The connection between pirates and “pieces of eight” lies in the historical context of piracy during the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly in the Caribbean and along the Spanish Main. “Pieces of eight” refer to Spanish silver coins that were widely circulated and used as a form of currency during that time.
The term “pieces of eight” originates from the Spanish monetary system, where the coin known as the Spanish dollar, or “Real de a ocho,” was divided into eight smaller units, each worth one “piece.” These silver coins were minted in Spain and its American colonies, primarily in Mexico and Peru, and gained popularity as a trade currency due to their consistent weight and silver content.
Pirates, seeking to acquire wealth and valuables, targeted ships sailing across the Atlantic that were laden with treasures, including silver, gold, and other precious goods. Spanish galleons transporting vast quantities of “pieces of eight” became attractive targets for pirates, who would raid the vessels and seize their valuable cargo.
The appeal of “pieces of eight” to pirates was not only their silver content but also their widespread acceptance and convertibility. These coins were recognized and used as a form of currency in many regions, facilitating trade and commerce. Pirates could easily exchange or spend their loot, regardless of their location or the national origin of the coins.
The association between pirates and “pieces of eight” has been romanticized in popular culture, including books and movies, which often depict pirates amassing hoards of these coins. However, it is important to note that pirates sought all forms of valuable plunder, including other coins, jewels, spices, and goods, and did not exclusively focus on “pieces of eight.”
Nonetheless, the term “pieces of eight” has become synonymous with pirate lore and the allure of buried treasure, representing a fascinating link between piracy and the valuable silver coins that were a significant part of the economic landscape during the Age of Sail.