Pirate Cutlass Sword: Facts and History
Pirates had a fearsome reputation, from targeting ships to launching attacks on coastal towns. During the Golden Age of Piracy, pirates used the cutlass
Characteristics of the Pirate
The most popular design of the pirate cutlass
Here are the general characteristics of the pirate
Type of Material
Pirates usually acquired their weapons through plunder, though some purchased them privately. English weapons, along with Dutch, French, and Spanish, were available to pirates, so their swords varied greatly in quality and construction.
Modern reproductions often feature high carbon steel blades, though pirate swords for cosplay generally have stainless steel blades. On the other hand, LARP swords usually feature a fiberglass core and durable foam for safety.
Cutlass is a short saber, usually with a broad, curved blade and a single-cutting edge. However, historical pirate swords varied in shape, from slightly to strongly curved blades. Some French buccaneers used cutlass with a moderately curved blade and clip point. Broad-bladed types usually have a tapered tang instead of a full-tang blade.
Size and Length
When fighting hand-to-hand on crowded decks, pirates preferred short weapons. Cutlasses of the period usually had a blade length of about 71 centimeters or less. Unlike long swords, pirates needed almost no training in using cutlass for chopping and slashing.
Historical depictions from The Buccaneers of America suggest that some pirates use cutlasses with large iron shell-hilts, similar to the late 17th century German or Dutch swords. The English also manufactured cutlasses or hangers with similar design, though the German and Dutch shell guards tended to be larger and scalloped.
Most of these cutlasses with shell guards had small, curved quillons, a heavy pommel, and a thumb ring. The handle varied in style and material, from bone to wood, antler, brass, and iron. Apart from ornamental cast brass guards, some pirate cutlass swords had a wrought iron guard, usually without a knuckle bow, though others featured a d-guard.
It remains unclear if pirates used cutlasses with cupped or basket-shaped guards to protect the hand. Many historians claim that pirates never used those with large hand-covering brass guards, similar to the American Civil War cutlasses. Scabbards and other
Facts About the Pirate
Cutlass derives its name from the Latin cultellus, which means short
Here are the things you need to know about the pirate
The pirates have existed since ancient times.
The term pirate generally refers to one who plunders the sea, including coastal raiding. The first known pirates were the Lukkans from the south-eastern coast of Asia Minor — modern-day Turkey. Although not strictly pirates, the Vikings were sea raiders who targeted coastal areas and terrorized northern Europe.
Piracy reached its golden age when a gang of pirate captains ruled the Caribbean.
The so-called golden age of piracy took place in the early 18th century. Some historians place it between the 1690s and the 1730s, while others narrowed it from 1714 to 1724. It was the period when legendary pirates such as Blackbeard, Charles Vane, and Black Bart roamed the seas.
The real-life pirates of the Caribbean were the buccaneers.
The term buccaneer originally referred to mountain men and lawless hunters from Hispaniola—now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Driven out by the Spanish, they settled on Tortuga island, which became the center of Caribbean piracy, and raided Spanish ships. By the end of the 17th century, the term generally referred to pirates who operated in the region.
Cutlasses were particularly popular with the buccaneers.
An illustration from The Buccaneers of America portrays pirate Roche Brasiliano with a cutlass
Pirates and sailors preferred cutlasses over longer swords.
Unlike longer swords or rapiers, cutlasses were easier to use as they required no great skill in fencing to be effective. They were practical for fighting in a confined space, and their shortness would not catch on riggings. They also served as efficient tools on deck, sturdy enough to cut through ropes, canvas, and wood. Only a Portuguese or Spanish pirate, or perhaps an Italian, might have used a long rapier, probably cup-hilted.
Pirates used several weapons for different purposes.
After attacking a ship, pirates would often climb high up in the rigging and use a musket, a muzzle-loading firearm, for shooting long range. Then, they would engage in hand-to-hand combat using cutlasses, boarding axes, pikes, and daggers, often when all the gunpowder and ammunition had run out. Boarding axes were also practical for providing a step for climbing into the hull of an enemy ship, clearing fallen rigging, and as combat weapons.
Cutlasses were efficient weapons when rain rendered all firearms useless.
Guns were often a pirate’s first weapon of choice, not the cutlasses. Pistols were efficient in close combat, though their efficiency depended on the strength of gunpowder. By the early 17th century, the flintlock pistol became the primary firing weapon of choice. Before its invention, pirates relied on various wheel lock mechanisms that relied on gunpowder for ignition.
Pirates carried their cutlasses hung from the waist belts or shoulders.
Unlike merchant and naval cutlasses, usually kept in chests, pirates carried their cutlass in scabbards hung from shoulders or waist belts. Many depictions of French buccaneers had no baldrics, though they were the traditional way of wearing a
The popular image of pirates today never existed in history.
The most familiar pirate portraits are myths inspired by authors and illustrators who never saw their subjects. Most of these portraits evolved in various editions, where Blackbeard changed poses, including his hat and pirate costume. There is also no evidence that pirate captains dressed much better than their men. Female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read even dressed as seamen.
Sword in Modern Times
The pirates have been the inspiration for most of the pirate fiction out there. It is not surprising that pirate swords remain popular in films, animations, cosplay, and live-action role-playing games or LARP.
In Films, Animations, and Video Games
The Pirates of the Caribbean is probably the most famous pirate film, where Captain Jack Sparrow wielded his cutlass
In Cosplay and LARP
Some historical reenactments of pirates also feature cutlasses, though most of the time, the
Pirates have probably been around since man started to sail the seas, but by its golden age, pirates were pillaging and plundering all over the world. Nowadays, the term “pirate” reminds us of the legendary Blackbeard or the fictional Captain Jack Sparrow. It is no wonder the pirate cutlass