The Portuguese mariner Fernão de Magalhães, whom the world knows as Ferdinand Magellan, was given command of a Spanish fleet of five ships in 1518 to discover the Spice Islands for Spain. Magellan's five small ships, the Armada de Molucca, departed Seville in 1519 with about 260 crew members from "divers nations"—Greeks, Venetians, Genoese, Sicilians, French, Portuguese, Spaniards, and others—as the chronicler Antonio Pigafetta (d. ca. 1534) wrote. This three-year expedition was the most important European voyage of discovery after the voyages of Vasco da Gama (ca. 1469–1524) to India in 1497 to 1499 and Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) to America in 1492 to 1493.
Magellan's expedition was an expedition of many "firsts." It was the first voyage to pass from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through what came to be known as the Strait of Magellan, the first European voyage to cross the Pacific Ocean, the first European "discovery" of the Philippines, and—most famously—the first circumnavigation of the globe. This 96,500-kilometer (about 60,000-mile) voyage opened the remaining crucial sea-lanes of the world to European ships, commerce, and colonial empires.
Ferdinand Magellan was born near Villa Real in Tras os Montes, Portugal, and educated in Lisbon at the royal courts first of King João II (1455–1495) and then of Manuel I (1469–1521). Beginning in 1505, Magellan began an eight-year career as a sailor and soldier in the Portuguese East Indies. In 1513 he joined the Portuguese invasion of Morocco. In India, Magellan lost his investment in trade. In Morocco, his horse was killed in battle. His requests to the king for compensation were refused. Charges of treason and corruption against Magellan for actions taken in Morocco were not reviewed by the king at Magellan's request but were later dismissed in North Africa. By 1517, when the king refused to increase Magellan's allowance or support a voyage to the Indies, the soldier-mariner was deeply distressed; his pride was wounded, his reputation insulted, and his ambition thwarted. When Magellan asked the king if he could offer his services to another kingdom, the answer was a surprising yes. A month later, Magellan arrived in Seville.
In Spain, the Portuguese mariner Fernão de Magalhães became known as Hernando de Magallanes. He offered the kingdom's powerful House of Trade extremely valuable knowledge. He claimed he had sailed on behalf of Portugal to the Spice Islands (the Moluccas), he knew where they where and how to find them, and he claimed that under the Spanish-Portuguese Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) these islands were located within the Spanish hemisphere.
In 1518 King Charles I (1500–1558; soon to be Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor), gave Magellan a commission "to find in the domains that belong to us and are ours in the area in the Ocean Sea, within the limits of our demarcation, islands, mainlands, rich spices" (quoted in Thomas 2003, p. 496). The crown (and the banking House of Fugger) provided Magellan with the ships of the Armada de Molucca, salaries for the crew, trade goods, provisions, and more, all expenses coming to 8,751,125 maravedís (in current U.S. dollars, this expenditure would have a value of approximately one million dollars). The captain-general (Magellan) was paid 50,000 maravedís and an additional 8,000 each month.
Magellan left Spain in September 1519 with the San Antonio, the Concepción, the Victoria, the Santiago, and the captain-general's flagship, the caravel Trinidad. This small fleet immediately sailed to the Canary Islands to pick up more provisions. From this usual departure point for Spanish ships heading west, Magellan turned south and followed the coast of West Africa from Cape Verde to about Sierra Leone, and then let the south equatorial current take his ships across the Atlantic to the bulge of Brazil. From late November through December and January, the Armada de Molucca coasted southwest, reaching the bay at Rio de Janeiro and then the great estuary of the Río de la Plata. After determining that the River Plate was not the strait to the East Indies, Magellan continued sailing south and searching for a passage. Discontent among the crew, particularly the Spanish officers, led to a mutiny against the Portuguese captain-general that took control of three ships. The hesitation of the conspirators and the furious response of Magellan defeated the mutiny.
The search for the strait began in May 1520 and took months. During the search, the Santiago was shipwrecked in a storm in August. Magellan and his four remaining ships discovered the strait in October. Passage through the narrow, surging, and confusing network of fjords approximately 480 kilometers (about 300 miles) long was difficult and dangerous and took three of the ships thirty-eight days to accomplish. In midpassage, the San Antonio disappeared and returned to Spain.
Emerging from the strait into what was known as the Southern Sea, the smaller Armada de Molucca coasted northwest along the South American shore until reaching the site of the future Santiago de Chile and then turned due west. For ninety-eight days this small fleet sailed across more than 11,300 kilometers (about 7,000 miles) of relative calm. On this exceedingly long voyage, the crew ran out of food and water and ate rats, ox hides, and saw dust, and drank "yellow water." Scurvy, a malady caused by vitamin C deficiency, produced a swelling of the gums, as well as boils and lesions that seemed to make the skin fall off the bones. Pigafetta reported that twenty-nine crewmen died of scurvy, and nearly as many fell grievously ill. In March 1521 the crew heard the cry "Tierra!" (land). The fleet landed in the Marianas on the islands of Rota and Guam.
