Ferdinand Magellan


Ferdinand Magellan, Portuguese Fernão de Magalhães, pronunciation: , Spanish Fernando de Magallanes, German also Fernando Magellan († April 27, 1521 on Mactan, Philippines) was a Portuguese navigator who was commissioned by the Spanish crown to find a western route to the Spice Islands and became the initiator of the first historically documented circumnavigation of the globe. This was the last practical proof of the already generally known spherical shape of the earth.

With Magellan as captain general, five ships set sail from Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 20, 1519. He and his crew discovered the Strait of Magellan in late 1520 and subsequently became the first Europeans to cross the Pacific. After reaching what is now the Philippines, Magellan fell in battle with Visayan warriors. Under the command of Juan Sebastián Elcano, only one ship of Magellan”s fleet, the Victoria, returned to Sanlúcar via the route around the Cape of Good Hope on September 6, 1522. Of the more than 240 men in the original crew, only 35 circumnavigated: 18 on the Victoria and 17 others who had fallen into Portuguese captivity en route. About 55 more men returned by an easterly route, so that a total of about 90 of the original expedition members made it back to Spain alive. The story of the first voyage around the world became known primarily through the account of one survivor, the Italian Antonio Pigafetta.

There are no reliable sources about Magellan”s childhood and youth. What is known is that he came from a widely ramified noble family that belonged to the vassals of the Dukes of Braganza. Resident in northern Portugal since the 13th century at the latest, they had their ancestral seat in the Terra da Nóbrega. The small town of Sabrosa in the former province of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro was long considered Magellan”s birthplace. However, more recent sources indicate that he came from Vila Nova de Gaia, a neighboring municipality of the port city of Porto. His parents, Rui de Magalhães and Alda de la Mesquita, had left him an estate there with vineyards, chestnut groves and fields, which he bequeathed to his then unmarried sister Isabel before his expedition in March 1519. As further siblings he had at least two – presumably younger – brothers, Duarte and Diogo de Sousa.

In late 1517 or early 1518, Magellan married Beatriz Barbosa, a Sevillian woman of Portuguese descent and daughter of his patron Diogo Barbosa (see below). She bore him a son in 1519, who was baptized Rodrigo. On Magellan”s departure in September 1519, however, Beatriz was pregnant again but suffered a miscarriage. She died in March 1522 without learning of her husband”s fate. The firstborn Rodrigo followed her to the grave in the fall of 1522.

The oldest historical document that can be proven to refer to Magellan dates back to 1505. It is a crew list of the Portuguese India Armada of that year under the command of Viceroy Francisco de Almeida. In this list a Fernão de Magalhães and his brother Diogo de Sousa are mentioned. According to this list, both were Moradores da Casa del Rey, that is, servants of King Manuel I, who received a small monthly pension for their service to the court.

References to Magellan”s stay in India from 1505 onward can be found primarily in 16th-century Portuguese historians such as João de Barros, in the correspondence of the second governor of the Portuguese Indies, Afonso de Albuquerque, and in the Portuguese national archive Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo. Magellan participated in the violent capture of Mombasa in present-day Kenya and possibly in the Battle of Kannur (1506). In 1507 he was again on the East African coast, at Kilwa and Ilha de Moçambique. In 1509, he fought in the historically momentous naval battle of Diu and participated in the first Portuguese advance to Malacca, then the hub of trade in Southeast Asia. However, this advance failed. On this voyage at the latest, Magellan became friends with Francisco Serrão, whom he twice saved the life of. Serrão later became the first European to settle on the Moluccas, and from there he informed his friend Magellan by letter about the location of these islands and their wealth of cloves. In the winter of 1509

Magellan must have returned to Portugal with the spice fleet of 1513 at the latest, because already at the end of August of that year he took part in a punitive expedition against the Moroccan city of Azemmour under the command of Duke Jaime de Braganza. In the process he lost his horse and was wounded in the knee, so that from then on he limped slightly. For the next three years, he seems to have stayed alternately in Portugal and Morocco, where he was in royal service and performed military duties. Magellan continued to draw a salary at King Manuel I”s court during these years, but probably also invested in the extremely lucrative spice trade. This is evidenced by the files of a lawsuit that Magellan successfully brought against the merchant Pedro Anes Abraldez. The latter owed him more than 200 cruzados, the profit from a spice deal they had both concluded in India.

