The exact origins of the pirate flag are not known, yet its ancestry can be traced with a certain amount of accuracy. What is known about the pirate flag is that it was used mainly for intimidating enemies or victims. The pirate flag was meant to raise fear and dread. Besides the weapons and wicked intentions of pirates, the pirate flag was their best form of psychological warfare which added to their reputation. In the 16th century, the royal ships used to be painted with their national emblems for recognition but they sailed in squadrons or armada like forces. Other vessels did not benefit from such advantages and spotting an enemy at sea was a very hard job back then. Identification signs started being used in the medieval period and by the 17th and 18th centuries national symbols were stable enough to have identification charts and listings of flags for all known of maritime countries.
The term Jolly Roger is not just part of the movie arsenal, but it is derived from a number of sources. One is the claimed transformation of the French name, Jolie Rouge used for the French red pirate flag. Another possible explanation is given by the word Roger; in the 17th century the word rouge was used in England in relation with the rouge laws regarding vafrancy. The term Jolly Roger was used by pirates to name their pirate flag. Yet another explanation for the name given to the pirate flag is that it comes from the Old Roger, a phrase used to name the devil, thus Jolly Roger meaning the wrath of the devil represented through the pirate flag.
According to popular stories, every pirate flag showed a skull above two long bones or swords that were crossed. In reality there was a huge variety in what the pirate flag is concerned. The first modification of the Jolly Roger was mentioned in 1700, when a French pirate flew a black flag decorated with the picture of a skull, crossed bones and an hourglass. Following 1700, other emblems were more often associated with piracy and the pirate flag while different symbols came to be connected with individual pirate captains.
Anyway of all the symbols that have been in existence for piracy, the most common one for the pirate flag was that of the skull, the symbol of death, usually associated with the two long crossed bones or swords. Other symbols that were placed on the pirate flag in time were: complete skeletons, swords, spears, hourglasses, hearts, initials, wings and raised glasses. The dancing skeletons on the pirate flag was also a reference to death: dancing a jig with death, which meant that pirates didn’t care about their fate.