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From Depp to Breadth: Teaching World History with Pirates of the Caribbean

Craig D. Patton

     One of life's biggest mysteries is how students can be so disinterested in history in the classroom and enjoy it so much as entertainment. Films, video games, television shows, and even books with historical themes or settings are extremely popular with many of my students. A genre that has been particularly popular the last ten years is pirates. While pirates have been an enduring figure in American popular culture over the last two centuries, in the last decade there has been a veritable boom in all things Pirate, thanks in no small part to Johnny Depp's campy portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Three of the top twenty grossing films of all time feature Jack Sparrow and his friends, including the most recent effort which is currently in eighth place. 1 Clearly, pirates are a hot commodity. If pirates can help Disney's bottom line, can they not do the same for educators in world history? The following essay suggests that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies provide educators with an imaginative way to promote learning by linking fictional characters that students know and enjoy to historical knowledge and methods. Like any major historical occurrence, piracy is a multi-faceted phenomenon inspired and conditioned by a variety of economic, social, political, and cultural processes. While not all of these can be readily linked to the plots of the Disney movies, such films touch upon many events and themes that help illuminate general patterns in piracy and, even more importantly, its interrelationship with broader world history trends.

     In particular, the essay will deal with three issues of interest to instructors of world history, especially those at the high school and college level. 2 First, it will argue that the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow can help students understand the importance of geographic and economic factors in the rise of piracy over time. The films provide a means to show that regions like the Caribbean did not become hotbeds of piracy by accident, but because their location and physical characteristics made them idea spots to prey on maritime trade. Second, the essay will argue that the Pirate movies can also help students grasp the political dimensions of piracy and its connections with the dynamics of state formation around the world. Jack Sparrow and his colleagues are colorful examples of how pirates and state authorities could be allies as well as enemies and that, in fact, many early modern states used piracy as a means to augment their economic, military, and political strength. Moreover, it is possible to show that such partnerships occurred in many other places from the ancient world to the present. While they did not develop everywhere and were often tenuous, such alliances counteract the tendency to see piracy simply as the result of weak or "failed" states. Lastly, it will suggest that the films also provide a way to illustrate the anti-authoritarian and equalitarian sentiments that existed among a large segment of the lower classes in the Atlantic world in the 1600s and 1700s. Yet comparisons with other examples of large-scale piracy suggest that this was in many ways a unique lifestyle; one that reflected the special cultural and political currents of Europe at the time. Conversely, piracy elsewhere bore the cultural stamp of the societies in which it arose and often tended to mirror rather than reject dominant cultural values. In this way the Pirates of the Caribbean films can help students understand both historical commonality and specificity.

From the Caribbean to World's End: Geography, Trade, and Pirates

     Virtually every world history textbook devotes at least some attention to the influence of geography and the physical environment on the development of human societies. This same awareness informs a great deal of classroom instruction as well. Yet, most students' knowledge of the world beyond their immediate region is sketchy at best and many of them are not interested in expanding their geographical knowledge. While not a panacea, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies provide a means to heighten students' appreciation for the importance of geography both in the past and today. Like every aspect of world history, this topic can be approached a number of ways, but since the films are called Pirates of the Caribbean, it is logical to begin by examining the location and physical features of the Caribbean. The next step, which is more complicated, is to discuss how these factors contributed to the prevalence of piracy in the region in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

     Locating the Caribbean is not hard for most students, even the most cartographically challenged. Put simply, it consists of the Caribbean Sea and the lands bordering it. It is surrounded by Central and South America to the west and south, the Gulf of Mexico and North American to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The region contains hundreds of islands stretching more than 1500 miles from west to east and almost 1000 miles north to south, ranging from very large ones such as Cuba and Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and Dominican Republic) to extremely small ones such as St. Thomas and Grenada. A number of these islands are mentioned by name in the Pirates films and two of them, Jamaica and Tortuga, are referred to repeatedly throughout the series and will therefore be discussed in more detail shortly. The islands comprise a number of chains such as the Greater and Lesser Antilles and the Bahamas. The Greater Antilles, named this because they contain about 90% of all the land mass of the West Indies, are located in the western half of the region and are near the Florida Straits. The latter was the chief passageway for Spanish ships sailing from Central and South America to Spain or for English and French ships sailing from the Caribbean to North America or their homelands. The Lesser Antilles are located at the eastern edge of the region and lay astride the entrances to the Caribbean for ships coming to the Americas from either Europe or Africa.

     The Caribbean has a number of physical characteristics that made it a nearly perfect location for piracy in the early modern era. First, there were only a handful of passages to enter or exit the Caribbean because of the prevailing ocean currents and wind patterns. It is important to remember that before the advent of steam or gas-powered ships, maritime trade routes were largely determined by the forces of nature. This phenomenon is of course connected with the famous Triangle Trade that arose in the early modern era and is featured prominently in most world history textbooks. While the continents of Europe, Africa, and the Americas formed the termini of the triangle, it was the tides and winds that determined the paths of travel along the triangle's legs. As noted above, merchants sailing from the Caribbean for the east coast of North America or Europe typically exited through the Florida straits because there they could catch the Florida current northward. This turns into the Gulf Stream and eventually joins the North Atlantic current which flows on toward Europe. Ships coming to the Caribbean from Europe would take the Canary current southward toward North Africa until it joined the North Atlantic Equatorial current which would then carry them to the eastern entrances of the Caribbean in the Lesser Antilles. Ships coming to the Caribbean from Africa with their cargos of slaves would typically ride the South Equatorial current until it merged with the North Atlantic Equatorial and enter through the same passages as those used by ships coming from Europe. Although Captain Jack Sparrow and his colleagues in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are typically portrayed as sailing mainly by instinct and luck, real life pirate captains were skilled sailors who used these ocean and wind patterns to find their prey. Rather than searching for victims at random on the open sea, they typically lay in wait near one of the passages into or out of the Caribbean or cruised a circuit among the island chains where large numbers of ships were likely to be found. 3

     The Caribbean islands also offered pirates an almost limitless number of places to hide before or after an attack. Such anchorages were crucial because they provided pirates with safe havens where they could get supplies of fresh water and food, maintain or repair their ships, divide up or sell their loot, and spend their profits in riotous living. Many island groups, especially the Bahamas, also had shallow channels, numerous shoals, and sharp reefs that made it almost impossible for larger naval vessels to follow or catch the small, fast ships used by most pirates.4 In fact, in Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow and his friends try to flee from rival pirates by sailing their ship across some shoals which are too shallow for the other ship to pass over.