Idea and backgrounds

As far as can be seen from the surviving documents, Magellan never intended to circumnavigate the globe. The contract he concluded with the Castilian King Charles I on March 22, 1518, even contained the implicit prohibition of a circumnavigation of the earth, as this would have violated the interests and rights of Charles” uncle and brother-in-law, the Portuguese King Manuel I. The motivation for Magellan”s voyage was the same as for Christopher Columbus” voyage 27 years earlier. The impetus for Magellan”s voyage was the same as that for Christopher Columbus” voyage 27 years earlier: to sail west to reach the east (sea route to India). The main objective was to find the shortest possible route to the Spice Islands, whose exact location was hardly known at the time due to the strict secrecy. The extremely lucrative trade in spices to Europe was shared by Indian, Persian, Arab, Ottoman and Venetian merchants on the land route in the intermediate trade – and Portugal on the sea route.

It was equally unclear whether the islands were in the Portuguese or Spanish sphere of power after the Treaty of Tordesillas. In this treaty, the Castilian and Portuguese crowns had divided the globe into two halves in 1494. A meridian 370 leguas west of the Cape Verde Islands was established as the demarcation line. All seas, islands and mainlands east of this meridian were to belong to Portugal, and all west of it to Castile. In 1498, a Portuguese fleet under Vasco da Gama reached the west coast of India for the first time. Immediately, the Portuguese began to build a trading empire in the Indian Ocean. In 1511, they captured the trading center of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula and set out to expand further east, sending an expedition under António de Abreu to the Moluccas, at that time the only clove-growing regions on the entire planet.

While the Portuguese were expanding ever further eastward, Castile saw “its”, i.e. the western route to the treasures of Asia, blocked by a land mass whose immense extent, stretching from the Arctic to the Antarctic, was only gradually becoming apparent: America. Therefore, since about 1505, Bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, responsible for colonial policy in the Royal Council of Castile, the navigator Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, who had commanded one of Columbus” ships, and Amerigo Vespucci, who was later appointed Chief Steersman, developed the plan to search for a sea route to Asia south of Brazil. The existence of the Pacific Ocean – then called the Southern Ocean – had been known in Spain since 1515, after the explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa had crossed the Isthmus of Panama two years earlier. The Portuguese helmsman Juan Díaz de Solís made several attempts on behalf of the Castilian crown to find a passage to this southern sea and thus to East Asia. All attempts failed, however, and in 1516 Solis met his death on the Río de la Plata.

At about the same time, Cristóbal de Haro, a merchant from Burgos operating out of Lisbon, had two ships sail to South America to buy brazilwood and slaves and explore the coast. Of this expedition, the Newe Zeytung from Presillg Landt, one of the oldest German news papers of its kind in German, reported that Haro”s ships had discovered a strait similar to that of Gibraltar on the coast at about 40° south, leading to the west side of the American continent and on to Asia. This strait can be found shortly thereafter on a globe of the earth made by the scholar Johannes Schöner from Karlstadt am Main in 1515.

Magellan must have learned of this venture and its supposed results in Lisbon. He and Cristóbal de Haro probably met there in 1515 or 1516. In the summer of 1516, Magellan received letters from Francisco Serrão, who had settled in the Moluccas and wrote to his friend that these islands lay very far east of Malacca, so that Magellan became convinced that they lay in the Castilian hemisphere. The same conviction was shared by the studied cosmographer Rui Faleiro, who also claimed to have developed a reliable method to measure longitude. Thus, it would be possible to accurately determine the east-west position of the Moluccas. Magellan and Faleiro then concluded a treaty: they agreed to propose to the Castilian king an expedition that would reach the Moluccas by the western route and take possession of them for Castile. Meanwhile, Cristóbal de Haro felt compelled to leave Portugal as well because of business quarrels with the Portuguese crown; he returned to Castile in the spring of 1517 at the latest.

