Sissy Pirate: "Uh, captain? Captain? I know we usually bury the treasure, but what if, this time, we use it to buy things? You know... eh... things we like?"
Captain: (shoots him, then looks at his other men, who furiously begin digging a hole)
"Ahhr! We'll dig up the treasure in seven yarr. I've drawn a map on this cracker, which Polly will hold for safe keepin'."
In media the goal of every pirate
is to plunder
shipping for the large wooden chests
overflowing with gold, jewels and other valuable trinkets invariably carried by every vessel on the high seas. Mundane cargoes carried in the ships' holds are completely ignored as cackling buccaneers make off with their ill-gotten riches, which they then buried or hid in a cave on a remote island, with only a Treasure Map
to remind them of the location.
The reality of piracy was a lot more pragmatic. Food, fresh water, weapons and ammunition, timber, ropes, and sails were all of more immediate value to the corsair than a chest full of gold (which, if they ever got any, would promptly be spent
on food, fresh water, weapons and ammunition, timber, ropes, and sails, with what was left going to drinking and whoring before they got caught and hanged). These things kept their ships and crews operating outside the reach of the law. In addition, very few cargo vessels carried that kind of wealth. Those that did were warships sailing in groups with enhanced security to fend off any pirates that might attempt an attack. (Certain, more mundane-looking cargoes, mind, might be more valuable than we would think of today - fabrics, spices, and certain items made only in certain parts of the world.)
Furthermore, pirate ships probably didn't have space for huge chests: real pirate ships were often very small and fast, although a few of the more successful and grandiose pirate captains got quite big ships.
Pirates sustained themselves and their vessels by using supplies and cargoes plundered from their victims and selling what they had no use for. This provided the coin for obtaining things they couldn't steal, paying their crews and spending a raucous night enjoying the pleasures of a seedy port.
But as they say, behind every story is a grain of truth. The idea of pirate gold most likely arose from the "Treasure Fleets" used by Spain to transport large amounts of gold and silver, among other goods, plundered from Mexico and South America. Even today, sunken treasure ships are highly sought after by modern treasure hunters. Additionally, the passengers
on ships typically carried money in the form of gold or silver, in small quantities.
The greatest amount of pirate treasure is said to be on the Swedish island Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Though obviously not the Caribbean type of pirates, generations of vikings buried treasure from their raids
to eastern Europe and the Black Sea there.
See also Inexplicable Treasure Chests
what be buried on a Desert Island
in The Spanish Main
And naar, this be nothin' to do with tryin' to get yer hooks on a Pirate Girl
's "hidden treasure", ye parrrrvarrrrt.
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Anime and Manga
- The title of One Piece actually refers to the fortune of legendary Pirate Gold Roger.
- Though the exact nature of this "fortune" is arguably the greatest mystery in the series. It's merely the prestige of having been the only one since Roger to make it to the end of the world that will make whoever finds it the pirate king. In all likelihood, the actual TREASURE as in silver and gold aspect of the One Piece is probably rather meagre. Speculations on what it could be range from a single piece of eight (It is ONE piece, after all) to a one piece bathing suit that Roger was fond of.
- "Arguably", nothing. Oda has gone on record saying that the real meaning behind the name "One Piece" is his best-kept secret. The only real hints we get about what it actually is come from Whitebeard, who seems to imply that it does have genuine importance (ruling out the sillier or purely symbolic theories), but it is probably not the "silver and gold" kind of treasure either (at least not completely).
- There are however other instances of Pirate booty that more fit into the cliche. Nami spent ten years collecting booty stolen from pirates to try and buy back her village from the pirates who had occupied it, only to have it taken by corrupt marines when she almost had enough.
