Brief history of Skull and Bones a.k.a. Jolly Roger
Sailors (together with representatives of other occupations) mostly associate a symbol of Skull and Crossbones with the Jolly Roger, the flag which pirates would fly to identify their ships. However, with the origins tracing back thousands of years, from Egypt to Nepal, used by various religions, usurped by early Christianity, but at the same time used on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, woven into legends about kings and knights, used as interior decoration, as a sign to warn about the danger, and the item to evoke spiritual energies, seen in pop culture, arts, music, military, and sports, the macabre motif of Skull and Crossbones seems to be one of the most multifaceted of all symbols when it comes to its history. And here is why.
BACK TO ORIGINS
The symbol's origin is not clear, but it is believed that it was first depicted a few thousand years back in ancient Egypt, and you definitely have seen it before. We have in mind the coffin of King Tutankhamun, holding Crook & Flail crossed on his chest - sacred emblems of Osiris, the god of the afterlife, whom the King becomes after death. Reminds of something, right?
Picture 1: Coffin of King Tutankhamun, 1341-1323 BC. Image – richardcassaro.com
Picture 2: Bronze statue of Osiris, the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Image – Wikipedia
Some authors argue that the origin of the Skull and Crossbones can be even older; as old as the symbol which is now commonly known as the Chi-Rho - so-called because it is composed of the Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P). There is no common agreement what is the origin of this symbol - the Christians claim that the Chi-Rho is the monogram of Christ, as X and P are the first two letters of the Greek word "Christòs" or Christ. When this monogram was placed on a tombstone, it meant a Christian was buried there.
Picture 3: Chi Rho monogram on an altar. The second half of the 12th century, the Augustine convent of Montréjeau (Haute-Garonne, France). Image – Wikipedia
Other historians claim that the symbol can be found hundreds if not thousands of years before Christianity and was therefore usurped by them. But the fact is, that an identical symbol to the Chi-Rho has been found inscribed on rocks dating from 2,500 BC Sumeria, and was interpreted as “a combination of the two Sun-symbols”. The symbol is found in other ancient cultures, too: in the Indian culture, Lord Shiva and Goddess Kali wear a garland of skulls and bones in their severe forms. In Tibetan and Nepalese culture deities such as Kurukulla, also wear skull necklaces.
Picture 4: Relief image on the Tablet of Shamash, British Library room 55. Found in Sippar (Tell Abu Habbah), in Ancient Babylonia; it dates from the 9th century BC. Image – transcendenceworks.com
Picture 5: A Gilt Bronze Figure of deity Kurukulla, wearing a garland of severed heads, Tibet, 16th Century. Image – christies.com
THE BONE GATHERERS
Early Christians maintained one of the earliest and widest uses for the symbol. Toward the end of the Roman Empire, Christians frequently used the Skull and Crossbones to symbolize death. The symbol has been discovered in various Christian catacombs around Italy. Probably the most famous to this day are Roman catacombs - people of all the Roman religions were buried in them since the beginning of the 2nd century AD, mainly as a response to overcrowding and shortage of land. You see, from about the same 2nd century AD, inhumation (burial of unburnt remains) in graves or sarcophagi, often elaborately carved (for those who could afford that, of course), became more and more fashionable in Italy. By the 4th century, burial had surpassed cremation, and the construction of tombs had grown greater and spread throughout the empire. Christians also preferred burial to cremation because of their belief in bodily resurrection at the Second Coming.
At the same period first written mentions of saints whose bones became holy relics and were glorified, appears in various historical sources. Nicola Denzey in his book states that the first “victim” was a Roman bishop Cornelius, who was summarily decapitated in 253 AD when Christianity wasn’t as legal as nowadays. His remains were brought back to the city by a “blessed” (beata) Roman Christian woman Lucina. Lucina brought the bishop’s body to her lands that adjoined the public Christian Catacombs of Callixtus, and buried the pieces in her family crypt. She ordered his grave to be marked only with a simple marble slab and the Latin inscription “Cornelius, bishop, and martyr.” The stone exists still, unearthed from Rome’s soft soil in 1849.
We will come back to those bones several centuries later, so make yourself a cup of tea and keep on reading!
