Jun 16, 2012

Jolly Roger flag

Pirates flags were an powerful pop icon at 20th century, and still are. A common denomination to pirate flags is "Jolly Roger", usually represented by a black field with white skull and crossbones. But it differs a bit from their historic origins.

A common pirate flag from Golden Age of Piracy (16th century) is a plain red flag (Qatar and Bahrain put white on their flags to prevent retaliation to their ships). Some histories, possibly untrue, relate that the term "Jolly Roger" comes from "jolie rouge" ("pretty red" in French). The reason is curious: in naval code, a black flag means there're prisoners at ship; a red flag means there aren't (in pirates' case, all the enemies are dead). Click here to see an authentic red Jolly Roger.

Along the time, the black flag increased of use. The color was chose because it doesn't resembles any national flag, suggesting pirates are people without homeland (similar symbolism explains the use of black by Anarchists).

Now a final explanation: skull and crossbones are commonly used by pirates, OK, but not a lot more than full skeletons, hourglasses, cutlasses and "pierced" hearts. They're all used as symbols of danger and experience.

So, if you constructed a pirate flag in your childhood, I sorrily advert you were mistaken. But children like fantasy, however.

And, in the end, a very curious Jolly Roger, from Bartholomew Roberts, showing a supposed encounter between him and the Death:


  1. The Wikipedia page on the Jolly Roger is very good did you know that it was very popular with Allied submarines in World War 2? Here is a link to a page I found when looking for information on a Jolly Roger I seen during the recent Clipper Yacht festival in my home town. It lists the flags of some famous and infamous pirates http://pirates.hegewisch.net/jolirouge.html

    1. Thank you for sharing these links. I knew some of these flags before, but I preferred to show just the most famous and the most bizarre Jolly Roger, to not take long. I'm fascinated with a Japanese manga serie named "ONE PIECE", about pirates; it's incredible how they're creative to invent strange flags. And they became a great cultural icon; you said about Allies usage in WW2, and yet today it's possible to see a Jolly Roger flying on private yatches.

      For now, I have to admit: one of my biggest desires is see a true Jolly Roger, used by true pirates, personally. But they were so poorly sewed that probably no many of them have survived.


Every comment is greatly welcome!