to motivate men to follow them into glory.

Blackbeard – This is one of my favorites.  He was what the modern notion of a pirate is.  He was vicious, cunning and successful.  He sacked South Carolina’s main harbor at Charleston.  He took ships twice his size with hit and run tactics and was pardoned several times in an attempt to get him to drop his pirating ways.

Henry Morgan – One of the most successful pirates of all time.  He commanded, at times, dozens of ships and kept his men loyal by making sure they wanted for nothing and had a good choice from their booty.  One of his most amazing accomplishments was the sacking of the city of Panama.  This city has been crucial to the navigable world for quite a long time and during Morgan’s time this city kept the flow of goods from the Atlantic to the Pacific going.  Morgan, took the entire city.  Plundering a city the size of Panama and then making away with all of the goods to be sold in markets throughout the world is no small task.

Who is not a Pirate
Now, before anybody thinks I am glamorizing pirates too much, let’s figure out who a pirate is.  A pirate lived before the 1850s at the latest.  Those less than sea-dogs that call themselves pirates nowadays are not pirates.  They are thieves.  They are killers and murderers with no style.  Pirates, in the day, were organized democracies on the open sea that decided what ships got sacked and what cities were attacked based on a vote.  These modern pirates are sent by land based war lords and are easily dispatched.  To call them pirate is to give them too much credit.