Weird History

18 Bizarre Pirate Traditions Most People Don't Know About 

Genevieve Carlton
Updated December 3, 2019 245.4k votes 59.2k voters 6.3M views 18 items

List Rules Vote up the most surprising pirate tradition.

Pirates have a reputation for being ruthless bloodthirsty killers and they certainly did get creative with the ways they offed people. Pirates also developed some strange habits that made them infamous, like wearing earrings and hiding treasure. 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.

Pirate Earrings Also Served Another Practical Purpose; They Protected Hearing
Pirate Earrings Also Ser... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 18 Bizarre Pirate Traditions Most People Don't Know About
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. 

Did this surprise you?
Pirates Practiced Gay Marriage As Early As The 1600s
Pirates Practiced Gay Ma... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 18 Bizarre Pirate Traditions Most People Don't Know About
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. 

Did this surprise you?
Pirate Earrings Served As An Insurance Policy To Finance Their Burials
Pirate Earrings Served A... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 18 Bizarre Pirate Traditions Most People Don't Know About
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. 

Did this surprise you?
No One Ever Wanted To See The Bloody Red Pirate Flag
No One Ever Wanted To Se... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 18 Bizarre Pirate Traditions Most People Don't Know About
Photo: Willem van de Velde, the Younger/Wikimedia Commons

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.

Did this surprise you?