What Do The Symbols On Pirate Flags Mean?

Ever wondered how the pirates lived, how they avoided some troubles, or what they did to stay alive?

Well, the truth is that in as much as the pirates are known to be bloodthirsty and very aggressive, they tried as much as they could to avoid some engagements. So, to keep their interests safe and to stay alive, while keeping the enemy ships in one piece, they devised a safe approach – the use of the pirate flags.

What this means is that in as much as the pirates are known to be feisty and ready to charge, they still had to look for smart ways of scaring away their opponents, albeit safely, and without any resistance. So, even with all the spooky stores about the bloodthirsty state of the pirates, the pirates still employed the use of flags to keep away attacks and to scare the resistance. There are different types of pirate flags used to convey different messages, specifically to scare opponents. In this article, we’ll take a look at the meanings of the symbols of the pirate flags.

5 Kinds Pirate Symbols And Meanings

  1. Pirate skull
Pirate skull

Also known as the Jolly Roger, the pirate skull is the primary symbol of recognizing the pirates. The pirate skull was designed to look rather intimidating and to easily conjure panic and fear. The classic pirate skull was produced in red and in black, with crossed bones and a large skeleton head. It was also the most famous pirate flag for captains. This flag was popular in the 1710s, and it was used by several pirate captains, from Edward England and John Taylor to Black Sam Bellamy.

Over the years, the Jolly Roger has been the most recognized symbol of the pirate flags. The flag symbolized danger and was used to send warnings to the opponents. Over the years, the pirate sign has been used as an avatar for most people like rockstars and hackers, which is why you could see images of the pirate skull on vehicles, as well as the markings for dangerous zones, for example, the minefields.

But why Jolly Roger? Well, it is believed to be a term derived from the French phrase, Joli Rouge, meaning beautiful red; it represents the French privateer’s flag. The red Jolly Roger flags would be used by the buccaneers and the privateers, and it meant that there would be no quarters given – this loosely translates to no prisoners are to be spared; once a ship was captured. Afterward, the Joli rouge would be altered and referred to as the Jolly Roger, specifically by the English sailors.

There is an alternative story, though, one that is about Ali Raja, a fearsome leader for a group of renowned pirates from Asia. The pirate captain was known as “The King of the Sea,” and then the English Pirates would anglicize the pirate name to Jolly Roger to suit their purpose.

Lastly, there is a myth that says that the Jolly Roger was derived from the name Old Roger, a British term for the Devil. And since the 17th century, Jolly Roger has been known as the black pirate flag. Also to note is that in a much as the first Jolly Rogers date back to 1650, it wasn’t until the Golden Age of Piracy that these flags were flown; with the first of these flags flown by the renowned Bartholomew Rogers along with Francis Spriggs.

  • Corsair ships
Corsair ships

One of the things that stands out from the golden ages has got to be the French Corsairs. The corsairs are the privates who were authorized to conduct raids using their ships on the nations that were at war with France and on behalf of the French Crown. The vessels, along with the cargo that was seized, would be sold at auctions, and the Corsair captains would receive a portion of the proceeds collected.

Interestingly, the corsairs weren’t part of the French Navy, but they were regarded as legitimate combatants at war, on behalf of France, as long as the vessel’s commanding officer possessed a valid letter, known as the Letter of Marque. This letter gave the corsairs their name and also made sure that the crew and the officers conducted themselves per the contemporary admiralty law. This letter also gave the corsairs the status of war prisoners in case they were captured.

  • Anchor

The anchor is of great significance in the pirates’ world and also in the rest of the maritime world. The anchor is often made of metal, and it’s often used to connect vessels to the boy of water in question, helping and preventing the vessel from drifting from the winds of heavy currents. So, as the name suggests, the anchor would be used to hold ground.

The anchors can be temporary or even permanent, with the permanent anchors often used to create moorings, which is why they aren’t moved often. These permanent anchors would have to be moved by specialty vessels. For the temporary anchors, there would be one or more of the anchors in a vessel. The fluked and the Admiralty anchors are the most common types of anchors that were used by the pirates. Then you have the stockless anchors that were patented in 1821, and the small-boat anchors were used from the mid-20th century.

  • Pirate ship rudder
Pirate ship rudder

Pirate ships had sturdily constructed rudders that were mounted solidly to enhance the maneuverability of the vessel. The rudders ensured that the pirate ships never broke down while also ensuring that the ship was never left completely hopeless. This is because the rudder is an important part of the ship’s wheel, and it’s used to steer and control the course of the vessel. The wheel, along with the rest of the steering system, forms the vessel’s helm, where it could be connected to an electronic, mechanical, or hydraulic system designed to alter the rudder vertically relative to the hull.

  • Pirate hat
Pirate hat

A pirate’s biggest identifier has to be their hat. The pirate hat, also known as a tricorne or a tricorn, can be defined as a hat style that was quite popular in the 18th century, where it was referred to as a cocked hat. Although there was a drop in its popularity by 1800, and it wasn’t known as the tricorne until the middle of the 19th century, it is easily part of the pirates’ trademark look. The tricornes are known for the broad brims that were pinned up on either side of the wearer’s head, as well as the back of the hat, forming a triangular-shaped hat.

Famous Pirate Flags And Their Meanings

Here are the most common pirate flags and why they were chosen

  1. The Red Pirate Flag – this flag was used as a warning sign for opponents while also sending the ‘No Mercy’ message.
  2. Skulls and Bones – this represented death
  3. Bleeding heart – this flag meant that a slow and a rather painful death awaited anyone on the pirates’ way.
  4. Red Skeleton / Edward Low – this flag was a sign of torment and eventual death.
  5. Hourglass symbol – this meant to relay the message of time running out/ thin
  6. Nude Pirate – this represented pirates without any shame
  7. Clothed pirate – this was used to represent the pirates’ captain.
  8. Horned Skeleton – this represented Satan.
  9. Lifting Drinking Glass – this is a toast to a dying person or to Satan.
  10. Weapons – these meant a looming fight.

Pirate Jewelry