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Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan

While in the service of Spain, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) led the first European voyage of discovery to circumnavigate the globe.

Ferdinand Magellan was born in Oporto of noble parentage. Having served as a page to the Queen, Magellan entered the Portuguese service in the East in 1505. He went to East Africa and later was at the battle of Diu, in which the Portuguese destroyed Egyptian naval hegemony in the Arabian Sea. He went twice to Malacca, the Malayan spice port, participating in its conquest by the Portuguese. He may also have gone on an exploratory mission to the Molucca Islands (Spice Islands), the original source of some of the most valuable spices.

In 1513 Magellan was wounded in one of the many frustrating battles against the Moors in North Africa. But all of his services brought him little favor from the Crown, and in 1517, accompanied by his friend the cosmographer Ruy Faleiro, he went to Seville, where he offered his services to the Spanish court.

The famous Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) had divided the overseas world of the "discoveries" between the two powers. Portugal acquired everything from Brazil eastward to the East Indies; the Spanish hemisphere of discovery and conquest ran westward from Brazil to 134°E meridian. This eastern area had not yet been explored by the Spaniards, and they assumed that some of the Spice Islands might lie within their half of the globe. They were wrong, but Magellan's scheme was to test that assumption.

In addition it must be recalled that Columbus had made a terrible mistake, brought home by his "discovery" of America. Accepting the academic errors of learned geographers, ancient and modern, he had grossly underestimated the distance between Europe and the East (sailing westward from the former). Balboa's march across the Panamanian Isthmus had subsequently revealed the existence of a "South Sea" (the Pacific) on the other side of Columbus's "mainlands in the Ocean Sea." Thereafter, explorers eagerly sought northern and southern all-water passages across the stumbling block of the Americas; Magellan, too, sought such a passage.

Major Voyage

King Charles V of Spain (the emperor Charles V) endorsed the design of Magellan and Faleiro, and on Sept. 20, 1519, after a year's preparation, Magellan led a fleet of five ships out into the Atlantic. Unfortunately the ships—the San Antonio, Trinidad, Concepción, Victoria, and Santiago—were barely seaworthy, and the crews, including some officers, were of international composition and of dubious loyalty to their leader. With Magellan went his brother-in-law, Duarte Barbosa, and the loyal and able commander of the Santiago, João Serrão. Arriving at Brazil, the fleet sailed down the South American coast to the Patagonian bay of San Julián, where it wintered from March to August 1520. There an attempted mutiny was squelched, with only the top leaders being punished. Thereafter, however, the Santiago was wrecked, and its crew had to be taken aboard the other vessels.

Leaving San Julián, the fleet sailed southward; on Oct. 21, 1520, it entered the Strait of Magellan. It proceeded cautiously, taking over a month to pass through the strait. During this time the master of the San Antonio deserted and sailed back to Spain, and so only three of the original five ships entered the Pacific on November 28. There followed a long, monotonous voyage northward through the Pacific, and it was only on March 6, 1521, that the fleet finally anchored at Guam.

Magellan then passed eastward to Cebu in the Philippines, where, in an effort to gain the favor of a local ruler, he became embroiled in a local war and was slain in battle on April 27, 1521; Barbosa and Serrão were killed shortly thereafter. With the crew wasted from sickness, the survivors were forced to destroy the Concepción, and the great circumnavigation was completed by a courageous former mutineer, the Basque Juan Sebastián del Cano. Commanding the Victoria, he picked up a small cargo of spices in the Moluccas, crossed the Indian Ocean, and traveled around the Cape of Good Hope from the east. With a greatly reduced crew he finally reached Seville on Sept. 8, 1522. In the meantime the Trinidad, considered unfit to make the long voyage home, had tried to beat its way against contrary winds back across the Pacific to Panama. The voyage revealed the vast extent of the northern Pacific, but the attempt failed, and the Trinidad was forced back to the Moluccas. There its crew was jailed by the Portuguese, and only four men returned after 3 years to Spain.

