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Historical Details The 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Franchise Actually Got Completely Right

March 19, 2021 1.9k votes 253 voters 17.4k views12 items

List RulesVote up the factual historical details you're most surprised 'Pirates of the Caribbean' got right.

The Pirates of the Caribbean movies aren't exactly known for their historical accuracy. Hopefully, it doesn't surprise anyone to learn that a movie franchise based on a theme park ride is not a 100% accurate representation of historical events. And yes, all four movies are full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations about the lives of pirates

But while it might be tempting to assume that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies didn't even try for historical accuracy, that's not true, either. The Golden Age of Piracy of the 17th and 18th centuries actually does somewhat resemble the version portrayed in the films. 

Here are historical details that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise got right. Unfortunately, the jury's still out on Johnny Depp's eyeliner. 

  • Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest / Buena Vista Pictures

    Pirates Actually Avoided Fighting Whenever Possible

    The Pirates of the Caribbean movies make it clear that while Jack Sparrow is plenty capable as a fighter, he still avoids combat as much as possible because he doesn't like it. This isn't just a character quirk; it was a common mindset among pirates of his time. 

    Pirate movies wouldn't be pirate movies without sword fights and ship-to-ship combat, but in reality, most pirates preferred not to fight. In addition to risking injury and demise for themselves and their crew, a pirate captain who chose to fight also risked destroying the cargo they were trying to take. Forcing the target to surrender peacefully was usually the best outcome. 

    This may also be one reason why Blackbeard wanted that fearsome reputation. According to the book Villains of All Nations, pirates often used intimidation tactics to scare the enemy into surrendering without resistance.

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  • Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

    Dropping Anchor And Turning Dramatically To Evade Enemies Was A Real Sailing Maneuver

    Several Pirates of the Caribbean movies involve ship fight scenes, and many of these use approximations of real tactics used in ship-to-ship combat. 

    In the first film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Elizabeth orders The Interceptor to lower the anchor on the right side so it can quickly turn on a dime and get a good visual of The Black Pearl, which Captain Hector Barbossa has taken control of. This was based on a real technique called "club hauling." Ships would lower their anchor and grab hold of the seafloor, then quickly rotate to bring their weapons into position to fire. However, because this required the anchor to be cut off and released, it wasn't a decision captains made frequently.

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  • Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End / Buena Vista Pictures

    There Really Was An Upheld Pirate Code

    The third film, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, introduces the idea of the pirates creating laws for themselves. When the East India Trading Company cracks down on piracy, Elizabeth and Jack gather the Pirate Lords and try to declare conflict on the Company. But that's actually not within their power. According to the Pirata Codex, a law book passed down by earlier pirates, only the "Pirate King" can declare war. 

    Real pirates didn't have anything like a universal Pirata Codex. The closest thing to the Pirata Codex was an informal system called "the pirate code." This was a set of rules outlining on-ship behavior, the distribution of spoils, and customs of the ship. Captain Bartholomew Roberts is credited with developing it. In practice, individual ships would often vote on their own versions of the code, including rules like no lights at night, shares of the loot or booty, and no fighting between pirates on board the ship. 

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  • Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest / Buena Vista Pictures

    Pirates Actually Drank Rum All The Time

    Most depictions of buccaneers from the Golden Age of Piracy include some mention of rum, and Pirates of the Caribbean is no different. "Why is the rum gone?" is one of Jack Sparrow's most well-known lines. 

    Pirates of the 1600s and 1700s did drink rum on a daily basis, but it wasn't just because they wanted to get hammered. On long sea voyages, the lack of refrigeration meant that water and beer quickly went bad, leaving spirits like rum as the only option to hydrate sailors. Another big reason for rum's popularity was because it made for a good mixer with citrus juices, which helped fight scurvy. 

    And it wasn't just pirates, either. According to Smithsonian magazine, rum remained a part of a sailor's daily ration in the British Royal Navy until it was discontinued in 1970.

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