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The Real History of Pirates

Season 1
Other than scale, what is the difference between a pirate and the vast armies of an emperor? Were the men who famously traversed the Atlantic actually heroic explorers--or were they...pirates? In The Real History of Pirates, you'll look at world history from a new point of view, realizing much of what you've learned before should be viewed through a more accurate, post-imperialistic filter.
202124 episodes
13+
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Episodes

  1. S1 E1 - What is a Pirate?
    May 20, 2021
    27min
    TV-PG
    Explore the reasons piracy has endured from ancient times until today, and why it is so difficult to both define and eradicate. How do we understand the rule of law and the rights of nations and individuals-not only on the high seas, but in other borderless realms stretching from cyberspace to outer space? #History
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  2. S1 E2 - Pirate Facts and Fictions
    May 20, 2021
    26min
    13+
    Examine popular pirate legends, and discover which aspects include some truth and which contain none at all. While much of the information we have about pirates and piracy comes from fiction as opposed to historical texts, pirate literature can teach us a lot about the jolly roger, gold-filled treasure chests, the pirate Edward Thatch (also known as Blackbeard), and more.
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  3. S1 E3 - Real Pirates of the Caribbean
    May 20, 2021
    27min
    TV-PG
    In the 16th century, the Spanish had the largest European presence in the Caribbean. Learn how that power hold was broken and which nationalities joined in the subsequent piratical free-for-all. How do we know what happened there? Discover the historical importance of Alexander Exquemelin’s Buccaneers of America and A General History of the Pyrates by “Captain Charles Johnson.”
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  4. S1 E4 - Pirate Attacks and Tactics
    May 20, 2021
    25min
    TV-PG
    What did pirates want? Money-or anything they could turn into money. Consequently, they usually wished for a speedy surrender, didn’t particularly want a battle, and rarely sunk the ships they captured. Consider the many tactics pirates used to apprehend their prey in the age of sails, from understanding the weather gage to deceptive flag practices.
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  5. S1 E5 - Buried Treasure and Pirate Economics
    May 20, 2021
    26min
    13+
    Acquiring loot in one form or another was, and still is, a key part of pirate life. But very few would ever hit it big or try to bury their treasure on a deserted island. Explore the business aspect of piracy-incentive pay, expenses, and insurance-the few aspects of life pirates could control. Piracy was a "no prey, no pay" system, and the risk of no pay was very real.
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  6. S1 E6 - Pirate Freedom Fighters
    May 20, 2021
    28min
    ALL
    While it was a common tale that pirates were motivated to revolt against cruel masters and a desire to spread democratic principles, the complex truths of piracy and the pirate life were much different. What were the real goals of those pirates who attacked and overthrew maritime powers? And how did the pirate motto, “A merry life and a short one,” come to be?
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  7. S1 E7 - Pirates and Enslavement
    May 20, 2021
    27min
    TV-PG
    Pirates often let their captives go. After all, many pirates were mutineers themselves, and they certainly knew what could go wrong with too many unhappy captives on a ship. But did that prisoner release also apply to Indian and African men-or just to Europeans? Reveal the deep and complex relationships between pirates and enslavers.
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  8. S1 E8 - The Sea Dogs of Elizabeth I
    May 20, 2021
    27min
    TV-PG
    The privateers and pirates at the time of England’s Queen Elizabeth I-known in Spain as “The Pirate Queen”-thrived because they could fairly easily find merchants with whom to trade and politicians to protect them. Discover the individual histories of the most famous, ambitious, and wealthiest of the Sea Dogs-John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Walter Ralegh.
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  9. S1 E9 - The Corsairs of the Maghreb
    May 20, 2021
    29min
    TV-PG
    The privateers of the northern African coast, called corsairs, were commissioned by their governments to make war primarily against non-Muslims and did not consider themselves to be pirates-although the English certainly thought of them that way. Learn why the English eventually found it easier to negotiate with the Barbary powers than to fight the corsairs at sea.
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  10. S1 E10 - The Buccaneers of America
    May 20, 2021
    28min
    TV-PG
    In the West Indies, the English and French governments encouraged piracy (called “buccaneering” in that area) as a strategy to weaken the Spanish. Learn about the most famous buccaneer of all, the Welshman Henry Morgan, whose extreme exploits from Venezuela to Panama to Jamaica contributed to our concepts of piracy in popular culture today.
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  11. S1 E11 - The Red Sea Men of the Pirate Round
    May 20, 2021
    27min
    TV-PG
    The pirate round was a sailing route that took pirates from the western Atlantic, around Africa’s southern tip into the Indian Ocean, and even north into the Red Sea with all its geopolitical complexities. Learn about “The Rhode Island Rover” Thomas Tew, Henry Every, and others-as well as their relationships with the British East India Company and the North American slave trade.
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  12. S1 E12 - Piracy in the China Seas
    May 20, 2021
    28min
    TV-PG
    In the early 1800s, just as piracy was on the decline in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, it was exploding in Asia as Europeans, Arabs, Persians, Filipinos, and many others vied for access to the Chinese markets. See how Cheng I and Cheng I Sao organized a vast and well-organized system of piracy, unlike the piratical chaos of the Caribbean.
