Magellan, Ferdinand (1480–1521)

views updated May 29 2018

Magellan, Ferdinand (1480–1521)

The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (in Portuguese, Fernáo de Magalháes; known in Spanish as Fernando de Magallanes) was the first man to lead a fleet that circumnavigated the globe. He was born around 1480 in northern Portugal near Oporto. He came from a noble family of the lesser nobility and was orphaned at a young age. He served as a page at the court of the Portuguese queen. It may be there that in 1497 he met Christopher Columbus, who influenced his idea to sail westward to find a passage to Asia.

In 1505 Magellan entered the service to the Portuguese crown under Francisco de Almeida, first viceroy of Portuguese India. As a soldier he served with distinction in Portuguese East Africa (present-day Mozambique) and participated in the conquest of India and Morocco. He fought battles with the Muslims in India and successful attacks on Goa and Malacca in 1511. He was seriously wounded in battles in service to the Portuguese king. After fighting in Morocco, he returned to Lisbon where he was denied a military promotion and pension by King Manuel. Anger at the Portuguese king led him to renounce his Portuguese citizenship and go to Spain, where he married a Spanish noblewoman, to seek aid from King Charles I. He persuaded the king to sponsor a voyage to Asia to verify Spanish claims to the Spice Islands granted under the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494).

Magellan sailed from Spain on September 20, 1519, for the Spice Islands with five ships and 265 men in search of a westward route to Asia, to complete Columbus' dreams. There were problems with the crew from the start, as only one-third were Portuguese and the rest Spanish. Magellan was highly secretive, and the captains and crew objected to being kept in the dark about the extent of the journey. The fleet sailed from Seville to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, then to the Cape Verde Islands, arriving at the coast of Brazil. The fleet had to avoid contact with the Portuguese because Magellan was considered a traitor. They stopped at Rio de Janeiro, hiding in the islands of Guanabara Bay and avoiding any contacts with the Portuguese. The fleet sailed southward looking for an outlet to the Pacific, reaching the Rio de la Plata region in present-day Argentina. They sailed onward to Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia, where the sailors saw the coastal fires of indigenous tribes. It was during this time that Magellan faced a serious mutiny from the Spanish captains and sailors, which he quickly crushed by hanging the ringleaders. The colder waters and temperature of the South Atlantic caused serious problems for the crew. When Magellan reached the tip of South America, one ship deserted the fleet and returned to Spain.

On October 21, 1519, he reached the tip of South America. It took him more than four weeks to go through what was later named the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean, which he named for its peaceful surface. On November 28, Magellan started sailing on the "unknown sea," but he misjudged the distance across the Pacific to Asia. The journey was exceedingly difficult; because they could not find land, they did not have any fresh food for more than three months. The crew suffered from hunger and scurvy, with nineteen dying en route. The fleet reached Guam on March 6, 1521. After reprovisioning, Magellan sailed again and discovered the Philippine Islands. He persuaded the ruler of the island of Cebú to accept Christianity, but he became involved in a local war. On April 27, 1521, Magellan was killed in a fight with the natives of Mactan Island. He died with his brother-in-law Duarte Barbosa in a skirmish in which his right foot was wounded by a poisoned arrow. He could not retreat from the battle but died with his men. His body was never recovered.

Various accounts dispute the reason for his death. Some paint Magellan as a villain demanding too much food and livestock from the natives whose patience with the Europeans became exhausted. Other accounts describe Magellan and his men as taking sides in a civil war among rival chieftains in the Philippine Islands.

Juan Sebastián de Elcano (c. 1476–1526) assumed command and piloted one ship, the Victoria, to the Moluccas. The ship, loaded with spices, sailed for Spain with forty-seven Europeans and thirteen natives of the islands, reaching Seville on September 8, 1522. Only eighteen Europeans were still alive. Although Magellan himself did not complete the first circumnavigation, his skill and ruthless determination made that achievement possible.

Magellan never did reach the Spice Islands but part of his surviving crew did. Historian Charles R. Boxer calls this voyage the most outstanding voyage of its time because Magellan was the first European navigator to sail into unknown waters in the South Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean and circumnavigate the globe, which was a significant nautical feat for the time.

See alsoCharles I of Spain; Columbus, Christopher; Elcano, Juan Sebastián de; Explorers and Exploration: Spanish America; Manuel I of Portugal; Tordesillas, Treaty of (1494).


Bergreen, Laurence. Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe. New York: Morrow, 2003.

Boxer, Charles R. The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415–1825. New York: Knopf, l969.

