'Pirates' hold enormous popular appeal as swashbuckling rogues performing feats of daring on high seas. Yet 'pirates' possess deeper meanings as they undertake a rich variety of cultural work: as allegories of religious and political issues; as actors in the theatre of empire; in terms of gendered behaviour, national, legal and racial identitites. Even the application of the term itself is contested since one person's 'pirate' is another 'privateer'. The new, inter-disciplinary essays in this collection work together to show how various, and how important, were the figures of the 'pirate', the 'corsair', the 'buccaneer' and the 'privateer' in the years 1550-1650. This period is one of the most lively in maritime history as it marks the beginning of the Age of Empire when, for example, the English nation seriously attempted, for the first time, to express ambitions for an empire to rival that of Spain and Portugal in the West and the Ottomans in the East. The discussions of the politics of plunder in this book by noted historians, lawyers, and literary scholars, provide an illuminating, previously neglected window on the cultural meanings of 'pirates' at the start of the Age of Empire.