Stories about pirates are popular even today. Romantic stories, shipboard adventures on the high seas, the spirit of camaraderie, and treasure hunts, all of this attract the attention of many readers and viewers around the world.
But we must not forget that a few centuries ago and in the modern world, pirates were and still are the most real criminals. Pirate fraternities are the first example of OCGs. Well-organized gangs, armed to the teeth, carried out raids and robberies, not neglecting even murder. Peaceful ships and coastal areas suffered from them.
When depicting pirates in literature, art, and movies, authors use some symbols of piracy, such as walking on a plank, an eye patch, a hook on one of their hands, a wooden leg, and an earring in the ear.
But the most popular pirate symbol was the black flag with a skull and crossed human bones, the so-called “Jolly Roger. This intimidating sign was supposed to inspire terror and suppress the will to resist. Everyone on the captured ship had to see that they had been captured by extremely powerful people.
The pirate flag was not only black
Like all flags planted on ships, the black pirate flag carried the message that they were naval ships. Pirates also used flags of other countries to mislead the intended victim, giving them an advantage in subsequent attacks.
When they stormed a ship, the pirates would raise a black flag with the Jolly Roger. This signaled to those on the captured ship that mercy would be granted to those who did not resist. But the cunning pirates could change their banner to red again, which meant that no one would be spared.
Versions of the appearance of the Jolly Roger
At first, neither the solid black nor the solid red flag had any image on it. Both flags were called “Jolly Roger.” Gradually, with the image of crossed bones and skulls, the name “Jolly Roger” became associated with them. But why did pirates call their flags by this name? It is not known exactly where this phrase came from, but there is a version that its author was Charles Johnson.
He published the book “The General History of Pirates” in 1724. It is believed that it was in it that the expression “Jolly Roger” was first used. Johnson, in his book, quoted two pirates who called their flag “Jolly Roger”. They were the sea robbers Bartholomew Rogers and Francis Spriggs, who lived in the early 18th century. According to another version, the expression “Jolly Roger” came from the French “Jolie rouge,” which means “quite red”.
A third version of the origin of “Jolly Roger” can be learned from the book “Pirates and the Lost Templar Fleet”, written by David Hatcher Childress. In it, the author said that the “Jolly Roger” may have gotten its name after King Roger II of Sicily, who was a Templar. Presumably, he was the first to fly the flag with the image of a human skull and crossed bones on his ship.
Nowadays, the “Jolly Roger” is an unchangeable attribute of the pirate flag. But its skull-and-bones design is not original. It has undergone many changes over the centuries. In his “General History of Pirates”, Charles Johnson wrote that two pirates carried a flag called the “Jolly Roger”, but neither of them had an image of a skull and bones.
From this, we can conclude that “Jolly Roger” was the name given to all pirate flags, even those that did not have any images. The term was used by pirates for all their flags. Over the centuries, pirate flags have had many variations in color and designs. They were both red and black, and the designs on them included images of skeletons, weapons, blood, hearts, and so on. Other drawings of “Jolly Roger” have come down to this day.
But why exactly did the skull and crossed bones become the symbol of piracy? Some believe it is the legend of the Templars. One day, the Templar lover, Lord Sidon, Mistress Maraclei, died suddenly. Immediately after the funeral, the lover dug up the girl’s body under the cover of the night and had sexual intercourse with her. Suddenly, he heard a voice from the void that told him to return to the site in nine months to retrieve his son.
The Templar complied with the order of the unknown voice. When he opened the grave again, he saw a skull lying on the skeleton’s feet. Templar was told to preserve the find. He decided it would be good luck and took the skull and bones with him. The skull and bones became his protection against his enemies. All he had to do was to show the skull and his enemies were immediately defeated. Over time, the skull and bones passed to the Order of the Templars.
The popular collective image of the pirate
The Jolly Roger is now a popular collective branding collective example. The skull and crossed bones have become a symbol used by over one organization to denote its status. “The Jolly Roger” was considered a universal mark associated with the image of the pirate.
This understanding came centuries later. Pirate tales, both old and new, depict the chronicles of pirates such as Blackbeard, Black Caesar, and Ching Shi. It is also embodied in new classic pirate stories, like Captain Hook from Peter Pan, Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, and others. With the “Jolly Roger” sign, each new and old story shows very different pirates, uniting them as ruthless robbers, storms of the seas, drinking lots of rum, mastering the art of the sea, and having power over the vastness of the sea.