Picture 6: A relic from the Holy Catacombs of Pancratius, Rome, Italy. Image: zmescience.com
Picture 7: Chi Rho from The Catacombs of Saint Callixtus, Rome, Italy. Image: catacombe.roma.it
During Medieval times, the symbol of Skull and Crossbones was introduced by the Knights Templar. According to one Masonic legend, the Skull and Crossbones are the bones of Jacques de Molay: in an effort to seize the riches of the Templars, Pope Clement V ordered that the society must be disbanded. De Molay, the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights, was burned alive on Île aux Juifs, Paris, also called Île des Templiers, in 1312. When three Templars came looking for his bones, they found only his skull and femurs. It is believed that the skull and femurs of the last Grand Master became their nautical symbol – the Jolly Roger. If we take into account the fact that the Templars had the world’s biggest fleet in the 13th century, and that they were well known for acts that we would call “piracy” today, then there is no wonder.
There are more stories about this subject: Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln in their international bestseller “The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail” published 1982, tell a macabre legend of the Skull of Sidon. A great lady of Maraclea, who was loved by a Templar Lord of Sidon, died unexpectedly in her young years, and on the night of her burial, her lover crept to the grave, dug up her body and violated it. A voice from the void bade him return in nine months’ time for he would find a son. He obeyed this order and at the appointed time he opened the grave again to find a head on the leg bones of the skeleton - Skull and Crossbones, and he carried it away with him. It became Lords’ protecting genius, and he was able to defeat his enemies by merely showing them the magic head.
This tale can be traced back to a 12th-century author named Walter Mapp, and at the time of Templar Knights trials during 1307-1314 it was well woven into the Templar legend.
Picture 8: A Knight Templar grave at Kilmartin on the West Coast of Scotland. Image – Pinterest
Picture 9: A Knight Templar grave at Peebles, Scotland. Image – hiveminer.com
Picture 10. A Knight Templar grave, Polwarth Templar Headstone, Scotland. Image – hiveminer.com
However, Skull and Crossbones became a huge trend during the Late Middle Ages when the deathly horrors of the 14th century such as recurring famines, the Hundred Years' War in France, and, most of all, the Black Death, were culturally assimilated throughout Europe. The omnipresent possibility of sudden and painful death increased the religious desire for penance, but it also evoked a hysterical desire for amusement while still possible; the last dance as cold comfort.
That’s when an artistic genre of Danse Macabre (from the French language, Dance of Death, also known as la Danza de la Muerte in Spain and Totentanz in Germany) became popular in Europe. The Danse Macabre consists of a personification of death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and laborer. It was produced as memento mori (“remember death”), to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. The earliest recorded visual scheme was a now-lost mural at Holy Innocents' Cemetery in Paris dating from 1424 to 1425.
Nowadays examples of this genre can be found in the church frescos, paintings, and stained glass windows all across Europe, from Spain to Estonia.
Picture 11: The Danse Macabre mural in the Holy Trinity Church in Hrastovlje, Slovenia. Image – Wikipedia
In the late Middle Ages, the symbol became common as a symbol of death and a memento mori on tombstones. Tombstones from the 18th century in Southern Scotland fairly frequently feature Skull and Crossbones. But during that period the symbol could be spotted all around the world, and not only on gravestones – remember the popular Día de Los Muertos and Sugar Skulls (Calaveras) of Mexico. Traditional methods for producing Calaveras have been in use since the 15th century!
Picture 12: Memento Mori - Edinburgh, Scotland, Greyfriars Kirkyard. Image – eveandersson.com
Picture 13: An empty tomb of Fermin Antonio Mundaca y Marecheaga in Isla Mujeres, who considered himself a pirate. The tomb is still waiting for his owner, who went insane because of unhappy love and died alone in Merida, Mexico 1860. Image – isla-mujeres.net
Picture 14: Sugar skulls offered for sale in Mexico. Image – tomascastelazo.com
THAT’S NOT ALL FOLKS!
In case paintings of Danse Macabre were not macabre enough for you, we have something even spookier to tell about. Remember the bone gatherers from the beginning of this article? Oh well… Actual skulls and bones were long used to mark the entrances to Spanish cemeteries (Campo Santo). The practice, dating back many centuries, led to the symbol eventually becoming associated with the concept of death.
