Document Type


Course Name

History of Cultural Contact


Kitty Lam

Publication Date



Cultural History


The word ‘piracy’ conjures infamous tales of adventures on the high sea. Often, piracy is associated with images of men screaming and ransacking ships, the look of unclean clothes and unhygienic skin, inherent violence and inherent treachery, the never-ending lust for riches - all the makings of uncivilized human beings. But the idea that all pirates fit this description is a misconception. Pirates tended to be more complex than that, and some even established special codes that denoted a social order and rules to be followed. In the Golden Age of pirates, from the 17th to 19th century, pirates ruled the seas and affected some major civilizations. Essentially, piracy was directly proportional to the proliferation of trade during that time period. But this was not necessarily for glory, violence, or chaos. Ultimately, a pirate’s goal was to get resources to live on. Gold, silk, spices and other valuable goods on ships were attractive sources of wealth for pirates. Sometimes these pirates would work in tandem with a major country that gave them an official license to rob ships from the country’s competitors, in a practice known as privateering. They traveled throughout different parts of the world, pillaging ships along oceanic trade routes. Sources about pirates include oral histories and stories passed down through generations of families, codes of conduct composed by pirates, and government documents, such as letters and trial records. Through these sources, we can learn about pirates’ motivations and actions, as well as how others perceived their activities.



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