     Last, but certainly not least, after 1600 the Caribbean was not under the jurisdiction of any single country. While the region had been claimed by Spain in the 1500s, most of it had little if any Spanish presence except for the larger islands such as Cuba and Hispaniola. This allowed adventurers, settlers, and merchants from countries to establish colonial outposts in the region, often with the blessings of their home governments which hoped to break Spain's monopoly on the New World's resources. By the mid-1600s the region was divided among Spanish, English, French, and Dutch holdings while many islands remained outside of anyone's control. This contested frontier environment with its welter of competing jurisdictions and the absence of any single, strong governmental authority was fertile ground for piracy. As we shall see later, pirates were able to seize the ships and goods of certain nations while finding customers, patrons, and protectors among the colonists and officials of other countries.

     These geographical factors can be analyzed in more detail if instructors wish, but the main goal is to demonstrate that causal relationships did exist between geography, trade, and piracy in the Caribbean. The next step is to explore how similar patterns have existed in other places around the world both in the past and present. A quick look at any map of the world reveals several places that have many of the same characteristics as the Caribbean. The two regions that most resemble the Caribbean are the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean region and the area of Southeast Asia around modern day Indonesia. In both regions numerous islands lie directly on or very near major water-borne trade routes and ships often have to sail through narrow channels as they pass through the regions. Not coincidentally both areas have experienced high levels of piracy at different points of time. The Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean were hotbeds of piracy in the ancient and classical periods and again in the early modern era. In Southeast Asia piracy has existed from earliest recorded eras to the present day, although it's high point was in the era 1500-1800. In other parts of the world, there were regions that had fewer islands, but narrow straits still forced ocean-going vessels to follow predictable routes relatively close to shore, making them easy targets. Among these latter regions were the western Mediterranean near the Straits of Gibraltar, the entrances to the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and the Mozambique Channel between Africa and Madagascar. Piracy flourished in each of these locations at different points in time. Sometimes the pirates operated out of island bases, as in the case of Madagascar, while other times they found haven in isolated or protected bays and inlets on the mainland, as with the Barbary pirates of North Africa.5 While it is possible to expand this list, the central task is to illustrate the global scope of piracy and the significance of geographical factors in its distribution and frequency.

     Here again the Pirates of the Caribbean can be used to make this point. In this connection the third film, At Worlds End, is the most useful. In this film an English naval commander seeks to destroy pirates around the world at the behest of the English East Indies Company by enlisting the aid of Davey Jones. To counter this effort, Captain Sparrow and his friends attend a gathering of the "Brethren Court," a council of nine leaders representing pirates from around the world.6 Besides Jack Sparrow as Pirate Lord of the Caribbean, some of the more noteworthy members of the council are Sparrow's former lieutenant turned rival, Barbossa, who is as Lord of the Caspian Sea; Sao Feng, the Pirate Lord of the South China Sea; [Madame] Ching the Pirate Lord of the Pacific; Ammand, the Corsair who is Pirate Lord of the Black Sea; and Sri Sumbhajee Angria, the Pirate Lord of the Indian Ocean. While some of these pairings are dubious and simply reflect the screenwriters' efforts to link pirates with every conceivable body of water, others are based on historical figures and can be employed to demonstrate the geographic scope and context of piracy. For example, Sri Sumbhajee Angria is clearly a variation of Sumbhaji Angria, an Indian admiral-turned pirate who controlled a vast fleet along the west coast of India in the first half of the 1700s and who was indeed a serious problem for the British East Indies Company.7 Similarly, the character of Madame Ching is appears to be based on Cheng I Sao, a woman who took assumed leadership of one of the largest Chinese pirate fleets in the early 1800s after the death of her husband, Cheng I, and who we shall meet again later in this essay.8

     The Asian pirates on the Brethren Court provide a convenient way to explore the nexus between geography, trade, and piracy in the Indian Ocean and South China Seas and to draw more explicit comparisons with the Caribbean. For example, the film makers have the Court meet in Singapore, a city built on a series of small islands at the southern tip of the Malaya peninsula which itself is separated from the Indonesian archipelago by a narrow strait. While the region had hosted fishing and trading settlements for millennia and been part of several Southeast Asian states, it only became a significant center of commerce after the British East India Company made it one of their main trading posts in the early 1800s. The site was of course chosen because it was an ideal location to control trade passing through the Malay straits, the most important trade route between the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Control of the straits had been the key to the rise of the kingdom of Malacca several centuries earlier, and it was for this reason that first the Portuguese and then the Dutch conquered it in the 1500s and 1600s. Like Malacca earlier, Singapore demonstrates the importance of such "choke points" for maritime trade and piracy--just as in the Caribbean.9

     The region also resembled the Caribbean because wind and ocean currents played a key role in trade and piracy. But in Southeast Asia maritime activity was dominated by the rhythms of monsoon winds. These wind patterns, which every world history textbook discusses to one degree or another, not only governed the lives of fishermen, sailors, and merchants in these waters, but also influenced the ebb and flow of piracy as well. Without going into detail, in spring and summer the winds generally blow from the southwest to northeast and in the fall they reverse direction. Along the south China coast, the summer monsoon was known as the "pirates wind" because it brought an upsurge in pirate attacks on both ships and coastal communities. In part, this was because the winds led large numbers of native and foreign merchants from Southeast Asia to sail northward to Chinese ports. However, it was also because the monsoons created difficult conditions for local fisherman just as food prices usually reached their annual highpoints. Many fishermen turned to piracy as a form of temporary employment and joined local or regional pirate gangs until the fall monsoons began and fishing picked up.10 Of course, for some, piracy was a full-time occupation with the monsoon simply determining peak and slack seasons.

Pirates and Privateers: The Role of Politics and Power

     In each of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies Captain Jack Sparrow and his friends have to overcome or outwit various opponents, some human and some supernatural. Let us here focus on the human ones. Some of these are other pirates while others are representatives of the established order. In the first and fourth movies, Curse of the Black Pearl and On Stranger Tides respectively, the chief agents of "law and order" are figures in the English government. In the first movie Sparrow has to outmaneuver and escape colonial officials in Port Royal, the capital of Jamaica, while in the fourth one he has to deal with the royal government itself in London. In the third film, At World's End, Sparrow and his pirate brethren are threatened by the East India Company and its allies in the Royal Navy. In all the films, though, the conflicts between pirates and the forces of authority are interspersed with periodic truces and uneasy partnerships. The notion that that pirates and governments or pirates and merchants could enter into partnerships based on shared interests contradicts the popular image of pirates as enemies of all established authorities. Yet here the Disney the films do reflect historical reality and provide a way to examine the complex linkages between piracy and state power in world history.

