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Home > History > Pirates Vocabulary

Pirates Vocabulary

What's the difference between a pirate and privateer? How about between a corsair and buccaneer? This article explains important vocabulary from the Golden Age of Piracy

Pirates Vocabulary

A pirate is an individual who uses a boat to attack or plunder other boats or coastal settlements. Most pirates engage in piracy for personal gain, though some, like the Barbary Pirates served additionally as the naval forces for part of an empire. In addition, most pirates operated in groups, either in a single boat or a team of boats. Historically, real pirates have operated without the authority of a government, and privateers operated with the authority of a government under a Letter of Marque, or, an official document authorizing pirating activities. Technically, "pirates" such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Henry Morgan were actually privateers because most of their activities were approved by the English Crown. Nevertheless, they are most often referred to as pirates.


A privateer is an individual commissioned by a government to attack foreign ships or perform raids on foreign settlements, usually for the purposes of stealing wealth.




The term "buccaneer" refers to a pirate who operated in the Caribbean Sea. The term actually originates from the
French word "boucan," a wooden frame used to smoke




A pirate normally operating off the Barbary Coast of North Africa,




To destroy and steal. A plundered town is one that has been sacked, burned, and looted of its wealth.



Letter of Marque

The papers a government issues to privateers granting
permission to attack, take by force and return the goods
from enemy merchant ships.




Open rebellion against constituted authority (especially
by seamen or soldiers against their officers)




Money or goods demanded for the return of a captured




A pardon is the forgiveness of a crime and the penalty
associated with it.




A large medieval vessel with a single deck propelled
by sails and oars with guns at stern and prow; a
complement of 1,000 men; used mainly in the
Mediterranean for war and trading.




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