The famous pirate flag known as the Jolly Roger was just one of many flags flown on pirate ships. The Jolly Roger is well known for the skull and crossed bones shown on the flag. No one knows exactly where the Jolly Roger pirate flag got its name.
Some believe that the Jolly Roger came from the French words joli rouge meaning "beautiful red." Many pirates would fly a joli rouge blood-red pennant. This pennant would show the opposing ship its intentions, which was in fact a deadly one. This red pennant was also called the "quarter" which in pirate terms, meant no mercy would be shown to the opposing ship. Soon the Jolly Roger was flown along with or instead of the red pennant.
These joli rouge pennants and the Jolly Roger flag were both flown to strike terror into any passing ship. This flag would often feature skulls, full skeletons, daggers, swords and even bleeding hearts. Jolly Roger flags were often black in color but white and red were also flown. It is believed that the first Jolly Roger flag was flown in the 1700s. The crossed bones symbol was found on crucifixes in cemeteries and borrowed by pirates as their symbol. This symbol was often engraved below Jesus on the cross and was symbolic of the death that Jesus triumphed over. The crucifixion site, known as Glogotha was translated from Greek to mean "the skull."
Once the skull and crossed bones became representative of the threat of pirates, it was no longer used under Jesus on the crucifix.
Jolly Roger flags sometimes had symbols other than the skull and crossed bones. An hourglass meant that your time was running out, while an arm bearing a dagger meant, we are ready to kill you. A long spear on a flag will held the meaning of, a violent death awaits you, and a bleeding heart will mean that a slow and painful death awaits you. These flags were used as a scare tactic that often worked. Other ships would see the flag and give up all their prized goods and treasure held on board to avoid the threat of the Jolly Roger pirates.