What is a pirate?

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Pirates were real people, but lots of stories have been made up about pirates, so you need to know what facts were true, and what were invented.

Real Pirates

Pirates were sailors who robbed other ships on the high seas, and stole goods from them. They were very much feared by honest travellers. Pirates have been around for as long as people have sailed ships, and even today, there are pirates working around some parts of Asia.

Pirates were sometimes called privateers, or buccaneers, or corsairs.

Sometimes they had a letter of marque, which was a letter from their government, giving them permission to rob ships from enemy countries. This doesn't happen any more, but it did use to happen hundreds of years ago.

This is a letter of marque from a museum in the Bahamas.

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Fiction or made-up stories about pirates

Sometimes people today think it would have been fun to be a pirate. But it wasn't! It was really just stealing, and if pirates were caught, they were hanged. Some of them got quite rich, but most of them didn't.

Do you think that every pirate had a wooden leg? Or wore an eye patch? Or had a parrot sitting on his shoulder? No, of course not! Maybe some pirates did, but these are things that people who wrote made-up stories about pirates put into their books. Real pirates did not all look the same.

There are lots of stories around about buried treasure, but the truth of the matter is that hardly any pirates buried their loot on deserted islands. And if they did, they went back and dug it up pretty quickly. So it is not very likely that there is still any buried treasure around the islands of the Carribean. Lots of people think there could be, and go looking for it, but noone has found any yet.

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