Picture 15: At Mission Santa Barbara, a religious outpost founded in California in 1786, stone Skull and Crossbone carvings denote the cemetery entrance. Image – Robert A. Estremo, 1986, Wikipedia
Today, an example of real human bones may be seen in various places. Let’s check a few of them:
Next to the oldest bakery of the capital of Croatia, Zagreb, on Demetrova street 3, there is a gate which is normally locked. But if you are lucky enough to get inside, you will see a mysterious board on the wall, with an inscription in German that says "Here lies Paul David von Vakanovich, died on June 21, 1818, in his fourth year of age." Among other numerous spooky legends, one of it says that initially little Paul was buried in the Jurjevska cemetery. But by his mother’s wish to have the tombstone in the backyard, the remains of the little fellow were later stolen and re-buried in the wall.
Picture 16: Little boys’ tombstone at Demetrova 3, Zagreb, Croatia. Image – licegrada.hr
A few decades earlier, in 1775 The Marquis de Sade wrote about this place: “I have never seen anything more striking”. Located at Via Veneto, Rome, Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini (Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins), is a church commissioned in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII. The crypt, located just under the church, was filled with the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars, who were exhumed and transferred from the friary Via dei Lucchesi to the crypt in 1631. The crypt now contains the remains of 4,000 friars buried between 1500 and 1870. The walls are decorated with the remains in elaborate fashion, making this crypt a macabre work of art. Could be dog heaven, huh?
Picture 17: Capuchin Crypt in Rome, Italy. Image – Wikipedia
It is said that the Capuchin Crypt had inspired two more similar places. One of them is the Sedlec Ossuary (Czech: Kostnice v Sedlci), which is a small chapel located near Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. The ossuary is estimated to contain the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, whose bones have been artistically arranged to form bizarre decorations and furnishings for the chapel in the form of chandeliers, a pyramid, crosses, and coats of arms. These weird installations are here since 1870, when František Rint, a woodcarver, put the bone heaps into order, yielding a macabre result.
Picture 18: The Skull and Crossbones symbol depicts the typical arrangement of skulls and femurs in ossuaries. Sedlec (Czech Republic). Image – czechtourism.com
Another church, which is said to be inspired by Capuchin Crypt, is The Skull Chapel (Polish: Kaplica Czaszek) located in the Czermna, Poland. Built in the last quarter of the 18th century, the temple serves as a mass grave with thousands of skulls and skeletal remains "adorning" its interior walls as well as floor, ceiling, and foundations. It is the mass grave of people who died during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), three Silesian Wars (1740–1763), as well as of people who died because of cholera epidemics, plague, syphilis, and hunger.
Picture 19: Interior of the Chapel of Skulls in Czermna, Poland. Image – Wikipedia
On the opposite side of Europe, built in the 16th century the Capela dos Ossos (English: Chapel of Bones) is one of the best-known touristic monuments in Évora, Portugal. It is a small chapel located next to the entrance of the Church of St. Francis. As you may figure it out by now, the Chapel gets its name because the interior walls are covered and decorated with human skulls and bones. A very common spirituality theme summed up in the motto memento mori, which is clearly shown in the famous warning at the entrance: Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos. (“We bones that here are, for yours await").
Picture 20: Capela dos Ossos, Évora, Portugal. Image – Wikipedia
Decorations in human bones were popular not only in Europe: we’ve mentioned Mexican Sugar Skulls already, but Central America was not only about this “dessert”. A Tzompantli, also called a skull rack, a wall of skulls or a skull banner was a scaffold-like construction of poles used for the public display of human skulls, typically those of war captives. Many of them have been documented throughout Mesoamerica between 600 – 1250 CE. However, in 2017 archeologists announced the discovery of the Huey Tzompantli, with more than 650 skulls, in the archeological zone of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City. This finding has raised new questions about the culture of sacrifice in the Aztec Empire after crania of women and children surfaced among the hundreds embedded in the forbidding structure: “We were expecting just men, obviously young men, as warriors would be, and the thing about the women and children is that you’d think they wouldn’t be going to war,” said Rodrigo Bolanos, a biological anthropologist investigating the find.
