What is a pirate sword?
Everything you need to know about pirate saber sword and other swords of the pirates
Pirates have been sailing and conducting robberies in the seas for as long as mankind has used the sea for trade.
The Egyptian pharaohs of 13th century BC were not immune to their threats of ransacking. The sea commerce of the Roman Empire was at their mercy too, as well as Roman children who got kidnapped to be sold as slaves.
How did the pirates arm themselves? Why were they feared seafaring robbers?
Most of the pirates in the Golden Age of Piracy (1650s-1720s) were slaves, stowaways, and outcasts from societies. Some pirates however, like the privateers, came from the nobles.
Privateers in 16th century were naval officers originally mandated by their national governments to conduct raids in open seas against enemy ships.
These privateers became pirates when they realized subduing and robbing ships were a lucrative trade. They later on attacked and robbed any ships, whether these were enemies or not.
Almost all of pirate swords were plunders from seized ships. Thus, the pirates could possess many exotic scimitars, falchion, rapiers and other swords from late medieval age to early Renaissance. The following are swords recorded to have been prevalently used by the pirates:
Pirate Cutlass sword
The cutlass sword, also called pirate saber sword, is a naval weapon.
It is shorter but wider than a cavalry saber, making it ideal for cutting riggings, canvas, masts, ropes, deck chores and for boarding battles.
The naval cutlass sword has either a straight or slightly curved flat blade. Its average length is 0.6 meter with a cup-shaped hilt.
Pirate Hanger sword
The hanger, its name derived from the way it was worn in the waist belt, is a longer version of the cutlass sword. While the cutlass sword is over half a meter, the hanger can be as long as one meter in length.
In early 17th century, the hanger sword was fitted with heart shaped brass guard and a brass spiraled grip. Other popular hilts include clam iron shells, bone/wood/ horn grips, and quillions.
The pirate hanger sword was produced cheaply in Germany and Spain and by 1684, the pirates adopted it as a combat weapon.
The pirate hanger sword has a sharp cutting edge and has a deep fuller on the thick leading edge. It was used as a secondary weapon to the muskets for close fighting. It slowly disappeared with the rise of the bayonets. The hanger sword formed the basis for the design of hunting sword.
The medieval smallsword became popular in the late Renaissance (between 17th-18th century) as successor to the longer and heavier and the very thin classical epee. The smallsword hilt is usually a knuckle bow, with egg-shaped pommel and double-lobbed crossguard.
The blade of the smallsword is long, stiffly triangular or diamond in cross-section. It may or may not have real cutting edges. The use of the smallsword is restricted to thrusting.
It therefore demanded sophisticated and skillful blade-work from the swordsman. It is most probably used as a reserved weapon for pirate captains.
Pirate Hunting sword
The hunting sword is a single-handed short sword of no more than 25 inches of blade length.
It was quite popular among European huntsmen from 17th century to 19th century who wanted to waste no more shots and finish the hunted animal with a hack.
The hunting sword was adopted by pirates for its close resemblance to and similar functionality of the naval hanger. The pirate hunting sword was sometimes richly decorated, with motifs ornamented on the sword’s blade, hilt and scabbard.
Pirate Naval Dirk
The dirk, a Scots word for short dagger, falls between the shortsword and a knife.
Typical lengths are around 7-14 inches, although the Irish version can reach up to 21 inches. For land use, the dirk is a backup to the broadsword.
The naval dirks were mostly ceremonial swords worn by midshipmen and cadets in 17th century. The naval dirks were adopted by the pirates because they were very easy to improvise. A pirate naval dirk can be made by cutting down a worn out sword and then mounted onto a hilt. It can also be made from a shard of a broken sword.
Other pirate weapons
Pirates carry many weapons aside from the swords. These weapons were often thrown at the target ship before and during boarding (boarding is the time when pirates connected gangplanks so they could occupy the target ship):
Pirate Boarding axe
The boarding axe is similar but smaller than a battle axe. The boarding axe was used in hacking down treasures chests and doors and in clearing out debris and wreckage.
Pirates were known to throw it at their enemies in the thick of the battle.
Woodcut engravers depicted the pirates to carry the boarding axe on their waist.
Pirate Boarding Pikes
The boarding pikes are long weapons that are the hybrid of the spear and European long pike. They were made of a pole with a sharp metal blade on its endpoint.
They were used as a way of holding off attackers and to protect the pirate ship from colliding to the target ship. From time to time, the pirate boarding pikes were also used to harpoon fishes for food.
The pirates were not allowed to carry swords onboard when there were no attacks to be made. The pirate swords were kept in the chest hidden in the captain’s cabin. This policy was necessary in order to avoid mutiny and unnecessarily bloody brawls among the crew.
Thus, the kitchen knives were very useful for mutineers. The knives were also useful when there was a shortage of swords for the crew during attacks. Folding pockets knives were common, and so were the longer and flatter cleavers.
Pirate Belaying Pin
The belaying pin is a wooden bar used to secure the rigging ropes in. Pirates use the belaying pin as a close-combat club or bat. Mutineers often use it when there were not enough knives.
Collecting pirate swords
Collecting pirate swords is now easy since there are many shops online that are selling them. With the popularity of pirates in mass media today, pirate swords are attracting collectors and children alike. Such popularity is fostered by films like Pirates of the Caribbean, Walt Disney pirate theme parks, novels, comic books, and games.
One of the most famous pirate sword collectibles nowadays is the Captain Jack Sparrow sword from Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It is an English military hanger with a worn out blade. When you buy this fantasy pirate sword, it is encased in an antique style wall frame with a limited-edition-numbered plaque.