Magellan's Circumnavigation

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The Magellan's circumnavigation, also known as the Magellan–Elcano circumnavigation, refers to the first documented circumnavigation of the world by Spanish navigator Juan Sebastián del Cano who, after the death of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippines in 1521 and following several other changes of leadership, led the expedition to the Spice Islands with the remaining ships of the fleet (Armada de Molucca) and the return trip to Spain in 1522. He and seventeen other survivors of the fleet’s sole surviving ship, Victoria, were the only ones to return to Spain and circumnavigate the world.

Ferdinand Magellan led a Spanish expedition with a goal of finding a western route to the East Indies and reach the Moluccas or Spice Islands (in present day Indonesia) and trade for spices. Magellan left Spain on 20 September 1519, sailed across the Atlantic, and discovered the strait that now bears his name, allowing him to pass through the southern tip of South America into the Pacific Ocean (which he named). The fleet performed the first ever crossing of the Pacific, stopping in what is today called the Philippines, and eventually reached the Moluccas, accomplishing its goal. A much-depleted crew finally returned to Spain on 6 September 1522.

Magellan’s fleet, the Armada de Molucca, originally consisted of about 270 men and five ships: four carracks and one caravel. The expedition faced numerous hardships including mutinies, starvation, scurvy, storms, and hostile encounters with indigenous people. The fleet lost Magellan, who died in battle in the Philippine islands (Battle of Mactan and was succeeded as captain-general by a series of officers who were either killed or replaced, with Juan Sebastián Elcano eventually leading the trip onward to Spain.

Hoping to discover a profitable western route to the Moluccas (the eastern route was controlled by Portugal under the Treaty of Tordesillas), King Charles I of Spain (and as Holy Roman Emperor “Charles V”) approved and mostly funded the expedition. The expedition was successful in finding the route, but it was much longer and more arduous than expected, making the course commercially impractical. Nevertheless, the first circumnavigation has been hailed as a great achievement in seamanship and had a significant impact on the early European understanding of the world.


King Charles of Spain was 18 years old when he agreed to finance Magellan's expedition to the Spice Islands in 1518. He is pictured here in a painting by Bernard van Orley

When Italian explorer Christopher Columbus led an expedition to the West (1492–1503) for the Spanish Empire, his primary goal was to reach the Indies and establish direct commercial relations between Spain and the Asian kingdoms. The Spanish Empire was under agreement through the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas to not explore the land to the east, as this was reserved for the Portuguese Empire. However, the Spanish crown wanted a part of the spice trade in Molucca, which they deemed economically important. When Columbus managed to set foot on the America, Spain soon realized that the lands of the Americas were not a part of Asia, but a new continent. This compelled the Spanish to try to reach the islands in Asia using western route. After the Junta de Toro conference of 1505, the Spanish Crown commissioned expeditions to discover a route to the west. Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa reached the Pacific Ocean in 1513 after crossing the Isthmus of Panama, and Juan Díaz de Solís died in Río de la Plata in 1516 while exploring South America in the service of Spain.

Magellan in the Service of Spain

Main article: Ferdinand Magellan Coincidentally, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan wanted to plan an expedition to the Spice Islands using a western route. Magellan had previous military experience in India, Malacca, and Morocco. He was probably motivated to plan an expedition to the islands after a friend, and possible cousin, Francisco Serrão had sent letters to Magellan from Ternate, admiring the beauty and richness of the Spice Islands. Magellan and Serrão was part of the first expedition to the Malacca, where both participated in the conquest of the city. After the conquest, they parted ways. Magellan was promoted, with a rich plunder and returned to Portugal in 1512 or 1513. On the other hand, Serrão departed in the first expedition sent to find the "Spice Islands" in the Moluccas, where he remained on the island of Ternate and take a wife. These letters likely motivated Magellan to plan an expedition to the islands and would later be presented to Spanish officials when Magellan sought their sponsorship.

Before going to the Spaniards, Magellan had repeatedly petitioned King Manuel I of Portugal to fund his expedition to the Moluccas, but was always denied.It is known that Manuel repeatedly denied Magellan's requests for a token increase to his pay, and that in late 1515 or early 1516, Manuel granted Magellan's request to be allowed to serve another master. Around this time, Magellan met the cosmographer Rui Faleiro, another Portuguese subject nursing resentment towards Manuel. They decided to plan their voyage to the Moluccas with the assistance of the king of Spain. . They thus relocated to Seville, Spain in 1517 and met Juan de Aranda, factor of the Casa de Contratación. Following the arrival of his partner Rui Faleiro, and with the support of Aranda, they presented their project to the Spanish king, Charles I (future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). Magellan's project, if successful, would realize Columbus' plan of a spice route by sailing west without damaging relations with the Portuguese. The idea was in tune with the times and had already been discussed after Balboa's discovery of the Pacific. On 22 March 1518 the king named Magellan and Faleiro captains so that they could travel in search of the Spice Islands in July. He raised them to the rank of Commander of the Order of Santiago. The king granted them parts of what can be gained from the travel, including making them governors of the lands found and having their own islands.

Construction and provisions

The Spanish Crown provided most of the funding for the expedition, which primarily consisted of five ships carrying supplies for two years of travel. As Spain’s debt was substantial, King Charles V had to turned to the House of Fugger, which controlled much of the European economy at the time, for financial assistance. Through archbishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, head of the Casa de Contratación, the Crown obtained the participation of merchant and Fugger’s representative Cristóbal de Haro, who provided a quarter of the funds and goods to barter. Meanwhile, cartographers Jorge Reinel and Diogo Ribeiro, a Portuguese who had started working for King Charles in 1518 as a cartographer at the Casa de Contratación, took part in the development of the maps to be used in the travel. News of Magellan leading an expedition incurred suspicion from the Spanish, who resented his being the commander of the fleet. The preparation of the fleet was also hampered by agents of the king of Portugal, who were trying to sabotage them. Meanwhile, Faleiro’s mental health worsened.

The fleet was eventually named Armada del Maluco (Armada de Molucca, after the Indonesian name for the Spice Islands. The ships were mostly black, due to the tar covering most of their surface. The official accounting of the expedition put the cost at 8,751,125 maravedis, including the ships, provisions, and salaries.

