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In this article, Kirill Nazarenko analyzes the brothel in the series Black Sails.
Hello! Today's topic is quite juicy. Let's start with an analysis of those episodes of the Black Sails series that are dedicated to the oldest profession, namely scenes in a brothel and scenes with ladies of the night. Also, we will try to consider the economics of this process in the context of the economy of the Caribbean islands in the early 18th century.
I liked the Black Sails series itself, outwardly it makes a good impression, although women's costumes belong more to the second half of the 18th century than to the first. But, in any case, both men’s and women’s outfits fall into the 18th century, which is far from often the case with film production in general.
Let me remind you that we are talking about the fact that in episodes 4-8 a team of pirates captures a brothel. They kill its owner and then forge a bill of sale that proves that the deceased sold his establishment to corsairs. But there are a few "stretches" here.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. The pirate Rackham with a bill of sale in his hands
Firstly, the paper that the corsair pirate Rackham hands out to the pimp of this brothel in the Black Sails series is not a bill of sale even from the inside.
Legal documents in the 18th century were drawn up on fairly large sheets of paper, the format of which approached the A3 format, if not more. Therefore, such a piece of paper in A5 format could hardly be a bill of sale.
In addition, there was one big problem with the bill of sale — such papers had to be certified by some legal structures. In the UK, justices of the peace or notaries could do this, in continental Europe, it could be lawyers, in Russia it was government bodies, but in any case, the bill of sale must be certified.
Although, perhaps, the corsairs of the series "Black Sails" found some seedy notary who helped them forge this deed. Clearly, the population in these Caribbean towns was small and everyone knew everyone, so it was impossible to compose some non-existent notary.
Further, I have some doubts about the interest rate. The pimp says that she received 3% from the previous owner of the establishment, and this is very little. That's the 40% that Rackham promises, which is a normal share.
Moreover, speaking about the prices in this institution of the "Black Sails" series, one of the girls says that she served the client for 5 piastres, and the other accuses her of the fact that the price of this service is 20 piastres, so the first young lady either hid the money or out of kindness did not take the full amount. Let's first understand what piastres are.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. Piasters
Piasters are thalers, a name that was widely used in Southern Europe and Turkey, so the real name of this coin is thaler. Thalers began to be minted at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century in the Czech Republic. Their name comes from the word "Joachimstal", that is, the valley of St. Joachim or the valley of St. Efim, and joachimsthaler is something that comes from the valley of St. Joachim.
The modern dollar is nothing more than a thaler, just with a modified part. This coin weighed quite a lot, about 27 g of pure silver, and the diameter of this coin was about 5 cm, that is, it was quite thick. The piastres themselves were beautiful; the profile of the king was usually placed on the front side. Medal art in the 16th-17th centuries, of course, stood at its best, and for monarchs, placing their portrait on a coin was the most important means of propaganda.
When there were no Internet, television, radio, or newspapers, people learned that some kind of king rules their country from two sources: decrees that were hung somewhere in the city center or read by heralds, but the main source of knowledge about the ruler was a coin.
That is, everyone who took this silver round in their hands understood for sure that this or that king rules the country, whose portrait he sees, and whose name is written around this portrait. There could be different images on the back of the thaler, but very often the denomination was not indicated at all until the 18th century, because the size and material of the coin itself were quite characteristic.
By the way, the fact that in modern England they continue to issue coins of various shapes is because at one time the shape of the coin was one of the main sources of information about its denomination, and the denomination was not put on it. There was no denomination on the thaler, so the coin was called differently. In Russia, she was called "Efimok", in France, she could be called "Ecu", in Spain — "Escudo".
The thaler itself was a large coin, and to give an idea of how large a coin it was, I can give you a few numbers. Let's say a soldier in the 17th century received 12 thalers a year. It is clear that, firstly, it was a low soldier's position, and, secondly, the soldier also received a uniform, and food, the soldier was placed in the barracks or an apartment, that is, all this had to be somehow taken into account. Nevertheless, 12 thalers a year is what the soldiers received.
If we take, say, the salary of an officer, then a junior officer could receive up to 300 thalers a year, that is, 25 thalers a month. And it was still possible to go to a girl of easy virtue for 5 thalers per session once a month, but 20 thalers are some kind of absurd amount.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. The brothel scene
If one session cost 20 thalers and if the girls kept at least 25% of what they earned from the corsairs' money, then this meant that for one client she received 5 thalers. Well, then it had to be a super rich person and, probably, there were prostitutes of this kind, but they were already called differently, they, apparently, were the lover of some rich and noble people.
If we talk about other professions, then, say, a sailor in the UK in the military or merchant fleet received 60–80 piastres per year, but this is if he was on the voyage. That is, it is clear that if he spent part of the year on the shore, then he received less. In France, a sailor received about 25 thalers a year, but there was food.
