Throughout history, human beings have occasionally crisscrossed large water bodies in ships. While a majority of ships would be characterized as transport vessels, a fraction of them were characterized as hostile owing to the nature of their business at sea, which in essence, was to capture and loot other vessels. Such ships were flow by groups of individuals collectively named as pirates. Pirates were feared enormously especially because of the nefarious deeds they exerted upon their subjects or victims. In essence, rules of engagement that often applied in dissimilar scenarios were thrown out the window if one happened to encounter a pirate ship. More often than not, this meant that no filament of mercy would be shown to the people
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The only viable way at the time to facilitate this identity was perceived to be via flying a flag of a particular type. So it is justified to insinuate that naturally, pirates too would device their own individual flags, unique only to them and their cause. Traditionally, the main colors that were associated with pirates were red or black, although in contemporary times, black is the most associated with pirates. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the very first pirate flags were nothing short of red in color.
It is this red flag that was referred to by pirates as the “Jolly Roger”, a term that was crafted from the French word Jolie Rouge, which in English meant pretty red. Both the red and black colors offered cynical psychological symbolism. The red color signified bloodshed, and that little or no mercy would be accorded to those aboard a ship that was being attacked, if they happened to front any resistance, or attempted to flee. On the other hand, the black color was synonymous with death. It should be noted that throughout history, ships flew a black flag occasionally to signify to other vessels at sea that it carried within its confines a deadly plague. Likewise, pirates too adopted black to symbolize death. To compliment these colors, the Jolly Roger was further graphically mutilated by a white skull, crossbones, skeletons, swords, hourglass, etc.
Significance of the Jolly Roger to Pirates There are