What are Pirate Weapons?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 May 2020
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Pirates used a wide range of weapons during their time on the sea, from simple ship’s tools used for lethal tasks, to ornate cannons meant to destroy other ships. Generally, pirate weapons can be separated into three classes: hand-to-hand weapons, small arms, and ship’s tools.

The most classic of the pirate weapons is likely the cutlass. This was a short sword, meant for slashing at an opponent. It was usually straight, although it could be slightly curved, and featured a sweeping guard to protect the pirate. The cutlass was the most popular of the pirate weapons because it was short enough to be used in the tight quarters of a ship, simple enough that it required little training, and deadly enough to hold its own in battle.

The dagger is another of the ubiquitous pirate weapons. Daggers were used not only for fighting, but also for everyday tasks on board the ship, from cutting rope to eating food. Where the cutlass was meant to slash into a victim, the dagger was meant to stab them. A cross bar helped protect the pirate, and helped keep the dagger from getting stuck too deeply in a victim.

Somewhere between the dagger and the cutlass was another of the popular pirate weapons: the dirk. Dirks were essentially long daggers, but with cutting edges that could be used for slashing as well as piercing. Old swords were often cut down and made into dirks by mounting them on the same hilt a dagger would have used. The dirk was much more of an exclusive combat weapon than the dagger, but was not quite as large and bulky as the cutlass, and was better in especially tight situations.

One of the pirate weapons most often seen in popular portrayals of Arabian or Indian pirates is the scimitar. With its heavy curved blade, the scimitar makes an excellent icon for flourishing combat. Unlike the cutlass, however, the scimitar was somewhat unwieldy at sea. It was a very heavy weapon, which made it great for knocking lighter weapons out of the way, but also made it precarious in tight situations.

Flintlock pistols and flintlock rifles are another group of pirate weapons often seen in portrayals of pirates. Flintlocks were the most affordable, easily-available effective firearm throughout much of the pirate epoch, and were not really widely replaced until the beginning of the 19th century. Flintlocks, unlike most of the pirate weapons, changed a great deal over the more than two centuries of high piracy. The spark they generated became more reliable, they became better protected against weather, and their speed increased dramatically.

In addition to pirate weapons that were overtly designed to be weapons, there were a number of items used daily on the ship that in a pinch could double as pirate weapons. The belaying pin, for example, was a wooden or metal bar used to pin a line in place. They had enough weight to them that they made an effective club, and so were one of the popular improvised pirate weapons. Grappling hooks could also be used in battle, as could the small axes used to cut ropes, and the general purpose marlin spikes, which were heavy metal spikes often used by members of a crew without weapons of their own but planning a mutiny.

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