Piracy is a robbery committed at sea, or sometimes on the shore, by an agent without a commission from a sovereign nation. The Golden Age of Piracy occurred mostly in the Caribbean, the American coast, the Indian Ocean, and the western coast of Africa. As British imperialism spread across Europe it brought about many drastic structural changes due to which many sailors and privateers found themselves unemployed. Factors contributing to piracy included the rise in quantities of valuable cargoes being shipped to Europe over vast ocean areas, the weakness of European navies in peacetime, the training and experience that many sailors had gained as conscripts in European navies (particularly the Royal Navy), and the weakness of European government in overseas colonies.
Seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue (with estimated worldwide losses of US$13 to $16 billion per year), particularly in the waters between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, off the coast of Somalia, and in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore, which are used by over 50,000 commercial ships a year. A recent surge in piracy off the Somali coast spurred a multi-national effort led by the United States to patrol the waters near the Horn of Africa to combat piracy. While boats off the coasts of North Africa and the Mediterranean are still assailed by pirates, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard have nearly eradicated piracy in U.S. waters and the Caribbean.
A pirate code is a code of conduct invented for governing pirates. Some of these codes are fictional, and some historical. In the second half of the 17th century, buccaneers began operating under a set of rules variously called the Chasse-Partie, Charter Party, Custom of the Coast, or Jamaica Discipline. These eventually became known as Articles of Agreement, or the pirate's code. Pirate articles varied from one captain to another, and sometimes even from one voyage to another, but they were generally alike in including provisions for discipline, specifications for each crewmate's share of treasure, and compensation for the injured.
Each crew member was asked to sign or make his mark on the articles, then swear an oath of allegiance or honor. The oath was sometimes taken on a Bible, but legend suggests that other pirates swore on crossed pistols, swords, or axes, or on a human skull, or astride a cannon. This act formally inducted the signer into the pirate crew, generally entitling him to vote for officers and on other "affairs of moment," to bear arms, and to his share of the plunder. The articles having been signed, they were then posted in a prominent place, often the door of the grand cabin. (more...)
Image credit: G. H. Maynadier's The Works of Daniel Defoe
Captain Avery captures the Great Mogul's grand-daughter, an early twentieth century painting depicting a scene from Henry Every's capture of the Mughal trading vessel Ganj-i-sawai in 1695. Every retired from piracy after successfully evading the world's first worldwide manhunt, and his exploits served as a potent source of inspiration for later pirates. Few imitators were able to replicate Every’s successes, however, and Ganj-i-sawai remains one of the richest prizes ever taken by pirates.