If we take the income of an artisan, let's say a shoemaker or a tailor, who had a small workshop and worked with his family, his income could be 200–300 thalers a year, but he could hardly spend all this income on himself and his family, because this money had to be spent on consumables, on lighting his workshop, on tools, and so on.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. Artisans and merchants of the 18th century
You can also look at food prices. One thaler could buy a loaf of white bread, about a kilogram of brisket, a mug of beer, a roast chicken, a suckling pig, and there would still be some money left for a side dish. All this stuff could feed 3–4 people, so thaler is serious money. I think that one thaler would have been quite enough for the girl for her services, even if she was such a good professional.
If we talk about clothes, for example, it was possible to fully dress in high-quality solid clothes of a professional sailor for about 6–7 thalers. Moreover, this would include not only a shirt, trousers, stockings, shoes, a hat, and a neckerchief, but also two bastroga, that is, two jackets: a linen light jacket at the bottom and a cloth jacket at the top. Moreover, it would be new, high-quality, and durable clothing that would serve its owner for more than one year.
If we talk about clothes made of colored cloth or velvet, then they could cost much more. Let me remind you that, say, a cloth caftan, trousers, and a camisole could cost somewhere between 20–25 thalers, even if they were made of medium-quality cloth. And if it was a velvet set of clothes, and velvet in those days was only made of silk thread and cost 20 times more than cloth, then a caftan, camisole, and velvet pants would cost about 500 thalers. A person in such a caftan could only be a general, admiral, minister, or very rich merchant.
By the way, I remind you that at the beginning of the 18th century, the military did not yet have a uniform in Europe, and the same generals wore a variety of clothes. European admirals and naval officers acquired uniforms even later, if the land officers in the 10-20s of the XVIII century, then the naval officers of European countries received uniforms in the 50-80s of the XVIII century.
So at the beginning of the century, it was quite difficult to distinguish a sovereign from a simple sailor and one had to resort to various additional details, for example, officer scarves that were worn on the belt or over the shoulder. And, say, in England, a red silk scarf was so important that it was worn by officers.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. Clothes of officers officer's scarf
A soldier could be distinguished by equipment. If a cartridge bag and a sword were hanging on him, and a gun with a bayonet was in his hands, then it was clear that this was a soldier.
By the way, do not be surprised at this, any skirmishes of armed groups until the beginning of the 18th century began with an attempt to call out to each other and find out which side you are on. Therefore, in each army, there was a certain battle cry called the "password". This word meant a secret code for addressing the sentries so that they would understand that you were your own person.
But I have departed far from the frivolous subject with which we began. I liked the fact that the brothel in the Black Sails series looks like such a southern house with an open courtyard in the middle, with a wooden gallery that leads to the second floor. Because the normal housing in the Caribbean at that time, if it was a large house, was just such houses where all the rooms faced the courtyard, while the entrance led into the courtyard from the street, and the outer wall of the house could be deaf.
In this way, several problems were solved: the house was protected from the heat, and the rays of the sun, and by locking the gate leading to the courtyard, it was possible to hide from strangers. This type of house appeared in ancient Greece and has successfully existed to this day in Spain, in the countryside of Italy, and in Portugal. So it's very nice that the decorators built this courtyard the authors of the film used it.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. Outdoor courtyard with a wooden gallery
As for its furnishings and the general style of this brothel in the Black Sails series, different times are mixed there. For example, bright pink umbrellas with a large number of spokes that flash in the eighth series are Chinese or Japanese umbrellas that came into fashion in the second half of the 19th century and could hardly have taken place in the 18th century.
On the other hand, these small marble tables on a metal leg, at which visitors sit, are also most likely from the second half of the 19th century. It seems to me that in the 19th century, and especially at the beginning, in the Caribbean region, which was a deep province, wooden tables would look more organic. All this together gives such an interesting picture.
By the way, let's pay attention to one exact moment in the Black Sails series - the girl who makes excuses for having earned only 5 piastres, and not 20, swears by the body of the Lord, she is obviously a Catholic. This is a purely Catholic oath because the "feast of the Body of the Lord" itself was introduced by the popes in the 16th century during the reformation as one of the measures to combat information, to transform the Catholic Church. And a Protestant would never swear by the body of the Lord.
But it is clear that in Europe at that time there were quite a lot of mixed Catholics and Protestants, even in countries that have now become Catholic again, such as Hungary or Poland. The number of Protestants in the 16th - early 17th centuries was quite large, and in the Czech Republic they were generally in the majority. Nevertheless, then the Catholic Church was able to win back these positions.
