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Was walking the plank a real pirate punishment?

A pirate uses his cutlass to force a bound and blindfolded man to walk the plank
Published: January 17, 2022 at 11:22 am
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A horrific, but morbidly fun, practice shown in films such as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise involves unfortunate victims being forced to walk along a plank of wood positioned over the edge of a ship, usually leading to them falling overboard and drowning. Real-life pirates did not use this as a method of punishment, however.


Instead, many pirates’ victims – including people forced into piracy to replace deceased crew, or hostages taken during battle – were tied up and kept below deck, where they were subject to beatings and (in extreme cases) disfigurement.

On the podcast: Dr Rebecca Simon responds to your questions on the 17th-century golden age of piracy. Plus, how accurate are pop culture portrayals of pirates?

Marooning was also a form of punishment, reserved for victims whom the pirates deemed to be little threat on land. If a person refused to join the pirate crew but swore to stay quiet, they would be left stranded on an island with a bottle of water, a bottle of gunpowder, a pistol and a single bullet.


This content first appeared in the December 2021 issue of BBC History Revealed


Dr Rebecca SimonHistorian, author and piracy expert

Dr Rebecca Simon is a historian of early modern piracy. She is the author of Why We Love Pirates: The Hunt for Captain Kidd and How He Changed Piracy Forever (Mango Press, 2020)


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