The fleet also carried flour and salted meat. Some of the ships' meat came in the form of livestock; the ship carried seven cows and three pigs. Cheese, almonds, mustard, and figs were also present. Carne de Membrillo, made from quince, was a delicacy enjoyed by captains that unknowingly aided in the prevention of scurvy. Food was a hugely important part of the provisioning. It cost 1,252,909 maravedis, almost as much as the cost of the ships. Four-fifths of the food on the ship consisted of just two items – wine and hardtack.


A modern replica of the Victoria in the Nao Victoria Museum, Punta Arenas, Chile

The fleet initially consisted of five ships, with Trinidad being the flagship. The Santiago was a caravel, with the other four ships classified as carracks (Spanish "carraca" or "nao"; Portuguese "nau"). The Victoria was the only ship to complete the circumnavigation. Details of the ships' configuration are not known, as no contemporary illustrations exist of any of the ships.

Ships of Magellan's expedition
Name Captain Crew Weight (tons) Fate
Trinidad Ferdinand Magellan 62 then 61 after a stop-over in Tenerife 110 Departed Seville with other four ships 10 August, 1519. Broke down in Moluccas, December 1521
San Antonio Juan de Cartagena 55 120 Deserted in the Strait of Magellan, November 1520, returned to Spain on 6 May 1521
Concepcion Gaspar de Quesada 44 then 45 after a stop-over in Tenerife 90 Scuttled in the Philippines, May 1521
Santiago Juan Rodriguez Serrano 31 then 33 after a stop-over in Tenerife 75 Wrecked in storm at Santa Cruz River, on 3 May 1520
Victoria Luis de Mendoza 45 then 46 after a stop-over in Tenerife 85 Successfully completed circumnavigation, returning to Spain in September 1522, captained by Juan Sebastián del Cano. Mendoza was killed during a mutiny attempt.


The crew consisted of about 270 men, mostly Spaniards. Spanish authorities were wary of Magellan, so that they almost prevented him from sailing, switching his mostly Portuguese crew to mostly men of Spain. In the end, the fleet included about 40 Portuguese, among them Magellan's brother-in-law Duarte Barbosa, Juan Rodriguez Serrano, Estêvão Gomes, and Magellan's indentured servant Enrique of Malacca. Crew members of other nations were also recorded, including 29 Italians, 17 French, and a smaller number of Flemish, Greek, Irish, English, Asian, and black sailors. Counted among the Spanish crew members were at least 29 Basques (including Juan Sebastián Elcano), some of whom did not speak Spanish fluently.

Magellan’s partner, Faleiro, who had initially been named his co-captain, became mentally unstable prior to departure and was removed from the expedition by the king. He was replaced as the fleet's joint commander by Juan de Cartagena and as cosmographer/astrologer by Andrés de San Martín.

Juan Sebastián Elcano, a Spanish merchant ship captain living in Seville, embarked seeking the king's pardon for previous misdeeds. Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar and traveller, asked to be on the voyage, accepting the title of "supernumerary" and a modest salary. He became a strict assistant of Magellan and kept a journal. The only other sailor to keep a running account during the voyage would be Francisco Albo, who kept a formal nautical logbook.

Juan de Cartagena, suspected illegitimate son of archbishop Fonseca, was named Inspector General of the expedition, responsible for its financial and trading operations.

Leaving Spain and Crossing the Atlantic

On 10 August 1519, the expedition left Seville and descended the Guadalquivir River to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the river. There they remained more than five weeks. They finally set sail on 20 September 1519 and left Spain.

On 26 September, the fleet stopped at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where they took in supplies (including vegetable and pitch, which were cheaper to acquire there than in Spain). During the stop, Magellan received a secret message from his father-in-law, Diogo Barbosa, warning him that some of the Castilian captains were planning a mutiny, with Juan de Cartagena (captain of the San Antonio) being the ring-leader of the conspiracy. He also learned that the King of Portugal had sent two fleets of caravels to arrest him.

On 3 October, the fleet departed the Canary Islands, sailing south along the coast of Africa. There was some disagreement over directions, with Cartagena arguing for a more westerly bearing. Magellan made the unorthodox decision to follow the African coast in order to evade the Portuguese caravels which were pursuing him.

Toward the end of October, as the Armada approached the equator, they experienced a series of storms, with such intense squalls that they were sometimes forced to strike their sails. Pigafetta recorded the appearance of St. Elmo's fire during some of these storms, which was regarded as a good omen by the crew:

During these storms the body of St. Anselme appeared to us several times; amongst others, one night that it was very dark on account of the bad weather, the said saint appeared in the form of a fire lighted at the summit of the mainmast, and remained there near two hours and a half, which comforted us greatly, for we were in tears, only expecting the hour of perishing; and when that holy light was going away from us it gave out so great a brilliancy in the eyes of each, that we were near a quarter-of-an-hour like people blinded, and calling out for mercy. For without any doubt nobody hoped to escape from that storm.

After two weeks of storms, the fleet spent some time stalled in calm, equatorial waters before being carried west by the South Equatorial Current to the vicinity of the trade winds.

Sodomy trial and failed mutiny

Main article: Sodomy Trial of Magellan’s Crew

During the ocean crossing, the Victoria's boatswain, Antonio Salamón was caught in an act of sodomy with a cabin boy, Antonio Ginovés. At the time, homosexuality was punishable by death in Spain, though in practice, sex between men was a common occurrence on long naval voyages. Magellan held a trial on board the Trinidad and found Salamón guilty, sentencing him to death by strangulation. Salamón was later executed on 20 December, after the fleet's landfall in Brazil. The fate of Ginovés is unclear, with some accounts saying that he was thrown overboard, and others claiming that taunts from his fellow sailors drove him to commit suicide by jumping overboard.

