Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese maritime explorer who led
the first successful attempt to circumnavigate the Earth. He did
not complete his final voyage; he was killed during the Battle
of Mactan in the Philippines. He did, however, die further west
than the Spice Islands, which he had visited on earlier voyages,
making him one of the first individuals to cross all the meridians
of the globe. He became the first person to lead an expedition
sailing westward from Europe to Asia and to cross the Pacific
the 237 or 270 crew members who set out with Magellan to circumnavigate
the globe, only 18 managed to return to Spain and thereby complete
the circumnavigation. They were led by Spaniard Juan Sebastián
Elcano, who took over command of the expedition after Magellan's
Magellan was born in Sabrosa, near Vila Real in the province of
Trás-os-Montes, Portugal. He was the son of Alda de Mesquita
and Pedro Rui de Magalhães, the mayor of the town. He had
two siblings, an elder brother Diogo de Sousa (named after his
grandmother) and a sister Isabel.
parents died when he was ten. At 12, he followed his brother to
become a page at the court of John II of Portugal and Queen Eleonora
in Lisbon. Here, alongside his cousin Francisco Serrão,
Magellan continued his education and became interested in geography
and astronomy. He may have been taught by Martin Behaim. In 1496,
at age 16, Magellan became a squire.
Magellan went on his first voyage on the sea at the age of 25
in 1505 when he was sent to India to install Francisco de Almeida
as the Portuguese viceroy. The voyage gave Magellan his first
experience of battle when a local king, who had paid tribute to
da Gama three years earlier, refused to pay tribute to Almeida.
Almedia's party attacked and conquered the capital of Kilwa in
1506, Magellan travelled to the East Indies and joined expeditions
to the Spice Islands. In February 1509, he took part in the naval
Battle of Diu,(a critical spice trading outpost) which marked
the decline of Ottoman influence in the area. In 1510, he was
made a captain. Within a year, however, he had lost his commission
after sailing a ship eastward without permission. He was forced
to return to Portugal.
1511, Magellan was sent to Morocco, where he fought in the Battle
of Azamor. In the midst of the battle he received a severe knee
wound. After taking leave without permission, he fell out of favor
with Almeida, and was also accused of trading illegally with the
Moors. Several of the accusations were subsequently dropped, but
Magellan fell into disfavor at the court of the new king, Manuel
I. He refused to increase Magellan's pension and told him that
there would be no further offers of employment after May 15, 1514.
Magellan therefore decided to offer his services to the court
Magellan arrived in Seville, Spain's major port, on October 20,
1517. From there he traveled to Valladolid to see the teenage
Spanish king, Charles I (later Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor).
With the endorsement of friends such as Diogo Barbosa (the Portuguese
father of Duarte Barbosa) and Juan de Aranda, one of the three
chief officials of Seville's India House, Magellan became a naturalized
Spaniard. He soon acquired great influence, gaining the ear of
Charles I and Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, bishop of Burgos and
enemy of Christopher Columbus.
revealed the Portuguese cartographical knowledge to the Spanish
court, Magellan pointed out that there would exist some passage
(that he thought would be the Río de la Plata) from South
America to the Pacific Ocean, forming a large bay-like river delta.
He decided to pioneer this route and reach the Moluccas (Spice
Islands), the key to the strategic and tremendously lucrative
spice trade. He allegedly declared himself ready to sail southward
as far as 75° to realize his project.
Faleiro, an astronomer and Portuguese exile, aided Magellan in
his planning. Magellan also made a financial alliance with Christopher
de Haro, a member of a large Antwerp firm that was against the
king of Portugal. On March 22, 1518, Charles approved Magellan's
plan and granted him generous funds. Under the contract, Magellan
and Faleiro, as joint captains-general, would receive one-twentieth
of all profits and the title of Adelantados. Magellan also took
an oath of allegiance in the church of Santa María de la
Victoria de Triana, giving money to the monks of the monastery
so they would pray for his success.
the money that Magellan and Faleiro had received from the king,
the pair obtained five ships: Trinidad (tonnage 110, crew 55),
San Antonio (tonnage 120, crew 60), Concepción (tonnage
90, crew 45), Victoria (tonnage 85, crew 42), and Santiago (tonnage
75, crew 32). The Trinidad was Magellan's flagship, and besides
Faleiro, the captains for the other four were Juan de Cartagena,
Esteban Gómez, Gaspar de Quesada and Luis de Mendoza, respectively.