     Let us begin with a quick review of Captain Sparrow's convoluted dealings with the English government in Curse of the Black Pearl and On Stranger Tides. As stated earlier, in the former film Sparrow deals mainly with local English authorities in Jamaica. At the beginning of the film Sparrow is arrested in Port Royal and is sentenced to hang. However, he escapes with the help of some new found friends, steals a small English warship by outfoxing the local naval commander, and sails to Tortuga to recruit a crew to go after a former colleague, Captain Barbossa, who stole the Black Pearl from him sometime earlier. The British authorities follow and eventually catch up to Sparrow and his friends, although only after the latter have many adventures and narrow escapes from Barbossa and his men, who are now cursed for reasons that are too convoluted to discuss here. After a few more twists and turns Sparrow joins with the British authorities to defeat the undead pirates on the Black Pearl. Yet, after the battle is won, Sparrow is rearrested only to escape again, thus setting the stage for the sequels.

     Much of the film's plot is of course pure Hollywood fantasy, but it does provide a chance to discuss some substantive issues, especially the inter-relationship between pirates and colonial officials. For example, Port Royal was a real town that served as the chief port and capital of British Jamaica in the late 1600s. More importantly, its rise as a commercial center was intimately connected with piracy. The English seized Jamaica from Spain in the 1650s, nearly a century after English sailors had first begun raiding the Spanish Main, and the local authorities opened the port to privateers and pirates who preyed on Spanish and French shipping. They did this in part to help protect the colony since the English navy could not provide reliable protection from raiders from other countries. At the same time, the pirates were good for business, bringing in and selling contraband and then spending the money with wild abandon. In short, piracy helped make Port Royal a thriving, if lawless, boomtown, one similar to many other ports scattered around the Caribbean. However, its heyday a pirate haven was limited. When the buccaneers started attacking English ships as well, Jamaican authorities and the English government cracked down and drove the pirates to find other points of refuge. The city remained an important commercial center into the 1690s and more than a few merchants still conducted business with pirates on the sly, but in 1692 it was largely destroyed by a massive earthquake and tidal wave—an event from which it never recovered.11

     A similar pattern existed on Tortuga, the island where Sparrow went to find a crew, but officials there had an even longer and more intimate relationship with pirates. French hunters and farmers had settled on the island in the early 1600s but before long turned to piracy for extra income. In fact, the term buccaneer comes from an Arawak word (buccan) referring to the smoking of meat, which pirates smoked to preserve for use on long voyages. In the mid-1600s local French authorities allowed the island to become a haven for pirates because they stimulated the local economy and could help protect the island. Tortuga remained a refuge for pirates until the early 1700s when newer outposts in the French half of the large island of Hispaniola, known as Saint Dominique, eclipsed it because they provided better markets for the sale of contraband.12

     It is easy to understand how local authorities in struggling and dangerously exposed colonies could see pirates as valuable allies and business partners, but what about their nominal superiors, the royal governments back home? The most recent movie, On Stranger Tides, provides a useful way to explore this issue. At the start of the movie, Captain Sparrow is in London to rescue a friend, only to be captured himself. But instead of being sent to the gallows for his crimes, Sparrow is taken to meet the king who asks him to help the English find the fountain of youth before the Spanish. He is asked to work with his old nemesis, Captain Barbossa, who is now employed by the crown as a privateer (defined below). At various points in the movie Barbossa refers to his commission and boasts how this permits him to legally do the same things that made him a pirate earlier. At the end of the movie, though, he reveals that he only took the commission in order to get the government's help in pursuing his own ends, namely revenge against another pirate, none other than the infamous Blackbeard. Although Sparrow proudly insists he is a "pure" pirate, he does make common cause with Barbossa and, by extension, the English government throughout much of the film. While the distinction between privateer and pirate is probably lost on most viewers, it is a crucial one that highlights the ambiguous relationship between European states and piracy in the Caribbean and also paves the way to examine similar practices in world history.

     From the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries both the English and French governments encouraged adventurers known as privateers whose activities closely resembled those of the pirates. Privateers were individuals, usually merchants and ship owners, who received licenses (known as Letters of Marque) during times of war that permitted them to attack enemy ships and keep a share, often a large portion, of the goods they seized. In Europe, this practice can be traced back hundreds of years to the Middle Ages, but the practice was especially common in the 1500s and 1600s when England and France were almost constantly at war with Spain. This was because they, like most states throughout history, lacked the resources and ability to maintain large standing navies capable of waging war across the world's oceans. Privateers fought for a wide variety of reasons including religious beliefs, patriotism, and adventure, but ambition and wealth were usually high on the list. 13 Among the most famous English privateers was Sir Henry Morgan, whose title (knighthood) indicates how successful privateers not only enjoyed great wealth, but also often received political rewards and privileges.14 In theory privateers only attacked ships belonging to specific, hostile nations while pirates plundered those of any and all nations. Yet, as even their most ardent defenders admitted, the line between privateer and pirates was thin and porous. Large numbers of Caribbean pirates served as privateers during the wars of the 1600s and early 1700s but when peace came, they were unable or unwilling to return to normal trade and thus became "real" pirates. When this happened and they became a threat to shipping and trade in general, the governments that had previously encouraged and rewarded them hunted them down.15

     The pattern that existed in the Caribbean was far from unique. In fact, it was fairly common. From the ancient era to the modern age, many states have promoted privateering or even tolerated piracy when they thought it served their interests. While it is common to view contemporary piracy, such as that in Somalia, as the result of weak or "failed" states, in the past many governments have used piracy as a means to successfully enhance state power. Yet, as in the Caribbean, these same states often later moved to curtail piracy when the pirates become too powerful or endangered normal trade and commerce. While many examples could be given, this essay will limit itself to a few examples to illustrate how this can be linked to teaching world history.

