Who Were the First Pirates?

In ancient times, sea traders often raided cargo ships on the Mediterranean Sea and in the Far East. These men were called sea rovers, or pirates. They also robbed coastal towns of their riches and held prisoners for ransom.

Since piracy was against the laws of all nations, pirates did not fly any one nation’s flag; instead, they flew their own, a skull and crossbones on a black background. This flag was called the Jolly Roger.

During the Middle Ages, the European Coast was raided from the north by Vikings and from the south by Spanish Moors. Sailors without jobs and those on captured ships often joined the crews of pirate ships. Muslim pirates from North Africa’s Barbary Coast were active until 1816.

In Colonial times in America, pirates along the Atlantic Coast were involved in smuggling and illegal trading, thus defying strict British laws in the colonies.

Some pirates, however, went on to become national heroes in America. During the War of 1812, pirate Jean Lafitte helped the U.S. Army defend New Orleans. Sir Francis Drake and Giovanni Da Verrazano went on to become famous navigators, with the world’s longest suspension bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York, named in honor of the pirate who discovered New York Harbor in the 1500s.

Two of the most famous pirates were women, Anne Bonney and Mary Read!