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Pirates & galleons

History of piracy

The 17th-century pirate William Kidd buries treasure.The 17th-century pirate William Kidd buries treasure. As long as people have sailed the oceans, there have been pirates, or sea robbers. The ancient Romans complained of pirate attacks in the Mediterranean Sea. The Vikings of Scandinavia were probably the most successful pirates the world has ever known. From the 16th to 18th centuries, during the "Golden Age of Piracy", pirates were particularly active in the Caribbean Sea, off the coasts of North Africa and Arabia, and in the South China Sea. Pirates still roam the oceans today, and are a constant threat in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia in east Africa.


Corsairs take prisoners from an English port.Corsairs take prisoners from an English port.British sailors board a corsair shipBritish sailors board a corsair shipFrom the 16th century onwards, corsairs sailed from Muslim cities on the Barbary Coast in North Africa. Brandishing their guns and curved nimcha swords, these Arab pirates plundered Christian ships and coastal towns, carrying off captives to be sold as slaves. The corsairs attacked the coasts mainly of Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, but they also ventured as far north as the British Isles, the Netherlands and even Iceland. The corsairs captured more than a million people to be sold as slaves. It was only by the 19th century that European navies countered the threat. 

We think of a "typical" pirate as wearing an eye patch. In fact, this idea dates back to the 18th-century Arab corsair Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah, who wore a patch after losing an eye in battle.

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