I’ve just been watching a National Geographic documentary on the notorious pirate ‘Blackbeard’ called Blackbeard’s Lost Pirate Ship. Personally it raised a lot of questions on what I don’t know about pirates (which are considered one of the coolest things to be in pop culture). They’ve always had a certain cool factor and this has only grown with the Pirates of the Caribbean Movies. I suppose what I know started when I was little, I was introduced to the common stereotype is an eye patch wearing, peg legged, parrot adorned, black bearded captain flying a jolly roger from his ship. And its not surprising that a lot of that is an amalgamation of several people! To keep things simple I’ve started at the earliest known reference and I’m going to work my way forward hopefully you enjoy it.
Pirate Origins: The Sea People
The earliest consistent known acts of what we consider piracy happened in the late Bronze age, 13th Century BC, by the Phahroh Merneptah, he simply refered to them as “the foreign peoples of the sea” and drawn in the Medinet Habu with feathers. Whilst not the traditional view of pirates with cannons and galleon ships they made many inventions which aided sailing helping to keep them ahead of the local authorities and are still in widespread use today. Such innovations include the loose-footed or ‘free’ lower yardarm which greatly improved sailing under unfavourable wind conditions, the crows nest for early warning alarms and the reintroduction of the eastern use of ashlar (dressed and mortar-less brick) which was first seen 2700 years earlier! The sea peoples were also had origins of many ideas we have of Vikings, having horned helmets and identical prows at stern and aft.
Alas their raiding of undefended/unfortified ports finalised a collapse of Egyptian economy but not before they were attacked en masses and soon got them a reputation, which lead to attacks struck back at the Egyptians by sea and by land with help of the Libyans. Despite having less advanced ships the Egyptians were able to outmanoeuvre the Sea Peoples with oars and sails inshore in southern Canaan (Philistia). This coupled with bombardment of the shieldless Sea People with arrows from Seaborne archers prevented their swordsmen and javaliers from succeeding on land.
Those that weren’t killed or captured are presumed to have merged with the local indigenous peoples maintaining their enigmatic origins to this very date. (Which is why I’ve linked out to so many places as information is very, very scattered!)