     Let us first look at the Mediterranean from classical Greece to Pax Romana, a region and time period that looms large in world history courses. Piracy was part of Mediterranean life since the start of recorded history. This is hardly surprising since geographic, economic, and technical factors created conditions favorable to piracy. The rugged coastlines of Greece and Anatolia and the numerous small islands off-shore also provided would-be pirates with numerous places to live and hide in wait for passing ships. This was especially important in the ancient era because the rudimentary nature of ships and navigation forced them to the coast and put in when winds, tides, or storms made the trip too difficult—making them easy targets for pirates.16 Both Minoan and Mycenaean sources make reference to pirates and several passages in Homer's epics suggest piracy was common. Among the Mycenaeans in particular, there appears to have been little or no distinction between what we would view as normal trade, piracy, and warfare. In the "Dark Ages" that followed the collapse of the Mycenaeans, piracy may well have increased even more but this it is hard to know for certain based on the limited sources available. 17

     The situation in the Hellenic era is clearer thanks to the more extensive written records generated by the revival of cities, trade, and learning. These leave no doubt that many city-states tolerated or even encouraged piracy. Although warfare and piracy increasingly came to be seen as separate activities by legal and political thinkers in these centuries, there is little evidence that this had much impact on practice. Since the city-states recognized no pan-Hellenic authority, there was no way for citizens in one city to get protection or seek redress against those from the outside, a situation very similar to the early modern Caribbean. Since trade was so risky many city-states permitted merchants to undertake reprisals to recover their property or seize goods of equivalent value.18 Of course, there was nothing to stop merchants from taking more than what they had lost or simply claiming a loss in order to steal the goods of a merchant from some other city-state or kingdom. Raids and plunder were thus natural concomitants of commerce. More than one merchant engaged in piracy on a part-time basis and some became full-time pirates. Likewise, certain cities and islands became known as havens for pirates, providing them with goods and services and buying their stolen merchandise.19 Even in more law-abiding cities, many merchants and officials did not inquire too carefully into the origins of the goods bought and sold in their markets.

     As most world history textbooks make clear, the Greeks fought innumerable wars among themselves and with neighboring peoples. As in the Caribbean, such conflicts naturally promoted privateering and piracy. Most city-states--and many nearby Near Eastern kingdoms as well--not only commissioned merchants to act as privateers, but also hired professional pirates to attack their rivals. While some of the resulting plunder went to the coffers of the city-state, it mostly served to enrich the pirates and allow them to become a major naval force. This was especially true of the decades following the Peloponnesian War and after the collapse of Alexander's empire. For example, during the third century bce some Aegean pirate leaders were able to field huge fleets, effectively controlling much of the region.20 While some states made efforts to curtail piracy, it was a highly selective process designed mainly to protect their interests rather than to systematically root out pirates. The parallels with the Caribbean are striking and both imaginary pirates like Jack Sparrow or real ones like Henry Morgan would have felt quite at home.

     Eventually, of course, all these regions were absorbed into the Roman Empire and it was only then that piracy was effectively curtailed—indeed this is often cited as one of the major achievements of Pax Romana. However, this process was neither simple nor straight-forward. While Rome rarely actively encouraged privateers or piracy like the Greek city-states, they tolerated a certain amount of piracy for centuries because it either benefited them indirectly or was only a minor annoyance to them. They only moved decisively to halt piracy when it threatened their vital interests. The most famous example of Roman policy toward piracy was its campaign against pirates based in Cilicia in southern Anatolia in 66 bce.

     Cilicia had been a hot bed of piracy for centuries because it lay near major trade routes and had many excellent natural harbors which were easily defended due to the mountainous terrain. Like the Caribbean, it was also a "frontier" region that was not under the control of any powerful state. Although technically part of the Seleucid Empire, by the second century bce the Seleucids were too weak to control the region or suppress pirates. In fact, some of the Seleucid emperors supported them in order to strengthen their own position. As Rome grew into a major Mediterranean power, many of its subjects and allies in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean repeatedly petitioned the Senate to do something about piracy. While the Romans sent envoys to the region to assess the situation and occasionally sent small-scale punitive expeditions, but they declined to commit large numbers of troops or ships to eliminate the problem. In part this was because Rome's military priorities lay elsewhere, but it was also because Rome benefitted from the pirates' activities. One of the main goods provided by Cilician pirates was slaves: Roman merchants and landowners purchased more slaves than anyone else. At the same time, the pirate threat emphasized their allies' dependence on Rome for security and provided a ready excuse to intervene in the region when it suited them.21

     Roman policy changed as a result of a long series of wars with the king of Pontos, Mithridates VI, who hired a variety of mercenaries, including the Cilician pirates, to help fight the Romans. The wars provided fertile ground for piracy and before long the Cilician fleets were not only ravaging the eastern Mediterranean, but raiding Italian ports as well. The attacks became so common that they threatened to interrupt the supply of grain to Rome from its colonies—an intolerable threat to Rome's stability and survival.22 To destroy the pirate threat, they granted one of Rome's leading figures, Pompey, extraordinary powers to conduct a massive combined sea and land offensive. The details of Pompey's campaign need not be detain us here since they can be found in a number of secondary accounts, but a few points are noteworthy. Various Roman sources report the campaign resulted in the destruction of some 1300 ships of various sizes, the death of approximately 10,000 pirates, and the surrender of nearly 20,000 more. Although these figures must be treated with a degree of caution, they indicate the scope of the problem in general and the Caribbean outbreaks pale in comparison.23

     The tolerance and support given privateers and pirates by ruling elites in early modern Europe and ancient Greece and Rome has parallels in Southeast Asia as well. As noted above, the islands of Southeast Asia were an idea setting for piracy and numerous sources indicate that it existed there at least since the start of the Common Era.24 In its earliest stages such piracy was conducted by small groups of local sailors or merchants as a complement to their normal pursuits of fishing and trading. However, their efforts became larger and more organized over time. In part this was due to the growth of ocean-borne trade which provided more targets, but it was also because various states encouraged piracy as a way to promote their own interests.25 We have mentioned Melacca (c. 1300-1500 ce) earlier and how its prosperity and power were linked to the control of strategic waterways. The same was true for the earlier trading-state of Srivijaya (c. 700-1000 ce). The rulers of Srivijaya and Melacca typically demanded tribute from merchants in exchange for protection from the numerous pirates in the region. At the same time, they often created alliances with piratical or semi-piratical groups to force merchant ships to stop at their ports and pay the required tribute.26 While many traders appear to have accepted such "protection money" as the lesser of two evils, the rulers' control over their pirate allies was often tenuous and it was easy for them to shift from state-sanctioned activities to independent action, especially when rulers' authority declined or broke down altogether. With no strong state to serve or to fear, the pirates became stronger and bolder, often banding together to undertake large-scale raids on either merchant shipping or coastal communities.27 The arrival of Europeans in the region in the 1500s and 1600s did not end the danger of piracy. In fact, European activities tended to promote piracy by undermining the power of the local states that had regulated and controlled maritime violence previously.28

     While states that originally supported privateering or piracy often later moved to suppress it, other states were more consistent opponents of piracy. This was especially true of China, which throughout its long history normally tried to suppress maritime raiding. However, as noted above, China was well-represented on the Brethren Court depicted in At World's End and the South China Sea did, in fact, periodically experience high levels of piracy. Therefore, before concluding this section, it makes sense to compare one of the more well-known episodes of Chinese piracy with those elsewhere to see how the dynamic of trade, piracy, and state power played out there.

