A pirate is a person who  attacks  and robs ships. Most pirates were men, but a few women also became pirates. There are many adventure stories about pirates, but piracy   was  actually  a well-organized  business . In the 19th and 20th  centuries piracy was wiped out  by many sea powers.


How pirates lived

People became pirates for various reasons. Sometimes honest sailors left their ships because life on them was so miserable and they couldn’t bear it. These seamen often turned to piracy  in order to survive . Others were in search of riches , like gold, silver and jewellery . Some simply wanted to have adventures.

Stories and movies have created an exciting image  of pirates as dangerous men with beards . In reality , however , pirates led a miserable life. They were often drunk and argued a lot. Many pirates died of injuries and illnesses. Some were shot or left at sea, others were captured  and sentenced to death.

Most pirate ships had a captain who was in command  during a battle . The most powerful person on board was the quartermaster, who divided the stolen goods  , or loot, among the crew . He also had the duty of punishing pirates who did something wrong. Both the captain and the quartermaster were  elected by the crew and they could be removed  if they did not do their job well.

Most pirate crews  had rules  that every member had to obey . Pirates who stole other men’s things were often set ashore on a deserted island where they would die of thirst . Sometimes they were given a pistol and a bullet to kill themselves.

Because pirates were mostly interested in stolen goods they killed very few people and often let their enemies free after they had attacked and robbed them. They also attacked  towns along coasts. Sometimes they took prisoners  and demanded money for their freedom. The pirate flag became a well-known and feared  symbol of the seas. It often showed a white skull  and crossbones  on a black background.





Piracy has occurred at all times in history.  Ancient Roman and Greek ships that sailed in the Mediterranean were often in danger of being attacked . In the Middle Ages Viking pirates attacked  ships and  settlements  in the Baltic Sea and English Channel .

The countries of northern Africa allowed and even organized pirate attacks . They gave Muslim privateers  money and ships to carry out attacks on Christian ships from England, France and Spain. They had their bases  in Tunis, Algiers and Morocco and from there they raided  towns along the Mediterranean  coast.

Piracy’s golden age was between the 1500s and the 1800s when a great number of ships crossed the Atlantic Ocean carrying valuable cargo to and from colonies in the New World. This was the time of famous pirates.

Piracy declined in the 19th and 20th centuries . On the one side merchant vessels became bigger and bigger , on the other side more and more countries started patrolling the oceans.  Even though piracy  is a crime in all countries modern pirates of today continue to be active, most of them in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean.




Famous pirates


Blackbeard was one of history’s cruelest pirates. He got his name for his long black beard  which he wore in braids . He terrorized the coasts of Carolina and Virginia for many years until a small fleet  of ships hunted him down and killed him.

The Englishmen Sir John Hawkins, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake were some of the most famous so-called  privateers , pirates who worked for a country. They had their own ships and were paid by a government to hunt down and attack ships from other countries. In the 1500s Queen Elizabeth I gave these  privateers  the permission  to attack other ships and help England dominate   the oceans.

Buccaneers were pirates who terrorized the West Indies and the Central and South American coasts. They originally came from France, England and Holland. Some of them left their home countries because they were criminals  and wanted to  escape the law . They lived on small islands in the Caribbean  , attacked  Spanish ships and captured gold , silver and  jewels  that were transported home from the colonies.



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Related Topics



  • actually   = really
  • ancient   = old
  • argue   = if two or more people have different opinions about something
  • ashore   = on land
  • attack   = to start using guns against an enemy in a war
  • Baltic Sea   = sea that is a part of the Atlantic Ocean , surrounded by Denmark, Sweden, Poland and the Baltic states
  • base   = the place from which someone starts their work
  • battle   = here: fight between two sides
  • bear   = live with
  • beard   = hair that grows around a man’s chin and cheeks
  • braid   = to twist together
  • business   =to buy and sell things
  • capture   = to catch a person and keep them as a prisoner
  • cargo   = the goods that are transported on a ship
  • Caribbean   = sea between North, Central and South America
  • carry out   =do a job
  • century   = a hundred years
  • crew   = the people who work on a ship
  • criminal   = a person who has done something that is against the law
  • crossbone   = two bones that cross each other
  • cruel   = very bad, terrible
  • decline   =to go down
  • demand   = want
  • deserted   = place where nobody lives
  • divide   = to share or give to each person
  • dominate   = control
  • duty   = job
  • elect   = to vote for
  • English Channel   = water between England and France
  • escape   = to get away from
  • even though   =while
  • exciting   = to make you feel happy or interested
  • feared   = to be afraid
  • fleet   = a group of ships of a country
  • golden age   = time when something is at its best or most successful
  • goods   =products
  • government   = people who rule a country
  • honest   = someone who is a good person, does not steal and or cheat
  • however   = but
  • hunt down   = to search for a person until you catch them
  • image   = the opinion people have about something or someone
  • in command   = to be the boss
  • injury   = to be hurt
  • jewel   = valuable stones
  • jewellery   = small things made of gold or silver that you wear
  • law   =the rules that a country has
  • Mediterranean   = the area between Europe and Africa
  • merchant vessel   = a ship that is used to trade goods, not for war
  • miserable   = very bad , uncomfortable
  • obey   = to do what someone tells you to do
  • occur   = happen
  • originally   = at first
  • patrol   = to travel around and check to see if there is is no danger
  • permission   = to be allowed to do something
  • piracy   = the crime of attacking and stealing things from ships
  • prisoner   = someone who is captured and held somewhere
  • privateer   = pirate who had his own ship and worked for governments
  • punish   = to make someone suffer because they have done something wrong
  • raid   = to go to a place and steal things
  • reality   =the truth is
  • remove   = here: to give someone else the job
  • riches   = expensive things, also money
  • rule   = instruction that says how something must be done
  • sentence   = to give someone a punishment
  • settlement   = a group of houses in a place where not many people have lived before
  • skull   = the bones of a person’s head
  • survive   =to live on after a dangerous situation
  • thirst   =if you need something to drink
  • valuable   = very expensive and important
  • various   = different
  • wipe out   = to do away with