The famous  Black Ensign with Skull and Crossbones  was first reported in 1700 and has always stoked sailors’ fears and captured the imagination. However, the origin of this flag, which everyone knows today, remains a story little known to the general public 🤔 The term «  pirate flag  » is a contemporary abuse of the language, since in seafaring one speaks more of « flags », but than the the most frequently used term, it has become somewhat established.

1) Latin and Greek origins

The popularity of the world of piracy is probably partly due to the abundance of its symbols. Many terms from the world of piracy are used indiscriminately today. And yet the meanings attributed to each of them are sometimes significantly different. The word  pirate » derives from the Latin word « pirata   , which refers to one who tries his luck, and is derived from the Greek word « peiratês », meaning robber. These  bandits of the seas   have always been men and sailors excluded from society.i.

origin of the pirates

2) Origins of the “Jolly Roger”.

« Jolly Roger » is the traditional English « name 🇬🇧 ​​attributed to pirate flags. Historians have two different hypotheses about the origin of the famous skull and crossbones flag. We introduce them to you briefly!

A. Hypothesis 1: pronunciation errors

The origin of the Jolly Roger is an interesting story that has survived the centuries. The most famous version is the flag in black color with a  skull  in front of crossed shins and an hourglass. The invention of this flag is  attributed to Emmanuel Wynne  , who, according to the writings and archives surviving from the period, was the first among pirates to fly it. The flag was first raised off the coast of Santiago de Cuba (in 1700). This should send a message to the opponents: surrender… or die ☠️.

The Anglo-Saxons very soon began to refer to this flag after the term « Joli Rouge  » used by the French 🇫🇷 in the Caribbean  . The term “ Jolly Roger ” came about because of the different pronunciation in English  . The skull with its two crossed shins on a black background was then used by the majority of pirates! And especially when looking for the way to India.

B. Hypothesis 2: The Templars

Other historians, however, trace the symbol back to a more ancient Christian origin. In fact, the origin could go back to the end of the Knights Templar ✝️ early 14th century. Part of the Templar fleet was betrayed and developed into a feared underground military force. The fleet sailed the coasts of the Atlantic, North Sea and Mediterranean Sea. The Templars are said to take the name  of Roger II . of Sicily, a former fighter against papal authority.

Roger II of Sicily

3) Pirate Pavilion: A real means of communication

A. Pirate Trick: Intimidate the opponent

Preferring to survive to profit from the stolen treasures, the pirates resorted to ruse! Contrary to popular belief, the pirate flag was not raised constantly and under all circumstances. Rather, tricks were used to ease the approach to the coveted ships and prevent them from fleeing at the sight of the fateful emblem. A standard identical to that on the targeted ship was often displayed to gain the crew’s confidence and advance until you were within gun range 🔫.

It wasn’t until you got close enough that the true intentions were revealed 😈 At that point, the pirates raised the black flag! The attack was accompanied by loud roars and other noises. The goal: to intimidate the opponent into surrendering without a fight. In fact, it was better not to fight, since the risk of possible injury was too great. Since there was not always medical expertise or experienced surgeons on board, bad injuries were often fatal. If they did not die immediately, the men were often struck with gangrene or fever.

pirate shipping

B. Flag Rules

At sea, the flag had a very special meaning and was the subject of strict regulations. Every nation at sea had its own flag and certain maneuvers had a special meaning. A ship that had suffered defeat lowered its flag while nailing it to the mast to express its desire to fight to the death! No member of the crew was allowed to lower the flag. A salute was also sometimes exchanged between ships by lowering the flag and then raising it again. Finally, a message was also conveyed through the color of the cloth:

  • Red Flag: If the cloth was red, it meant battle! A skull and crossbones could accompany the red and was also used by pirates when they wanted to show that the fight was going to be particularly merciless.
  • WHITE KEYSTONE: On the other hand, if it was white, it was sending a message of peace.
  • BLACK COLLAR: Originally, the color black was a sign of mutiny outbreaks.

Do you dream of going on an adventure and raising the Black Flag? Then you will love our collection of  Skull and Crossbones Flags Pirates and Corsairs 🏴☠️ They are made of high quality polyester (90 x 150 cm) and the delivery is free!

C. Making the Pirate Flags

These famous flags with crossed skulls, bones and shins (or sabers) were often made from  pieces of sail  by the sailors themselves. The  patterns  had to be simple and the edges weren’t always very sharp. The seamen who did the sewing did not have the dexterity of women on land! An element that undoubtedly contributed to the fright they spread due to their general appearance 😱.

4) Legendary Pirates

Pirates fascinate and stand for adventure, excesses of all kinds, naval battles … but also for cunning, bravery and the search for riches! Some pirates, also known as  flibustiers , have gone down in history until they became true  legends  🤩 It’s hard to imagine them sailing the seas and oceans without their flags.

