Magellan, Ferdinand
Ferdinand Magellan. Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

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Magellan, Ferdinand

Ferdinand Magellan

Born: 1480
Oporto, Portugal
Died: April 27, 1521
Cebu, Philippines

Portuguese explorer

While in the service of Spain, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan led the first European voyage of discovery to circumnavigate (travel around) the globe. His voyage provided clear proof that the Earth is round.

Early life and travels

Ferdinand Magellan was born in Oporto, Portugal, in 1480. His parents were members of the Portuguese nobility, and the young Magellan found himself in the service of royalty at an early age. He was only twelve when he began serving the queen of Portugal as a page, a position of employment for youths in royal courts. As a young member of Queen Leonora's School of Pages in Lisbon (the Portuguese capital) Magellan was encouraged to learn subjects that would aid him greatly later, such as cartography (mapmaking), astronomy, and celestial navigation (learning how to steer a ship based on the positions of the stars).

Magellan joined the Portuguese service to sail with the fleet in 1505. He went to East Africa and later was at the battle of Diu, in which the Portuguese destroyed the Egyptian fleet's dominance in the Arabian Sea. He went twice to Malacca, located in present-day Malaysia, and participated in that port's conquest (the act of conquering) by the Portuguese. It is possible that he also went on a mission to explore the Moluccas (islands in Indonesia, then called the Spice Islands). Trading in spices brought great wealth to European nations at this time, and there was much competition among them to claim territories that were rich in spices, especially in Southeast Asia, called the East Indies. The Moluccas were the original source of some of the world's most valuable spices at that time, including cloves and nutmeg.

In 1513 Magellan was wounded in a battle in North Africa. But all of his services to Portugal brought him little favor from the Portuguese king, and in 1517 he went to Seville, Spain, to offer his services to the Spanish court.

Exploring for Spain

Spain and Portugal were both great powers at this time. They were in great competition over the rights to claim and settle the newly "discovered" regions of the Americas and the East. In 1494 the Treaty of Tordesillas divided the overseas world of the "discoveries" between the two powers, essentially splitting the globe in half from pole to pole. Portugal acquired everything from Brazil eastward to the East Indies, while the Spanish hemisphere (half-globe) of discovery and conquest ran westward from Brazil to an area near the Cape Verde Islands. The parts of this area that lay furthest east of Spain 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. He decided that the best way to reach these islands was to sail in a westward direction from Europe, thus traveling around the globe.

Other explorers had paved the way for Magellan by making key mistakes and discoveries. Christopher Columbus (14511506) had badly underestimated the distance between Europe and the East Indies, sailing westward from the European coast and "discovering" North America and the Caribbean islands (West Indies). Vasco Núñez de Balboa's (14751517) march across the Panamanian isthmus had revealed the existence of the Pacific Ocean, which he had claimed for Spain. Thereafter, explorers eagerly sought northern and southern all-water passages across the Americas to reach the spice-rich East. Magellan also sought such a passage.

Magellan's great voyage

King Charles V (15001558) of Spain approved Magellan's proposal, and on September 20, 1519, Magellan led a fleet of five ships out into the Atlantic. Unfortunately, the shipsthe San Antonio, Trinidad, Concepción, Victoria, and Santiago were barely adequate to sail, and the crew were not all firmly loyal 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 San Julián bay in the region called Patagonia. They stayed there from March to August 1520. During this time an attempted mutiny was put down, with only the top leaders being punished. Afterwards, however, the Santiago was wrecked, and its crew had to be taken aboard the other vessels.

Leaving San Julián, the fleet sailed southward. On October 21, 1520, it entered what is now called the Strait of Magellan (the channel of water between the southern tip of South America and the island of Tierra del Fuego). The fleet 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. A long voyage northward through the Pacific followed, and it was only on March 6, 1521, that the fleet finally anchored at Guam.

Magellan then headed eastward to Cebu in the Philippines, where, in an effort to gain the favor of a local ruler, he became involved in a local war and was killed in battle on April 27, 1521. Barbosa and Serrão were killed soon afterwards. The remaining crew were forced to destroy the Concepción, and the great circumnavigation was completed by a courageous former mutineer, 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 (at the southern tip of Africa) from the east. He finally reached Seville on September 8, 1522. In the meantime, the Trinidad had tried to head back across the Pacific to Panama but was finally forced back to the Moluccas. There its crew was jailed by the Portuguese, and only four men later returned to Spain.

Magellan's legacy

Magellan's project brought little in the way of material gain to Spain. The Portuguese were well established in the East. Their route to the east, by way of Africa, had proved to be the only practical way of getting by sea to India and the Spice Islands. Yet despite nearly destroying itself in the process, the Magellan fleet for the first time revealed in a practical fashion the full extent of the globe. As a scientific effort, it proved to be the greatest of all the "conquests" undertaken by the overseas adventurers of fifteenth-and sixteenth-century Europe.

For More Information

Guillemard, Francis H. H. The Life of Ferdinand Magellan. New York: AMS Press, 1971.

Meltzer, Milton. Ferdinand Magellan: First to Sail Around the World. New York: Marshall Cavendish/Benchmark Books, 2001.

Nowell, Charles E., ed. Magellan's Voyage Around the World: Three Contemporary Accounts. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1962.

Stefoff, Rebecca. Ferdinand Magellan and the Discovery of the World Ocean. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

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Magellan, Ferdinand (1480-1521)

Magellan, Ferdinand (1480-1521)

Portuguese mariner, explorer

Ferdinand Magellan was the first explorer to lead an expedition that circumnavigated the globe. Like many of his contemporaries, Magellan underestimated the size of the oceans , and thought he could find a faster route to the Spice Islands by sailing west. He began his voyage in September of 1519 with five ships. After an arduous voyage, only one ship returned. Magellan, the expedition leader, was not onboard.