- The sky island arc is driven by the search for treasure as well, and after saving the entire island from civil war and evil overlords with god complexes, the Straw Hats decide to steal a whole bunch of treasure from those people they just saved and make off in the night. Made hilarious by the fact that as they made their escape, they were pursued by the sky islanders who they thought were trying to stop them, but were instead attempting to give them a huge golden pillar worth many times that of the loot they'd stolen. To show their appreciation. The islanders eventually gave up and let the Straw Hats think they were being all evil and piratey, much to Robin's amusement (she was the only one who knew)
- In general, this trope is mostly averted as, while pirates do focus on treasure a lot, they're equally keen on spending it. The only two who really value treasure for its own sake are Nami (who has an obvious Money Fetish) and Buggy (and it's implied that that tendency is a big part of why he's so weak compared to his former Heterosexual Life Partner Shanks).
- An episode of Transformers Headmasters revolved around the Autobots and Decepticons trying to get a massive stockpile of energy hidden on a Space Pirate Planet.
- Justified in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, as the pirates are waiting to spend the treasure until they are uncursed. Heck, averting this trope is the very reason they have a problem to begin with, because they spent all of the treasure immediately after finding it, and thus have to go around recollecting all of the coins that comprised it to lift the curse.
- In The Goonies, Mikey finds a Treasure Map leading to the "rich stuff" of legendary pirate One-Eyed Willy.
- In Treasure of Swamp Castle, the MacGuffin of the film is the treasure.
- In Treasure Planet, obviously central to the plot.
- Parodied in The Pirates: Band of Misfits, with a montage in which the Pirate Captain tries to plunder ships for their gold, only to discover that the ship in question is not worth stealing from (among them he runs into a plague boat and ghost ship).
- Played with in Disney's 1954 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. During the extended diving scene, Ned Land and Conseil find a chest full of treasure in a sunken ship and try to take it before they are almost attacked by a shark. When Ned complains about it afterward Nemo angrily tells him that the purpose of the dive was to collect food, and then proceeds to reveal that he does in fact collect treasure... because he uses it for ballasts.
- Battle Beyond the Stars. Although he's a Professional Killer rather than a pirate, we're introduced to Gelt sitting on a luxurious throne surrounded by overflowing chests of jewels. The irony is that he's living in poverty, as he can't risk going to a civilized planet to spend his wealth, having made so many enemies.
- Possibly the Trope Maker (in fiction at least) in the 1824 short story "Wolfert Webber" by Washington Irving which - like Poe's "The Gold Bug" - is about Kidd's buried treasure. Robert Louis Stevenson acknowledged "Wolfert Webber" as the promary inspiration for Treasure Island.
- One of the first stories to feature buried Pirate Booty was "The Gold-Bug" by Edgar Allan Poe, in which the treasure in question is actually Kidd's. Naturally, being a Poe story, madness is involved somewhere. Poe also uses the story to discuss how to crack a substitution cypher.
- The most famous story of Pirate Booty, and indeed Pirates in general, is of course Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
- James Bond
- Live and Let Die deals with pirate treasure discovered in Jamaica, which is being smuggled piece by piece into the States by Mr. Big.
- In Thunderball, the SPECTRE members residing in Bahamas are there under the guise of searching for sunken pirate treasure.
- The Deep by Peter Benchley (made into a film in 1977) has divers discovering a WW2 ship containing a cargo of morphine, which has sunk on top of a Spanish treasure ship that went down in the 18th century holding a priceless royal dowry. When a local drug kingpin takes an interest, the protagonists have to buy him off by salvaging the morphine while concealing what their real area of interest is.
- Like every other piratical trope, this one is used (and parodied) in George MacDonald Fraser's comedy novel The Pyrates.
- Possibly averted in Redwall; the corsairs seem to do it For the Evulz, spending less time on treasure than on capturing slaves and randomly slaughtering everything in sight. Used in Pearls of Lutra because Emperor Ublaz is specifically telling them to bring back loot for him.
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea depicts Captain Nemo as salvaging sunken treasure. He justified it by saying that the treasure's former owners had been dead for centuries.
- In the splendid Tim Powers novel, On Stranger Tides, Blackbeard is doing this so that he can unearth it after he's killed and he uses the resurrection ritual he learned at the Fountain of Youth to return to life minus his criminal record.
