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History of Pirate Weapons

The History of Pirate Weapons

The 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries were defined by the frequent wars between European nations. Most of what we know of as piracy arose out of these conflicts over seaborne trade, general economic improvement, and colonization between the major empires of the time including Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and France. The highest point or “Golden Age of Piracy” was from the 1650s to the 1730s. This played a significant part in conflicts from the Caribbean, North America, the UK, the Indian Ocean, and West Africa.

A common misconception about this era is that all pirates travelled on large, heavily-armed warships. While some of them certainly did, it was more popular to travel in small, fast ships that were harder to detect and more difficult to catch. Most merchant ships were lightly armed at best and the heavy firepower depicted in popular culture was often unnecessary. Pirates relied instead on their speed, stealth, and experience in hand-to-hand combat.

During this time, a pirate would have carried many types of weapons to defend themselves and gain their plunder. Most of these weapons were the same as those in use by other seafarers of the times and were often stolen from their victims. Some of the more popular weapons used in close combat were flintlock and matchlock rifles and pistols, swords like the small sword, rapier, or cutlass, and the dagger.

Flintlock and Matchlock Firearms

During the time when piracy was taking hold, the matchlock rifle had already been developed and was being used. The matchlock consisted of an S-shaped arm, called a serpentine, that held a match or fuse. When the trigger was pulled, the serpentine would lower so that the match would light the priming pan that was filled with gunpowder and attached to the side of the barrel. This method of firing was not as practical at sea where the conditions were damp, and the matchlock was quickly replaced by the more effective flintlock. The flintlock did not have to rely on a burning fuse and instead it ignited using a piece of flint that was struck when the trigger was pulled, releasing the hammer.

Pirates were known to carry firearms such as the musket, musketoon, blunderbuss, flintlock pistols, and multi-barreled pistols. The most iconic of these was the flintlock. This pistol was a favorite because of its small size and easy concealability. One drawback was that most only fired a single shot, but they were lightweight enough that someone could carry several of them into battle. Another muzzle loading gun was the multi-barreled pistol. This pistol typically had between two and four barrels and each was designed to be fired separately. Some designs had side by side barrels with two triggers, while others had rotating barrels that were shot using the same firing mechanism.

Longer flintlocks, like muskets, were better for long range combat and not the close quarters fighting you would find on a ship. This led to the development of the muskatoon and blunderbuss. While these were less accurate than the longer barreled muskets, they were better suited to close-ranged naval combat. Equipped with a larger single bore, typical ammunition for this style of firearms included a single large lead ball or a group of small iron balls. These could also be loaded with broken glass, nails, or other metal pieces that when expelled could maim or kill multiple people with a single blast.

Pirate Swords

Pirates travelled extensively and many different types of swords were used by pirates across the globe. The cutlass is arguably the most iconic of them all. Mostly used in the Caribbean, this blade was an ideal tool aboard a ship. With its curved blade and basket hilt, it was capable of butchering meat, cutting heavy ropes, canvas, and the flesh and bone of enemies. When used in hand-to-hand combat, it was efficient as both a sword and a shield. The larger basket style hilt could deflect blows. Additionally, the single edged blade was short enough to be swung freely in confined areas without fear of becoming entangled in ropes and rigging, yet large enough to do significant damage to an opponent. This sword became so popular it was copied and used by many naval forces around the world.

While the cutlass was most popular in the Caribbean, many different regions of the world had their own preference for swords. The small sword was more popular with pirates throughout Europe. It was a one-handed, straight-bladed short sword that was good for thrusting.  The scimitar was carried instead of the cutlass by the notorious Barbary Pirates of Northern Africa and the Spanish pirates favored the slim-bladed rapier, especially for dueling.

Pirate Daggers

Easily concealed within clothing, a dagger was the perfect weapon for self-defense and fighting in the cramped areas of a ship where there was no space to swing a sword. These were commonly carried because they were useful in a variety of ways such as cutting rope or sail and for eating. They were therefore used extensively in everyday life. In combat, they were used on their own in small areas or in the off hand when fighting in a more open space.

Replica Pirate Weapons from Armory

Whether you need an item for cosplay, costume, reenactments, or to display in your home, Armory carries an extensive selection of replica pirate weapons.

Browse our selection of historical pirate replicas today.