A. Black Beard

If there is a famous pirate, it is Edward Teach, also known as ”  Blackbeard  “. He got his nickname due to the long black beard he sported. He was certainly one of the most feared pirates off the West Indies and the British colonies in America at the beginning of the 17th century. He was known for capturing numerous ships—sometimes more than a dozen at a time—thus terrifying many merchants. His pirate flag was black in color. It depicted a skeleton painted white with a devil’s head, holding in its right hand an hourglass ⌛ and an arrowhead spear pointing towards a red bloody heart 💘.

Blackbeard Edward Teach

B. Jack Rackham

Jack Rackham   is undoubtedly one of the most famous pirates, but it is above all the symbol sewn on his black sail that has made history. Who hasn’t seen this variant with two  crossed sabers  ⚔️ instead of bones? Swords represent power and strength. It is therefore not surprising that they are sewn to the cloth hanging from the mast. This choice, by the way, was not insignificant, perhaps even prescient, because he died a few years later, having severed his head with a saber.

Jack Rackham

C. Bartholomew Roberts

Finally, the drawings were sometimes more complex and desirable, conveying some artistic vision. This was the case with  Bartholomew Roberts  , who was content with not just one, but two drawings. One depicts a beer mug taken in the company of Death 🍻 But the most interesting is undoubtedly the second, which depicts two skulls labeled « ABH » and « AMH » (read as « A Barbadian Head » and « A Martinican Head » ) indicates. These inscriptions testified to his hatred of these two peoples, on whom he wanted to take cruel revenge because they had defied the dangerous sailor.

Bartholomew Roberts

5) Pirates today

The history of the Jolly Roger does not end with the end of the great pirate era. The iconic elements of these adventurers have stood the test of time and continue to hold sway in different styles and worlds today.

A. Symbol of War

The Black  Flag was  also used in securing Caribbean waters. It became a symbol of war and was primarily used and flown during World War I when the crew returned victorious from their mission. As a military tradition, it was also used in World War II. Today the flag is still used by the English Navy, particularly submarines, who continue this tradition. Other navigators have also taken possession of the famous flag, but this time in the air. In fact, it has been used by American aircraft since 1943, and the black skull and crossbones flag has accompanied a large number of aircraft ever since.

In France it is only the ship «  Commandant L’Herminier » allowed to hoist the « pirate flag » 🛥️ Other pleasure boaters are forbidden to hoist the flag. The Aviso “Commander l’Herminier” is one of two French military ships (along with the submarine “Casabianca”) that fly a real pirate flag as a traditional flag.

Schiff Kommandant L'Herminier

B. Flag Rules

In modern times, these symbols are no longer used at sea as they used to be. She has been somewhat neglected by modern piracy, but a black cloth hanging from the mast can still be seen a few times. While the ships are still outlawed, it’s more about the  Horn of Africa now.  The dreaded  modern day piracy  is forcing coastal governments to work together to patrol domestic and international waters.

Modern pirate Africa

C. Pirat der Karibik

Nowadays, pirates and their emblems are widely used in culture and arts such as film and theater. The legends of these adventurers are still fascinating and stimulate curiosity and imagination. The pirate is now conceived in a modern, romantic way, sometimes good-natured with a big heart, sometimes devilish and devious. The most recent and most popular depiction of a pirate is probably the film  Pirates of the Caribbean . It shows a pirate with a trendy look that is sometimes chic, sometimes bohemian and cuts a fine figure in every situation. Appreciated for his snappy and witty sayings, the modern pirate is not lacking in style or humour! 😂

Pirate of the Caribbean

6) Pirate Accessories

A. Pirate bandana and earrings

The  pirate bandana  , as well as the   earrings  , are coins that have become emblems of piracy over the years. Such is the pirate flag of  Every Henry , one of the world’s greatest pirates, depicting a skull and crossbones in profile, with a bandana on his head and an earring in his ear. Accessories and jewelry such as rings or bracelets were often worn by buccaneers who had just looted, and testified to their strength and wealth.

Every Henry Bandana Ohrring

B. Pirate jewellery

Skulls, crossed shins and swords have become rock, trendy and mysterious at the same time. That’s why our team at Skull World has made it their mission to bring these symbols back into fashion ! All our bracelets, rings and pirate accessories complete your look with incredibly fine details. Do you want to become a real pirate? Wear extravagant, striking and artistically crafted jewelry? Then you’ve come to the right place!

At the World of Skulls, the same codes from back then are taken up again in trendy and artfully crafted pirate jewellery. They come in all styles, like this steel pirate bracelet or this beautiful silver pirate ring. And don’t forget this beautiful skull perfecto made of buffalo leather with the famous symbol of the bandits of the sea!

Discover the meaning of pirate tattoos now !