- In "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", it's speculated that Obed Marsh had found some sort of pirate treasure through which he acquired immense wealth. The reality is much worse...
- Played straight twice in Swallows and Amazons:
- In the first book Titty hears burglars hiding Captain Flint's old sea chest on Cormorant Island. The treasure turns out to be the typescript of the Captain's memoirs, which is valuable to him but worthless to the thieves.
- In Peter Duck the treasure turns out to be a small chest containing a collection of pearls. Valuable enough for a couple of seamen to want to steal and hide, but not an improbable amount of wealth.
Live Action Television
- The reality game show Pirate Master. There wasn't any plundering involved, but all they really did was look for treasure.
- Justified in the Doctor Who episode The Curse of the Black Spot — the pirate in question was Henry Every, one of the very few pirates to actually get his hands on a cargo of gold and jewels (and the episode even specified that it was the Mughal's treasure).
- The Bones episode "The Man with the Bone" was based on the Oak Island Money Pit, rumoured to be a burial place of some of Captain Kidd's treasure (or maybe Blackbeard's, or possibly the lost Templar fleet, or maybe...).
- The song "Pirates" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which squeezes just about every pirate movie cliche ever into 13 minutes.
- NB The remix version on the Return of the Manticore box set has better sound quality than the original.
- Scottish pirate-metal band Alestorm.
- Dead Man’s Chest/Derelict. “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
- Subverted plenty of times in the Monkey Island series. In The Secret of Monkey Island the treasure of Melee island turned out to be a t-shirt that said that you found it, and in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge the McGuffin the Big Whoop turned out to be a worthless ticket for an amusement park. Though actually, it was later revealed that the Big Whoop was the entrance to hell, where LeChuck became an immortal Ghost/Zombie/Demon.
- In Skies of Arcadia, some can be seen in Pirate's Isle.
- Later subverted. The great Air Pirate Daccat's treasure, hidden at the end of a cave of traps that requires at least two people to get through, turns out to amount to a single coin minted by him and a note to the effect that whoever found it already has the greatest treasure of all: The Power of Friendship. As Vyse puts it, "He probably spent it all while he was alive. You can't take it with you, you know." Ironically, you can sell the coin for quite a bit of money.
- Averted in Sid Meier’s Pirates!, where you mainly raid for cargo, especially sugar, for later resale in ports. However, the other "Top 10 Pirates" all have buried treasures hidden throughout the Caribbean. The manual lampshades and discusses this: an excerpt from "Captain Sydney"'s memoirs points out the problems with burying treasure ("Seems to me that every time they buried their treasure, along'd come some blasted thief to dig it up and steal it."), while another sidebar discusses the historical accuracy, or lack thereof, of buried treasure. The latter sidebar is even titled "Robert Louis Stevenson Has a Lot to Answer For".
- The Age of Pirates series averts the trope in the same way. While you can certainly find treasure hordes and ships with substantial sums of gold and silver aboard, the majority of your income will be from the regular cargo aboard your targets—as well as from selling the ships themselves if you're able to take them as prizes in combat. Also, this will likewise be a good source for obtaining vital supplies like food, repair materials, and rum. Especially rum.
- Similarly, the online game Puzzle Pirates has pieces of eight as the main currency, which is also dispensed as treasure following pillage. On the other hand, winning shipboard fights also entitles you to cannonballs, rum, and even pineapples and other produce. A little bit of trope, a little bit of truth.
- In Monster Hunter Tri one of the items found in the best treasure location is literally Pirate Booty, it sells for as much as a golden egg though.
- The PC game Crimson Skies has the first few missions centering around Sky Pirate Nathan Zachary attempting to retrieve the lost treasure of Sir Francis Drake. He and his crew end up having to battle a rival pirate gang, the Medusas, and the British Royal Navy who also want the treasure for themselves.
- Most of treasure in Dubloon can be found by digging, with varying levels of invisibility.