     The opposition of most Chinese dynasties to piracy was, of course, rooted in a very different set of geographical, economic, political, and cultural factors than those in the regions studied so far. These cannot be explored in any detail here, but they should be familiar to those who have studied China in world history. First and foremost, despite its long coastline, China was primarily a land-based civilization whose wealth and power derived mainly from agriculture, manufacturing, and internal trade. Maritime commerce usually constituted only a very small portion of China's economy. Moreover, most Chinese governments had little interest in promoting overseas trade because they thought such trade might encourage the spread of subversive, foreign ideas. This negative attitude toward overseas trade had its roots in traditional Confucian values and these, of course, were the bedrock on which the centralized, bureaucratic administrative system of China had been built ever since the Han dynasty. Such views were especially pronounced in the Ming and Qing eras, which were the "golden age" of Chinese piracy.29

     From the sixteenth through early nineteenth century there was a huge upsurge in piracy in the region featuring three great waves—the first from the 1520s to 1570s, the second from the 1620s to 1680s, and the last from the 1780s to 1810s. During these decades piracy was not only endemic but the pirates formed large fleets and alliances whose power threatened that of the imperial state. There are several excellent studies of these episodes of large-scale piracy, so for the sake of brevity this article will only briefly discuss the first one. This roughly coincided with the start of the age of piracy in the Caribbean and can illuminate the differences between European and Chinese policies toward trade and piracy.30

     As is well known, after the early 1400s, when emperor Yongle sponsored Zheng He's voyages, the Ming government generally imposed strict limits on overseas trade as a way of maintaining social and political stability. Although some trade was permitted through the tribute system, this was far too little to satisfy either Chinese merchants or their overseas partners. The result was large scale smuggling which involved a sizeable portion of the population in the coastal areas of southern China. However, the first great wave of piracy really only began when a new emperor decided to crack down on such smuggling and impose tough new bans on maritime trade. Yet the policy backfired for once all overseas trade was criminalized, smuggling became the only way for many merchants and sailors to survive--and smuggling easily and shaded into piracy. 31 Within a short time, individual pirates were superseded by small gangs, which in turn evolved into large fleets with dozens or even hundreds of ships. Before long they were joined by seafarers, adventurers, and pirates from neighboring nations, especially Japan, and Europe, who had no qualms about violating Ming laws. While most rank and file pirates were simple fishermen and sailors, many of the leading pirates were former merchants who now combined trade with plunder. 32 As in many other places, even merchants who did not engage in piracy themselves often cooperated with the merchant-pirates by supplying them with goods or buying their contraband merchandise. In addition, just as elsewhere, pirates were often tolerated or even shielded by local officials who either benefitted from their activities or feared to cross them.33

     Yet while the situation in the South China Sea in the mid-1500s came to resemble the Caribbean, the ancient Mediterranean, or nearby Southeast Asia, this was not because the Chinese state consciously encouraged maritime raiding. While piracy or privateering was promoted or tolerated by these other states as a way to compensate for military weakness or to gain economic advantages, in China it was the unintended consequence of a strong (albeit declining) government overreaching itself and driving large numbers of people to crime.34 In order to suppress this wave of piracy imperial officials pursued a combination of repression and reform. On the one hand, they expanded and improved the quality of their military forces, strengthened coastal fortifications, and actively hunted down leading pirates. On the other hand, the authorities offered amnesties to some of the pirates to get them to abandon violence or to help track down and destroy other pirates. Even more important, the Chinese government rescinded many of the prohibitions on overseas trade, effectively reopening the possibility of legitimate trade with foreigners. As "normal" trade was restored, and even flourished thanks to the influx of silver from abroad, piracy rapidly declined.

     Although the Ming government "cut a deal" with pirates to get them abandon their activities, this was still far different from the active encouragement given privateers and pirates by so many other states, especially European ones at the same time.35 This difference is even more apparent during the second great wave of piracy from 1620s to 1680s during the transition from the Ming to Qing dynasty. During these decades the Dutch East Indies Company was trying to expand trade with China, but without much success for the Chinese government rebuffed many of their overtures. In response, the Dutch tried to unite some of the pirate groups operating in the South China Sea and use them to pressure the government into allowing them to trade freely in Chinese ports. Their efforts came to naught and, in some respects, actually backfired, but they illustrate how Europeans saw pirates as allies or at least valuable tools, while Chinese authorities saw them as enemies and threats.36

Life under the Jolly Roger

     So far this essay has emphasized the similarities between episodes of piracy since one of the main concerns of world history is to look for large-scale, global patterns. However, as noted in the case of China, there were also significant differences in these outbursts of piratical activity and these can provide valuable insight into the role of specific political, social, and cultural factors in shaping the pattern of piracy in each instance. For example, while people everywhere often became pirates for similar reasons, the type of organizations and societies they created were vastly different, reflecting the peculiar social-cultural dynamics of the societies in which they arose. During the golden age of Caribbean piracy in the early 1700s, pirates created a unique "counter-culture" in which normal patterns of hierarchy and behavior were turned upside down—a situation depicted with some degree of accuracy in the Disney pirate films. However, in the ancient Mediterranean or late imperial China life among pirates more faithfully reflected the traditional patterns that prevailed among broader society.

     Even before Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the main reasons for the popularity of pirates first in print and then in films was their apparently free and easy life style—one devoid of the manifold constraints of normal life. This libertarian, or perhaps libertine, approach to life is played to the hilt by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow who mocks the rules of "civilized" behavior and is contemptuous of those normally regarded as his social superiors. While examples of this can be found in all the Pirates movies, perhaps the best example is a scene in the most recent one, On Stranger Tides. Here, after making a mockery of the English judicial system and its bewigged practitioners, Captain Sparrow is whisked away to an audience with King George. Instead of being impressed and deferential though, first he jests with the king and his ministers and then makes a shambles of the royal audience hall in an effort to escape. Later in the movie Sparrow engages in repeated bouts of riotous living on both land and sea, spending almost as much time drinking and chasing women as he does searching for treasure. The message is clear—being a pirate is fun for it means never having to say please, thank you, or sorry!