As for Great Britain, there was a struggle against Catholics, but Catholics were constantly present in British society. In Ireland, they were in the majority. Even in Holland, which was considered a stronghold of Protestantism, the Catholic minority continued to exist. In countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Italy, it was almost impossible for Protestants to live, and very serious measures were taken against them. But since here the action takes place in Nassau, this is a Dutch possession, here the Catholics could still somehow breathe, and here is one of the young ladies of this brothel, an obvious Catholic.
The presence of ladies in this brothel of the Black Sails series is also very funny because you can see how the authors of the film are trying to establish such equality of people with different skin colors among the workers of this institution.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. A black girl
Again, I think that the quality of the contingent that works in this institution is exaggerated here. All the ladies there are quite young and pretty, but I'm afraid in reality they were less pretty for the modern eye. Moreover, the standards of female beauty have changed a lot.
The modern standard appeared quite late, after the Second World War, while in the 18th century there was an idea that a beautiful woman is a plump, large, strong, stately woman.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. 18th century standard of female beauty
At that time, white skinniness was highly valued, so the slightest tan was perceived as a sign of low origin, and dark-skinned people were generally losing in this sense. An umbrella, as a women's accessory, therefore appeared, because sunbathing was not accepted and was generally harmful. Whiteness was very much in honor, and in this sense, dark-skinned young ladies would clearly lose. Of course, they could be in this brothel, but they had to be in very low positions and their services had to be priced very cheaply.
However, here the Black Sails series inevitably sins, as well as in terms of beards for men and for corsairs. I have already said that a beard was an almost unthinkable attribute in men at the beginning of the 18th century, but, nevertheless, a lot of the heroes of the film wear these beards.
Also, a short haircut for men was impossible, however, some of the characters have short haircuts. Only those who constantly wore wigs or caps could cut their hair short or shave their heads. At the beginning of the 18th century, rather long hair was considered a sign of male beauty and health. It is said that Louis XIV invented the wig because he began to go bald, and baldness was considered an extremely unpleasant acquisition in a man's life, and it had to be carefully hidden.
Now let's see in what environment these great establishments existed in the Black Sails series, from which our story began. These establishments existed, of course, in the cities, but the cities of the Caribbean were small.
Port Royal in Jamaica, which was the capital of British possessions, had about 5,000 inhabitants in its heyday in the 80s of the XVIII century. It had about 1000 houses, and a significant part of the inhabitants was the garrison.
Craftsmen also made up a significant part of the population, since industrial production did not exist, and absolutely all things, such as clothes, shoes, household utensils, animal harnesses, and weapons were made by some kind of craftsman. It is clear that the fabrics were brought to the Caribbean from Europe.
Basically, the clothes of Europeans were made from linen and cloth. Cotton had already reached Europe, but it was very expensive, and the development of the Caribbean archipelago was one of the factors that made cotton cheaper. It began to grow there and cotton began to come into use during the 18th century.
And at the beginning of the century, they used flax. Though thin fabrics could be woven from flax, it grew only in Europe. Similarly, the cloth was made in Europe. On the islands of the Caribbean, sheep breeding was not widespread, and fabrics had to be transported from outside, but clothes could be sewn on the spot. Therefore, tailors and shoemakers had to be present.
All these were rather poor people because at the beginning of the 18th century labor was valued very cheaply. If you bought some item, clothes, shoes, weapons, or furniture, then approximately 90% of the price was the price of the material and only 10% was the price of the labor of the artisan who made this thing. Of course, there could be situations when it was jewelry and labor could cost a little more. But, on the other hand, the price of the original jewelry material itself was already very high, so even the work of a magnificent court jeweler was hardly worth much more than 10%.
Again, I emphasize that those who worked with their hands occupied a very low social position in the minds of the people of the 18th century. Noble was considered only the person who does not physically work. In this sense, the corsairs, despite their very low origin, could consider themselves elected, almost nobles because they did nothing with their hands, they did not work in the sweat of their brow to earn their bread.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. Captain Flint, John Silver and other pirates
Even trade in some circles was considered a shameful occupation for a nobleman in Spain, for example. But it is clear that in England by this time the views had already changed. In France, the nobility continues to prefer to serve the king rather than trade or personally manage their estates.
If we talk about the real flows of money that passed through the Caribbean, then of course they passed by the pockets of those artisans and small traders who lived in cities. The most valuable commodities that the Caribbean produced were sugar, coffee, and indigo (a blue dye that was extracted from plants).
It all happened on plantations that stretched outside the cities. These plantations were worked by black slaves imported from Africa, who were owned by really rich people. At the same time, merchant ships sailed along a triangle, which was even called "triangular trade": from Europe to Africa, in Africa slaves were bought, then they were taken to the Caribbean and sold there, and in return, merchants bought sugar, coffee, indigo, and cocoa, which they then brought to Europe and sold. Then this cycle was repeated.