In a meeting following the trial, Magellan's captains challenged his leadership. Cartagena accused Magellan of risking the King's ships by his choice of route, sailing South along the African coast. When Cartagena declared that he would no longer follow Magellan's command, Magellan gave the signal for his armed loyalists to enter the room and take hold of Cartagena. Magellan called Cartagena a "rebel" and branded his behavior as mutinous. Cartagena called on the other two Castilian captains (Quesada and Mendoza) to stab Magellan, but they held back.

Immediately following the episode, Cartagena was placed in stocks. Magellan could have tried Cartagena for mutiny and sentenced him to death, but at the urging of Quesada and Mendoza, he agreed to merely relieve Cartagena of his command of the San Antonio and allow him to move freely within the confines of the Victoria. Antonio de Coca replaced Cartagena as captain of the San Antonio.

Passage through South America

Arrival in Brazil

Pedro Álvares Cabral had claimed Brazil for Portugal in 1500, 20 years before Magellan's voyage. This 1922 painting depicts his arrival in Porto Seguro and first encounter with the natives.

On 29 November, the fleet reached the approximate latitude of Cape Saint Augustine. The coastline of Brazil (which Pigafetta refers to as Verzin in his diary, after the Italian term for brazilwood) had been known to the Spanish and Portuguese since about 1500, and in the intervening decades, European powers (particularly Portugal) had been sending ships to Brazil to collect valuable brazilwood. The Armada carried a map of the Brazilian coastline, the Livro da Marinharia (the "Book of the Sea"), and also had a crew member, the Concepción's pilot, João Lopes Carvalho, who had previously visited Rio de Janeiro. Carvalho was enlisted to lead the fleet's navigation down the Brazilian coastline to Rio, aboard the Trinidad, and helped communicate with the locals, as he had some rudimentary knowledge of their Guarani language.

On 13 December, the fleet reached Rio de Janeiro. Though nominally Portuguese territory, they maintained no permanent settlement there at the time. Seeing no Portuguese ships in the harbor, Magellan knew it would be safe to stop. Pigafetta wrote of a coincidence of weather that caused the armada to be warmly received by the indigenous people:

It is to be known that it happened that it had not rained for two months before we came there, and the day that we arrived it began to rain, on which account the people of the said place said that we came from heaven, and had brought the rain with us, which was great simplicity, and these people were easily converted to the Christian faith.

The fleet spent 13 days in Rio, during which they repaired their ships, stocked up on water and food (such as yam, cassava, and pineapple), and interacted with the locals. The expedition had brought with them a great quantity of trinkets intended for trade, such as mirrors, combs, knives, and bells. The locals readily exchanged food and local goods (such as parrot feathers) for such items. The crew also found they could purchase sexual favors from the local women. Historian Ian Cameron described the crew's time in Rio as "a saturnalia of feasting and lovemaking".

On 27 December, the fleet left Rio de Janeiro. Pigafetta wrote that the natives were disappointed to see them leave, and that some followed them in canoes trying to entice them to stay.

Río de la Plata

The fleet sailed south along the South American coast, hoping to reach el paso, the fabled strait that would allow them passage past South America to the Spice Islands. On 11 January, a headland marked by three hills was sighted, which the crew believed to be "Cape Santa Maria". Around the headland, they found a wide body of water that extended as far as the eye could see in a west-by-southwest direction. Magellan believed he had found el paso, though in fact he had reached the Río de la Plata. Magellan directed the Santiago, commanded by Juan Serrano, to probe the 'strait', and led the other ships south hoping to find Terra Australis, the southern continent which was then widely supposed to exist south of South America. They failed to find the southern continent, and when they regrouped with the Santiago a few days later, Serrano reported that the hoped-for strait was in fact the mouth of a river. Incredulous, Magellan led the fleet through the western waters again, taking frequent soundings. Serrano's claim was confirmed when the men eventually found themselves in fresh water.

Search for strait

On 3 February, the fleet continued south along the South American coast. Magellan believed they would find a strait (or the southern terminus of the continent) within a short distance. In fact, the fleet would sail south for another eight weeks without finding passage, before stopping to overwinter at St. Julian.

Not wanting to miss the strait, the fleet sailed as close to the coast as feasible, heightening the danger of running aground on shoals. The ships sailed only during the day, with lookouts carefully watching the coast for signs of a passage. In addition to the hazards of shallow waters, the fleet encountered squalls, storms, and dropping temperatures as they continued south and winter set in.


By the third week of March, weather conditions had become so desperate that Magellan decided they should find a safe harbor in which to wait out the winter and resume the search for a passage in spring. On 31 March, 1520, a break in the coast was spotted. There, the fleet found a natural harbor which they called Port St. Julian.

The men would remain at St. Julian for five months, before resuming their search for the strait.

Easter mutiny

Main article: Juan de Cartagena's Mutiny

Immediately after landing on St. Julian, another mutiny occurred, led again by Cartagena, who was now able to get the other two Spanish captains, Quesada and Mendoza, to his side.  The Castilian captains were convinced about Magellan's poor leadership, accusing him of recklessly endangering the fleet's crew and ships.

Around midnight of Easter Sunday, 1 April, Cartagena and Quesada covertly led thirty armed men, their faces covered with charcoal, aboard the San Antonio, where they ambushed Álvaro de Mezquita, the recently named captain of the ship. Mezquita was Magellan's cousin, and sympathetic to the captain general. Juan de Elorriaga, the ship's boatswain, resisted the mutineers and attempted to alert the other ships. For this reason, Quesada stabbed him repeatedly (he would die from his wounds months later).

With the San Antonio subdued, the mutineers controlled three of the fleet's five ships. Only the Santiago (commanded by Juan Serrano) remained loyal to Magellan, along with the flag ship, the Trinidad, which Magellan commanded. The mutineers aimed the San Antonio's cannon at the Trinidad, but made no further overtures during the night.

After discovering what they did, Magellan sent a boat to the two revolted ships the next morning and demanded that they should be beached and careened. The boat stayed alongside the San Antonio and pointed guns at its sailors. However, San Antonio’s lieutenant said that they would only take commands from the true admiral of the fleet, that was Cartagena.

The following morning (2 April), while the mutineers attempted to consolidate their forces aboard the San Antonio and the Victoria, a longboat of sailors drifted off course into the vicinity of the Trinidad. The men were brought aboard and persuaded to divulge the details of the mutineers' plans to Magellan.