On August 10, 1519, five ships under Magellan's command left Seville
and traveled from the Guadalquivir River to San Lucar de Barrameda
at the mouth of the rivers, where they remained more than five
weeks. Spanish authorities were wary of the Portuguese admiral
and almost prevented Magellan from sailing, but on September 20,
Magellan set sail from Sanlúcar de Barrameda with about
Manuel ordered a naval detachment to pursue Ferdinand Magellan,
but Magellan avoided the Portuguese. After stopping at the Canary
Islands, Ferdinand Magellan arrived at the Cape Verde Islands,
where they set course for Cape St. Augustine in Brazil. On November
20, they crossed the equator; on December 6, the crew sighted
Brazil was Portuguese territory, Magellan avoided it, and on December
13 anchored near present-day Rio de Janeiro. There the crew was
resupplied, but these good conditions caused them to delay. Afterwards,
they continued to sail south along South America's east coast,
looking for the strait that Magellan believed would lead to the
Spice Islands. The fleet reached Río de la Plata on January
March 31, the crew established a settlement that they called Puerto
San Julian. A mutiny involving two of the five ship captains broke
out. It was unsuccessful because the crew remained loyal. Quesada
was executed; Cartagena and a priest were marooned on the coast.
journey resumed. Santiago, sent down the coast on a scouting expedition,
was wrecked in a sudden storm. All of its crewmembers survived
and made it safely to shore. Two of them returned, overland, to
inform Magellan of what had happened, and bring rescue to their
comrades. After this experience, Magellan decided to wait for
a few weeks more before again resuming the voyage.
52°S latitude on August 24, 1520, the fleet reached Cape Virgenes
and concluded they had found the passage, because the waters were
brine and deep inland. Four ships began an arduous passage through
the 373-mile long passage that Magellan called the Estreito (Canal)
de Todos los Santos, ("All Saints' Channel"), because
the fleet traveled through it on November 1–All Saints'
Day. The strait is now named the Strait of Magellan.
first assigned Concepcion and San Antonio to explore the strait,
but the latter, commanded by Gomez, deserted and returned to Spain.
On November 28, the three remaining ships entered the South Pacific.
Magellan named the waters the Mar Pacifico (Pacific Ocean) because
of its apparent stillness.
Heading northwest, the crew reached the equator on February 13,
1521. On March 6, they reached the Marianas and on March 16, the
island of Homonhon in the Philippines, with 150 crewmen left.
Magellan was able to communicate with the native peoples because
his Malay interpreter could understand their language. They traded
gifts with Rajah Kolambu of Limasawa, who guided them to Cebu,
on April 7. Rajah Humabon of Cebu was friendly to them, and even
agreed to accept Christianity.
initial peace with the Philippine natives proved misleading. Magellan
was killed in the Battle of Mactan against indigenous forces led
by Lapu-Lapu on April 27, 1521. Antonio Pigafetta, a wealthy tourist
who paid to be on the Magellan voyage, provided the only extant
eyewitness account of the events culminating in Magellan's death,
morning came, forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our
thighs, and walked through water for more than two cross-bow flights
before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach
nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven
men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land,
[the natives] had formed in three divisions to the number of more
than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they
charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries... The musketeers
and crossbow-men shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but
uselessly... Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him
that they knocked his helmet off his head twice... An Indian hurled
a bamboo spear into the captain's face, but the latter immediately
killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian's body.
Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway,
because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When
the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One
of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which
resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain
to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with
iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed
our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they
wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were
all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded,
retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already
Magellan had provided in his will that his Malay interpreter was
to be freed upon his death. His interpreter, who was baptized
as Enrique (Henry the Black) in Malacca in 1511, had been captured
by Sumatran slavers from his home islands. Thus Enrique became
the first man to circumnavigate the globe (in multiple voyages).