At the same time, the goods that were imported from Europe to the Caribbean were quite expensive, because ships with these goods still had to go down to Africa, pass by the Canary Islands and sail to the Caribbean, but without black slaves on board. Therefore, the transport costs for any goods from Europe were quite high.
Interestingly, if you look at the corsairs’ achievements, it is very rare that we can read or hear about the fact that pirates captured a ship with slaves. Slaves were perishable goods and had to be sold in a well-defined place and quickly. It was necessary to have very well-established trade relations.
Naturally, it was difficult for corsairs to sell such goods. However, if you think that the slave traders themselves caught the unfortunate Africans on the shores of Africa, then you are deeply mistaken. By the beginning of the 18th century, the western coast of Africa was entirely captured by large strong African states created by coastal tribes, which made the slave trade industry of income.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. 18th century map of the west coast of Africa
And do not think that somewhere in Dahomey you could buy slaves for a bunch of beads - no. The Dahomeans wanted muskets, gunpowder, and iron because they were building a strong army, building a strong state, and using slaves as currencies. It is clear that they did not sell their compatriots, but prisoners captured in the war. They deliberately made raids deep into the rainforest against the more primitive tribes that lived in the depths of Africa, and they were already sold to slave traders. This situation continued until the end of the 18th century.
Only in the 19th century did Europeans begin to seize the coasts of Africa. Before that, they had at their disposal trading posts on the coast, which existed largely due to good contacts, and friendly relations with African rulers, who saw a clear benefit in the presence of European traders on their land.
Fast forward again to the Caribbean Sea and to that cozy courtyard that we were shown in several episodes of Black Sails. Let's see what the visitors of such a fun place could eat. It is clear that any wine and any food from Europe could theoretically be bought, but another thing is for what money?
If we talk about budget gatherings at the table, then rum could be offered as alcohol. Rum has become the hallmark of the Caribbean archipelago. It was made from sugar cane, more precisely from the juice that was squeezed out of the sugar cane stalks. It started fermenting and could be drunk as such a low-quality alcoholic drink, and it could also be distilled and get an alcoholic drink with a strength of 25-30 degrees and a rather pleasant taste. Until now Brazil and the Canary Islands produce honey rum.
There was quite a lot of meat in the Caribbean archipelago because the population was relatively sparse and you remember that the first settlers of the bullconniers got their name from the fact that they hunted bulls on the island of Hispaniola or Haiti.
The Spaniards did not like this and they began to pursue the bullconniers, and then the conniers became corsairs. There was quite a lot of meat, but it was either smoked or salted, mainly because they did not know how to prepare it for a long time in other ways. Therefore, fresh meat was, of course, more expensive.
Kirill Nazarenko about Black Sails. Meat Cooking in the Caribbean
As for bread, it was expensive in the Caribbean archipelago, because wheat was not grown here, and Europeans at that time already ate white bread. Black bread was eaten only in the east and north of Europe. And this grain was brought only from Europe at the beginning of the 18th century.
Here, rice cakes could be cheaper, because rice began to be grown on the islands of the Caribbean archipelago, primarily to feed the locals. With oatmeal, the situation was the same as with wheat.
Oatmeal, the cheapest cereal, was the daily food of the poorest Christians in Europe, but when brought to America, oatmeal became an expensive product and was more difficult to taste than in Europe. But, in any case, you and I could count on meat and rum for little money. And if we had money in our pockets, we could have something else to eat.
More civilized were the Spanish colonies. In Cuba, there was already a rather dense population and their economy was more serious. In the 18th century, the Spaniards in Cuba were already developing military shipbuilding. Most of the Spanish ships in the 18th century were built in Cuba.
But the colonies of other European countries could not boast of any enterprises similar to industrial ones. Basically, it was a plantation economy. But it was a pretty lucrative business. For example, a third of the income of the French treasury in the middle of the XVIII century was brought to the island of Guadeloupe with its sugar and coffee plantations. And it is clear that the corsairs were aimed at these trade flows, but at the same time, the small population of the cities of the Caribbean archipelago could probably even treat the pirates with sympathy, especially if they were not Spanish cities, but English, French, or Dutch. They rather benefited from the corsairs, because there the pirates "lowered" their money. Few of the corsairs could capture enough to leave to live in Europe.
Therefore, if you and I got off the corsairs' ship and 20-30 piastres received after the division of the next booty rang in our pockets, we would, of course, be met with open arms, and we could have fun for a couple of weeks. Also, we could even visit the special fun places and get new clothes. And then the working days would come again, and we would have to go to sea and rob the next merchant ships.
We hope you found this article useful!
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