The Surprisingly Respectable Pirate Code Of Conduct

If you thought pirates from centuries past were just a bunch of rum-swilling, sword-swinging looters and thieves, you may be underestimating their civility. Sure, they were all of those things, but if you really think about it, they had to work as a team in order to survive life at sea and be successful in their pursuits of other people's gold, jewels, and ships.

In a way, pirates were a society unto themselves, and as such, there had to be some rules to guide them. According to the website The Way of the Pirates, every member of the crew had to sign the code of conduct and take an oath to uphold its tenets. While taking the oath, they would put their hands on a Bible or a weapon, and the signed pirate code would be hung in an easily seen area of the ship, lest they forget what they signed up for. 

By today's standards, the pirate code holds up pretty well. It prioritizes equality and trustworthiness while offering stiff punishments for those who break the code. One such example comes from the Pirate Code of Conduct which was the Bartholomew Roberts (aka "Black Bart") Shipboard Articles of 1721, published on the website Elizabethan Era.

According to that code, every member of a pirate crew got a vote on whatever issue was being decided. Every member could drink as much booze as they wanted as long as the supply was ample, and every pirate was promised an equal share of the loot. 

It was no joke to break the pirate code once you signed it

The promises the pirate code required were pretty fair, but any crew member who broke the code faced stiff penalties. Things that were forbidden included stealing from "the company," for which you could expect to be abandoned at the nearest plot of land. If a pirate were to rob a fellow crew mate, "he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships," per Black Bart's code

Bringing women or boys onto the ship was prohibited, and if caught the punishment was death. If two pirates had a conflict they were forbidden to fight onboard. Once they got to land, though, it was on. According to pirate code, "every man's quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner." Gambling was not allowed, and it was candles out at 8 p.m. There was a caveat, however: If a fella wanted to drink under the stars, "after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights." After all, pirates weren't schoolboys.

According to The Way of the Pirate, they even had workers' compensation, which said, "any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he was to have eight hundred dollars, out of the public stock, and for lesser hurts, proportionately." Historic U.K. tells us that Captain Bartholomew Roberts, with his code, was the most successful pirate of the pirate age.