The contract with the Spanish king

Magellan arrived in Seville on October 20, 1517. He lodged in the house of Diogo Barbosa, a native of Portugal – his future father-in-law – who, as a servant of a Portuguese exile from the House of Braganza, managed the royal castles and shipyards in Seville. At that time, the Casa de la Contratación, the Castilian foreign trade agency, had its premises in these buildings. Magellan contacted its factor, Juan de Aranda. Aranda offered to arrange for Magellan and Faleiro to have an audience with the new King Charles I, who was then in Valladolid with his court. In return, Aranda demanded a share in Magellan and Faleiro”s company, and a contract was made. Aranda, Magellan and Faleiro traveled to Valladolid, where they were received around February 20 by the Royal Council and Bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca and by Grand Chancellor Jean le Sauvage, and later, according to Magellan, by Charles I in person. In Jean le Sauvage”s antechamber, Magellan ran into the missionary Bartolomé de las Casas, who described the navigator in his Historia de las Indias as “small in stature” and “unprepossessing,” but “valiant in his thoughts and given to great deeds”-the only surviving contemporary description of Magellan”s appearance. After Magellan and Faleiro presented their company, they were asked by Jean le Sauvage to submit a memorandum outlining their terms of business. On the basis of this memorandum, King Charles I concluded a “capitulation,” or contract, with the two entrepreneurs on March 22, 1518.

By the “Capitulation” of March 22, 1518, Magellan and Rui Faleiro received from Charles I the order to discover within the Spanish half of the world “islands and mainland countries, rich spice deposits and other things”. Under no circumstances were they to operate in the Portuguese part of the world. As a reward for their “toil and danger,” the king assured Magellan and Faleiro a fifth of the net profit from their venture. He promised to appoint them governors over the lands they would discover. In addition, they were to receive one-twentieth of all tax revenues from these lands and were to be allowed to trade tax-deferred for 1000 ducats each year. All these rights were to pass to their heirs, provided they were born and married in Castile.

Furthermore, the capitulation stipulated that the route through the suspected strait to the west would be reserved for Magellan and Faleiro for ten years and would not be used by anyone else. To carry out their enterprise, the two were to be provided with five ships of twice 130 tons, twice 90 tons and once 60 tons of cargo space, a crew of 234 men, and equipment, artillery and provisions for two years. On the same day, in separate documents, the king appointed the two Portuguese “captains both at sea and on land” with an annual salary of 50,000 maravedis each, and he determined that they should set sail on August 25, 1518.

Armada equipment

In the end, it would take almost a year longer for Magellan”s armada to be ready to sail. When Magellan arrived in Seville in May 1518, he found the leaders of the Casa de la Contratación, who had been entrusted with equipping the armada, not very cooperative. They demanded more precise instructions, but these were delayed for months because of an epidemic in the royal court. Thus, it was not until the late summer of 1518 that the purchase of the ships could be proceeded with. For this purpose, Juan de Aranda traveled to Cádiz. Among the merchant ships anchored there, he selected five suitable ones and had them seized – in exchange for compensation.

The fact that not all owners surrendered their ships voluntarily is evident from a notarial document with which two Basque shipowners from Ondarroa protested against the expropriation of their ship “Santa María” by the king on September 23, 1518. Magellan later renamed this ship “Santa María de la Vitoria” in honor of a monastery of the same name belonging to the Pauline order in Triana, to which he felt particularly attached. Under the Latinized abbreviation of its name – Victoria – the Santa María de la Vitoria was soon to achieve worldwide fame. In accordance with the order, Aranda purchased a total of five ships, all of which were seaworthy, three-masted naos:

