Pirate Weapons

Pirates used a variety of weapons and any good pirate was armed to the teeth. Large weapons were usually kept locked away until battle to keep mutinous pirates from taking a ship. Any assortment of weapons could be used depending on what you wanted to do, and who you wanted to kill.


The musketoon is a shorter barrelled version of the musket, and served in the roles of a shotgun or carbine. Musketoons could be of the same caliber as the issue musket, or of a much larger caliber, 1 to 2.5 inches (2.5 to 6.3 cm). The musketoon is most commonly associated with naval use, and pirates in particular. Musketoon barrels were often flared at the muzzle, resembling a cannon or blunderbuss.

Musketoons had a brass or iron barrel, and used a wheellock or flintlock firing mechanism, like the typical musket of the period. They were fired from the shoulder like the musket, but the shorter length (barrels were as short as a foot (30 cm) long) made them easier to handle in restricted conditions, such as with mounted cavalry or naval boarding parties.

Smaller bore musketoons matched the caliber of the muskets in service, and were generally used the same way, with single musket ball or a buck and ball load, while large bore musketoons were loaded with mulitple buckshot or pistol balls (generally smaller in diameter than musket balls) and used as shotguns. It is this type of loading that is most associated with naval use.


The earliest handguns were single-shot, muzzle-loading guns with ignition provided by inserting a smoldering match cord into a touch hole. As such, they were essentially nothing more than miniature cannons, small enough to be handheld.

Improvements followed in subsequent centuries, as various types of locks (ignition devices) were invented. In the matchlock, the separate match cord was affixed to a spring-loaded pivot which could be tripped by a trigger. In the wheellock, a mechanism analogous to that used in today's cigarette lighters replaced the smoldering match cord. In the 17th century, the flintlock, which strikes a flint against steel, appeared. (The flintlock, amazingly, remained state-of-the-art for some two hundred years.) In the 19th century, percussion caps were developed, followed shortly by modern integrated-primer cartridges, and hammers therefore traded their flint for firing pins.

Single-shot pistols are not completely things of the past, as they have continued to be built (for various reasons) throughout the breech-loading era. However, for most applications, the single-shot handgun has been replaced by revolvers and semi-automatic pistols.

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.


A blunderbuss was a common weapon of choice among pirates when boarding ships. It is a muzzle-loading firearm with a flared, trumpet-like barrel which discharges lead shot upon firing. It is the predecessor to the shotgun. Most of these weapons are mid-sized, being smaller than most shoulder-fired arms, but larger than a pistol. Although fitted with a butt, the dimensions suggest that most were not really intended to be fired from the shoulder and were instead fired from the hip.

The compact dimensions of a blunderbuss would facilitate use in small spaces (e.g. on a ship, or in a house) and would also make storage easier. For those requiring an even smaller weapon, blunderbuss pistols were also produced, though these are now less common.

The funnel-shaped barrel (either round or elliptical) is not designed to enhance the ballistics of the weapon, but serves to facilitate loading ammunition into the muzzle. This makes it much easier to refill a blunderbuss with shot in situations where this would not normally be possible .

While there is no physical reason that a blunderbuss cannot fire projectiles such as gravel or nails instead of lead shot (as is often claimed) it is more effective to use the latter. Blunderbusses were often supplied with gang-moulds by their manufacturers, allowing the user to make his own shot in the field.

By its nature, the blunderbuss is not a very precise weapon nor one which could fire very far. It has seen most of its use as a means of self-defence, as the spread of shot meant that one did not need to be particularly skilled in aiming to wound or kill intruders or attackers. During combat, the blunderbuss was a very unpredictable weapon; it could hit an entire group of enemy soldiers or miss all of them. The blunderbuss thus became a byword for inaccurate marksmanship in any field. As well, the word itself came to mean "a clumsy or stupid person".


A cutlass is a short, thick sabre or slashing sword, with a straight or slightly curved blade sharpened on the cutting edge, and a hilt often featuring a solid cupped or basket-shaped guard.

Best known as the sailor's weapon of choice, the naval side arm, likely because it was also robust enough to hack through heavy ropes, canvas, and wood. It was also short enough to use in relatively close quarters, such as during boarding actions, in the rigging, or below decks. Another advantage to the cutlass was its simplicity of use. The cutlass required less training than the rapier or small sword, and was more effective as a combat weapon than the full-sized sword. The cutlasses portrayed in films about pirates are historically incorrect, often 19th-century weapons that substitute for the backsword and falchion that were actually available to pirates in prior centuries.

Cutlasses are famous for being used by pirates, although there is no reason to believe that Caribbean buccaneers invented them, as has sometimes been claimed. However, the subsequent use of cutlasses by pirates is well documented in contemporary sources, notably by the pirate crews of William Fly, William Kidd, and Stede Bonnet. Exquemelin reports the buccaneer Francois l'Ollonais using a cutlass as early as 1667. Pirates used these weapons for intimidation as much as for combat, often needing no more than to grip their hilts to induce a crew to surrender, or beating captives with the flat of the blade to force their compliance or responsiveness to interrogation.

The last use of a cutlass in a boarding action by the British Royal Navy is recorded as being as late as 1941.


A dagger is a typically double-edged blade
used for stabbing or thrusting. They often
fulfil the role of a secondary defence weapon
in close combat. In most cases, a tang
extends into the handle along the centreline
of the blade.

Much like battle axes, daggers evolved out
of prehistoric tools. They were initially made
of flint, ivory, or even bone and were used as
weapons since the earliest periods of human
civilization. The earliest metal daggers
appear in the Bronze Age, in the 3rd
millennium BC, predating the sword, which
essentially developed from oversized
daggers. Although the standard dagger
would at no time be very effective against axes, spears, or even maces due to its limited reach, it was an important step towards the development of a more useful close-combat weapon, the sword.

