Hand Weapons

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

Hand to hand combat weapons were a pirates best option after the flintlock pistols ran out and they needed to keep fighting to gain control over a ship. Common hand to hand combat weapons included swords such as the cutlass along with boarding axes and pikes and even small shields.

These weapons were greatly effective for pirates, with the combination of the shield and cutlass being referred to as a 'swashbuckler'.

Cutlass

A very common weapon during the Golden Age of Piracy was the cutlass. The cutlass was a curved sword excellent for slashing and was a very practical naval weapon for hundreds of years. In fact they were standard issue in the US military until 1949.

Hand Weapons - Cutlass

18th Century Cutlass

The cutlass was a perfect naval weapon because it was strong enough to hack through heavy ropes, canvas and wood of a ship, along with being short and light enough to use in boarding and attacking. These swords were very effective for combat on a small ship with cramped quarters.

The cutlass was often also used in the Caribbean for uses other than naval applications. Many of the adventurers and farmers would use them akin to a machete in the rain forests and sugar cane fields, which probably was where the first pirates picked them up for use.

While they did not invent them, pirates such as the buccaneer Francois L'Ollonais first started using cutlasses in 1667 and they were also used with much success in the pirate crews of Stede Bonnet and many others. Often these swords were used just as much for intimidation as for combat and often crews would surrender with the imminent threat of having to do battle with the hardened pirates.

Buckler

Ever wonder where the term 'swashbuckler' came from? Well look no further. Pirates actually used to sometimes carry shields in battle. Now these weren't big Roman shields but they were small and could easily deflect sword attacks and possibly even larger projectiles.

Hand Weapons - Pirate Buckler

Pirate Buckler Shield

Meet the buckler. Give the success this small shield had in boarding parties, pirates that used it were given the name 'swashbuckler'.

Boarding Axe

Axes were a popular weapon used by pirates to destroy a ship's rigging and to fight off boarders. The axes were short and could chop through rope quickly. Axes helped pirates climb the sides of a ship could also be used in hand-to-hand combat and in opening closed doors and hatches while boarding.

Hand Weapons - Swedish Boarding Axe - 1704

Swedish Boarding Axe (1704)

Common boarding axes were made in Sweden and could trace their ancestry all the way back to the Viking mariner culture. Typical axes were nearly 35 inches and had an 11 inch head on them made of solid steel. These weapons were effective for not only gutting someone but cutting thick ropes on a ship as well.

Boarding axes could be easily hung on the back with shoulder mounted units and could be easily transported into a ship battle.

Boarding Pike

A boarding pike was a fearsome and primitive weapon. With only a sharp metal point affixed to a wooden pole these were quite simple weapons. However simple was good aboard a pirate ship because flintlock weapons were unreliable and often good for only a shot or two. Thus an effective hand to hand combat weapon was the most reliable weapon at sea.

Hand Weapons - Boarding Pike

Boarding Pike - Blackbeard, Buccaneer (1922)

While useful for not only repelling boarders, but also boarding the pike was an all around sound weapon to have aboard a naval ship. In fact during tropical storms when the rain would incapacitate all the firearms aboard, pikes, axes and cutlasses were the only tools really available to pirates.

Pirate Weapons

Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources