Image credit: Mwctoys.com
You’re not going to find any Jack Sparrows here, friends. The pirates we’re going to discuss today are not only 100% real people (or real groups of people), but they were also such violent, murderous bastards that they make Captain Sparrow look like a frightened field mouse. A frightened field mouse with one of his legs in a cast and mustard stains on his sweatpants, too. In short, if you see one of these pirates sailing toward you, just start walking the plank now, because not only are these some bad dudes, but also they must have become ghost pirates, which is a whole new kind of awful.
5 Alv Erlingson
Alv Erlingson makes this list as sort of an honorary mention, because while his exploits are not well known, it is verifiable that he chose piracy over a life as a respected nobleman. He was a landed gentleman and apparently could have had a fine place in the royal court, but he just loved raiding Danish and German ships so much that he couldn’t seem to buck the habit. In 1290, after being captured by some understandably nonplussed Danes, we was executed.
4 Hayreddin Barbarossa, aka Redbeard
Hayreddin Barbarossa, aka Redbeard, was either a heroic warrior, or an evil pirate, depending on where you stood in history. If you were a European Christian in the early 16th century? Bloodthirsty pirate. As an Ottoman Turkish admiral and noble, Redbeard was arguably just doing his “job” when he captured dozens of ships from the Spaniards, the British, the Portuguese, and more, or when he raided Valencia or Naples, or decapitated the occasional ambassador. Redbeard, also called Barbarossa, was at one point in charge of more than 200 ships, and it is for him we have the name the Barbary Pirates, thanks to his stint in charge of much of Northern Africa.
3 The Wokou pirates
The Wokou were Japanese pirates who, beginning sometime in the 1200s, started to essentially ruin the lives of costal Chinese and Korean folks. The heyday of these raiders was in the late 14th century, when there were dozens of raids in some years, a few of which involved thousands of pirates streaming inland and attacking and pillaging entire cities. What made the Wokou raiders so effective is the fact that, unlike pirates of many other locales and eras, many of them were experienced soldiers — some were even former samurais, known as Ronin. The Wokou lifestyle was so desirable to many in the austere societies both in Japan and even on the mainland that soon pirates of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese descent all intermingled to form bands of raiders that continued plying their “trade” well into the 16th century, at which point trade laws barring private business were relaxed, which allowed the start of more lucrative and legitimate seafaring activities to make piracy less attractive.
2 Demetrius of Pahro
Demetrius of Pahros was ruler of the so-named island kingdom of Pahros, located in the Adriatic Sea, in 3rd century B.C. As a ruthless, power-hungry backstabber, he had all the right chops to be a great pirate. And turn to piracy he did: just as soon as the Romans, his theoretical allies, got themselves occupied with some barbarian conflicts in northern Italy, Demetrius broke every treaty he had signed and proceeded to raid cities all over the Adriatic and Mediterranean. He also shrewdly allied himself with Rome’s enemy, Macedonia. He became a confidant of the Macedonian King, Phillip, and apparently inspired the young king to become ever more bloodthirsty and ambitious in his own conquering activities. While out doing some battle of his own accord, Demetrius was killed in 214 BC.
1 Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach
We’ll lead off with slap-you-in-the-face painfully obvious choice, because if all Blackbeard did was slap you in the face, you were just about the luckiest fellow living during his pirating career, which only spanned a few years, from around 1715 to 1718, the year in which he was killed in a battle with British sailors. In those short years, though, as captain of his ship The Queen Anne’s Revenge (Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach, had served in the navy during Queen Anne’s War), successfully blockaded Charleston, SC, captured dozens of ships, robbed and/or killed the hell out of scores of hapless sailors, and even received a royal pardon for his activities, but soon decided he loved pirating too much to leave it behind. And as for the tying of lit cannon fuses into his beard and hair before battle with the express purpose of terrifying his enemies? Just awesome. Except for the people he was stabbing and shooting, for whom it was merely “kind of neat,” we assume.
Let me conclude with a little rant, if you will: I remember a few years back when pirates in the Gulf of Aiden (real jerks, these guys) started stepping up their activities raiding tankers and yachts and whatnot, all the news organizations were calling them “Modern Day Pirates!” First off, what did they expect? Guys in galleons with cutlasses? Second, piracy has been around a lot longer than the brief era we all picture, from the late 1600s to the early 1700s, so let’s give these historical maritime raiders their due respect. Which, is none, I suppose. They were kind of murderous swine, after all.