The general overhaul of the five ships, which Magellan personally directed, lasted until the spring of 1519. All were repaired all around, calfated, re-rigged, received new sails and a ship”s artillery consisting of bombardes, falconets and versos (smaller version of the falconet). To provision the crew during the voyage were purchased: 2138 quintals of rusks, 508 barrels of wine, 50 fanegas of beans, 90 fanegas of chickpeas, 2 fanegas of lentils, 48 quintals of “oil for consumption”, 200 barrels of anchovies and dried fish, 57 quintals of dried bacon, seven cows, 984 loaves of cheese, drinking water in barrels, 21 arrobas of sugar, 200 arrobas of vinegar, 250 plaits of garlic, 18 quintals of raisins, as well as smaller quantities of figs, almonds, honey, dried plums, salt, rice, mustard, wheat flour, etc.  a.

In the spring of 1519, Magellan”s company – presumably as a result of Charles I”s candidacy for Roman Emperor, which required the use of horrendous sums of money – ran into a financial bottleneck from which it was only able to extricate itself when the merchant Cristóbal de Haro stepped in as an investor. Haro financed the merchandise (fabrics and clothing, glass beads, mirrors, combs, knives, etc.) that was to be exchanged for spices in the Moluccas, and contributed further funds to equip the fleet. In total, his involvement amounted to about one fifth of the total investment of 8,334,335 maravedis or just under 22,225 ducats. Haro probably also acted as a straw man for other merchants; however, it cannot be proven that the Augsburg trading house of the Fuggers also invested money in Magellan”s armada, as is often claimed. During this time, other leadership positions were filled: Juan de Cartagena, superintendent of the Armada and captain of the San Antonio; Antonio de Coca, accountant of the Armada; Luis de Mendoza, treasurer of the Armada and captain of the Victoria; Gaspar de Quesada, captain of the Concepción.

There was a further delay in the summer of 1519 because too few Spanish sailors were willing to take part in the risky voyage and Magellan had the ranks filled with Portuguese compatriots – which in turn caused discontent among his clients. They enforced a numerical restriction on sailors and shipboys from Portugal, but ultimately Magellan was able to win the conflict. However, he sacrificed his companion Rui Faleiro, who was removed as second captain alongside Magellan and excluded from the expedition.

Beginning of the journey

Thus, the Moluccan Armada was finally able to sail from Seville on August 10, 1519 – initially, however, without Magellan, who had his will drawn up in Seville on August 24. In the meantime, the five ships sailed down the Guadalquivir, at the mouth of which at Sanlúcar de Barrameda they had to stay for more than five weeks, because the ships could not sail down the river fully loaded due to their draught and the supplies and barter goods had to be brought from Seville by boat. On September 20, 1519, the fleet set sail from Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Magellan had a torch attached to his flagship, the Trinidad, at night so that the other ships could maintain visual contact. The crew consisted of a total of 237 men: mostly Spaniards, but also 37 Portuguese, four Flemings, an Englishman, a Norwegian, and Magellan”s Malay slave Enrique Melaka as interpreter. In the Canary Islands, the number increased to a total of 242, distributed among the five ships as follows:

The preparations for the Spanish Moluccas voyage had not gone unnoticed by the Portuguese King Manuel I. In order to prevent the unwelcome competition from gaining a foothold, he sent Portuguese squadrons to Brazil and southern Africa to block the path of the Spanish fleet, but this did not succeed.

South America

Magellan first sailed to the Canary Islands, where he took on board supplies again at Tenerife on September 26, and then continued along the African coast to about 8° north. Off Sierra Leone, the Armada ran into a lull that lasted several weeks. When the Spanish captains then confronted the captain general, Magellan considered this an affront and had the chief overseer of the Armada and captain of the San Antonio, Juan de Cartagena, who considered himself conjunta persona, assigned to the captain general, and thus his equal, arrested and made this clear in the confrontation. In Cartagena”s place, Magellan appointed the armada”s accountant, Antonio de Coca, as captain of the San Antonio.