Magellan was born in Portugal in 1480. His parents were low-ranking nobles, active in the Portuguese royal court. Through his education at court, Magellan learned navigation. He attained the rank of squire while in royal service as a merchant marine clerk. He joined Francisco de Almeida's voyages to explore the eastern coast of Africa in 1505 and 1506. By 1509, Magellan had traveled to Africa, Turkey, and India. In 1511, Magellan ventured to the Far East on a Portuguese expedition to Malaysia. Magellan returned to Europe but, soon after arriving home, then departed to fight for Portuguese interests in Morocco. He was wounded, and left the royal service soon after. He then turned his attention to gaining a charter for a fleet of his own, in hopes of returning to the Far East. In 1517, he began lobbying the Portuguese crown to fund a large expedition. He was denied a ship from the Portuguese crown, and then turned to the rival king of Spain.

Interested in Magellan's proposal to find a faster shipping route to the Far East, the Spanish king granted Magellan abundant funds. With the money, Magellan purchased five ships: the Conception, the Santiago, the San Antonio, the Trinidad, and the Victoria. The fleet left harbor in September of 1519 with 275 men and adequate provisions for only a few months.

From the start of the voyage, Magellan's fleet was plagued by problems. Magellan himself was Portuguese, but he was sailing under the Spanish flag. The rival nations were competing for trade routes and land in the New World, as well as for control of the seas in general. Thus, Magellan needed to avoid armed Portuguese ships, as well as Portuguese controlled ports in the New World. This limited the places where Magellan and his crew could stop to restock provisions, and made them wary of crossing Portuguese trade routes.

Magellan's Spanish captains, who sailed the other four ships, threatened his command of the fleet. On November 20, 1519, when a plot to mutiny against Magellan, organized by the captain of the San Antonio, Juan de Cartegena, was discovered, Cartegena was relieved of his command and imprisoned aboard the Victoria.

When Magellan set forth to discover an expedient trade route to the Spice Islands, he knew he would have to either find a passage through the New World, or sail around it. However, Magellan made two fatal miscalculations. He thought that both the New World (the landmass of the Americas) and the Pacific Ocean were much smaller than they actually are. The crew did not have adequate supplies, and had to make frequent stops to restock provisions on the ships. They spent several months on the open seas, and many sailors fell victim to scurvy, typhus, and various fevers. The extended duration of the voyage, coupled with the appalling conditions onboard, further disposed the crew against Magellan.

The voyage itself was arduous. Magellan did not reach the coast of Brazil until the December of 1519. He anchored off of the Portuguese port of Rio de Janeiro, but because of hostile relations between Spain and Portugal, kept most of the men onboard the ships. The fleet then sailed along the coast of South America looking for an inland passage, but as the weather grew colder and seas rougher, the fleet anchored and wintered in Patagonia (present-day southern Argentina). While in Patagonia, another mutiny was attempted. As an attempt to quell dissent in the fleet, Magellan executed some rebels and marooned the leaders of the insurrection when the fleet departed. Magellan sent the Santiago ahead to scout for a passage through the continent, but the ship sank in rough seas. Soon after, the remainders of the fleet departed to look for a passage to the Pacific. They arrived at the southern tip of South America in October. Magellan named the connecting waters the Strait of All Saints, but the strait now bears his name. Frightened of a longer and more grueling voyage ahead, the captain of the San Antonio turned his boat and sailed back towards Spain.

The remaining three ships reached the Pacific, but there were no navigational charts of the entire ocean. Magellan assumed the ocean was rather small, and predicted that the journey to the Spice Islands would take little more than a week. After three months, the crew reached the island of Guam. Without the food stores that were aboard the San Antonio, the remaining sailors lived off of rats, hard tack, sawdust, and any fish they could catch. Magellan anchored in Guam for several weeks to let his beleaguered crew recover. The crew then continued on to the Philippines. There, Magellan established good relations with the local king, but he and his men became involved in a tribal dispute. Several men were wounded and killed in the fighting, including Magellan. He died on April 27, 1521.

Though Magellan never fully circumnavigated the globe himself, the expedition he began did accomplish that monumental task. Stripped of her crew, the Conception was intentionally burned. The surviving 120 men of Magellan's crew, in two ships, departed the Philippines in May. Sebastian del Cano assumed control over the expedition. The two vessels reached the Spice Islands. Cano decided that the chances of one ship making it back to Spain were greater if the boats took different routes. Carrying a full hull of valuable cargo, the Trinidad sailed east, and the Victoria continued westward. The Trinidad was captured by the Portuguese, but the Victoria returned to Spain, with only 18 crewmembers left. Magellan's flagship was the first to circumnavigate the earth.

See also History of exploration II (Age of exploration); Oceans and seas

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Magellan, Ferdinand

Magellan, Ferdinand (1480–1521) Portuguese explorer, leader of the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe. He sailed to the East Indies and may have visited the Spice Islands (Moluccas) in 1511. Subsequently he took service with Spain, promising to find a route to the Moluccas via the New World and the Pacific. In 1519, Magellan set out with five ships and nearly 300 men. He found the waterway near the s tip of South America that is now named Magellan's Strait. After severe hardships, the expedition reached the Philippines, where Magellan was killed in a local conflict. Only one ship, the Victoria, completed the round-the-world voyage.

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