Golden Age of Piracy  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Golden Age of Piracy is a common designation given to usually one or more outbursts of piracy in the maritime history of the early modern period. In its broadest accepted definition, the Golden Age of Piracy spans the 1650s to the late 1720s and covers three separate outbursts of piracy:

  1. The buccaneering period of approximately 1650 to 1680, characterized by Anglo-French seamen based on Jamaica and Tortuga attacking Spanish colonies and shipping in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific
  2. The Pirate Round of the 1690s, associated with long-distance voyages from the Americas to rob Muslim and East India Company targets in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea
  3. The post-Spanish Succession period extending from 1716 to 1726, when Anglo-American sailors and privateers, left unemployed by the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, turned en masse to piracy in the Caribbean, the North American eastern seaboard, the West African coast, and the Indian Ocean

Narrower definitions of the Golden Age sometimes exclude the first or second periods, but most include at least some portion of the third. The modern conception of pirates as depicted in popular culture is derived largely, although not always accurately, from the Golden Age of Piracy.

Factors contributing to piracy during the Golden Age included the rise in quantities of valuable cargoes being shipped to Europe over vast ocean areas, reduced European navies in certain regions, the training and experience that many sailors had gained in European navies (particularly the Royal Navy), and ineffective government in European overseas colonies. The colonial powers at the time constantly fought with pirates and engaged in several notable battles and other related events.

Effect on popular culture

Although some of the details are often misremembered, the effect upon popular culture of the Golden Age of Piracy can hardly be overstated. A General History of the Pirates (1724) by Captain Charles Johnson is the prime source for the biographies of many well known pirates of the Golden Age, providing an extensive account of the period. In giving an almost mythical status to the more colourful characters such as the notorious English pirates Blackbeard and Calico Jack, it is likely that the author used considerable licence in his accounts of pirate conversations. In 2002, English naval historian David Cordingly wrote an introduction to Johnson's 1724 book, stating: "it has been said, and there seems no reason to question this, that Captain Johnson created the modern conception of pirates." Johnson's book would influence the pirate literature of Robert Louis Stevenson and J. M. Barrie. Such literary works as Stevenson's Treasure Island and Barrie's Peter Pan, while romanticized, drew heavily on pirates and piracy for their plots.

Various claims and speculation about their overall image, attire, fashion, dress code, etc. have been made and contributed to their fanciful mystery and lore. For example, men wore earrings as the value of the gold or silver earring was meant to pay for their burial if they were lost at sea and their body washed ashore. They were also worn for superstitious reasons, believing the precious metals had magical healing powers.

More recently, even less accurate depictions of historical-era pirates (e.g., Talk Like a Pirate Day) have advanced to the forefront. However, these phenomena have only served to advance the romantic image of piracy and its treasure-burying swashbucklers in popular culture.

The Japanese anime and manga series One Piece written by Eiichiro Oda takes place during the Golden Age of Piracy. After the Pirate King Gol D. Roger is executed, he sets off the age by claiming that he hid his treasure in "One Piece" and whoever is able to find it can keep it. One Piece, to this day, is still the most popular manga in Japan, and one of the most popular pieces of Japanese art in general.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Golden Age of Piracy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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