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  13. S1 E13 - Pirates as Explorers
    May 20, 2021
    29min
    TV-PG
    Historically, pirates and privateers were often the first people from their home nations heading into uncharted waters, returning home with valuable charts, logs, and geographic information-as well as stolen market goods and coins. Uncover the convoluted reality behind the “adventures” of Francis Drake, William Dampier, and others.
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  14. S1 E14 - Pirates and Empires
    May 20, 2021
    29min
    TV-PG
    What created the conditions under which piracy flourished in previous centuries and still exists today? Explore the complex relationships between piracy and land-based merchants, governments, and imperialism. Learn how imperial politics in conjunction with globalized pressures on local markets provide fertile ground for piracy.
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  15. S1 E15 - Life on a Pirate Ship
    May 20, 2021
    27min
    ALL
    While it took talent, toughness, and significant knowledge to be a successful mariner in the Age of Sail, pirate crews tended to be even more skilled than those of other ships. Although life at sea might have seemed harsh and dangerous to the masses, discover the many reasons pirates viewed ship life differently. Were they attracted to more than just the potential for freedom and profit?
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  16. S1 E16 - Pirate Music and Performances
    May 20, 2021
    27min
    TV-PG
    While it might come as a bit of a surprise, pirates apparently loved their music. In fact, some pirates kept musicians as prisoners just so they could hear them play. Consider the many benefits music brought to the pirate ships, the musical entertainment produced by pirates, as well as the ballads and melodramas created by others about the pirates’ lives.
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  17. S1 E17 - Pirate Kings
    May 20, 2021
    28min
    TV-PG
    A few pirates moved beyond the business of plundering to establish themselves as rulers of a territory or to become part of a recognized government. Learn about numerous pirate kings, including the Americans Jean Lafitte and his brother, Pierre. Although they had a substantial piracy operation in the Gulf of Mexico, they fought with the States to defend New Orleans during the War of 1812.
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  18. S1 E18 - She-Pirates
    May 20, 2021
    27min
    TV-PG
    Although the literature includes many tales of female pirates, the truth is there were only a handful of women pirates compared to the many thousands of men. When women were on board, they were more likely to be passengers, prisoners, or laborers. You’ll explore the exceptions to this rule as you learn about the famous Caribbean pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
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  19. S1 E19 - Woman as Pirate Commanders
    May 20, 2021
    28min
    TV-PG
    Although almost all pirate captains and admirals were men, there were a few female authority figures in the world of piracy-most notably Queen Elizabeth I of England. Dig into the backstories of other “pirate queens” including Ingela Gathenhielm; Grace O’Malley; Sayyida al-Hurra; and Cheng I Sao, who commanded tens of thousands of pirates in her fleet of 400 ships.
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  20. S1 E20 - Pirates in Literature and the Theater
    May 20, 2021
    28min
    TV-PG
    Even our modern-day image of pirates has been greatly shaped by 19th-century literature and theatre, which managed to rehabilitate the image of pirates from criminals into sentimental heroes. Consider your own concept of pirates as you explore their portrayal in works by Lord Byron, Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and more.
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  21. S1 E21 - Prosecuting Pirates
    May 20, 2021
    26min
    TV-PG
    While the British judicial system that oversaw pirate trials during the age of Atlantic piracy was highly codified, it certainly wouldn’t be considered fair or just by today’s standards. But even modern judicial systems find it extremely difficult to successfully prosecute piracy, as you’ll learn from the Maersk Alabama pirate trial of 2013.
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  22. S1 E22 - Can Piracy Be Stamped Out?
    May 20, 2021
    27min
    TV-PG
    If it is possible to make an individual ship fairly safe from pirate attack, why is it so difficult to eradicate the worldwide practice of piracy? Governments in the Americas and Asia have tried to eliminate entire pirate-friendly coastal settlements, but their efforts have never been truly successful. Explore the complex motivations that still attract individuals to “turn pirate.”
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  23. S1 E23 - Pirates in Modern Times
    May 20, 2021
    29min
    TV-PG
    While piracy today is more geographically confined than it was centuries ago-and often tied to large criminal syndicates-it still seems to be driven by “greed and grievance.” Learn about the socioeconomic forces that continue to perpetuate piracy off the coast of Somalia, in the Straits of Malacca and Gulf of Guinea, and in other locations around the world.
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  24. S1 E24 - Pirates in Pop Culture and Beyond
    May 20, 2021
    34min
    TV-PG
    Modern Western culture largely depicts pirates as romantic, freedom-loving antiheroes. But is that a harmless fantasy? Examine why scholars insist that the way we talk about piracy affects our world today. As we begin to examine the aftereffects of colonialism, can we afford to ignore the very real impacts of pirates on merchants, coastal dwellers, and Black and Indigenous peoples?
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Details

More info

Content advisory
Violencesexual content
Audio languages
English
Subtitles
English [CC]
Producers
The Great Courses
Starring
Manushag N. Powell
Studio
The Great Courses
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