It was used to frighten passing ships into surrendering without a fight - the red background meaning the pirates would give no quarter if a battle commenced.
Now a rare 18th Century Jolly Roger flag captured in 1780 has gone on display for the first time.
It has taken pride of place at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard.
Museum curators say the dreaded skull and crossbones is an excellent example of those used at the time.
A Jolly Roger with a red rather than a black background was the most feared as it meant the pirates paid no heed to the usual rules of engagement and no life would be spared if a ship was captured in a fight.
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