Weird History
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18 Bizarre Pirate Traditions Most People Don't Know About

Updated September 2, 2020 273.0k votes 61.1k voters 6.4m views18 items

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Pirates have a reputation for being ruthless bloodthirsty killers and they certainly did get creative with the ways they offed people. Although some traditions may only be fictional tropes, pirates did developed some strange habits that made them infamous, like wearing earrings and eye patches. Just like the Vikings created odd rituals, pirates used codes to govern their lives on the high sea.

The pirate code was an agreement that marauders made with each other to establish a sort of law among the lawless. It ensured a certain amount of honor, like they could only fight their sailing mates on land. The informal pirate code also dictated pirate attire.

Pirate traditions include myths about a single item that could protect men from drowning, the best reason to wear an eye patch, and the secret behind Blackbeard’s greatest trick. Keep reading to learn more about their bizarre ways of life.

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    No One Ever Wanted To See The Bloody Red Pirate Flag

    Photo: Willem van de Velde, the Younger / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Jolly Roger flag that flew from pirate masts was terrifying but the most dreaded sea flag was red. A ship hoisting a red flag warned its enemies that no mercy would be given to a captured ship; everyone on board would be killed immediately.

    The red flag was sometimes called the “Bloody Red” and if it replaced a skull and crossbones flag, the pirates under siege might sometimes jump ship.

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  • 6

    Pirates Could Be Upstanding Members Of The Land-Side Community

    Photo: James Thornhill / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The prevailing image of pirates has them as swashbucking, tradition-bucking, lawless individuals who just so happen to sail in groups on the open ocean. In this way, they're anathema to landlubbers and vice versa. But – while they were prone to violence and did exist mostly on the seas – pirates could still participate in familial and communal activities on land.

    Scholar Daphne Palmer Geanacopoulos found record of prominent pirates, like Captain William Kidd, contributing to social organizations on land as "prominent members of Colonial society." Captain Kidd, for example, not holy helped found Trinity Episcopal Church, but he also commissioned a pew in the church specifically for his family.

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  • 7

    Most Pirates Enjoyed A Good Hostage Situation, Some Even Managed To Nab Julius Caesar

    Photo: Giorces / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Pirates haunted the seas since humans first invented boats and they’ve captured their share of famous hostages. In 75 BCE, pirates captured Julius Caesar but when they only asked for a ransom of 20 talents, Caesar laughed in their faces and told them he was worth at least 50.

    While he was held captive, Caesar serenaded the pirates with poetry. Once his ransom was paid, though, Caesar had the pirates crucified as punishment. 

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  • 8

    No, Pirates Weren’t All Missing An Eye - The Patches Helped Them With Night Vision

    Photo: Charles Ellms / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Some pirates were definitely missing eyeballs; their ships were dangerous places, after all. But other pirates wore eye patches for different reasons. By wearing an eye patch, the sea buccaneers could always keep one eye adjusted to night vision. Pirates spent a lot of time going from the bright light above deck to the darkness below deck, especially when they were raiding ships or defending their own.

    If he lifted his patch before going below deck, a pirate could instantly see even if there was only a little light. 

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