By April, Magellan and his steadily shrinking expedition arrived in what would later be named the Philippines. At Cebu Island, Magellan made a show of military force and forged an alliance with the local ruler Humabon. As the captain-general began to make himself lord of the natives, he became more and more insistent on encouraging his native allies to convert to Christianity and, where necessary, on requiring conversion by coercion and violence.
On the neighboring island of Mactan, Magellan found a chief, Lapu Lapu, who refused any cooperation with the Europeans. At the request of another native chief, Magellan brought sixty of his men, armed and armored, and attacked the village of Lapu Lapu. Although Magellan believed one European soldier could defeat a hundred native warriors, when the fight began the Europeans were outnumbered twenty-five to one, and the battle did not go as planned. Natives shot poisoned arrows at the unprotected legs of the European soldiers. The toxin disoriented and weakened the soldiers, which allowed natives to approach the wounded and do more damage. This is what happened to Magellan. Shot in the leg with a poisoned arrow, Magellan continued to fight for another hour or so, but eventually he lost his strength and was surrounded and attacked by several natives who hacked him to death. An additional eight European soldiers were killed in the battle before the surviving wounded and scared soldiers retreated to their ship. On April 27, 1521, European expansion met effective resistance. Facing Mactan Harbor today is a giant statue of Lapu Lapu. An obelisk nearby commemorates the battle: "Here on this spot the great chieftain Lapu Lapu repelled an attack by Ferdinand Magellan, killing him and sending his forces away" (Bergreen 2004, p. 287).
A few days after the battle, Magellan's ally Humabon hosted a feast that thirty Europeans attended, most of them officers, about one-quarter of the entire crew. Near the end of the banquet, the Europeans were attacked and most were killed. Learning of this tragedy, the remaining 115 crewmen in three small ships did not send a rescue party but, instead, set sail and left Cebu as quickly as possible. Once they were at sea, the crew of the Concepción concluded that their damaged and wormeaten ship would not make the voyage. After its provisions, rigging, and other useful items were transferred to the other two ships, the Concepción was burned and scuttled. The Trinidad and the Victoria now proceeded to the Spice Islands as best they could.
From May to November 1521, the ever-smaller Armada de Molucca journeyed to Borneo, Palawan, Brunei, and Cimbonbon. As they traveled into the "East Indies," the crew entered more populated, commercial, and politically dangerous regions. They also found a guide to bring them to Ternate, Tidore, Motin, Makian, and Bacan, the primary islands of the Moluccas, the famed Spice Islands.
In November and December 1521 the crew traded what they had for 1,400 pounds of cloves, the most valuable spice on the European market. In late December the Victoria, under the command of the Basque sailor Juan Sebastián de Elcano (d. 1526), left for home with sixty crewmembers. The Trinidad attempted to sail back across the Pacific but foundered and turned around, then sailed to Portuguese Goa in India. The few surviving crew reached Lisbon and were immediately imprisoned. Only four sailors from this ship ever returned to Spain.
The Victoria passed Java and then sailed across the Indian Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope, then north to the Cape Verde Islands and finally Spain. Pigafetta noted that as the ship sailed north along the African coast, the crew had to throw the dead bodies of their mates into the ocean. When the Victoria reached Seville on September 8, 1522, there were eighteen survivors onboard. King Charles granted Captain Sebastián de Elcano a coat of arms that showed a globe, spices, Malay kings, and the legend Primus me circumdedisti (Thou first circled me).
After 1522, the great unknown was known. All the world's oceans were connected and they became highways for European ships, traders, missionaries, and colonists. This became clear in 1529 in Diego Ribero's world map, which accurately depicted the outlines of the continents of Africa, India, and America. This map also showed the route of the Magellan voyage. The most famous illustrations of the Magellan circumnavigation were the oval world maps made by Battista Agnese from 1543 to 1545. These gorgeous color manuscript maps on vellum showed the route of Magellan (in black ink) and the Spanish silver fleet (in gold). In 1543 Charles V ordered one of these maps to give to his son Philip. Paolo Forlani's engraved map of South America (ca. 1564–1572), although not the first to do so, clearly showed the strait connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans and gave it the name Streto di Magaanes, the Strait of Magellan.
Bergreen, Laurence. Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe. New York: Perennial, 2004.
Perry, J. H. The Discovery of the Sea. New York: Dial Press, 1974.
Thomas, Hugh. Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan. New York: Random House, 2003.
Torodash, Martin. "Magellan Historiography." Hispanic American Historical Review 51 (2) (1971): 313-335.
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 (1451–1506) 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 (1475–1517) 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 (1500–1558) of Spain approved Magellan's proposal, and on September 20, 1519, Magellan led a fleet of five ships out into the Atlantic. Unfortunately, the ships—the 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 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.
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