Picture 21: Huey Tzompantli - a fearsome tower of human skulls unearthed in Mexico City. Image – theyucatantimes.com
If you think that Aztecs were the only skull admirers in Central and Southern America, you are wrong - Basílica y Convento de San Francisco Monastery located in Lima, Peru contains catacombs filled with human bones, neatly organized to form geometric figures. It is estimated that 25,000 bodies were laid to rest in the catacombs, which served as a burial-place until 1808 when the city cemetery was opened outside Lima.
Picture 22: Catacombs in the basement of the San Francisco monastery of Lima, Peru. Image –Wikipedia
THE GOLDEN AGE OF PIRACY
In the early 17th century, “Jolly Roger” has been a term used for a cheerful, friendly fellow. It seems like that has nothing to do with the vicious and dangerous pirates and the flags that decorated their ships - the Skull and Crossbones symbol on a black background. So how and when did this term started to identify pirate flags?
Picture 23: The Pirate King. An 1880 drawing, attributed to N. Stretch. National Maritime Museum. Image – nytimes.com
There is no single answer to that question. Charles Johnson in his book about The Golden Age of Piracy “A General History of the Pirates” published in 1724, tells a story about the Pembrokeshire pirate Bartholomew Roberts, known as Barti Dhu or Black Barti, as his personal flag had a skeleton on a black background. Other pirates liked the design and copied it. Barti wore a red coat and the French nicknamed him “Le Joli Rouge”, which was corrupted into “Jolly Roger” and came to mean the flag rather than the person. Barti was a rather strait-laced sort of pirate who banned drinking on board, insisted on early nights for the crew and never attacked on Sunday. He was killed in an encounter with a Royal Navy ship in 1722, aged 40.
Another possibility is that English pirates in the Indian Ocean began to refer to the red flag of the Tamil pirate Ali Raja by his name and “Ally Roger” or “Olly Roger” was later corrupted to “Jolly Roger”.
And that’s not it - in a naval report from 1703, it was mentioned in regard to a pirate called John Quelch who was sailing under the “Old Roger” off the coast of Brazil. “Old Roger” was devil’s nickname, so presumably, this term was later modified to signify the grinding skull or skeleton in pirate flags – also a symbol of the devil (or death).
Another theory suggests a different etymology of the term: some scholars claim that it is based on the expression “Jolie Rouge” (“Pretty Red”). They base this conclusion on the fact that French privateers used a red flag on their boats. This can’t be proven because “Jolie Rouge” hasn’t been mentioned in any historical document regarding pirates.
It is also believed that the idea was borrowed from the designs on the flags of Barbary pirates (Ottoman corsairs) that used to operate under a green flag with a skull symbol. The black color of pirate flags suggests the Muslim black banner, but this is only a presumption.
The English word “roger”, meaning a vagabond rogue, may be another explanation. David Mitchell, in his book "Pirates", discusses this question and seems to prefer a derivation from Old Roger - a synonym for the Devil.
However one of the earliest reports of the Skull and Crossbones design being used by pirates date back to December 6th, 1687, in an entry in a log book held by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. It is said that this type of pirate flag was used on land instead on a ship: "And we put down our white flag, and raised a red flag with a Skull head on it and two crossed bones, and then we marched on."
A few years later, the design of the flag of Emanuel Wynn – an hourglass under the Skull and Crossbones – was described in the British Admiralty report from 18th July 1700. When the sailors on the British Navy ship H.M.S. Poole spotted a French pirate vessel off the Cape Verde islands, they chased it into a cove only for the pirates’ leader, Emanuel Wynn, to escape. The skirmish was recorded by the Poole’s captain, John Cranby, who included a description of the “crossbones, a death’s head and an hourglass” on the flag, and since then Emanuel Wynn is often credited as the first pirate to use the Jolly Roger.
Whoever was first, Jolly Roger was used during the 1710s by a number of famous pirate captains including Black Sam Bellamy, Edward England, and John Taylor. It went on to become the most commonly used pirate flag during the 1720s, although other designs were also in use.
