Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan, one of the first explorers credited with circumnavigating the globe, lived during the Renaissance, when the discovery of the "New World" shattered the reigning misconception of a flat Earth. From this confirmation that the Earth was indeed a navigable sphere came the opportunity to sail around the world's circumference and find new routes of travel to replace otherwise costly and dangerous routes. For Magellan and his contemporaries, this prospect of exploring new avenues of travel and mapping previously undiscovered territories was a chance to make history.

Born in Portugal in 1480, Magellan grew up in this world of ever-expanding boundaries. He enlisted in the navy in 1505, and learned seamanship and principles of naval warfare under the Portuguese viceroys in India. Upon his return to the Portuguese court, Magellan had a falling out with King Manuel, and in revenge enlisted in the service of the Spanish King Charles.

The rivalry between Spain and Portugal at that time was intense; in 1493, Pope Alexander VI had "divided the world in half" by giving the eastern half to Portugal and the western half to Spain. Magellan then offered his services to the Spanish king, proposing a journey around the world that would aid in mapping Spain's "half", and hopefully prove that the coveted Spice Islands, or the Moluccas, lay within Spain's territory.

Financed by King Charles, Magellan set sail from Spain on August 10, 1519, with five ships and 270 men. He was determined to find a passage through the Americas to the ocean, which was a revolutionary idea, as many thought the Americas stretched continuously from the North Pole to the South Pole. On December 13, he reached Rio de Janeiro in South America, where his expedition took on more supplies and then turned south along the coastline in search of a passage to the other side of the continent.

In October, Magellan discovered a strait that took 38 days to navigate, but which ultimately led to the ocean he called Pacifico, named for the gentle seas he encountered there. Magellan had no idea of the actual size of the Pacific Ocean; he assumed he could cross it in three or four days. Instead, the journey took four miserable months, and as food and water ran out, his men suffered from scurvy, and many died of starvation. In January 1521, the expedition took on supplies at a small island, and by March 28 they had arrived in the Philippines.

During the stay in the Philippines, Magellan attempted to convert many of the inhabitants to Catholicism. In a clash with a native king who refused to convert, Magellan was killed on April 27, 1521. His remaining men returned to the three ships, sank one, and continued on their voyage to the Spice Islands. They finally reached the islands in November, and from there one ship, the Victoria, continued west for Spain, and the other, the Trinidad, turned east for Spain. The Trinidad was captured and destroyed by the Portuguese, but the Victoria arrived in Spain on August 6, 1522, with 18 survivors of the original 270 men.

As the only remaining ship of Magellan's expedition, the Victoria gave conclusive proof that the world is round by sailing around the entire globe and completing her journey from Spain and back.


Provided by Infoplease—an authoritative, comprehensive reference website that offers an encyclopedia, a dictionary, an atlas, and several almanacs. Visit Infoplease.com to find more resources endorsed by teachers and librarians.

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