Finally, they managed to cross the Atlantic and on December 6, the fleet sighted the South American coast, where they anchored on December 13 in Guanabara Bay, which Magellan named Bahia de Santa Lucía – after Santa Lucia, the saint of the day. The same bay had been first approached by the Portuguese on January 1, 1502, and was initially thought to be a river to which they gave the name of Saint Januarius – today”s Rio de Janeiro. The native Tupis considered Magellan and his companions – according to Pigafetta”s interpretation – to be gods, because their arrival brought the first rain in a long time. They received the strangers in a friendly manner and traded with them.

Magellan”s fleet remained in Guanabara Bay for two weeks. On December 27, she set sail again, first heading for the Río de la Plata, then known as the Río de Solís (after João de Solis), whose mouth she reached on January 10, 1520. However, the strait hoped for there remained undiscovered. Magellan lost about a month exploring the vast estuary. He then continued the search by sailing his ships south along the South American coast, exploring all the bays and estuaries along the way.

On March 30, the fleet headed south of the 49th parallel to a bay that was soon named Puerto San Julián. Since the season was now well advanced, Magellan decided to hibernate. Because of the dwindling supplies, he had the food rations cut. On April 1, a mutiny broke out because of the poor supply situation. Because of hunger, disease and exhaustion, some crew members demanded to return to Spain. The mutiny was led by Gaspar de Quesada, Juan de Cartagena and Luis de Mendoza. The mutineers took over the San Antonio. During the skirmish, Magellan managed to board the Victoria. In the process, Luis de Mendoza was killed. Now it was three ships against two, and Magellan was able to put down the rebellion. The captain of the Concepción, Gaspar de Quesada, was executed, and the captain of the San Antonio, Juan de Cartagena, and the priest Sanchez de la Reina (according to other sources his name was Bernard Calmette) were later abandoned on the coast when the squadron set out again. They were never heard from again.

Soon after the mutiny was quelled, the Santiago was sent to reconnoiter along the southern coast, where it was wrecked in the mouth of the Río Santa Cruz on May 22. Two sailors returned overland to bring the bad news, while the others managed the arduous march back weeks later. It was during their stay in Puerto San Julián that they first came into contact with the Patagonians, who were then given their name – probably inspired by the chivalric novel Primaleón by Castilian author Francisco Vázquez, published in 1512, in which a character named Patagón appears.

On August 24, 1520, the four remaining ships left Puerto San Julián after five months of winter quarters. Again, all the bays and estuaries were searched in great detail for the paso.

On October 21, 1520, Magellan reached a cape he named “Cabo Vírgenes” (“Cape of the Virgins”). The Concepción and the San Antonio were sent on a reconnaissance voyage south of the cape and discovered the entrance to the long-sought passage. Before the passage, Magellan asked the captains of the other ships whether they favored continuing the voyage or preferred to return. No one except Estevão Gomes, the pilot of the San Antonio, dared recommend a turn back. Since the passage splits several times, a boat and two ships were sent out to explore. From the crew of the boat came the news that the Strait had an exit to the northwest: The Southern Sea had been reached. But of the two ships sent out, only the Concepción under Serrano returned. Once again a mutiny had taken place on the San Antonio; the new captain Álvaro de la Mesquita was taken prisoner, the largest ship with the richest supplies deserted and returned to Spain. The initiator had been Gomes (the pilot). Thus, only three ships remained to make the arduous journey through the strait now known as the Strait of Magellan, reaching the Pacific Ocean on November 28. Magellan called it the Pacific Ocean or the Quiet Ocean because the storms that had accompanied them until then subsided. Since the crew celebrated All Saints” Day during the passage, Magellan named the strait Estreito de Todos los Santos – All Saints” Strait.

The Pacific and East Asia

It took the Armada three months and 20 days to cross the Pacific, during which time there was no land to be seen except for two tiny, uninhabited islands. Much of the crew fell ill with scurvy; there was nothing left to eat aboard the ships except rusks riddled with worms and rat droppings. The sailors therefore began to eat leather stewed and roasted in salt water or soup made from sawdust. Rats were especially sought after, and the sailors sold them for half a ducat. At least 19 men died.