Magellan's project brought little in the way of material benefit to Spain. The Portuguese were well entrenched in the East, their trans-African route at that time proving to be the only feasible maritime connection to India and the Spice Islands. Charles V acknowledged the political and economic facts by selling his vague East Indian rights to Portugal, rights that were later in part resumed with the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. Yet though nearly destroying itself in the process, the Magellan fleet for the first time revealed in a practical fashion the full extent of humanity's inheritance upon this globe. And in this, its scientific aspect, it proved to be the greatest of all the "conquests" undertaken by the gold-, slave-, and spice-seeking overseas adventurers of early modern Europe.

Further Reading

A primary source is the narrative of Antonio Pigafetta, principal chronicler of the expedition, Magellan's Voyage around the World by Antonio Pigafetta, translated by James A. Robertson (2 vols., 1906). The Pigafetta translation and other source narratives are included in Charles E. Nowell, ed., Magellan's Voyage around the World: Three Contemporary Accounts (1962). The best works on Magellan, by Jean Denuce and Jose Toribio Medina, are in Spanish. In English, Francis H. H. Guillemard, The Life of Ferdinand Magellan (1890), is still good. Another study is Charles M. Parr, So Noble a Captain: The Life and Times of Ferdinand Magellan (1953; 2d ed. entitled Ferdinand Magellan, Circumnavigator, 1964). George E. Nunn, in The Columbus and Magellan Concepts of South American Geography (1932), shows the Magellan voyage to have been a logical consequence of the final views of the Columbus brothers. □

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Magellan, Ferdinand (1480–1521)

Magellan, Ferdinand (14801521)

A Portuguese explorer whose ill-fated expedition, sponsored by the king of Spain, was the first to circle the globe. Born in Saborosa, Portugal, he was the son of the town's mayor, who sent him to be educated at the court of the king of Portugal. Magellan studied navigation and astronomy at a time when nautical exploration was opening up new continents for Portuguese captains. A key event in this history was the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas by Spain and Portugal in 1494. The two kingdoms divided the globe between them: lands west of a meridian drawn about 1,500 miles (2,414km) west of the Cape Verde Islands were the property of Spain, to explore and colonize, and lands to the east were Portuguese. The treaty shaped the history of exploration over the next generation as well as Magellan's career.

Magellan first went to sea in 1505, when he accompanied the Portuguese governor Francisco de Almeida to his post in India. He became a captain in 1510 but was relieved of his rank in the next year as punishment for sailing into the East Indies without formal permission. He returned to Portugal in 1512. In the next year he traveled with a Spanish army to Morocco, where he was severely wounded in the Battle of Azamor. Accused by his commander of insubordination in Africa, he fell out of favor with King Manuel I, who refused him any further commissions. As a result, Magellan resigned his commission and offered his services to the king of Spain.

Magellan had come to believe that the Spice Islands might be within the Portuguese domain according to the Treaty of Tordesillas. He was determined to find a westward-sailing route to the Spice Islands of East Asia, which promised fabulous wealth to any individual or company that could find easier access to them. The Spanish monarchs, realizing that the voyages of Columbus had not reached Asia, needed to forge a new westward route in order to avoid the Portuguese who, after the pioneering voyages of Vasco da Gama, had established well-defended trading stations in India and the Spice Islands.

King Charles V agreed to sponsor Magellan, who assembled a fleet of five ships and set out in September 1519. The ships reached the coast of Brazil in December, then sailed south in search of the route that would lead them to the Pacific Ocean. Fearing that Magellan was leading them on a futile mission, several of his officers mutinied. The uprising was put down and Magellan had two of his captains executed and two others marooned. One of his ships was wrecked in a storm, and another would abandon the fleet. In August 1520, Magellan found a long and narrow channel across the southern tip of South America that now is known as the Strait of Magellan.

The three remaining ships made the crossing of the Pacific Ocean, reaching the island of Guam on March 6, 1521, and soon thereafter the Philippine Islands. Here Magellan delayed in order to make an alliance with the ruler of Cebu and intercede in a conflict between that tribe and the ruler of the nearby island of Mactan. On April 27, the Mactans attacked a party Magellan was leading ashore and killed the commander.