     Although a caricature, the Pirates of the Caribbean reflects what a number of recent studies have revealed about pirate societies in the early modern Caribbean. On their ships and in their hideouts, pirates practiced a lifestyle deliberately at odds with that of conventional society as a way of expressing their opposition to it and the way it oppressed men such as themselves. In the early modern era seamen occupied the bottom rungs of the social ladder and had little prospect of ever climbing higher. Many were displaced rural or urban poor who served on sailing ships either because they had no other choice or they had been tricked or coerced into service. While onboard they had to endure terrible conditions—overcrowding, meager and often rotten food, a multitude of diseases, grueling work with frequent and often disabling accidents, and low pay. To make matters worse, they were subject to harsh, even brutal, discipline at the hands of captains who had virtually unlimited power over them.37 Being a pirate was certainly a dangerous occupation, but not much more than being a simple sailor and it did, in fact, offer an escape from many of the rigors of normal life. For example, pirate ships had a strongly egalitarian character which set them apart not only from regular merchant ships but from overall society with its strict hierarchical principles. Thus, pirate crews elected their officers, chiefly the captain and quartermaster, and carefully limited their powers and privileges. These limits were often spelled out in articles of conduct drawn up at the start of each voyage.

     In every Pirates of the Caribbean film there are usually several references to "the Pirates' Code" and some tongue-in-cheek debate as to whether these are rules that must be followed or merely suggested guidelines. To real pirates, though, this was not a laughing matter. Although some allowance was made for those with special skills or jobs, pirates also received roughly equal shares in whatever plunder they acquired, which was a far cry from the careful gradation of wages and privileges that prevailed elsewhere.38 Likewise, pirates also tended to disregard the racial prejudices and hierarchies that had taken root in colonial society. Blacks, both free and slave were readily accepted on pirate ships and often entrusted with important jobs.39 The one area where pirates' beliefs and practices were closest to those of mainstream society was the sphere of gender relations. While there were a handful of women pirates, pirate ships, like the vast majority of merchant and naval vessels, were nearly exclusively a male sphere and the available evidence indicates that most pirates preferred to keep it that way.40

     Another noteworthy aspect of pirate society was their notorious penchant for orgies of drinking and eating. While this was due in part because it was fun or served as an escape mechanism from a dangerous life, it was also a way of demonstrating their freedom from the want and scarcity typical for the poor on land and sea.41 In short, many men (and a few women) found life as a pirate attractive because it was a way to escape the hardships and humiliations that were the normal lot for the lower classes. Thus, in Curse of the Black Pearl, when Jack Sparrow explains his desperate search for his ship to a newcomer to the pirate life, by saying "it's not a just a ship, its freedom" he succinctly expresses an idea held by many real pirates in the Caribbean and Atlantic in the early 1700s.

     Whether this attitude was shared by pirates in other places and other times is difficult to determine due to the scarcity of sources. Among the other examples of piracy studied here so far, the one with the most information on this topic are the Chinese pirates in the Ming and Qing dynasty. Interestingly enough, these pirates appear to have been very different from those in the Caribbean because, in the words of one of the most knowledgeable scholars on the subject, they tended to mirror and recreate the broader society from which they came.42 However, the same author is careful to distinguish between "petty piracy" which prevailed most of the time and the large-scale "professional piracy" that arose periodically. Petty pirates were typically poor fishermen who saw piracy as a survival strategy during the off-season or in periods of hardship. They usually worked in small groups and the crewmen often came from the same village and were united by kinship or friendship. Their voyages were typically short forays lasting only a few days or weeks. The groups had little formal organization and whatever loot they acquired was usually divided equally among all members of the crew with the leader, who usually provided the boat, getting a double share. While this closely resembles the relatively egalitarian division of spoils among Caribbean pirates, their overall life-style remained very traditional and bound up with the villages from which they came. They did not reject the established conventions of society, but only wanted to get by within it or, perhaps more aptly, on the margins of it since this was their accepted place.43

     The large pirate organizations that rose and fell in the 1500s, 1600s, and early 1800s operated along very different lines. While many rank and file pirates were still drawn from poor fishermen, seamen, or dispossessed peasants, their leaders were often merchant-adventurers who controlled fleets with dozens or even hundreds of ships manned by thousands of sailors. Not surprisingly, the leaders of these large fleets often established hierarchical command and control systems to insure the smooth operation of their activities. Moreover, these systems were often based on such bedrock Chinese structures as family and clan.44 Although details are sketchy for the earlier episodes, it is clear that the great pirate fleets of the early 1800s did not operate on egalitarian principles. Those serving in leadership positions were often appointed by their superiors rather than chosen by their crew. Pirate captains were expected to adhere to a set of formal rules drawn up by the founders of the confederation to help standardize the operating procedures of their individual units and ships. Those who violated the rules were subject to harsh punishment, including mutilation and death. Likewise, the division of loot was also carefully regulated and differentiated.45 The hierarchical and authoritarian elements of the pirates' organization in many ways reflected those of Chinese society and government. In fact, as noted previously, in each of the great waves of Chinese piracy, some pirate leaders were persuaded to abandon their lives of crime in exchange for military and governmental positions. This suggests they were prepared to accept and even defend the status quo as long as it served their interests and did not harbor any principled opposition to it as many Caribbean pirates did.

     The same would appear to be true of the Barbary pirates of North Africa in the early modern period. While this is one of the few other instances of large-scale piracy on which substantial written information is available, even this literature offers comparatively few details about the lives and values of the pirates. Of course, as noted in passing earlier, most Barbary corsairs were theoretically privateers, serving either the Ottoman sultan or local rulers. While many of the corsair leaders were colorful men from modest beginnings who were drawn to the trade by the lure of wealth and adventure, they were by no means social rebels and, like Chinese pirates, conditions on their ships generally mirrored larger society. This is particularly reflected in the lives of Christian "renegades" who joined the corsairs in the 1500s and 1600s and who often rose to positions of command. While the renegades' motives sometimes resembled those of Caribbean pirates—namely escape from poverty, hardship, and mistreatment on either on land or at sea—the community they joined usually operated on far different principles than those found among the Brethren of the Coast. 46

     While it is hard to generalize about a phenomenon that lasted hundreds of years, on the whole there was little sense of egalitarianism among the Barbary pirates. In large part this was due to the nature of the galleys used by the corsairs. Galleys, of course, relied on oars and rowers for propulsion, especially in battle. While smaller galleys, technically known as gailots, were rowed by free men since they were too small to carry anyone not able to board and take an enemy ship, larger ones were powered by slaves. In most cases, they were captured Christians and their only hope of escaping the galleys was to be ransomed by friends or family. It goes without saying that such slaves were treated harshly and did not share in the spoils. The larger galleys also carried a sizeable contingent of soldiers, often Janissaries (an elite corps of officers), but sometimes soldiers of fortune, whose job was to board and capture enemy ships, not play a role in sailing the ship. Whether professionals or volunteers, these men had their own organization with clearly delineated ranks, responsibilities and rewards. 47 The actual crew was thus relatively small and typically composed of a mixture of Muslim and Christian sailors and, when it came to dividing the spoils, they employed a much more differentiated and inequitable system than their Caribbean counterparts, reflecting the political and social milieu in which they operated. Not surprisingly, local rulers and officials had first call on captured goods and slaves, followed by the owners or investors who provided the galley. Only when these expenses had been covered did the crew receive their payment. The captain typically received ten to twelve times the amount of an "average" sailor, but there really was no such thing as an average sailor because crewmen were often rewarded on the basis of seniority, distinguished service, and other variables.48 Life on shore was less structured and many of the corsairs, especially some of the renegade Christians, who were notorious for their riotous behavior. However, Tripoli was not Tortuga and such behavior was more often criticized as a moral shortcoming rather than celebrated as a manifestation of liberty. Neither imaginary Caribbean pirates such as Jack Sparrow nor real ones such Blackbeard would have found the Barbary Coast a comfortable fit.