Enrique was indentured by Magellan during his earlier voyages
to Malacca, and was at his side during the battles in Africa,
during Magellan's disgrace at the King's court in Portugal, and
during Magellan's successful raising of a fleet.
after Mactan, the remaining ship's masters refused to free Enrique.
Enrique escaped his indenture on May 1, with the aid of Rajah
Humabon, amid the deaths of almost 30 crewmen. However, Antonio
Pigafetta had been making notes about the language, and was apparently
able to continue communications during the rest of the voyage.
casualties suffered in the Philippines left the expedition with
too few men to sail the three remaining ships. Accordingly, on
May 2, 1521, they abandoned Concepción, burning the ship
to make sure it could not be used against them. The fleet, now
reduced to Trinidad and Victoria, fled westward to Palawan. They
left that island on June 21, 1521, and were guided to Brunei,
Borneo by Moro pilots, who could navigate the shallow seas.
anchored off the Brunei breakwater for 35 days, where the Venetian
Pigafetta mentions the splendor of Rajah Siripada's court (gold,
two pearls the size of hens' eggs, etc.). In addition, Brunei
boasted tame elephants and armament of 62 cannon, more than 5
times the armament of Magellan's ships. Brunei disdained the cloves
which were to prove more valuable than gold, upon the return to
Spain. Pigafetta mentions some of the technology of the court,
such as porcelain (which was not yet widely available in Europe),
and spectacles (eyeglasses were only just becoming available in
reaching the Maluku Islands (the Spice Islands) November 6, 1521,
115 crew were left. They managed to trade with the Sultan of Tidore,
a rival of the Sultan of Ternate, who was the ally of the Portuguese.
two remaining ships, laden with valuable spices, attempted to
return to Spain by sailing west. As they left the Moluccas, however,
Trinidad was found to be taking on water. The crew tried to discover
and repair the leak, but failed. They concluded that Trinidad
would need to spend considerable time being overhauled. The small
Victoria was not large enough to accommodate all the surviving
crewmembers. As a result, Victoria with some of the crew sailed
west for Spain. Several weeks later, Trinidad left the Moluccas
to attempt to return to Spain via the Pacific route. This attempt
failed; the ship was captured by the Portuguese, and was eventually
wrecked in a storm while at anchor under Portuguese control.
Victoria set sail via the Indian Ocean route home on December
21, 1521. By May 6, 1522, the Victoria, commanded by Juan Sebastián
Elcano, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, with only rice for rations.
Twenty crewmen died of starvation before Elcano put in to the
Cape Verde Islands, a Portuguese holding, where he abandoned 13
more crewmen on July 9 in fear of losing his cargo of 26 tons
of spices (cloves and cinnamon).
September 6, 1522, Juan Sebastián Elcano and the remaining
crew of Magellan's voyage and the last ship of the fleet, Victoria,
arrived in San Lucar, Spain, almost exactly three years after
leaving. The expedition actually eked out a small profit, but
the crew were not paid their full wages. Maximilianus Transylvanus
interviewed the surviving members of the expedition when they
presented themselves to the Spanish court at Valladolid in the
fall of 1522, and wrote the first account of the voyage, which
was published in 1523. The account written by Pigafetta did not
appear until 1525, in Paris, and was not wholly published until
the late eighteenth century.
crewmen of the original 55 on the Trinidad finally returned to
Spain in 1525.
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 observed several
animals that didn't live in Europe. These included the "camel
without humps", which could have been the llama, guanaco,
vicuña, or alpaca. A black "goose" which had
to be skinned instead of plucked was the penguin.
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 mi).
the need for 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 was the first European to reach Tierra del
Fuego on South America's southern tip.
was the first European to see a South American Native American
tribe. He saw a "race of giant sub-humans." The race
he saw was the Dagons. After the encounter he brought a few to
the Philippines as slaves. He also the first European to land
in The Philippines and meet its native people.
had professional scientists on the trip to help determine the
species of some of the animals he found on his voyage.
232 Portuguese, French, English and Greek sailors died on the
expedition around the world with Magellan.