Thomas, Hugh. Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan. New York: Random House, 2003.

Zweig, Stefan. Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellan, trans. Eden and Cedar Paul. New York: Viking Press, 1938.

                                      Patricia A. Mulvey

Magellan, Ferdinand (1480–1521)

views updated May 18 2018

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.

Ferdinand Magellan

views updated May 18 2018

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. □

Ferdinand Magellan

views updated Jun 11 2018

Ferdinand Magellan

Circa 1480-1521



Circumnavigation. Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese sailing for the Spanish, is credited as the first person to circumnavigate the globe, despite the fact that he did not complete the journey. His voyage was not the first one seeking a water passage through America into the Pacific Ocean. The water route that he successfully navigated around the southern tip of South America bears his name: The Straits of Magellan. While in the Philippines in 1521, Magellan intervened in a civil war and was killed, but one of his five ships (Victoria) did sail around the world. Juan Sebastian del Cano, Magellan's Basque assistant, completed the journey in 1522 and thus became the first to actually circumnavigate the globe. The three-year journey was a crucial voyage for cartographers, who could finally correct Christopher Columbus's miscalculation of the earth's circumference.

Portuguese Experience. Magellan's name is well known in the English and Spanish versions (Ferdinand Magellan and Fernando de Magallanes, respectively), but his actual Portuguese name (Fernao de Magalhaes) is relatively unknown. Like many other Portuguese explorers, his Portuguese roots are often overlooked. In fact, the first published account of his journey, written in French by an Italian squire, attributed the voyage to the Spanish (Le Voyage et navigation, faict par les Espaignolz es Isles de Mollucques). Magellan sailed under the Spanish flag, but his navigational skills were developed sailing for the Portuguese navy. He had been a page in the service of the queen and then served King Dom Manuel. Prior to becoming a well-known navigator, Magellan had a distinguished military career: between 1505 and 1511, he served as a soldier in India; he went on expedition to Sofala and Kilwa in East Africa; he fought against the Egyptian-Gujarati force at Diu; and he served at the 1511 conquest of Malacca. He continued to sail and serve Portugal until 1517 when he moved to Seville and began working for King Charles I of Spain (Charles is better known as Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, a title he acquired shortly after Magellan sailed).

Spanish Support. Magellan solicited and won Charles V's support for an expedition around the southernmost point of America. The logic behind the expedition was based on mirroring the Portuguese route to India around the southernmost point of Africa. If the Portuguese could sail east to India and the Molucca Islands, then the Spaniards could sail west to the Moluccas. The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) had divided the world into an eastern zone of exploration (Portuguese) and a western zone of exploration (Spanish). The Portuguese claimed the Moluccas and showed no interest in ceasing their eastern expansion. The circumference of the earth was unknown, so it was impossible to tell how far east the Portuguese zone actually spread. Like Columbus, who had underestimated the width of the Atlantic Ocean, Magellan underestimated the width of the Pacific Ocean. Magellan correctly calculated that the southwesterly trend of the Brazilian coast continued across the Treaty of Tordesillas line, and thus southern South America was in the Spanish zone. While Charles V supported the idea of a western route, he allocated limited resources of five older ships because he feared that Magellan could actually be sailing into the Portuguese zone.

Eyewitness Account. Antonia Pigafetta, an Italian participant on the voyage, wrote a descriptive chronicle of the voyage that included praise for Magellan's leadership. Like Columbus, Magellan was a foreigner leading a crew on a risky voyage. After clearing the Straits of Magellan, they sailed for three months and twenty days without obtaining any provisions. They saw only two small and uninhabited islands during that period. They named the islands the Unfortunate Islands because they offered no provisions for the sailors. Nineteen sailors reportedly died from scurvy, a gum disease that frequently plagued sailors who did not receive enough vitamin C in their diet. Pigafetta describes his desperation at that stage of the journey: “And if our Lord and his blessed Mother had not given us such good weather we should all have died of hunger in this very vast sea. I believe of a certainty that no one will ever again make such a voyage.”

Significance. Magellan opened the southwest passage around the southernmost promontory of the South American continent in 1520. The passage still bears the name Magellan's Strait. No logbook has survived for this journey and thus it, like Bartholomeu Bias's opening of the southeast passage around the Cape of Good Hope, lacked the precise records that were available for contemporaries of most other voyages. Seven years after Columbus's first voyage, da Gama sailed a Portuguese fleet from India into Lisbon, thereby finding the true “Indies” that Columbus had sought. The actual size of the Pacific Ocean remained a mystery until Magellan crossed the Pacific from South America to Asia. Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe was a crucial voyage for cartographers because it allowed them to understand both the geographical location of South America and the size of the earth.


