Colorful brigands and their bloody adventures, from the city-sackers of classical antiquity through present-day marauders in the Malacca Straits.
The Golden Age of Piracy spanned roughly four decades, from the 1680s through the 1720s, but that’s only part of the history of maritime robbery told by Travers (History/Univ. of Victoria). He sails through accounts of northern raiders like Olaf Tryggvason and Eustace the Monk to Elizabethan rakish sea rovers like Francis Drake. The Ming and Manchu Dynasties suffered piracy. There were the Barbary Corsairs of North Africa and, of course, the Pirates of the Caribbean. Captains Kidd, Morgan and the terrifying Blackbeard sailed under the skull and crossbones; the Brothers Laffite and Barbarossa also flew the black flag. From Guadeloupe to Ocracoke, Madagascar to the Maylays, India to the Red Sea, these enterprising rogues flourished—and in places still do. The New York Times recently reported that Somali pirates asked folks to think of them “like a coast guard,” perhaps not realizing that back in 1722 a pirate of the Caribbean made the same comparison. Piracy “was a sign of economic vitality,” notes Travers. Commercial vessels carrying merchandise, provisions, gold, silver, arms, slaves and passengers for ransom offered potential for plunder simply too tempting for Golden Age bandits to resist. Opposed sporadically by royal navies and others—the Knights of Malta, for instance—real-life buccaneers closely approximated the swashbucklers of childhood fables. They indulged in booze and, perhaps, just a bit of buggery. They practiced a rough form of democracy: Those who violated the pirate code might be forced to walk the plank or, more frequently, were marooned on a remote island. Their hapless prey got far worse treatment, ranging from cruel, inventive torture to beheadings. It’s no surprise that many pirates’ careers ended on the gibbet.
The art and craft of piracy in comprehensive historical context, earnest as a doctoral thesis.