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Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Pirates’ Code

Laws and Life Aboard Ship

Fall captive to the code—the real-life buccaneer bylaws that shaped every aspect of a pirate’s life.
Pirates have long captured our imaginations with images of cutlass-wielding swashbucklers, eye patches, and buried treasure. But what was life really like on a pirate ship? Piracy was a risky, sometimes deadly occupation, and strict orders were essential for everyone’s survival. These “Laws” were sets of rules that determined everything from how much each pirate earned from their plunder to compensation for injuries, punishments, and even the entertainment allowed on ships. These rules became known as the “Pirates’ Code,” which all pirates had to publicly swear by. Using primary sources like eyewitness accounts, trial proceedings, and maritime logs, this book explains how each one of the pirate codes was the key to pirates’ success in battle, on sea, and on land.

336 pages | 11 color plates, 37 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

History: British and Irish History

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"This 'rollicking account' of pirates’ codes—the strict rules deemed essential for survival at sea—explains how they determined everything, from how much each pirate earned from their plunder to compensation from injuries, punishments and more."


"A comprehensive and highly engaging study of the operations and everyday life at sea on pirate ships in the 'Golden Age' of piracy. Using a wide range of archival material, Simon has produced a meticulous examination of how pirate crews used 'articles' to organize their ships and lives. An in-depth exploration of not only the most notorious pirates and their lesser-known brethren, but every aspect of pirate life from the motivations of men to turn to piracy, to how they shared out plunder and food, to discipline and health care for injured pirates. The Pirates' Code is a pleasure to read."

Elaine Murphy, associate professor of maritime history, University of Plymouth

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