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The first recorded uses of the skull-and-crossbones symbol on naval flags date to the 17th century. It possibly originated among the Barbary pirates of the period, which would connect the black colour of the Jolly Roger to the Muslim Black Standard black flag.

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But an early reference to Muslim corsairs flying a skull symbol, in the context of a slave raid on Cornwall, explicitly refers to the symbol's being shown on a green flag. The entry describes pirates using the flag, not on a ship but on land. With the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in , many privateers turned to piracy. They still used red and black flags, but now they decorated them with their own designs.

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Edward England, for example, flew three different flags: from his mainmast the black flag depicted above; from his foremast a red version of the same; and from his ensign staff the English national flag. Just as variations on the Jolly Roger design existed, red flags sometimes incorporated yellow stripes or images symbolic of death. Marcus Rediker claims that most pirates active between and were part of one of two large interconnected groups sharing many similarities in organisation.

He states that this accounts for the "comparatively rapid adoption of the piratical black flag among a group of men operating across thousands of miles of ocean", suggesting that the skull-and-crossbone design became standardized at about the same time as the term Jolly Roger was adopted as its name. By , the diversity of symbols in prior use had been mostly replaced by the standard design. The gallery below showing pirate flags in use from Thomas Tew 's to Edward Low 's appears in multiple extant works on the history of piracy.

A pirate flag used by Edward Low. A pirate flag often called the "Jolly Roger. Although referred to as "John Quelch" flag, in fact it is closer to the description of Pirate flag of John Phillips. Bartholomew Roberts ' first flag shows him and Death holding an hourglass. Roberts' new flag showed him standing on two skulls, representing "a Barbadian 's head" ABH and "a Martinican 's head" AMH - two islands against whom he held a grudge.

Jolly Roger flown by Calico Jack Rackham. Traditional depiction of Stede Bonnet 's flag.

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Flag of pirate Christopher Condent. Popular version of Henry Every 's Jolly Roger. Reportedly, Every also flew a version with a black background. Possible flag of Thomas Tew. Richard Worley 's flag. Emanuel Wynn 's flag. Other flag of Jean Thomas Dulaien. Sources exist describing the Jolly Rogers of other pirates than the ones above; also, the pirates described above sometimes used other Jolly Rogers than those shown above.

However, no pictures of these alternate Jolly Rogers are easily located. Pirates did not fly the Jolly Roger at all times. Like other vessels, pirate ships usually stocked a variety of different flags, and would normally fly false colors or no colors until they had their prey within firing range. The flag was probably intended as communication of the pirates' identity, which may have given target ships an opportunity to change their mind and surrender without a fight.

Jolly Roger

For example, in June when Bartholomew Roberts sailed into the harbour at Trepassey , Newfoundland with black flags flying, the crews of all 22 vessels in the harbour abandoned them in panic. In the midth century, Sir Richard Hawkins confirmed that pirates gave quarter beneath the black flag, while no quarter was given beneath the red flag.

In view of these models, it was important for a prey ship to know that its assailant was a pirate, and not a privateer or government vessel, as the latter two generally had to abide by a rule that if a crew resisted, but then surrendered, it could not be executed:. An angry pirate therefore posed a greater danger to merchant ships than an angry Spanish coast guard or privateer vessel.

Because of this, although, like pirate ships, Spanish coast guard vessels and privateers were almost always stronger than the merchant ships they attacked, merchant ships may have been more willing to attempt resisting these "legitimate" attackers than their piratical counterparts. To achieve their goal of taking prizes without a costly fight, it was therefore important for pirates to distinguish themselves from these other ships also taking prizes on the seas.

Flying a Jolly Roger was a reliable way of proving oneself a pirate. Just possessing or using a Jolly Roger was considered proof that one was a criminal pirate rather than something more legitimate; only a pirate would dare fly the Jolly Roger, as he was already under threat of execution. Following the introduction of submarines in several navies circa , Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson , the First Sea Lord of the British Royal Navy , stated that submarines were "underhanded, unfair, and damned un-English", and that he would convince the British Admiralty to have the crews of enemy submarines captured during wartime hanged as pirates.

