History Tour: The Golden Age of Piracy - Atlas Obscura Lists

History Tour: The Golden Age of Piracy

The brief era of adventure and chaos still enthralls the imagination.

Taking to the high seas to plunder and pillage is about as old as seafaring itself. The first historical evidence of piracy dates back to 1400 B.C., beginning with the Lukkans, based in what is now Turkey, who made were a great annoyance to early Egyptian empires. Then there were the mysterious Sea People, who lurked the Agean Sea and the coast of Egypt conducting raids. A famous tale from antiquity relating to piracy is the capture of a young Julius Caesar by Cilican pirates. After a ransom was paid, the story goes, the future emperor raised a navy and exacted revenge upon his captors. From ninth-century Viking raiders to the European and Muslim pirates that operated the waters during the various Crusades, piracy’s history runs deep and wide. 

However, when most people think of pirates today, thanks to books and movies, they’re immersed in the Golden Age of Piracy. Between 1650 and 1726, as European colonies grew and international trade expanded across the globe, so did the opportunity to secure a lifetime of riches in one fell swoop. Infamous figures shrouded in legend, such as “Calico” Jack Rackham, early travel novelist William Dampier, Mary Reed, William Kidd (a standout who appears all over the place), Raïs Hamidou, and Blackbeard, rewrote the history books and left an indelible mark on culture in less than a century. Some were true outlaws on the high seas, while others were commissioned by their home nations to plunder rivals as privateers. Many were both, and for all their mystique, their victims saw them as little more than merciless bandits. Stories of their reign and exploits have continued to leave a mark on culture for centuries. 

Throughout the Caribbean, Barbary Coast (how Europeans referred to the Atlantic coast of North Africa), coastal North America, the Indian Ocean, and beyond, these salty marauders lurked. Some met ghastly ends, relegating their tales of adventure and plundered riches to folklore and historical mysteries, many of which remain unsolved. A precious few retired. Here are 14 places across Atlas Obscura’s database of wondrous places that best reflect this age and influence, when lore was a currency unlike any other, and crafting a good legend meant a shot at immortality.