You probably think that you already know everything there is to know about pirates. They sailed the high seas, loved rum, and stole plenty of booty from passing ships. What else is there to know?

The answer to that question will probably surprise you. That’s because, in addition to all the things you already knew about pirates, there are countless details about their private lives that will leave you dumbfounded.

These 12 facts about the secret lives of pirates will rethink the entire way you see them. Who had any idea that these brigands and outlaws were so ahead of their time?

1. Their earrings were basically life insurance: If a pirate ever died tragically, they could always count on their earrings to guarantee that they got a proper burial. Their gold and silver hoops could be melted down to pay off funeral expenses.

Howard Pyle/Wikimedia Commons

2. Beware the red flag: You might think that the black-and-white skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger flag were the banners that sailors feared the most, but in reality, it was the so-called bloody rag flag that really scared them! Pirates who flew this flag were letting people know they took no prisoners.

Willem van de Velde, the Younger / Wikimedia Commons


3. Pirates were amazing mixologists: In the 17th century, British sailors were allotted five shots of rum a day. They mixed it with water (in order to purify their usually bacteria-ridden supply), added lemon to fight scurvy and sugar for the flavor, and behold, grog was born!

Unknown / Wikimedia Commons

4. They rarely actually buried their treasure: While you probably associate pirates with buried treasure, the truth is they mostly stole stuff like food, alcohol, and weapons, which would not exactly do them any good if buried underground.

Howard Pyle / Wikimedia Commons

5. Women were pirates, too: There were plenty of female pirates. Some hid their genders and tried to pass as men, while others were openly female. Like their male counterparts, they were dangerous and bloodthirsty.

Alexandre Debelle / Wikimedia Commons

6. Blackbeard the pirate was all too real: Born Edward Teach, Blackbeard’s notorious scruff wasn’t just black, it was also dangerous! He would weave hemp into it and light it on fire when he boarded ships to scare people into submission. Clearly, it worked.

Unknown / Wikimedia Commons


7. Pirates with eye patches all had two working eyes: The reason you see so many pirates with eye patches isn’t because losing an eye was common. Most pirates with eye patches wore them so that one eye would be permanently adjusted to darkness, making it easier to navigate at night.

Modern Notions

8. The Jolly Roger had many variations: By this point almost everyone knows about the skull and crossbones that make up the Jolly Roger pirate flag, but did you know that when it flew in earnest there were many variations? A popular version featured a skeleton toasting the devil while stabbing a human heart. Pirates were totally metal.

Liftarn / Wikimedia Commons

9. Pirates once captured Julius Caesar: Pirates love a good ransom situation. They even kidnapped Caesar! He was a good a sport about it at the time, entertaining them all by reciting poetry. However, when he was rescued, he had them all crucified.

Giorces / Wikimedia Commons

10. Pirate earrings also served another purpose: While their earrings made for a great life insurance policy, they also served another critical function. Pirates would store globs of wax in their hoops and stick the stuff in their ears when they fired cannons to preserve their hearing.

Ambroise Louis Garneray / Wikimedia Commons


11. There were lots of gay pirates: Pirates often formed same sex relationships that were formalized under a term called “matelotage.” That’s actually where the phrase “ahoy matey” comes from! Coupled up pirates were actually known to split their booty.

Howard Pyle / Wikimedia Commons

12. Pirates were superstitious about their earrings: Pirates had a lot of strange beliefs about the power of their earrings. They believed that earrings could cure sea sickness, keep them from drowning, and that they could even cure bad eyesight!

Howard Pyle / Wikimedia Commons

Did you have any idea that the secret lives of the pirates were so darn compelling? It’s crazy how much importance they put into their jewelry.

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