It seems that there have been pirates roaming the seas for almost as long as there have been ships. Records of piracy have dotted the seascape far back into history:
- There are reports of the "Lukka" in ancient texts dating back to the 14th century B.C. The Lukka apparently attacked boats off the coast of present-day Turkey.
- There are records of pirate activity on the South China Sea from the end of the Han Dynasty, in 220 B.C.
- Piracy seems to have been a common problem off the coasts of ancient Greece and Rome, until the Roman leader Pompey launched a campaign against the pirates around 67 B.C.
- Corsairs, also known as Barbary Pirates, operated in the Mediterranean Sea during the 15th and 16th centuries.
- During the late 16th and 17th centuries, pirates attacked treasure-laden Spanish galleons off of the Spanish Main.
- Buccaneers operated in the Caribbean Sea during the 17th century, attacking Spanish trading ships.
- Modern pirates attack cargo ships off the coasts of Bangladesh, Indonesia and Somalia. Pirates in Somalia, in particular, have gained infamy for their attacks on ships in the early 21st century, some even resulting in death, as seen in the murders of four American hostages in Somali waters in 2011 [source: Stewart].
Piracy was at its most rampant during a kind of golden age of the violent profession, from 1690 to 1730. The large number of ships sailing between Europe, Africa and the New World made easy targets for pirates like Blackbeard and Calico Jack, who attacked and plundered vessels at will. The New World's coastal colonies were not well defended, so pirates often preyed on them.
It's interesting to note that the pirate's image we know today in popular culture is largely based upon pirates from this era. Pirates first flew the Jolly Roger (skull and crossbones) flag during this time, and, although real pirates usually wore clothes suited to life at sea, the stereotypical pirate somehow was able to wear fashionable clothes from this era. Meanwhile, the depiction of pirates with pet parrots was influenced by the fact that many pirates from this time period stole exotic birds from the ships they captured. We get out notion of pirate weaponry from this time as well: The familiar pirate weapons of flintlock pistols, cutlasses and daggers were popular during this period. Whether they wore eyeliner and spoke somewhat like Keith Richards is a matter for historians to sort out.
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