Glen Nunes wrote a great article about the history of pirate flags, explaining the meaning of each symbol, such as raised glass meaning a toast to death and devil, naked figure – a pirate’s lack of shame, etc. The full article can be found here.
The key to the pirate flag design success was clarity of meaning, which is an essential element in every effective branding project, and any other form of communication design. Just as Nike’s “swoosh” logo makes us think of speed and the horse-drawn carriage in Hermès’s identity screams posh, the sight of a Skull and Crossbones on a ship’s flag signaled one thing to 18th-century sailors: terror.
Picture 24: Among the earliest pirates to put designs on their flags was the French pirate Emanuel Wynn. Eye-witnesses described a flag containing a skull, crossed bones and an hourglass being flown on Wynne's vessel around the year 1700. Image - Wikipedia
Picture 25: The flag designed by "Calico Jack" Rackham, an English pirate who was active during the early 1700s, was a variation on the basic Skull and Crossbones design, substituting two cutlass swords for the bones beneath the skull. Image - Wikipedia
And since it is not clear how the Skull and Crossbones came to be chosen or why the flag was named the “Jolly Roger,” but the symbol was a smart choice. Having signified death in many cultures for centuries, a Skull and Crossbones was instantly recognizable even in the lawless and illiterate world of the sea. Even 300 years later, modern-day pirates use the Skull and Crossbones, like, for example, in Somali, Honduras, etc.
Picture 26: Somalian flag combined with the black pirate image of Jolly Roger with cutlasses. Image – 123RF.com
"RAISE THE JOLLY ROGER MATE!"
Is it legal to fly the Jolly Roger on a boat these days? – You ask. Well, this will likely be dependent on where you are and how you are flying the flag, but regardless of the horrifying history of the symbol, it most probably wouldn’t be a serious offense.
In U.S. territorial waters there are no laws prohibiting the flying of the Jolly Roger or any other flags, or requiring any flags be flown.
Once you get onto the high seas, UNCLOS would apply, but seems like there are no laws regarding the Jolly Roger specifically, and most probably the greatest impact would be that a government (Navy, Coast Guard, etc.) vessel could use the flag as a pretense to board your vessel under suspicion of piracy and conduct a search.
Entering foreign waters will subject you to their laws, which may prohibit the display of the Jolly Roger and may also have other requirements for display of flags (e.g. you might be required to hoist a courtesy flag). If visiting a foreign port, it’s advisable to check regulations ahead.
All that being said, it is always advisable to follow proper flag etiquette, which can be found in detail in numerous sailing bibles such as "Chapman Piloting & Seamanship" – make sure you refer to the latest edition. Or simply browse RYA website for a shorter version.
If you choose to fly Jolly Roger, you should consider flying it from the port yardarm, since that is the lowest “point of honor”.
Picture 27: Jolly Roger flying in Alimos Marina, Athens, Greece in 2017. Image – TamedWinds.com
THE MOST FAMOUS SKULL IN THE WORLD
If Shakespeare pops to your mind first, you may be actually right, especially when there are so many intriguing, spooky, or even funny legends around it. The one we found on The Order of the Good Death page tells that in 1999, comedy legend Del Close left his skull to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, so that next time they do Hamlet, he could play Yorick.
However, we find Yorick's skull cliché these days. What truly intrigues us, are the legends of crystal skulls. There are very few legends that cross over cultures and times the way the crystal skull legends do. They are contemporarily shared by the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Native Americans and other indigenous people around the world. These legends have been handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years, which attests to their enduring power.
Critics protest that although many crystal skulls made of clear or milky white quartz are claimed to be pre-Columbian, none of the skulls in museum collections come from documented excavations. Research carried out on several crystal skulls at the British Museum from 1967 to 2004 shows that the indented lines marking the teeth were carved using jeweler's equipment (rotary tools) developed only in the 19th century, making a supposed pre-Columbian origin problematic.
However, there is one very special crystal skull, perhaps the most famous and enigmatic one. It was allegedly discovered in 1924 by Anna Mitchell-Hedges, adopted daughter of British adventurer F.A. Mitchell-Hedges. Anna claimed that she found the skull buried under a collapsed altar inside a temple in Lubaantun, in British Honduras (now Belize). The skull was made from a block of clear quartz about the size of a small human cranium, measuring some 5 inches (13 cm) high, 7 inches (18 cm) long and 5 inches (13 cm) wide, with a lower jaw detached.