After Magellan's death, the survivors abandoned another ship and fled the Philippines. Juan Sebastian Elcano took command of the company. The expedition reached the Spice Islands in November and took on their hard-won cargo of cloves and cinnamon. Another ship was captured by the Portuguese and the sole remaining ship, the Victoria, set out for the return to Spain. Suffering from disease and malnutrition, the crew struggled into port on September 6, 1522, with only 18 members of the original 270-man expedition alive.

Magellan's expedition was the first to circumnavigate the globe and the first to navigate the strait in South America connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Magellan's crew made numerous, valuable discoveries. They observed several animals that were entirely new to European science. These included the camel without humps (possibly the llama, guanaco, vicuña, or alpaca) and a black goose that had to be skinned instead of plucked (the penguin).

Two of the closest galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds, were discovered by crew members in the southern hemisphere. The full extent of the earth was also realized, since their voyage was 14,460 leagues (69,800 km or 43,400 miles).

Finally, an international date line was established. Upon their return they observed a mismatch of one day between their calendars and those who did not travel, even though they faithfully maintained their ship's log. However, they did not have clocks accurate enough to observe the variation in the length of the day during the journey. This phenomenon caused great excitement at the time, to the extent that a special delegation was sent to the pope to explain this oddity to him.

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Magellan, Ferdinand

Ferdinand Magellan (məjel´ən), Port. Fernão de Magalhães, Span. Fernando de Magallanes, c.1480–1521, Portuguese navigator who sailed for Portugal and Spain. Born of a noble family, he was reared as a page in the royal household. He served (1505–12) in Portuguese India under Francisco de Almeida and later under Alfonso de Albuquerque. While in service (1513–14) in Morocco, he was accused of financial irregularities; he lost the favor of Manuel I, who rejected his proposal to reach the Moluccas by a western route. In 1517 he went to Spain, where his plan was approved (1518) by Charles I (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). Portuguese efforts failed to prevent the voyage.

With five vessels and about 265 men, Magellan sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda on Sept. 20, 1519. Sighting the South American coast near Pernambuco, he searched for the suspected passage to the South Sea. In Jan., 1520, the Río de la Plata was explored. While wintering in Patagonia (Mar.–Aug., 1520), he summarily put down a mutiny of some of his officers. On Oct. 21, Magellan discovered and entered the strait which bears his name, and on Nov. 28 he reached the Pacific. His fleet, by then consisting of three vessels, the Concepción, the Trinidad, and the Victoria, sailed NW across the Pacific. No land was sighted for nearly two months, no provisions obtained for three; the men suffered intensely. On Mar. 6, 1521, Magellan reached the Marianas and 10 days later the Philippines, where he was killed (Apr. 27) while supporting one group of natives against another. Soon after, the Concepción was burned as unseaworthy, but the remaining two vessels visited Borneo and then the Moluccas, where they loaded spices.

The Trinidad sailed for Panama but was wrecked; only four of her crew eventually reached Spain. The Victoria, commanded by Juan Sebastián del Cano, sailed across the Indian Ocean and rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese detained 13 of her crew at the Cape Verde Islands, but finally, with only 18 men, she reached Sanlúcar on Sept. 6, 1522, thus completing the first voyage around the world. Although he did not live to complete the journey, Magellan provided the skill and determination that took the vessels over the great unknown portion of the globe, one of the greatest achievements of navigation. The voyage proved definitively the roundness of the earth, it revolutionized ideas of the relative proportions of land and water, and it revealed the Americas as a new world, separate from Asia.

See the firsthand account of Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's Voyage around the World, tr. by R. A. Skelton (1969); biographies by F. H. H. Guillemard (1890, repr. 1971), E. F. Benson (1929), and C. M. Parr (2d ed. 1964); L. Bergreen, Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe (2003).

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Cano, Juan Sebastián del

Juan Sebastián del Cano (hwän sābästyän´ dĕl kä´nō), c.1476–1526, Spanish navigator, the first to circumnavigate the globe. Under Magellan he commanded the Concepción and after Magellan's death in the Philippines took command of the expedition. From the Philippines to the Molucca islands Cano sailed new waters, arriving in Spain with the Victoria and 18 men on Sept. 6, 1522. He set out in 1525 on a second voyage to the Moluccas by Magellan's route but died while crossing the Pacific.

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