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

Updated September 2, 2020 279.0k votes 59.6k 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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    Insurance Payments For Injured Pirates Came Out Of Everyone's Loot

    Although experts debate just how democratic pirate groups were, they were surprisingly progressive when it came to the spoils of their enterprises: they created a sort of insurance fund for injured pirates. This meant that were a member of a group to become injured, they were still able to reap the benefits of a successful campaign. 

    Individual groups' charter articles identified the amount of loot to be paid to injured pirates. So, spoils were gathered together in the aftermath of an attack; injured pirates all received the amount specified in their charter; and the rest of the group divided the remainder among themselves.

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    Pirate Earrings Also Served Another Practical Purpose; They Protected Hearing

    Pirate Earrings Also Served Another Practical Purpose; They Protected Hearing
    Photo: Ambroise Louis Garneray / Wikimedia Commons

    Pirate ships were outfitted with numerous cannons. Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, had a whopping forty. Those cannons were vital during combat when a pirate ship might need to sink an enemy to prevent capture. Cannonballs were accompanied by a loud blast, though, and were known to deafen.

    The crafty sea criminals would hang wads of wax from their earrings to prevent this sound damage. They popped the waxy contraptions into their ears like a makeshift earplug when firing cannons. 

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  • 3

    Pirates Practiced Gay Marriage As Early As The 1600s

    Pirates Practiced Gay Marriage As Early As The 1600s
    Photo: Howard Pyle / Wikimedia Commons

    Pirates spent long periods of time on ships surrounded by other men so it’s no surprise that some shared intimate relationships. Other pirates formalized same-sex relationships through a practice called matelotage, a French word that may be at the root of the pirate greeting "Ahoy mate."

    In pirate society, two men could join into matelotage and share all their plunder, even receiving death benefits if one died before the other. Pirate mates would live together, exchange gold rings, and sometimes even share female prostitutes. 

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    Pirate Earrings Served As An Insurance Policy To Finance Their Burials

    Pirate Earrings Served As An Insurance Policy To Finance Their Burials
    Photo: Howard Pyle / Wikimedia Commons

    Pirates spent their lives on the high seas but they didn't want to spend death at the bottom of an ocean (or Davy Jones’s Locker). The infamous piercings that pirates wore in their ears were actually insurance to make sure that they'd be given a proper burial. Whether gold or silver, the precious metal could be melted down and sold to pay for a casket and other funeral necessities even if a pirate's dead body washed ashore.

    Some pirates went so far as to engrave the name of their home port on the inside of the earrings so that their bodies could be sent home for a proper burial. 

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