Aug 102018

On this date in 1519, five ships under the command of Ferdinand Magellan’s command left Seville to begin the first ever circumnavigation of the world. One ship and 18 of the original crew made it back to Spain. Magellan died en route, but he is remembered in numerous place names, most especially the Strait of Magellan, and in modern discoveries such as the Magellanic Clouds (two irregular dwarf galaxies) as well as animal species, such as Magellanic penguins (which I saw when I visited Tierra del Fuego in 2011).

Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the West (1492–1503) had the goal of reaching the Indies and establishing direct commercial relations between Spain and Asian kingdoms. The Spanish soon realized that the lands of the Americas were not a part of Asia, but a new continent. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas reserved for Portugal the eastern routes that went around Africa, and Vasco da Gama and the Portuguese arrived in India in 1498. Castile urgently needed to find a new commercial route to Asia. 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.

In October 1517 in Seville, Magellan (already an experienced sailor, explorer, and soldier), contacted 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 22nd 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, and granted them a number of monopolies on their discoveries. The expedition was funded largely by the Spanish Crown, which provided ships carrying supplies for two years of travel. Expert cartographer Jorge Reinel and Diogo Ribeiro, a Portuguese who had started working for Charles V in 1518 as a cartographer at the Casa de Contratación, took part in the development of the maps to be used in the travel. Several problems arose during the preparation of the trip, including lack of money, the king of Portugal trying to stop them, Magellan and other Portuguese incurring suspicion from the Spanish, and the difficult nature of Faleiro. Finally, thanks to the tenacity of Magellan, the expedition was ready. Through the bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca they obtained the participation of merchant Christopher de Haro, who provided a quarter of the funds and goods to barter.

The flagship Trinidad (110 tons, crew 55), under Magellan’s command

San Antonio (120 tons; crew 60) commanded by Juan de Cartagena

Concepción (90 tons, crew 45) commanded by Gaspar de Quesada

Santiago (75 tons, crew 32) commanded by João Serrão

Victoria (85 tons, crew 43), named after the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria de Triana, where Magellan took an oath of allegiance to Charles V; commanded by Luis Mendoza.

The crew of about 270 included men from several nations, including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Greece, England and France. Spanish authoritie