- The missing man in Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull has been searching for pirate treasure. If you're playing the Collector's Edition, the Master Detective actually finds it still stashed in a locked cabin on one of Captain Crown's ships.
- Parodied in Caribbean Hideaway, where the following exchange takes place in the text intro to Chapter 3.
: Why do pirates always hide their treasures in caves
? I'm glad Captain Caninbahl is smart enough t' invest a percentage of our swag. Planky
: Squawk! Diversify yer portfolio! Squawk!
- Pirate Treasure is one of the unique treasures that can be found in the second [[Endless Ocean]] game. You find it in the Antarctic of all places, where the pirate captain had to dump it overboard to stay afloat.
- Edward Kenway can attack other ships on the high seas and plunder them for booty. Subverted in that only the largest ships (or heavily-guarded convoys) will actually have any gold on them. Instead, most of the profit comes from the mundane cargo of sugar and rum that Edward can sell, or from plundered wood, metal, and cloth that while can also be sold, is far more valuable in upgrading his own ship, the Jackdaw.
- The Simpsons:
- A brief sight gag shows that the Sea Captain pays his income tax in gold and jewels from a treasure chest. "Yarr, sometimes I wonder why I bother plunderin' at all."
- Parodied when Bart imagines that a pirate who inquires why the treasure should be buried instead of used is shot— see quote above.
- One episode of Futurama has a gag with Bender stealing a chest of swag from a pirate-themed parallel universe.
- One episode of the Donkey Kong Country cartoon brought Scurvy and his crew into the plot by having them trying to find some treasure they buried on Kongo Bongo's beaches. It turns out burying treasure is part of the code, article and section and everything.
- Shows up on Jimmy Two-Shoes, when Lucius accidently digs it up.
- After becoming obsessed with finding the buried treasure of the Flying Dutchman in a board game, Mr. Krabs has Sponge Bob Square Pants and Patrick go looking for the real thing. They do, and the Flying Dutchman is pleased because he had forgotten where he had buried it, and they saved him the trouble of finding it and digging it up. So he rewards them with two gold doubloons. When Mr. Krabs protests that he's The Captain and therefore deserves a reward (even though he didn't do anything), F.D. gives him a plastic treasure chest.
- The only pirate known to have actually buried his treasure was Captain William Kidd, who buried a portion of his wealth on, of all places, Long Island, in an attempt to use it as a bargaining chip to avoid punishment for his piracy. It didn't work. (Hey, Long Island is a very nice place to live!)
- On the rare occasions where a pirate did manage to get their hands on massive piles of gold and silver, they generally wound up becoming quite famous. For example, Francis Drake earned a knighthood and status as one of the founding heroes of the British Empire, largely by stealing Spanish treasure. Tons of it. Of course, he didn't bury it; he took it back to England. Where, predictably, most of his crew spent their shares of the treasure on drinking and whoring, also known as "the fun way" of putting said treasure into your sponsor nation's economy.
- Piet Hein became a Dutch folk hero for capturing a Spanish treasure fleet during the Eighty Years' War. A popular song about him notes that 'his name is small, but his deeds are great!'
- Just fresh from the headlines: certain US company lifted from the seafloor the load of early XIX-Century Spanish frigate sank by English privateers, worth about half a billion USD. The Spanish government went to courts, arguing that it's their gold (for added fun, one of the other claimants — who were quick to jump in for the cash — was Peru, apparently as the source of Spanish colonial gold). It seems this is not the first time something like this happens; Spaniards, as it seems, won this time, so, before finding an old treasure, best make sure nobody can track their lineage to original owners. Salvage laws can be so incomprehensibly torturous that there are several very valuable wrecks whose locations are known today that have not been recovered because the value of the booty would be offset by legal fees.
- A Letter of Marque is basically a government license to plunder and act like a pirate - so long as you only do it to the enemies of the nation that gave it to you. It's even explicitly authorized in the US Constitution! Though, spoil-sports in the 19th century agreed not to authorize them any more, and it is considered a war crime today.