Why Do Pirates Have Hooks?

Did the pirates really have hooks for hands? And if they did, what was the purpose of the hooks?

There seems to be a lot that’s been said about the pirate, specifically, things that would explain their ways of life. Some of the things said about the pirates are mere mythical stories, while others are things that actually happened. Today, we take a look at one of the things attributed to pirates – having hooks for hands. Just how true is this?

With eye patches, peg legs, and the hook hands associated with the pirates, are there things that we shouldn’t believe about the pirates?

Why Do Pirates Have Hooks?

Essentially, a hook for a hand would be a more reasonable choice for a pirate after losing an arm. It is simple and also a cheaper option than prosthetics. But was this the case – did the pirates actually make use of hooks as prosthetics?

The first story about the use of hooks for hands dates back to the 1500s, and it involves Captain ORUC REIS, the famous Turkish pirate who worked for the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean Sea in the 1550s. It is said that together with his brother (Captain Barbarosa), they were the most respected and the most famous pirates throughout the Mediterranean Sea. During one of the pillages, Captain Oruc lost his arm, which was replaced with a metal hook by a doctor in Egypt. Following the replacement of his lost arm with the metal hook, the captain continued his conquest of the islands and the rest of the Mediterranean sea, with the metal hook for his hands. Afterward, it became a popular thing among the pirates who lost their hands – they’d have a metal hook as a replacement.

So, if you doubted the pirates’ eye patches, peg legs, and the hooks for hands, you really shouldn’t. All these were real in the 18th Century; the interesting bit is that these things were all normal, and their popularity and acceptance would be considered to be the same as the acceptance of body piercings and tattoos, among other forms of extreme body modifications seen today.

Why hooks for hands?

The primary reason for the use of hooks for hands has to do with the fact that the loss of limbs was quite common in sailors throughout the 18th century. Men would be wounded in everyday ship-related activities, as they would in battle. For example, people would plunge into the water or rocky shores from the high masts if they lost their grip and they’d also trip and fall down hatches. The result would be severe damage to the body. And this being an age before antibiotics were invented, wounds were dangerous, regardless of the severity. What this means is that most compound fractures from broken bones/ falls would be infected, and the medical ‘protocols’ of the time would recommend amputation as the only way to save patients’ lives.

Any severe damage to a limb would mean amputation. The situation was worsened by the fact that there were no anesthetics at the time, meaning that surgery would be done with the patient awake, kicking, and screaming. For the poor, the loss of the limb would be a permanent fix. But if you were rich, teams of skilled physicians and craftsmen would team in creating the most aesthetic and workable solution; think medieval prosthetics.

In the 1600s, for example, they discovered that a severed limb could easily be sculpted well during amputation, making the limb more adaptable to receiving the prosthesis. For hands, the metal hook was deemed the best prosthesis to be used. That said, it’s worth noting that no famous pirates ever lost their hands or legs, meaning that the hook is associated with the pirates because it is a befitting standard from the time.


Pirate Jewelry