bartholomew Roberts
A copper engraving of the infamous pirate Bartholomew Roberts, with his two ships, circa 1724. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Benjamin Cole

We 'landlubbers' have been devouring pirate-themed stories and movies for decades – from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure Treasure Island to the Hollywood blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean. But just how many real-life pirates do you know?

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The English pirate Blackbeard, who pillaged and plundered the West Indies, is perhaps the most famous buccaneer of them all. But here are three other pirates whose notoriety has survived the ages:

1. Ching Shih

ching shih
An 18th century engraving of Ching Shih in action. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

She was one of the most feared pirates in the South China Sea. Although she came from humble beginnings, Ching Shih married a pirate captain, Cheng I, in 1801, and together began establishing control of the region’s rival pirate gangs into a confederation, according to a report by US-based science news website LiveScience.

Ching Shih, at one point, led a fleet of 1,200 ships and over 70,000 pirates. They were organised into six squadrons that pledged allegiance to the couple, and were made to follow a strict code of laws. After the death of her husband, in 1810, Ching Shih broke up the confederation and agreed to a generous deal by the Chinese government, which ensured the pirates were pardoned. Some were even allowed to keep their vessels and take up positions in the government and the army!

2. Barbarossa brothers

"Profile of a Barbary Pirate, Traditionally Identified as Barbarossa" by artist Pietro della Vecchia. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Barbarossa, which means “red beard” in Italian, was the last name of brothers Aruj and Hizir – Turkish brothers who gained notoriety and fame because of their escapades on the Mediterranean Sea, in the 1500s. Using North Africa as a base, the Barbarossa brothers pillaged several coastal towns with their crew of Barbary pirates, causing major problems for Spanish and Portuguese traders when they commandeered merchant ships. On one occasion, in 1538, one of the Barbarossa brothers used 122 galleys (oar-powered ships) to defeat 300 traditional ships that used sails. Their innovative strategy of using oars to rapidly manoeuvre around, and capsize wind-powered ships, cemented their reputation as the most cunning, fearsome pirates to maraud the Mediterranean.

3. Bartholomew Roberts

Bart “Black” Roberts (pictured above) was one of the most infamous pirates of the Golden Age, and made his name pillaging ships off the coast of Africa and the Caribbean. During his exploits in the 1700s, he took over 400 ships in just four years. Black Roberts gained the reputation of being ruthless and cold-blooded because of his practice of never leaving anyone aboard alive. An intense manhunt by the British government led to his death at sea in 1722.

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