     At the present time it is impossible to say what the attitudes and practices of pirates in the classical Mediterranean world were like with any certainly. Based on the little information that is available, it seems unlikely that they sought to "turn society on its head" like the Caribbean pirates. Instead, the situation was probably similar to that in the South China Sea nearly fifteen hundred years later, namely endemic "petty piracy" that displayed a relatively high degree of equality coupled with periodic episodes of large-scale piracy led by merchant-adventurers whose ships and fleets were organized along more hierarchical and disciplined lines. While the former may have resented the harshness and inequality that dominated their lives, their goal was almost surely simple survival or possibly social mobility, not creating an alternative society based on a form of rough and tumble democracy. Likewise, the latter were most likely motivated by more by the desire for profits rather than a new social order. A story told by Plutarch illustrates this point vividly. According to him, during the last phase of the massive slave uprising led by Spartacus, Cilician pirates offered help him and a couple of thousand of his followers escape from Italy to Sicily. However, this offer was inspired by greed rather than any hatred of slavery and oppression and as soon as the pirates received payment, they abandoned the rebel slaves.49

     Thus, while Caribbean pirates and privateers resemble those in other places and other times in numerous respects, they often embodied an anti-authoritarian, equalitarian ethos that was in many ways unique. And that, of course, is the value of comparisons in world history—they reveal patterns that might otherwise remain obscured. While Disney Studios almost certainly did not intend to do so, they have provided a valuable tool for interesting students (and the broader public) in such comparisons. While the Pirates of the Caribbean movies present a fanciful and fun version of the world of Caribbean pirates, this essay has tried to show how they also provide an avenue to explore piracy as a general phenomenon and a way to link it to the broader questions addressed by world history. Hopefully, it will encourage new approaches to familiar topics among those wishing to avoid the curse put upon the crew of the Black Pearl, which forced them to repeat the same activities endlessly without enjoyment or success.

Craig D. Patton is an Associate Professor of History in the Department of Social Sciences at Alabama A&M University. His training is in European history; he has published a monograph (Flammable Material: German Chemical Workers in War, Revolution, and Inflation) and several articles on workers and industrial unrest in Germany in the early twentieth century. However, since starting to teach World History, his scholarly horizon has expanded and he has presented papers on patterns of imperial expansion and colonialism in the early modern and modern eras as well as on teaching with technology and film. He may be contacted at


1 Based on worldwide gross. See Such rankings are of course subject to some debate depending on how earnings are calculated, and on other lists the Pirate movies rank from fifth down to fiftieth. But whatever measure is used, there is little doubt that they have been highly popular.

2 This essay relies primarily on secondary sources in English that are readily available to high school and college instructors. In part this reflects my own interests in teaching, but it also reflects the fact that an excellent scholarly treatment of piracy as a global phenomenon already exists, namely John L. Anderson, "Piracy in World History: An Economic Perspective on Maritime Predation" in C. R. Pennell, ed., Bandits at Sea: A Pirates Reader (New York, New York University Press, 2001), 82-106. It does not employ any online sources, but there are plethora of sites offering information and activities to educators on pirates and piracy, although most of them provide little if any historical context for understanding the dynamics of piracy. One of the better sources for basic biographical information on pirates around the world from the ancient to early modern era is Similarly, the best online treatment of piracy as a global historical phenomenon is found at Wikipedia ( While the entry "piracy" provides a generally solid overview of the topic over time and space, there are numerous other entries/links which provide a more in depth discussion of particular episodes and aspects of piracy, e.g. Ancient Mediterranean Piracy, Barbary Piracy, Wokou, Piracy in the Caribbean, and Privateer.

3 Two excellent maps showing these routes are found in Kris Lane, Pillaging the Empire: Piracy in the Americas, 1500-1750 (Armonk, NY, M.E. Sharpe, 1998), 9, 19. A description of how pirates used and exploited these routes is contained in Colin Woodward, Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (New York, Random House, 2006), 87-88.

4 C. Woodward, Republic of Pirates, 87-88. It should be noted that unlike Sparrow's ship, or the other ones depicted in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, most pirates' vessels were relatively small. This has been true of pirates throughout history since pirates usually rely on speed and surprise rather than superior force to overpower their enemies.

5 On Madagascar see C. Woodward, Republic of Pirates, 18-20, 116-117 and Jennifer G. Marx, "The Pirate Round" in David Cordingly, ed., Pirates: Terror on the High Seas—from the Caribbean to the South China Sea (Atlanta, Turner Publishing, 1996), 140-163, especially 152. On the Barbary pirates in North Africa see Jacques Heers, The Barbary Corsairs, (Barnsley, U.K., Greenhill Books, 2003), 123-126, 156.

6 For those who choose to explore this issue, the Brethren Court is a play on the term Brethren of the Coast which was widely used in the seventeenth and eighteenth century to describe Caribbean pirates, especially buccaneers who operated out of Tortuga. These pirates did indeed hold councils or assemblies to make preparations for their expeditions and draw up guidelines for the division of the anticipated spoils. See Jennifer Marx, "Brethren of the Coast," in David Cordingly Pirates: Terror on the High Seas—from the Caribbean to the South China Sea (Atlanta, Turner Publishing, 1996), 41-44, 48.

7 See Angus Konstam, The History of Pirates (New York, Lyons Press, 1999), 134-135

8 For a detailed account of her career see Dian Murray, Pirates of the South China Coast, 1750-1810 (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1987), 71-72,143-144, 148-150. Also David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life among Pirates (New York, Random House, 1995), 76-78 and A. Konstam, History of Pirates, 174.

9 Stefan Ekloef, Pirates in Paradise: A Modern History of Southeast Asia's Maritime Marauders (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press, 2006), 5-7 and John Falconer, "The Eastern Seas" in D. Cordingly, ed., Pirate: Terror on the High Seas—from the Caribbean to the South China Sea (Atlanta, Turner Publishing, 1996), 181-211.