The practice restarted during World War II. Symbols on the flag indicated the history of the submarine, and it was the responsibility of the boat's personnel to keep the flag updated. The practice, while commonly associated with British submarines, is not restricted to them. Seabee Battalions 1, 3, 4, 7, 11, 74, , and all sent detachments of men and equipment to get the job done. Those detachments dubbed themselves the Ghost Battalion and chose the Jolly Roger for the Battalion's colors. At least twice in , the USS Jimmy Carter , an American attack submarine which has been modified to support special forces operations has returned to its home port flying a Jolly Roger.

The " Golden Age of Piracy " was over by the midth century, and piracy was widely suppressed by the s, although the problem of Barbary pirates persisted until the French conquest of Algeria in By the Victorian era , the pirate threat had receded enough for it to become a topos of boyish adventure fiction, notably influenced by Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance introduced pirates as comedic characters, and since the later 20th century, pirates sporting the Jolly Roger flag were often depicted as cartoonish or silly characters. On the cover of the Iron Maiden album, A Matter of Life and Death , a version of a Jolly Roger depicting a helmeted Eddie and two assault rifles instead of bones is displayed hanging from a tank.

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Also on the cover of Michael Jackson's Dangerous album, it can be seen on the left side with the alteration of a skull over two swords. This was based on Mustaine's original drawing for the cover which the band did not have enough money to produce at the time. The "pirate" metal band Running Wild often references the Jolly Roger and other pirate related themes in their music. A number of sports teams have been known to use variations of the Jolly Roger, with one of the best known in current use, an adaptation of Calico Jack 's pirate flag, with a carnelian red background instead of the black, being that of the National Football League 's Tampa Bay Buccaneers , with an American football over the crossing area of the two swords.

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Pauli , a sports club from Hamburg , Germany , best known for its association football team, have adopted a variation of Richard Worley's flag as their own unofficial emblem. Another such variation is the Oakland Raiders , it uses a head with facial features, wearing an eye patch and a helmet, crossed swords behind the helmet completes the image. This particular variation includes an earringed and eyepatch -wearing skull donning a tricorn of purple and gold the school's colors emblazoned over two crossbones.

This logo appears on the helmets of the school's football team, and an elaborate pre-game ritual takes place prior to each home contest wherein a flag bearing the university's Jolly Roger logo is raised on a special flagpole located behind the west end zone prior to the opening kickoff.

Immediately prior to the start of the fourth quarter, the normal black Jolly Roger is lowered and replaced with a flag bearing the ECU Jolly Roger on a red background, indicating that the Pirates will grant their opponents " no quarter ". The Blackshirts , the starting defensive unit players for the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, are represented by a Jolly Roger, somewhat similar to Richard Worley 's flag but with the skull encased in the team's football helmet.

Additionally, the players and fans often celebrate by "throwing the bones", where they cross the forearms in front of the chest in an 'X' imitating the logo, and the student section at Memorial Stadium, Lincoln is known as the 'Boneyard', where the logo is often displayed on banners, signs, and flags in an act of intimidation.

When Viktor Korchnoi opposed Anatoly Karpov for the World Chess Championship , he was a defector from the Soviet Union and momentarily stateless; so he played with a miniature Jolly Roger at the chess table. In the film The Island , the Jolly Roger is a skull with a red dot and crossbones with an hourglass on the bottom. The flag of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is modeled to look like a classic Jolly Roger, with some alterations.

In , Pirate Bay even attempted to raise the funds to purchase Sealand. This was a pretty inconvenient situation for a pirate running up and down between decks. Those are crucial minutes no pirate —or bed-seeking midnight fumbler—should spare. To protect his own interests Prescott decided to make an abridgment of his own, and thus to forestall the pirate.


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Once a bad spirit came; its language was perfectly horrible: in life it had been a pirate! The sea was calm, the boats were in full view of the pirate. The Chukches avoided these Russians as merchant ships of old avoided a pirate bark. Latin peritus "experienced," periculum "trial, experiment; attempt on or against; enterprise;" see peril.