Picture 28: The crystal skull at the British Museum, similar in dimensions to the more detailed Mitchell-Hedges skull. Image – Wikipedia
In the early 1970s, the skull came under the temporary care of art restorer Frank Dorland, who claimed upon inspecting it that it had been "carved" with total disregard to the natural crystal axis, and without any use of metal tools. Dorland reported being unable to find any tell-tale scratch marks, and he speculated that it was first chiseled into rough form, probably using diamonds, and the finer shaping, grinding, and polishing was achieved through the use of sand over a period of 150 to 300 years. He said it could be up to 12,000 years old. Later researchers revealed that it was fashioned from a single crystal of quartz, including the lower separate jaw.
Even if recent tests claimed that the skull was not that ancient, and F.A. Mitchell-Hedges letter to his brother was discovered, where he discloses his purchase of the skull at a Sotheby's auction in London on October 15, 1943, we love the opinion of British science fiction writer, futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host Sir Arthur C. Clark, who says that Mitchell-Hedges skull was probably used as a ritual object in frightening primitive people, and it’s been used in such a way as modern fear propaganda nowadays. This object probably had roots in some more technologically advanced but lost civilization, the one that we don’t know about anymore. But the biggest question remains the same: who made it and who used it? The only thing that we know for sure is that no one knows anything for sure.
The story of the mystery, myth, and magic of the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull is pictured in Richard M. Garvins’ book. Judy Hall, among other skulls, also describes this famous one in her book. For further reading about Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull, you can check the book by Alice Bryant and Phyllis Galde.
There are dozens of books, good and bad, about the subject. From Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World to adventures on Indiana Jones; from spiritual journeys inspired by Himalayan crystal skulls to the story of a man who invented an entire category of archaeological artifact: the Aztec crystal skull. If you are a magician yourself and “work” with crystal skulls, it’s worth checking out the author Elizabeth Gardiepy – her neighbor gave her 5 stars in a review! And if you believe that you can use the energies and characteristics of skulls for personal growth, you may like a book by Jaap van Etten, Ph.D. Some authors witness healings, spiritual awakenings and life-changing encounters caused by crystal skulls, others believe in their connection with the UFOs, and, believe us or not, some say it has something to do with baby Jesus! If all those conspiracy theories are not enough for you, there are several novels, too. Like the one by Craig D. Burrus, one of a few by Chris Morton, or those two by Mr. Wayne Richard Lewis.
Choose a couple of them and try to find out the “real” true by yourself!
Pictures by Amazon
SKULL AND CROSSBONES IN MODERN DAYS
Today, the Skull and Crossbones is a globally popular symbol. Besides being used as a fashion template, it also symbolizes any form of resistance against authorities. It even became a symbol of a political party (The Pirate Party). In this age of “Internet piracy,” this flag can be seen everywhere in the realm of the “World Wide Web.”
Picture 29: The poster of the Fashion Week event “Fashion Infection 2019”, Vilnius, Lithuania. Image – TamedWinds.com
In 1829, New York State Law was changed to require that all containers of poisonous substances be labeled. The Skull and Crossbones first illustrated those labels in 1850. Skull and Crossbones have become an icon of the sign and labeling industry throughout the globe, as the fearsome symbol generally keeps people away from hazardous substances and reduces the risk of poisoning, infection, or other deadly hazards.
Picture 30: A skull and crossbones warning about dangerous voltage in Mumbai, India. Image – Wikipedia
Picture 31: Skull and crossbones, a common symbol for poison and other sources of lethal danger. Image – Wikipedia
The Skull and Crossbones were first adopted by a sports team in 1870. Already popular among many football teams and fans in Great Britain, the Skull and Crossbones was officially adopted by The Rugby Unions in 1870. In 1876, it was added for a brief period to the Cardiff Rugby Football Club’s uniforms (but later removed due to pressure from players’ parents).