On March 6, 1521, they reached the Marianas. When the fleet anchored off one of the islands (possibly Guam), the natives tried to take one of the dinghies. Magellan then had some natives killed and their houses burned down. He named the islands Islas de los Ladrones (Islands of Thieves).

Magellan”s death

After taking on the much-needed supplies, Magellan”s fleet sailed on to the Philippines and reached Homonhon Island on March 16. At that time, 150 sailors were still alive. With the help of his slave Enrique as interpreter, Magellan was able to exchange gifts with the prince of Limasawa, Raja Kolambu. Kolambu escorted the Spaniards to the island of Cebu, where they succeeded in converting the prince of Cebu, Raja Humabon, and many of his subjects to Christianity. Cebu also submitted to the King of Spain. However, the Datu Lapu-Lapu on the neighboring island of Mactan rejected Spanish suzerainty and proselytization. As a result, Magellan attempted to militarily subjugate Lapu-Lapu and its village.

But the attack on Mactan on April 27, 1521, failed: despite their firearms, the Spaniards were driven back by the natives still on the shore and suffered several casualties. Magellan also lost his life in the process. According to the reports of his chronicler Pigafetta, he was one of the last to fight, still standing in the water, to cover the retreat of his men. A poisoned arrow pierced his thigh; shortly thereafter he was struck down by two lance thrusts, one wounding him in the face, the other under the right arm.

Soon after the failed attack on Mactan, the prince of Cebu renounced Christianity and lured the Europeans into a trap. Thirty-five of them perished. The rest narrowly escaped, but they were now so few that they sank the Concepción and dispersed the survivors among the Trinidad and Victoria. Helmsman João Lopes Carvalho was elected the new captain general and captain of the Trinidad, and the armada”s “alguacil” (profoss), Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, initially took command of the Victoria.

Further course of the expedition

With the two remaining ships, the survivors sailed on to Borneo, where they spent 35 days in Brunei. After a hasty escape, João Lopes Carvalho was removed as captain general and Gómez de Espinosa was appointed in his place, thus also taking command of the Trinidad. The former master of the Concepción, Juan Sebastián Elcano, was elected captain of the Victoria. On November 6, the sailors reached Tidore, one of the Moluccan Islands, where they were able to trade with the Sultan and finally acquire the spices they had longed for. The inhabitants there knew Europeans because the Portuguese had already reached there via Africa and India. On December 21, the Victoria sailed with 47 Europeans and 13 East Indians as crew, but without the Trinidad because it had sprung a leak and needed repairs.

The Trinidad sailed from Tidore on April 6, 1522, with about 55 men aboard, under the command of Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, bound for South America. However, the crossing of the Pacific failed due to contrary winds, storms and eventually food shortages, so Gómez de Espinosa had to give the order to turn back. He and his crew managed with their last strength to return to Halmahera, where they had no choice but to ask the Portuguese for help. The 25 or so survivors fell into Portuguese captivity. Only five of them, including Gómez de Espinosa himself, returned to Europe years later via Portuguese India.

Meanwhile, the Victoria – on February 11, 1522 – had begun the crossing of the Indian Ocean from the island of Timor under the command of Elcano. The voyage home was marked by difficult weather conditions, so that the Victoria needed 12 weeks to sail around the Cape of Good Hope (May 19, 1522). It then took her until July 9 to reach the Cape Verde Islands. After 21 weeks at sea, the Victoria had lost her foremast as well as 21 crew members. While attempting to acquire food and slaves to operate the pumps in the Cape Verde Islands, 13 crew members fell into Portuguese captivity. Given the poor condition of the ship and crew, and fearing Portuguese superiority, Elcano and the other men on board did not even attempt to rescue their captured comrades, but sought their salvation in flight.

