Ancient Origins IRAQ Tour

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East Indiaman Kent battling Confiance, a privateer vessel commanded by French corsair Robert Surcouf in October 1800 by Ambroise Louis Garneray. (Public Domain)

Buccaneers’ Brimstone, Booty, Brotherhood and Betel Nut

The goal of a pirate of the West Indies was to capture his prey, with as little damage as possible, so that he could resell the vessel, including its cargo and crew. Therefore generally, the freebooters rarely used cannons to capture a vessel, so not to damage it. However, when they did use cannon, they used artillery pieces of various calibers.

Wager's Action off Cartagena, 28 May 1708 by Samuel Scott (Public Domain)

Cannons On Board

The most common cannon calibers were four-pounders, six-pounders, and eight-pounders, but rarer on pirate ships were pieces of 12, 18, 24, found only on the frigates. Pieces of 32 were prevalent in large vessels of the Royal navies. The use of cannons implied not only knowledge of the weapons, but also the number of sailors serving the artillery force. Cristiano Bettini in his book Come progettavano i velieri  (How they designed sailing ships) reports that a four-pound cannon required a number of gunners equal to six. A 24-pound cannon required 12 skilled sailors. The maximum range of the largest calibers reached up to 2,000 meters, (1.2 miles) but the effective shot was reduced to no more than 500 meters. At this distance, the damage inflicted on hulls, crews and equipment was considerable and aimed primarily at rendering the opponent inert before capture, rather than sinking the prey itself.


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