Did Pirates Always Sail for Gold?

Pirates, contrary to what’s been depicted in the media, rarely raided random ships spied along the coast. Instead, they targeted prospects using a coordinated approach involving the attainment of pertinent information by spying on conversations in ale houses and other venues. Piracy commenced long prior to the discovery of the New World, after which pirates commonly raided ships transporting gold, silver and other riches from the New World back to Spain.

What’s a Pirate?

Pirate Gold

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A pirate is a sailor who steals goods from other ships. Whether gold, silver, commodities or other goods, a pirate is defined as any seaman who overtakes another vessel in efforts to get whatever valuable possessions might be aboard. When ships were out at sea, especially before modern technology enabled the constant monitoring of incoming threats, they were vulnerable to incoming attackers capable of overtaking their seamen.

Is Piracy Legal?


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Traditional pirates – those we hear about from folklore and other popular stories – often had agreements with their native countries to share any treasures stolen in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Today, nations have come together with a mutual view making piracy a punishable crime.

Why Become a Pirate?

Become a Pirate

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So why would one choose to become a pirate? For some, life on their home vessels was simply so miserable that they opted to become pirates for a better life. Others were taken in by the appeal of the adventure or the voyage, such as Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Carribbean. Still others set out as pirates solely to attain riches, in the form of gold, silver or other valuable jewels and metals.

Pirates Date Back 3,000+ Years

Pirate Gold History

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The word “pirate” was first documented in 140 B.C. by a Roman historian named Polybius. The recognition of gold as a symbol of esteem and decoration began in 4,000 B.C. In 2,500 B.C. gold jewelry was first buried in the Egyptian Tomb of Djer, king of the First Egyptian Dynasty, adding to the value of this commodity. By 1,500 B.C. gold had become the “recognized medium of exchange” between Egypt and other countries.

Piracy Was Not a Glamorous Life

Pirate Gold Treasure

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Despite the promise of gold, silver and other treasures, pirates often lived in misery. Many were captured at sea or sentenced to death. Even as a member of a pirate ship, one was not guaranteed vast fortunes. The captain of the ship was in charge of dispersing goods (otherwise known as loot), meaning he often retained the majority while offering the deck hands a pittance. Pirates determined to have done something wrong or unworthy faced punishments up to or including death.

Piracy Doesn’t Always End in Death

Piracy Facts

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Despite legendary myths that pirates set out to seek and destroy their enemies, or their unknown targets, pirates rarely killed their targets. A pirate’s primary claim to fame was to steal the fortunes and goods of unsuspecting travelers. However, pirates were known to take prisoners in coastal towns, demanding money for their safe release.

While the life of a pirate was less than glamorous, many seamen opted for this lifestyle as an alternative to those they led previously, holding on to the promise of vast fortunes and undeniable freedom. While they didn’t always set out in search of gold, the goal was always to obtain items of high value from other sea vessels transporting goods across the open sea.

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