With the aid of his chief constable Ambrosio Fernandes, Magellan launched a counteroffensive against the mutineers aboard the Victoria. He had some marines from the Trinidad switch clothing with the stray sailors and approach the Victoria in their longboat. His alguacil, Gonzalo de Espinosa, also approached the Victoria in a skiff and announced that he had a message for the captain, Luis Mendoza. Espinosa was allowed aboard, and into the captain's chambers, based on his claim that he had a confidential letter. There, Espinosa stabbed Mendoza in the throat with his poignard, killing him instantly. At the same time, the disguised marines came aboard the Victoria to support the alguacil.

Magellan observed how Espinosa killed the traitor Mendoza and ordered the Trinidad to drop down alongside the Victoria. As on as Magellan was on board, he commanded six of the chief offenders to be brought out and hung at yard-arms. Mendoza's body was hoisted by the feet on one of the masts for it to be seen by the crews of other ships.

The chief conspirator Cartagena held out on the San Antonio. As Magellan suspected Cartagena’s force to be too strong for him, he commanded a sailor to pretend as a fugitive to be taken on San Antonio’s board. The sailor was successful on his task and when night came, he cut the cables so that the San Antonio be drifted directly down upon the Victoria. Magellan leaped on board with his men as soon as the ship floated alongside and fiercely attacked Cartagena and the mutineers.

With the Victoria lost and Mendoza dead, the remaining mutineers realized they were outmaneuvered. Cartagena conceded and begged Magellan for mercy. Quesada attempted to flee but was prevented from doing so—sailors loyal to Magellan had cut the San Antonio's cables, causing it to drift toward the Trinidad, and Cartagena was captured.

Mutiny trial

The ship Concepción, which remained in rebellion, surrendered on 3 April 1520 without a struggle upon seeing the others in the hands of Magellan. Magellan demanded that his prisoners especially the mutiny leaders to be treated with the greatest severity. The trial of the mutineers was headed by Magellan's cousin Álvaro de Mezquita and lasted five days. Quesada was beheaded on 7 April. The bodies of Quesada and Mendoza were drawn and quartered and displayed on gibbets for the following three months. San Martín, suspected of involvement in the conspiracy, was tortured by strappado, but afterwards was allowed to continue his service as cosmographer. Cartagena and another conspirator priest Pedro Sanchez de Reina were sentenced to be marooned. On 11 August, the two were taken to a small island off the Patagonian coast and left to die.

The rest of the mutineers were kept in irons expect at times when their services were needed. Magellan soon released the misguided sailors who had been led into crime by their captains and told them to explore the coast southward and see if they could not espy the ocean on the other side. More than forty other conspirators, including Juan Sebastián Elcano, were put in chains for much of the winter and made to perform the hard work of careening the ships, repairing their structure and scrubbing the bilge.

Loss of Santiago

In late April, Magellan dispatched the Santiago, captained by Juan Serrano, from St. Julian to scout to the south for a strait. On 3 May, they reached the estuary of a river which Serrano named Santa Cruz River. The estuary provided shelter and was well situated with natural resources including fish, penguins, and wood.

After a week exploring Santa Cruz, Serrano set out to return to St. Julian, but was caught in a sudden storm while leaving the harbour. The Santiago was tossed about by strong winds and currents before running aground on a sandbar. All (or nearly all) of the crew were able to clamber ashore before the ship capsized. Two men volunteered to set off on foot for St. Julian to get help. After 11 days of hard trekking, the men arrived at St. Julian, exhausted and emaciated. Magellan sent a rescue party of 24 men over land to Santa Cruz.

The other 35 survivors from the Santiago remained at Santa Cruz for two weeks. They were unable to retrieve any supplies from the wreck of the Santiago, but managed to build huts and fire, and subsist on a diet of shellfish and local vegetation. The rescue party found them all alive but exhausted, and they returned to St. Julian safely.

Move to Santa Cruz

After learning of the favorable conditions that Serrano found at Santa Cruz, Magellan decided to move the fleet there for the rest of the austral winter. After almost four months at St. Julian, the fleet left for Santa Cruz around 24 August. They would spend six weeks at Santa Cruz before resuming their search for the strait.

Strait of Magellan

Main article: Strait of Magellan

The Strait of Magellan cuts through the southern tip of South America connecting the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

On 18 October, the fleet left Santa Cruz heading south, resuming their search for a passage. Soon after, on 21 October, they spotted a headland at 52°S latitude which they named Cape Virgenes. Past the cape, they found a large bay. While they were exploring the bay, a storm erupted. The Trinidad and Victoria made it out to open seas, but the Concepción and San Antonio were driven deeper into the bay, toward a promontory. Three days later, the fleet was reunited, and the Concepción and San Antonio reported that the storm drew them through a narrow passage, not visible from sea, which continued for some distance. Hoping they had finally found their sought-after strait, the fleet retraced the path taken by the Concepción and San Antonio. Unlike at Río de la Plata earlier, the water did not lose its salinity as they progressed, and soundings indicated that the waters were consistently deep. This was the passage they sought, which would come to be known as the Strait of Magellan. At the time, Magellan referred to it as the Estrecho (Canal) de Todos los Santos ("All Saints' Channel"), because the fleet travelled through it on 1 November or All Saints' Day.

On 28 October, the fleet reached an island in the strait (likely Elizabeth Island or Dawson Island), which could be passed in one of two directions. Magellan directed the fleet to split up to explore the respective paths. They were meant to regroup within a few days, but the San Antonio would never rejoin the fleet. While the rest of the fleet waited for the return of the San Antonio, Gonzalo de Espinosa led a small ship to explore the further reaches of the strait. After three days of sailing, they reached the end of the strait and the mouth of the Pacific Ocean. After another three days, Espinosa returned. Pigafetta writes that, on hearing the news of Espinosa's discovery, Magellan wept tears of joy. The fleet's remaining three ships completed the journey to the Pacific by 28 November, after weeks of fruitlessly searching for the San Antonio. Magellan named the waters the Mar Pacifico (Pacific Ocean) because of its apparent stillness.