10 Robert J. Antony, Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China (Berkeley, Institute of East Asian Studies, Center for Chinese Studies, 2003), 19-20 and J. Falconer "Eastern Seas", 190, 206.

11 On Port Royal see K. Lane, Pillaging the Empire, 102-07, 110-112, 122-125, 168-170 and D. Cordingly, Under the Black Flag, 141-145.

12 On Tortuga see K. Lane, Pillaging the Empire, 97-102, 123-125 and A. Konstam, History of Pirates, 74, 92.

13 For a detailed discussion of this phenomenon see K. Lane, Pillaging the Empire, passim.

14 On Morgan's colorful career see D. Cordingly, Under the Black Flag, 56-78; K. Lane, Pillaging the Empire, 113-122, 167-169; J. Marx, "Brethren of the Coast," 51-57.

15 On how and why this shift occurred in the Caribbean see Robert Ritchie, "Government Measures against Piracy and Privateering in the Atlantic Area, 1750-1850" in David Starkey, E. S. vanEyck van Heslinga, and J. A. deMoor, eds., Pirates and Privateers: New Perspectives on the War on Trade in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Exeter, University of Exeter Press, 2010), 10-28

16 On the influence of geography on ancient maritime trade and piracy see Henry A. Ormerod, Piracy in the Ancient World (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1996), 14-16, 18, 22-26

17 H. Ormerod, Ancient World, 49-50 and Philip De Souza, Piracy in the Graeco-Roman World (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2002), 15-19.

18 H. Ormerod, Ancient World, 60-61, 63-6 and P. DeSouza, Piracy in Graeco-Roman World, 34-35

19 P. DeSouza, Piracy in Graeco-Roman World, 56-60 and A. Konstam, Pirates, 24

20 P. DeSouza, Piracy in Graeco-Roman World, 33-34, 38-39, 43-48.

21 P. DeSouza, Piracy in the Graeco-Roman World, 63-65, 99-100 and P. De Souza, "Ancient Rome and Pirates" in History Today, July 2001, 49

22 P. DeSouza, Piracy in Graeco-Roman World, 125-128,161-167 and "Ancient Rome", 51

23 P. DeSouza, Piracy in Graeco-Roman World, 177-178 and "Ancient Rome", 52

24 S. Ekloef, Pirates in Paradise, 5 and J. L. Anderson, "Piracy in the Eastern Seas, 1750-1850: Some Economic Implications" in Pirates and Privateers, 92-93

25 J. Anderson, "Piracy in the Eastern Seas", 89-90

26 S. Ekloef, Pirates in Paradise, 6

27 S. Ekloef, Pirates in Paradise, 6

28 J. Anderson, "Piracy in Eastern Seas", 89, 93 and J. Falconer, "Eastern Seas", 189, 192

29 For a detailed account of Chinese attitudes and policies toward foreign trade in the early modern era see John Wills Jr., "Maritime China from Wang Chih to Shih Lang: Themes in Peripheral History' in Jonathan Spence and John Wills Jr., eds., From Ming to Ch'ing: Conquest, Region and Continuity in Seventeenth Century China (New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1979), 204-238 and " Maritime Europe and the Ming" and "Trade and Diplomacy with Maritime Europe, 1644-c.1800" in John Wills Jr., ed., China and Maritime Europe, 1500-1800: Trade, Settlement, Diplomacy and Missions, (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2011)

30The best overall study is R. Antony, Like Froth Floating on the Sea already cited above. Kwan-wai So, Japanese Piracy in Ming China during the Sixteenth Century (Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 1975) offers an in-depth examination of the first great wave of piracy which the Chinese government sought to identify with foreigners. Conversely, D. H. Murray, Pirates of the South China Coast, 1790-1810, also cited earlier, provides a detailed and finely nuanced account of the last great wave of Chinese piracy.

31 Alan Karras, Smuggling: Contraband and Corruption in World History (Lanham, MD, Rowan and Littlefield, 2009) argues there are major differences in the social background, behavior, and goals of smugglers and pirates, but evidence from China and elsewhere suggests these distinctions could and did break down depending on conditions. In particular, smuggling was and is a risky business, especially for certain goods, and for self-defense smugglers often armed themselves. Once armed, of course, they could use these to acquire the goods of other smugglers or plunder others.

32 R. Antony, Like Froth on the Sea, 19-20, 22-24 and K. So, Japanese Piracy,41-43

33 K. So, Japanese Pirates, 49, 58-60

34 K So, Japanese Piracy, 145-148, 155-156 and R. Antony, Like Froth on the Sea, 27-28

35 So, Japanese Piracy, 145-146

36 For a detailed description of this episode see Tonio Andrade, "The Company's Chinese Pirates:

How the Dutch East India Company Tried to Lead a Coalition of Pirates to War against China; 1621-1662" in Journal of World History, Dec. 2004, 415-444.

37 Marcus Rediker, Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (Beacon Press, Boston, 2004), 42-46 and C. Woodward, Republic of Pirates, 36-38, 40-44

38 M. Rediker, Villains of All Nations, 65-70, 75-76

39 M. Rediker, Villains of All Nations, 53-55 and C. Woodward, Republic of Pirates, 3-4

40 M. Rediker, Villains of All Nations, 110-113and D. Cordingly, Under the Black Flag, 69-72

41 M. Rediker, Villains of All Nations, 70-71

42 Dian H. Murray, "Living and Working Conditions in Chinese Pirate Communities" in David J. Starkey, E.S. van Eyck van Heslinga, J. A. de Moor, eds., Pirates and Privateers: New Perspectives on the War on Trade in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Exeter, University of Exeter Press, 2010), 63

43 D. Murray, "Chinese Pirate Communities," 50, 61, 63 and D. Murray, Pirates of South China Sea, 16-17, 20-28

44 D. Murray, Pirates of South China Sea, 86 and J. L. Anderson, "Piracy in the Eastern Seas," 98

45 D. Murray, "Chinese Pirate Communities," 52-55

46 J. Heers, Barbary Corsairs, 151-152, 237-239.

47 T. Travers, Pirates, 209-211 and Richard Platt, "Corsairs of the Mediterranean" in D. Cordingly, Pirates: Terror on the High Seas, 81, 84.

48 On how the privateers were financed and equipped as well as how their spoils were divided see J. Heers, Barbary Corsairs, 157-159; R. Platt, "Corsairs of Mediterranean", 88-89; T. Travers, Pirates, 213

49 Recounted in P. DeSouza, Piracy in Graeco-Roman World, 164-165

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