On September 6, 1522, the Victoria reached Sanlúcar, the Spanish port of departure. Only 18 men of the 242 that had once set out (minus the approximately 55 crew of the San Antonio that mutinied in the Strait of Magellan) went ashore, accompanied by three East Indian crew members. The first circumnavigation of the world was completed. It had taken two years, eleven months and two weeks.

The Victoria brought home 520 quintales (about 26 tons) of spices from the Moluccas. The proceeds from the sale of the spices amounted to 8,680,500 maravedís. While this covered the initial investment of the expedition, it did not cover the claims of the passengers for wages and a share of the spice sales that had accrued during the voyage, so that the venture ended with a loss that could not be offset even by the auction of the Victoria.

Juan Sebastián Elcano reported the events to Emperor Charles V and was now also officially promoted to the rank of captain and given a knighthood. Elcano and Cristobal de Haro were each awarded an annual pension of 500 ducats.

Since the 19th century, Magellan”s name has been associated primarily with the first historically documented circumnavigation of the Earth. However, Magellan neither circumnavigated the earth himself, nor did he ever plan to do so – even if his companion and admirer Antonio Pigafetta claimed he did. But Pigafetta”s statements about Magellan are clearly written with apologetic intent, that is, he wanted to defend the reputation of his late boss against his enemies and critics.

In the documents from the planning phase of the expedition, there is not a single indication that Magellan or anyone else had planned a circumnavigation of the earth at that time. In the end, this only came about out of necessity, because Juan Sebastián Elcano, the last captain of the Victoria, and his crew hoped to bring their worn-out ship with its valuable spice cargo back to Spain this way – which they eventually succeeded in doing.

Consequently, Elcano and his crew first earned the credit of being the first humans to circumnavigate the Earth. Since every educated contemporary knew at that time that the Earth was a sphere, the voyage of the Victoria was seen less as proof of the spherical nature than of the superiority of their own time, in which they lived, over antiquity. For the ancient Greeks had sung the praises of the Argonauts in high tones, but the voyage of the Argo was a puny achievement compared to the Victoria”s circumnavigation of the earth.

Before the 19th century, little of this fame fell on Magellan. While his Spanish patrons did not hold him in particularly high esteem either during his lifetime or afterwards, his Portuguese compatriots reviled him as a traitor. However, his seafaring and military achievements were certainly recognized – especially the discovery and passage of the strait between South America and Tierra del Fuego, known as the “Estrecho de Magallanes” (Strait of Magellan) from around the middle of the 16th century.

However, subsequent expeditions – notably that of García Jofre de Loaísa in 1525, in which Elcano also participated – showed that the practical value of the sea route to the Pacific and on to Asia found by Magellan was very small. The passage of the Strait of Magellan was a gamble, and the Pacific Ocean was not only immensely large, but made it impossible to establish lasting trade and dominion relations as long as it could only be crossed from east to west. The opposite direction was not achieved until 1565, when Andrés de Urdaneta succeeded in returning from the Visayas to Mexico by sailing far out into the North Pacific and taking advantage of the prevailing westerly winds there. Only now were the Spaniards able to colonize the (soon to be called) Philippines, though not directly from the mother country of Spain, but from their colony of New Spain. Magellan had discovered the Philippines for the Europeans, but Miguel López de Legazpi could take credit for conquering them for Spain.

It was not until the Milanese scholar Carlo Amoretti found a previously unknown manuscript of Pigafetta”s account of the circumnavigation of the earth in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana and published it in print in 1800 that Magellan”s star began to rise. Alexander von Humboldt declared him a hero of scientific exploration. Spanish, Chilean, and eventually English and Portuguese historians set about recovering the accounts and documents of his life and expedition from the archives and retelling his story. Thus was born the narrative of Magellan, the “genius” or even greatest navigator of all time, as cultivated in the German-speaking world, for example, by Stefan Zweig”s biographical novel Magellan. The Man and His Deed. However, this myth does not stand up to a closer historical look. Strictly speaking, Magellan was not even a professional navigator, but a military and commercial entrepreneur whose nautical and geographical knowledge was at the height of his time, but anything but singular.

