Although they were almost always described as aggressive and bloodthirsty, even the pirates tried to avoid some engagements. It was in pirate's interest to stay alive and to keep the enemy's ship in one piece. Therefore, they tried to scare their opponents so that they surrender without a resistance. With all spooky stories that surrounded them, they used their infamous flag with a variety of skeleton-like banners to mentally crush enemies. Pirates often flew false flag of some country in order to trick their victims just before they suddenly attacked.
The so-called Jolly Roger was definitely pirates' main symbol of recognizing. They were always designed to look intimidating and to conjure fear and panic. The classic one is produced black or red, with a large skeleton head and crossed bones. However, the most famous pirate captains were represented with their unique flags.
Jolly Roger has become a symbol which is widely used today. It regularly symbolizes a warning or a danger. It is used as avatar by many people like hackers or rock stars. You can also often see it as image on many vehicles, or it is marking dangerous zones like minefields.
Why Jolly Roger?
It is believed that the term Jolly Roger comes from the French "joli rouge" which means “beautiful red" and represents a French privateers' flag.
Those red flags were used by privateers and buccaneers. When shown, it meant no quarter would be given, or translated; no prisoners would be spared once the ship was captured. Later on, “joli rouge” was altered into "Jolly Roger” by the English sailors.
An alternative theory tells about Ali Raja, the fearsome leader of a group of Asian pirates. They called him “ the king of the sea ” and English pirates anglicized it to Jolly Roger for their own purpose. Finally, there is also a myth that the name came from "Old Roger" . It is a British term which refers to the Devil.
Nevertheless, since the early 17th century, Jolly Roger has represented the well-known black pirate flags. Sometimes, flags held a design that contained banners used to indicate a personal message. Some of them are well known…
Roberts used two different flags: The first flag shows a pirate which supposed to be Roberts himself, holding an hourglass together with a skeleton warrior. The second flag also showed Roberts, but in this one he is standing on two skulls, subscribed ABH and AMH. ABH was standing for "A Barbadian's Head" and AMH for "A Martinican's Head". The symbols meant that no prisoner from those colonies would be spared. Roberts bore a grudge against those two colonies because they were always willing to do anything to destroy him.
Blackbeard’s flag contained a symbol of horned skeleton, holding an hourglass in the right hand and a spear in the right which aimed to a bleeding heart.
Bonnet's showed a skull between a dagger and a heart and above big bone. The dagger represents a battle and the heart stands for life.
It looks like a standard pirate flag, but a skull is in turned to a side. He had a black and red version.
Condent flag's banner repeated the same symbol with a skull and the crossbones for 3 times.
England’s flew the most common pirate flag, well know today.
Low's flag contained a symbol of a red or blooded skeleton.
On Moody's red flag there are three symbols: a raised sword between a skull and the crossed bones and a winged hourglass.
Rackham's flag has a skull and the large crossed cutlasses instead of crossbones. It meant that he was always in a mood to fight.
Tew's flag was a bit different from other. Symbol doesn't contain the standard symbols as the skulls or bones, just an arm with a sword, symbolizing magnificent power.
In addition of a classics black flag's symbols there was and an hourglass under the crossed bones.