Desertion of San Antonio

The San Antonio failed to rejoin the rest of Magellan's fleet in the strait. At some point, they reversed course and sailed back to Spain. The ship's officers later testified that they had arrived early at the appointed rendezvous location, but it's not clear whether this is true. The pilot of the San Antonio at the time, Álvaro de Mezquita, was Magellan's cousin and loyal to the captain-general. He directed attempts to rejoin the fleet, firing cannons and setting off smoke signals. At some point he was overpowered in yet another mutiny attempt, this one successful. He was stabbed by the pilot of the San Antonio, Estêvão Gomes, and put in chains for the remainder of the journey. Gomes was known to have feelings of animosity towards Magellan (as documented by Pigafetta, who wrote that "Gomes... hated the Captain General exceedingly", because he had hoped to have his own expedition to the Moluccas funded instead of Magellan's), and shortly before the fleet was separated, had argued with him about their next course of action. While Magellan and the other officers agreed to continue west to the Moluccas, thinking that their 2–3 months of rations would be sufficient for the journey, Gomes argued that they should return to Spain the way they had come, to muster more supplies for another journey through the strait.

The San Antonio reached Seville approximately six months later, on 6 May, 1521. There ensued a trial of the ship's men which lasted six months. With Mezquita being the only one loyal to Magellan, the majority of testimony produced a villainous and distorted picture of Magellan's actions. In particular, in justifying the mutiny at St. Julian, the men claimed that Magellan had tortured Spanish seamen (during the return journey across the Atlantic, Mezquita was tortured into signing a statement to this effect) and claimed that they were merely trying to make Magellan follow the king's orders. Ultimately, none of the mutineers faced charges in Spain. Magellan's reputation suffered as a result, as did his friends and family. Mezquita was kept in jail for a year following the trial, and Magellan's wife, Beatriz, had her financial resources cut off, and was placed under house arrest, along with their son.

Pacific crossing

The western hemisphere of Johannes Schöner's globe, created in 1520, reflects Europeans' misconception of the proximity of South America and Asia. (Zipangri, the large island outlined in yellow, is Japan)

Main article: Magellan's Crossing of the Pacific Ocean

Magellan (along with contemporary geographers) had no conception of the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. He imagined that South America was separated from the Spice Islands by a small sea, which he expected to cross in as little as three or four days. In fact, they spent three months and twenty days at sea, before reaching Guam and then the Philippines.

The fleet entered the Pacific from the Strait of Magellan on 28 November, 1520, and initially sailed north, following the coast of Chile. By mid-December, they altered their course to west-north-west. They were unfortunate in that, had their course differed slightly, they could have encountered a number of Pacific islands which would have offered fresh food and water, such as the Juan Fernandez Islands, the Marshall Islands, Easter Island, the Society Islands, or the Marquesas Islands. As it was, they encountered only two small uninhabited islands during the crossing, at which they were unable to land, the reason why they named them islas Infortunadas. The first, sighted 24 January, they named San Pablo (likely Puka-Puka). The second, which they sighted 21 February, was likely Caroline Island. They crossed the equator on 13 February.

Not expecting such a long journey, the ships were not stocked with adequate food and water, and much of the seal meat they had stocked putrified in the equatorial heat. Pigafetta described the desperate conditions in his journal:

we only ate old biscuit reduced to powder, and full of grubs, and stinking from the dirt which the rats had made on it when eating the good biscuit, and we drank water that was yellow and stinking. We also ate the ox hides which were under the main-yard, so that the yard should not break the rigging: they were very hard on account of the sun, rain, and wind, and we left them for four or five days in the sea, and then we put them a little on the embers, and so ate them; also the sawdust of wood, and rats which cost half-a-crown each, moreover enough of them were not to be got.

Moreover, most of the men suffered from symptoms of scurvy, whose cause was not understood at the time. Pigafetta reported that, of the 166 men who embarked on the Pacific crossing, 19 died and "twenty-five or thirty fell ill of diverse sicknesses". Magellan, Pigafetta, and other officers were not afflicted with scorbutic symptoms, which may have been because they ate preserved quince which (unbeknownst to them) contained the vitamin C necessary to protect against scurvy.

Guam and the Philippines

On 6 March, 1521, the fleet reached the Mariana Islands. The first land they spotted was likely the island of Rota, but the ships were unable to land there, and instead dropped anchor thirty hours later on Guam. They were met by native Chamorro people in proas, a type of outrigger canoe then unknown to Europeans. Dozens of Chamorros came aboard and began taking items from the ship, including rigging, knives, and any items made of iron. At some point, there was a physical confrontation between the crew and the natives, and at least one Chamorro was killed. The remaining natives fled with the goods they had obtained, also taking Magellan's bergantina (the ship's boat kept on the Trinidad) as they retreated. For this act, Magellan called the island Isla de los Ladrones (Island of Thieves).

The next day, Magellan retaliated, sending a raiding party ashore which looted and burned forty or fifty Chammoro houses and killed seven men. They recovered the bergantina and left Guam the next day, 9 March, continuing westward.

The Philippines

The fleet reached the Philippines on 16 March and would remain there until 1 May. The expedition represented the first documented European contact with the Philippines. Though the stated goal of Magellan's expedition was to find a passage through South America to the Moluccas, and return to Spain laden with spices, at this point in the journey, Magellan seemed to acquire a zeal for converting the local tribes to Christianity. In doing so, Magellan eventually became embroiled in a local political dispute, and died in the Philippines, along with dozens of other officers and crew.

On 16 March, a week after leaving Guam, the fleet first sighted the island of Samar, then dropped their anchors on the small island of Suluan to rest for a few hours before proceeding to an uninhabited island of Homonhon (which Pigafetta called "Humunu") the following day. They spent nearly two weeks on the island, resting and gathering fresh food and water, before leaving on 27 March. On the morning of 28 March, they neared the island of Limasawa and encountered some natives in canoes. For the first time on the journey, Magellan's slave Enrique of Malacca found that he was able to communicate with the natives in Malay (an indication that they had indeed completed a circumnavigation and were approaching familiar lands). They exchanged gifts with the natives (receiving porcelain jars painted with Chinese designs), and later that day were introduced to their leader, Rajah Kolambu. Magellan would become a "blood brother" to Kolambu, undergoing the local blood compact ritual with him.