Tim Joyner, Magellan (Camden, Me.: International Marine, 1992).

Charles M. Parr, Ferdinand Magellan, Circumnavigator (New York: Crowell, 1964).

J. H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance (Cleveland: World, 1963).

Edouard Roditi, Magellan of the Pacific (London: Faber & Faber, 1972).

A. J. R. Russell-Wood, A World on the Move: The Portuguese in Africa, Asia, and America, 1415-1808 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993).

Ferdinand Magellan

views updated May 21 2018

Ferdinand Magellan


Portuguese Explorer

Ferdinand Magellan initiated, organized and led what was to become the first circumnavigation of the globe. Under his leadership, five ships set sail from Spain in 1519. Although Magellan died during the three-year voyage—the victim of a conflict between warring island nations—and only one of the five ships completed the expedition and returned to Spain, Magellan is credited as the man behind the first trip around the world.

Magellan was born Ferñao de Magalhaes into Portuguese nobility in 1480. Following a youth spent as a page in the home of the queen of Portugal, he took a position with the nation's fleet, which sought to expand the spice trade—often by way of bloody battles. Through these trips, including his first in 1505 to the East Indies, he learned how to sail and how to fight. It was during a skirmish in Morocco nearly a decade later that he sustained a leg wound, which affected him for the rest of his life.

Despite his years of service to his country, Magellan met a disappointing reception in his homeland. He not only fell under suspicion for corruption, a charge that was proven false, but received notice from the Portuguese crown to begin looking for work elsewhere. In 1517, he and friend Ruy de Falero (Faleiro), an astronomer, left together to seek opportunities in Spain, a longtime enemy of Portugal. In Seville, Magellan approached the Spanish court, the advisors of King Charles V, and finally the king with a proposition to explore uncharted waters and search for spice-rich islands in East Asia. King Charles approved the expedition. In exchange Magellan and Falero received decade-long, exclusive rights to the new trade routes they developed.

Falero eventually bowed out of the expedition, but Magellan pressed forward during the next year by planning the voyage and outfitting the five ships the king had allotted for the trip. The expedition set sail on September 8, 1519, with a crew of 560 men aboard the Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria, and Santiago. The ships took a southwesterly route from Seville across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they arrived on December 13. From there, the five ships continued on along the coast of South America, spending time to investigate coves and inlets for a possible shortcut across the continent to the waters on the other side. Without luck, they sailed down the coast.

Magellan decided to overwinter in the Bay of San Julían before continuing the journey. While there for four months, the captains of four of the five ships tried to organize a mutiny. Magellan and those loyal to him quashed the attempt and killed at least three of the opposing captains. The expedition also lost one of its ships to heavy damage over the winter.

After the expedition again set sail, Magellan led three of the four ships through what became known as the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America and into the Pacific Ocean. The captain of the fourth ship broke ranks while in the strait, turned around and left for home. Magellan and his remaining fleet went on, heading north to Guam and then to the Philippines, where they landed at Cebu. There, Magellan made the fatal mistake of taking sides in a local war and died in battle on April 27, 1521.

More than a year later, the voyage that Magellan had initiated finally ended when one of the original five ships completed the worldwide circuit. The battered Victoria, carrying 18 adventure-weary, sick, and starving crew members, made shore in Spain on September 8, 1522.



In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan started what was to become the first circumnavigation of the world. Leaving Spain with a small fleet of five ships on August 10, Magellan would not survive the journey. In fact, only one ship and nineteen men returned to Spain after more than three years at sea. Upon their return, the acting captain, Juan Sebastián de Elcano, was surprised to find his calendar off by a day. Through storms, battles, overhauls, and all other adversity, the ship's log had been meticulously maintained, as had the expedition's calendar. In spite of everything, however, there was no denying the discrepancy in dates; the expedition's logs showed they had returned to Spain on September 6, 1522, when in fact they returned on September 7. What had happened, of course, was that the fleet unknowingly crossed what is now the International Date Line on their voyage. This line is more than an abstraction or a simple line on the map. In traveling around the world, the voyagers crossed from time zone to time zone, always moving back by an hour. Upon their return to Spain, they had traveled through all 24 time zones, rolling back their clocks by a whole day. Since they did not advance their calendar by a day when they crossed the date line, they effectively "lost" 24 hours, one for each time zone they crossed in their travels.


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