However, almost from the very beginning of Egyptian history, daggers were adorned as ceremonial objects with golden hilts and later even more ornate and varied construction. Traditionally, military and naval officers wore dress daggers as symbols of power, and soldiers are still equipped with combat knives.

Historically, knives and daggers were always considered secondary or even tertiary weapons. Babylonians, Greeks, Spartans, Persians, Romans, Vikings, and crusaders all mainly fought with pole weapons, swords, and axes at arm's length if not already utilizing bows, spears, slings, or other long-range weapons. Roman soldiers were issued a pugio.

Beginning with the 17th Century, another form of dagger -- the plug bayonet and later the socket bayonet -- was used to convert muskets and other longarms into spears by mounting them on the barrel.


A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smoothbore long gun, which is intended to be fired from the shoulder. The date of origin of muskets remains unknown, but they are mentioned as early as the late 13th century, and they were primarily designed for use by infantry. Rifled muskets were the most common weapon used up until the late 1870s. Typical musket calibres ranged from .50 to .80 inches (12.7 to 20.3mm). Depending on the type and calibre, it could hit a man's torso at up to 200 yards, though it was only reliably accurate to about seventy yards. A soldier primarily armed with a musket had the designation musket man or musketeer. Muskets took time to reload and many were very inaccurate.


The grenado was an early hand grenade. Grenados used by pirates were small hollow balls made of iron, glass or wood and filled with gunpowder. The fuse that was lit just before being thrown. The explosion might cause great bodily damage and could demoralize a merchant ships crew. Grenados were not totally reliable and could present a serious danger to the user as well.


Pots were filled with chemicals and set on fire to create a cloud of foul smelling odor. The pots were hurled at the deck of ships to cause the crew to cough and gag, thus becoming sick and creating confusion.


A cannon is any large tubular
firearm designed to fire a heavy
projectile over a long distance.
They were first used in China and
Europe, and were the archetypal
form of artillery.

Pirates did not want to sink their
victim's ship so cannons were
usually loaded with ammunition
effective against their victims or
rigging and sail. Ammunition
included nails, gravel and small
cannon or musket balls often
combined. Chain shot was used
for damaging the rigging and sail.

The first cannon in Europe probably appeared in Moorish and Christian Spain. English cannon were first used during the Hundred Years War, when primitive cannon were used at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. The end of the Middle Ages saw the construction of larger and more powerful cannon, and their spread in warfare throughout the world. East Asia saw the construction of some of the world's largest cannon, such as the Indian Jaivana cannon.

The "giant gun" trend was by then disappearing in Europe, in favor of lighter, more manoeuvrable pieces in larger numbers, and the early use of true field artillery. While the medieval Dardanelles Gun had required 200 men to operate it, 18th century English cannon required only a dozen men, including two gunners, while during the Napoleonic Wars five gunners were used.

The lower tier of 17th century English ships of the line were usually equipped with demi-cannon — a naval gun which fired a 32-pound solid shot. A full cannon at this time fired a 42-pound shot, but these were discontinued by the 18th century as they were seen as too unwieldy. By the end of the century, principles long adopted in Europe specified the characteristics of cannon of the British ship design and the types and sizes of acceptable defects. The U.S. Navy tested guns by measurement, proof by powder (two or three firings), and using compressed water for leak detection.

The carronade was adopted by the Royal Navy in 1779, and the lower muzzle velocity of the round shot was intended to create many more of the deadly wooden splinters when hitting the structure of an enemy vessel. It was much shorter and a third to a quarter of the weight of an equivalent long gun: for example, a 32 pounder carronade weighed less than a ton, but a 32 pounder long gun weighed over 3 tons. The guns were thus easier to handle and also required less than half the gunpowder of long guns mounted on naval garrison carriages, allowing fewer men to crew them. Carronades were manufactured in the usual naval gun calibres, but they were not counted in a ship of the line's rated number of guns. As a result, the classification of Royal Navy vessels in this period can mislead, since they would often be carrying more pieces of ordnance than were listed.

The Turkish cannons of the siege of Constantinople, after being on permanent display for four centuries, were used to battle a British fleet in 1807. The artillery hit a British ship with two 700 pound cannonballs, killing 60 sailors. In 1867, Sultan Abdul Aziz gifted Queen Victoria the 17 ton "Dardanelles Gun" - one of the cannons used at the siege of Constantinople.

But in contrast to this antiquated weapons, later western guns during the 19th century became massive, destructive, more accurate, and covered a very long range - such as the American 3 inch wrought-iron muzzle-loading howitzer used during the American Civil War with an effective range of over 1.83km. In the 1810s and 1820s, greater emphasis was placed on the accuracy of long-range gunfire, and less on the weight of a broadside. The carronade, although initially very successful and widely adopted, disappeared from the Royal Navy from the 1850s after the development of steel, jacketed cannon by William George Armstrong and Joseph Whitworth. Nevertheless, carronades were used in the American Civil War in the 1860s.

The superior cannon technology of Westerners in later years would bring them tremendous advantages in warfare. For example, in the Opium War in China during the 19th century, the British battleships bombarded the coastal areas and fortifications safe from the reach of the Chinese cannon. Similarly, the shortest war on the record, the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896, was brought to a swift conclusion by shelling from British battleships

Blunderbuss - Click To Enlarge
Pistol - Click To Enlarge
Cutlass - Click To Enlarge
Dagger - Click To Enlarge
Musketoon - Click To Enlarge
Musket - Click To Enlarge
Cannon - Click To Enlarge