Magellan and his men noted that the island was rich in gold, and found that the locals were eager to trade it for iron at par. While at Limasawa, Magellan gave some of the natives a demonstration of Spanish armor, weapons, and artillery, by which they were apparently impressed.

First mass

Main article: First Mass in the Philippines

On Sunday 31 March, Easter Day, Magellan and fifty of his men came ashore to Limasawa to participate in the first Catholic Mass in the Philippines, given by the armada's chaplain. Kolambu, his brother (who was also a local leader), and other islanders joined in the ceremony, and expressed an interest in their religion. Following Mass, Magellan's men raised a cross on the highest hill on the island, and formally declared the island, and the entire archipelago of the Philippines (which he called the Islands of St Lazarus) as a possession of Spain.


On 2 April, Magellan held a conference to decide the fleet's next course of action. His officers urged him to head south-west for the Mollucas, but instead he decided to press further into the Philippines. On 3 April, the fleet sailed north-west from Limasawa towards the island of Cebu, which Magellan learned of from Kolambu. The fleet was guided to Cebu by some of Kolambu's men. They sighted Cebu 6 April, and made landfall the next day. Cebu had regular contact with Chinese and Arab traders and normally required that visitors pay tribute in order to trade. Magellan convinced the island's leader, Rajah Humabon, to waive this requirement.

As he had in Limasawa, Magellan gave a demonstration of the fleet's arms in order to impress the locals. Again, he also preached Christianity to the natives, and on 14 April, Humabon and his family were baptized and given an image of the Holy Child (later known as Santo Niño de Cebu). In the coming days, other local chieftains were baptized, and in total, 2,200 locals from Cebu and other nearby islands were converted.

When Magellan learned that a group on the island of Mactan, led by Lapulapu, resisted Christian conversion, he ordered his men to burn their homes. When they continued to resist, Magellan informed his council on 26 April that he would bring an armed contingent to Mactan and make them submit under threat of force.

Battle of Mactan

Main article: Battle of Mactan

19th century artist's depiction of Magellan's death at the hands of Mactan warriors.

Magellan mustered a force of 60 armed men from his crew to oppose Lapulapu's forces. Some Cebuano men followed Magellan to Mactan but were instructed by Magellan not to join the fight, but merely to watch. He first sent an envoy to Lapulapu, offering him a last chance to accept the king of Spain as their ruler, and avoid bloodshed. Lapulapu refused. Magellan took 49 men to the shore while 11 remained to guard the boats Though they had the benefit of relatively advanced armor and weaponry, Magellan's forces were greatly outnumbered. Pigafetta (who was present on the battlefield) estimated the enemy's number at 1,500. Magellan's forces were driven back and decisively defeated. Magellan died in battle, along with several comrades, including Cristóvão Rebelo, Magellan's illegitimate son.

1 May Massacre

Following Magellan's death, the remaining men held an election to select a new leader for the expedition. They selected two co-commanders: Duarte Barbosa, Magellan's brother-in-law, and Juan Serrano. Magellan's will called for the liberation of his slave, Enrique, but Barbosa and Serrano demanded that he continue his duties as an interpreter for them, and follow their orders. Enrique had some secret communication with Humabon which caused him to betray the Spaniards.

On 1 May, Humabon invited the men ashore for a great feast. It was attended by around thirty men, mostly officers, including Serrano and Barbosa. Toward the end of the meal, armed Cebuanos entered the hall and murdered the Europeans. Twenty-seven men were killed. Juan Serrano, one of the newly elected co-commanders, was left alive and brought to the shore facing the Spanish ships. Serrano begged the men on board to pay a ransom to the Cebuanos. The Spanish ships left port, and Serrano was (presumably) killed. In his account, Pigafetta speculates that João Carvalho, who became first in command in the absence of Barbosa and Serrano, abandoned Serrano (his one-time friend) so that he could remain in command of the fleet.


After the death of Magellan and his other officers in the Philippines, the fleet was left with just 115 surviving men and three ships. In the absence of officers Juan Serrano and Duarte Barbossa, Juan Carvalho was elected as the new captain-general. Due to lack of crew, they were forced to abandon the Concepcion and to just sail with the Trinidad and Victoria to search for Moluccas.

The crew spent six months meandering through Southeast Asia, stopping at several islands including Mindanao and Brunei for supplies and engaging in acts of piracy. Due to poor leadership, Carvalho was forcibly replaced by Martin Mendez, with Gonzalo de Espinosa and Juan Sebastian Elcano as captains of the Trinidad and Victoria, respectively.

The fleet finally reached the Moluccas on 8 November, landing on the island of Tidore, where they were greeted by its leader, Al-Mansur (or Almanzor). Almanzor was a friendly host to the crew and readily claimed loyalty to the king of Spain. With the help of Al-Mansur, they were able to trade their goods such as cloth, knives, and glassware for tons of cloves and nutmeg, thereby completing their original mission to go to the East Indies or Spice Islands using western route.

Around 15 December, the ships attempted to set sail from Tidore, laden with cloves. But the Trinidad, which had fallen into disrepair, was found to be taking on water. The departure was postponed while the men, aided by the locals, attempted to find and repair the leak. When these attempts were unsuccessful, it was decided that the Victoria would leave for Spain via a western route, and that the Trinidad would remain behind for some time to be refitted, before heading back to Spain by an eastern route, involving an overland passage across the American continent. Several weeks later, Trinidad departed and attempted to return to Spain via the Pacific route. This attempt failed. Trinidad was captured by the Portuguese and was eventually wrecked in a storm while at anchor under Portuguese control.