Picture 32: Barbarians FC, April 1891. Image – Wikipedia
The emblem featuring Skull and Crossbones has been (and still is nowadays) in variations used by several military forces all around the world, for example, Los húsares de la Muerte (The Death Hussars) in Chile, or French aircrafts of World War I. It was featured on caps of German armies, and later on the pattern was adapted for the Nazi SS service. In World War II it became common practice for the submarines of the Royal Navy to fly the Jolly Roger on completion of a successful combat mission; nowadays the Jolly Roger is the emblem of the Royal Navy Submarine Service. In the Estonian War of Independence, the Skull and Crossbones were symbols of Kuperjanov's Partisan Battalion. The 2nd Lancers Regiment of the Portuguese Army also uses the Skull and Crossbones as a symbol and "Death or Glory" as a motto. During the Russian Civil War, the troops of the White Kornilov Division wore patches emblazoned with a Skull and Crossbones above a pair of crossed swords. In the former Yugoslavia, the Skull and Crossbones was a prominent symbol used by the paramilitaries known as the Chetniks and Ustashas during WWII and the Yugoslav Wars.
Iraq, Israel, Finland, Brazil, Italy, Spain, Syria, The Philippines, former Prussia – all these countries had a Skull and Crossbones used by their military forces at some point of time. However, the Jolly Roger symbol became most trendy, and to be honest, overused in the US, as it could be found on more than a hundred variations of military emblems and insignias.
Picture 33: Insignia of the Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion of Estonian Land Forces since 1918. Image – Wikipedia
We were tempted to look into the infamous Skull and Bones secret society which has been a part of the Yale University since 1832, joined by Bush Senior and Junior, as well as many other extremely powerful individuals, but decided to stay away from the world of conspiracy theories. What interests us is their emblem - a Skull and Crossbones with the number “322” beneath it. The number is generally taken to refer to the year (322 BCE) of the death of the Greek orator Demosthenes, a turning point in the transformation of ancient Athens from democracy to plutocracy.
Picture 34: The prestigious, secret society named as the 'Skull and Bones Society' was formed by the students at Yale University. Image – mysafetysign.com
The Skull and Crossbones are depicted on covers of albums and singles by a series of artists of different musical genres, including rock, punk, heavy metal, jazz, thrash metal, electronica, and indie. The image was very frequently used by Guns N’ Roses, it was featured on probably every album by Motörhead and Viking Skull. It is a common image of American hip-hop group Cypress Hill and rock band Grateful Dead. Mötley Crüe even released a box set in a shape of a Knight Templar grave featuring Skull and Crossbones, and The Pirates had a logo in a shape of skull and crossed guitars. Watts, Slash, Aerosmith, Metallica, Kix, Krokus, and many others used the image of Skull and Crossbones in various artistic forms. By the way, a record label called “Jolly Roger Records” exists in Italy.
Although if not all of these music bands above are on our playlist, there are a couple of rare finds, which, we hope, will make a nice addition to your personal collections.
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The symbolism of the Skull and Crossbones has inspired and fascinated many artists all around the world. From Bernardo Germán de Llórente to Andy Warhol, from Vincent van Gogh to Charles Allan Gilbert. The image of Skull and Bones was admired all around the world - from walls in German burger houses to mosaics decorating ancient Pompeian villas.
Picture 35: Artist Damien Hirst is well known for his affinity for human skulls. This particular skull is shown covered with 8,601 diamonds and is estimated to be worth over $50 million. Image – Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd via Getty Images
Picture 36: "Skulls," 1976 by Andy Warhol. Image – huffpost.com
Picture 37: Vincent van Gogh "Skull with a Burning Cigarette", 1885-1886. Image – Wikipedia
Picture 38: Plague panel with the triumph of death. 1607–35, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany. Image – Wikipedia
These days those once-terrifying motifs appear on baby clothing, video games, Japanese manga cartoons, pets’ blankets, and countless kitschy trinkets, and the pirate's brand identity has been reinvented as a symbol of mischief with barely a hint of menace. Presenting in different manifestations across various traditions through the centuries, the Skull and Crossbones is nevertheless a universal message that every human dies.
Picture 39: a t-shirt, featuring the skull from TamedWinds.com t-shirt shop, Paris, France, 2019. Image – TamedWinds.com
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