Ferdinand Magellan”s expedition reached Guanabara Bay in present-day Brazil on December 13, 1519, where it remained for two weeks until December 26 of the same year. There, the sailors made contact with the Tupi people. They established trade relations, exchanging mainly fresh food for objects made of iron. Some of these transactions were recorded by Antonio Pigafetta.

Like any world historical event, the first circumnavigation of the globe had an impact on the places it passed through, and Brazil was no different. The Brazilian Navy even made up for the voyage in the 19th century with the corvette Vital de Oliveira, which made the journey in 1879. A few years later, the Navy embarked on the voyage again, this time with the cruiser Almirante Barroso (1888-1890), whose mission was to provide training for the class of Naval Guards formed in 1886. This voyage, which covered 36,691 nautical miles, was recorded in a book by its commander. During the voyage, a curious incident occurred. Due to the proclamation of the Republic of Brazil, the Emperor”s grandson and First Lieutenant of the Imperial Fleet, Prince Dom Augusto Leopoldo, who was part of the crew, had to disembark in Colombo (Sri Lanka). The Navy has an interest in this subject that is reflected in various departments of the institution, especially the Directorate of Historical Heritage and Documentation of the Navy (DPHDM). In the Maritime Museum, a reference to the expedition can be seen at the entrance to the permanent exhibition, as well as artifacts from the 16th century. In addition, articles have been published in the Revista Marítima about the importance of Ferdinand Magellan to the art of navigation, as well as the subsequent commemorations of his voyage, especially the fourth anniversary.

The voyage was also traced by the Schürmann family, famous Brazilian sailors, as part of the Magellan Global Adventure expedition. They set out on the sailing ship Aysso on November 23, 1997 and covered 32,657 miles in 912 days. The voyage ended with their arrival in Lisbon for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil. The adventure was captured in a documentary film: The World in Two Round Trips. On the occasion of the family”s journey, the Embaixada Copa Lord samba school, member of the League of Florianópolis Samba Schools (Liesf), paid tribute to Ferdinand Magellan”s expedition in 2001. The samba parade entitled “Wind in Symphony, the Schurmann family sets sail” took second place in the parade.

Ferdinand Magellan also inspired some Brazilian cultural productions that dealt with his story and his participation in the circumnavigation of the world. A comic book from the series “Discovery”, published by EBAL in 1959, narrates his biography. The collection, “Biographies in Comics,” had an educational character that would change the perception of this literary form at the time. Magalhães” influence on Brazilian society lasted for several decades. For example, he was honored by “Gaviões Imperiais,” a virtual samba school that presented the same theme twice in 2009 and 2015. The parade tells the story of sailing around the world, whose title is “Por Mares Nunca Antes Navegados…. The Dream of Ferdinand Magellan.” The school is part of the Independent League of Virtual Schools (LIESV).

On the occasion of the commemorations of the 5th anniversary of the voyage, a number of initiatives have been developed in Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian Navy, in collaboration with the Portuguese Navy, has held several events related to the ephemerides. The first was held in October 2019, the I Symposium of Maritime History “Por uma História Marítima e suas perspectivas no campo historiográfico brasileiro” at the Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute (IHGB). In the same year, Brazil hosted an international seminar on the “500th Anniversary of the First Circumnavigation of the World: the Fleet”s Stay in Rio de Janeiro”. It was held at the National Historical Museum and was attended by Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian and other Latin American historians. In 2020, in a ceremony attended by Lusitanian and Brazilian authorities, a place on the edge of the Bay of Guanabara next to the Rio Star, the largest Ferris wheel in Latin America, was renamed “Praça da Circum-Navegação”, “Square of the Circumnavigation of the World”, in allusion to the circumnavigation and the affirmation of the rounding of the Earth, the result of the voyage of Magellan-Elcano.

Literary adaptations



  1. Ferdinand Magellan
  2. Ferdinand Magellan