Return to Spain

The Victoria set sail via the Indian Ocean route home on 21 December 1521, commanded by Juan Sebastián Elcano. By 6 May 1522 the Victoria rounded the Cape of Good Hope, with only rice for rations. Twenty crewmen died of starvation by 9 July 1522, when Elcano put into Portuguese Cape Verde for provisions. The crew was surprised to learn that the date was actually 10 July 1522, as they had recorded every day of the three-year journey without omission. They had no trouble making purchases at first, using the cover story that they were returning to Spain from the Americas. However, the Portuguese detained 13 crew members after discovering that Victoria was carrying spices from the East Indies. The Victoria managed to escape with its cargo of 26 tons of spices (cloves and cinnamon).

On 6 September 1522, Elcano and the remaining crew of Magellan's voyage arrived in Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Spain aboard Victoria, almost exactly three years after they departed.


When Victoria, the one surviving ship and the smallest carrack in the fleet, returned to the harbour of departure after completing the first circumnavigation of the Earth, only 18 men out of the original 270 men were on board.{{#tag:ref|Some sources give the number of survivors as 19 rather than 18. In addition to the returning Europeans, the Victoria had aboard three Moluccans who came aboard at Tidore.

18 men returned to Seville aboard Victoria in 1522
Name Origin Final rank
Juan Sebastián del Cano Getaria Captain
Francisco Albo Chios Pilot
Miguel de Rodas Rhodes Master
Juan de Acurio Bermeo Master's mate
Martín de Judicibus Savona Master-at-arms
Hernándo de Bustamante Merida Barber
Antonio Pigafetta Vicenza Supernumerary
Juan Martín Getaria Supernumerary
Diego Gallego Bayona Able seaman
Antonio Hernández Colmenero Ayamonte Able seaman
Níccolo Napolés Nafplio Able seaman
Francisco Rodríguez Sevilla Able seaman
Juan Rodríguez de Huelva Huelva Able seaman
Miguel Sánchez de Rodas Rhodes Able seaman
Juan de Arratia Bilbao Apprentice seaman
Juan de San Andrés Getaria Apprentice Seaman
Diego García Getaria Cabin boy
Juan de Zubileta Barakaldo Cabin boy

A few weeks later, another 13 men (12 Europeans and one Moluccan), who were held captive in Cape Verde, returned to Seville, thereby completing the circumnavigation as well. They were the following:

  • Martín Méndez, scrivener
  • Pedro de Tolosa, pantry
  • Richard de Normandía, carpenter
  • Roldán de Argote, gunner
  • Pedro de Tenerife, gunner
  • Juan Martín, supernumerary
  • Simón de Burgos, supernumerary
  • Felipe de Rodas, able seaman
  • Gómez Hernández, able seaman
  • Socacio Alonso, able seaman
  • Pedro de Chindurza, able seaman
  • Vasquito Gallego, cabin boy
  • "Manuel", a Moluccan without known role

Between 1525 and 1526, the survivors of the Trinidad, who had been captured by the Portuguese in the Moluccas, were transported to a prison in Portugal and eventually released after a seven-month negotiation. Only five survived:

  • Juan Rodríguez
  • Gaspar de Espinosa, alguacil
  • Leone Pancaldo, pilot
  • Ginés de Mafra, able seaman
  • Hans Vargue, gunner (who died in Portugal)

There were thus 35 circumnavigators overall.

Accounts of voyage

Antonio Pigafetta's journal, later published as Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo, is the main primary source for much of what is known about Magellan's expedition. The first printed report (secondary source) of the circumnavigation was a letter written by Maximilianus Transylvanus, a relative of sponsor Cristóbal de Haro, who interviewed survivors in 1522 and published his account in 1523.

In addition, there is an extant chronicle from Peter Martyr d'Anghiera, which was written in Spanish in 1522 or 1523, misplaced, then published again in 1530.

Another reliable secondary source is the 1601 chronicle and the longer 1615 version, both by Spanish historian Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas. Herrera's account is all the more accurate as he had access to Spanish and Portuguese sources that are nowhere to be found today, not least Andrés de San Martín's navigational notes and papers. San Martin, the chief pilot-cosmographer (astrologer) of the Armada, disappeared in the Cebu massacre on 1 May 1521.

In addition to Pigafetta's surviving journal, 11 other crew members kept written accounts of the voyage:

  • Francisco Albo: the Victoria's pilot logbook ("Diario ó derrotero"), first referred to in 1788, and first published in its entirety in 1837 and a deposition on 18 October 1522
  • Martín de Ayamonte: a short account first published in 1933
  • Giovanni Battista: two letters dating from the 21 December 1521 and the 25 October 1525 respectively
  • Hernando de Bustamante: a deposition on 18 October 1522
  • Juan Sebastián Elcano: a letter written on 6 September 1522 and a deposition on 18 October 1522
  • Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa: a letter written on 12 January 1525, a statement on 2 August 1527 and a deposition from the 2nd to the 5 September 1527
  • Ginés de Mafra: a detailed account first published in 1920, a statement on 2 August 1527 and a deposition from the 2nd to the 5 September 1527
  • Martín Méndez : the Victoria's logbook
  • Leone Pancaldo: a long logbook 'by the Genoese pilot' (first published in 1826), a letter written on 25 October 1525, a statement on 2 August 1527 and a deposition from the 2nd to the 5 September 1527
  • an anonymous Portuguese crew member: a long manuscript, first published in 1937, known as "the Leiden manuscript", possibly written by Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa and, in all likelihood, a Trinidad crew member
  • and another anonymous Portuguese crew member: a very short account, first published in 1554, written by a Trinidad crew member


Subsequent expeditions

Since there was not a set limit to the east, in 1524 both kingdoms had tried to find the exact location of the antimeridian of Tordesillas, which would divide the world into two equal hemispheres and to resolve the "Moluccas issue". A board met several times without reaching an agreement: the knowledge at that time was insufficient for an accurate calculation of longitude, and each gave the islands to their sovereign. An agreement was reached only with the Treaty of Zaragoza, signed on 1529 between Spain and Portugal. It assigned the Moluccas to Portugal and the Philippines to Spain.

In 1525, soon after the return of Magellan's expedition, Charles V sent an expedition led by García Jofre de Loaísa to occupy the Moluccas, claiming that they were in his zone of the Treaty of Tordesillas. This expedition included the most notable Spanish navigators, including Juan Sebastián Elcano, who, along with many other sailors, died during the voyage, and the young Andrés de Urdaneta. They had difficulty reaching the Moluccas, docking at Tidore. The Portuguese were already established in nearby Ternate and the two nations had nearly a decade of skirmishing over the "possession." (occupied by indigenous peoples.) In 1565, Andrés de Urdaneta discovered the Manila-Acapulco route.

The course that Magellan charted was later followed by other navigators, such as Sir Francis Drake during his circumnavigation in 1578.

Scientific accomplishments

Magellan's expedition was the first to circumnavigate the globe and the first to navigate the strait in South America connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Magellan's name for the Pacific was adopted by other Europeans.

Magellan's crew observed several animals that were entirely new to European science, including a "camel without humps", which was probably a guanaco, whose range extends to Tierra del Fuego. The llama, vicuña and alpaca natural ranges were in the Andes mountains. A black "goose" that had to be skinned instead of plucked was a penguin.

The full extent of the globe was realized, since their voyage was 14,460 Spanish leagues (60,440 km or 37,560 mi). The global expedition showed the need for an International Date Line to be established. Upon arrival at Cape Verde, the crew was surprised to learn that the ship's date of 9 July 1522 was one day behind the local date of 10 July 1522, even though they had recorded every day of the three-year journey without omission. They lost one day because they travelled west during their circumnavigation of the globe, in the same direction as the apparent motion of the sun across the sky. Although the Arab geographer Abu'l-Fida (1273–1331) had predicted that circumnavigators would accumulate a one-day offset, Cardinal Gasparo Contarini was the first European to give a correct explanation of the discrepancy.


Main article: Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines

In 2017, Portugal submitted an application to UNESCO to honour the circumnavigation route; the proposal was for a World Heritage Site called "Route of Magellan". But in 2019, this was replaced by a joint application on the part of Portugal and Spain. Since then, there have been a number of events to mark the 500th anniversary of the voyage including exhibitions in various Spanish cities.

The Philippine government has also put up a committee to celebrate the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the country. It specifically celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Victory at Mactan, the Philippine portion of the first circumnavigation of the globe, and several other related events .In line with the 500th celebration of Magellan's arrival in the Philippines on 2021, the National Quincentennial Committee will put up shrine markers to the points where the fleet anchored.

Marker Site in the Philippines
Landing Homonhon, Limasawa, Mactan, Cebu, Quipit, Tagusao, Buliluyan, Mapun and Sarangani
Anchorage Guiuan, Suluan, Gigatigan, Bohol, Balabac, Kawit and Balut
Landmark Hibuson, Hinunangan, Baybay, Pilar, Poro, Pozon, Panilongo, Palawan, Sulu, Basilan, Manalipa, Tukuran, Cotabato, Kamanga and Batulaki

See also


  • Cameron, Ian (1974). Magellan and the first circumnavigation of the world. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 029776568X. OCLC 842695.
  • Bergreen, Laurence (2003), Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe, William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-093638-9
  • Beaglehole, J.C. (1966), The Exploration of the Pacific, London: Adam & Charles Black, OCLC 253002380
  • Joyner, Tim (1992), Magellan, International Marine, OCLC 25049890
  • Castro, Xavier de (dir.); Carmen Bernand; Hamon, Jocelyne et Thomaz, Luiz Filipe (2010). Le voyage de Magellan (1519–1522). La relation d'Antonio Pigafetta et autres témoignages (in French). Paris: Éditions Chandeigne, collection " Magellane ". ISBN 978-2915540-57-4.
  • Castro, Xavier (2018). Le Voyage de Magellan : la relation d'Antonio Pigafetta du premier voyage autour du monde (in French). Paris: Éditions Chandeigne, collection " Magellane poche". ISBN 978-2-36732-125-7.
  • Couto, Dejanirah (2013). Autour du Globe? La carte Hazine n°1825 de la bibliothèque du Palais de Topkapi, Istanbul (in French). CFC, volume 216 (June 2013), pages 119-134.
  • Castro, Xavier de; et Jean-Paul Duviols (2019). Idées reçues sur les Grandes Découvertes : XVe-XVIe siècles (2e éd.) (in French). Paris: Éditions Chandeigne, collection " Magellane poche ". ISBN 978-236732-188-2.
  • Cunnigham, Robert Oliver (1871). Notes on the natural history of the Strait of Magellan and west coast of Patagonia made during the voyage of H.M.S. Nassau in the years 1866, 67, 68, & 69. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas.
  • Garcia, José Manuel (2007). A Viagem de Fernão de Magalhães e os Portugueses (in Portuguese). Lisboa: Presença. ISBN 978-9722337519.
  • Garcia, José Manuel (2019). Fernão e Magalhães - Herói, Traidor ou Mito: a História do Primeiro Homem a Abraçar o Mundo (in Portuguese). Manuscrito: Queluz de Baixo. ISBN 9789898975256.
  • Fitzpatrick, Scott M. and Callaghan, Richard (2008). Magellan's Crossing of the Pacific. The Journal of Pacific History, volume 43 (issue 2, September 2008), pages 145–165.
  • Heers, Jacques (1991). La découverte de l'Amérique : 1492 (in French). Bruxelles : Éditions Complexe.
  • Las Casas, Bartolomé de (2002). Histoire des Indes (in French). Paris : Seuil. (in Spanish)
  • Mota, Alvelino Teixeira da (1975). A viagem de Fernão de Magalhães e a questão das Molucas. Actas do II° colóquio luso-espahnol de História ultramarina (in Portuguese). Lisboa, Junta de Investigação Ultramarina-Centro de Cartografia Antiga.
  • Thomaz, Luís Filipe (2018). O drama de Magalhães e a volta ao mundo sem querer (in Portuguese). Lisboa: Gradiva. ISBN 9789896168599.
  • Toribio Medina, José (1888–1902). Colección de documentos inéditos para la historia de Chile : desde el viaje de Magallanes hasta la batalla de Maipo : 1518-1818 (in Spanish). Santiago: Imprenta Ercilla. ISBN 9781390781601.



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