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Magellan’s Expedition

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WHO: Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese maritime explorer, was the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe and cross the Pacific Ocean on his famous voyage in search of a westward route to the Moluccas (now Melaka). This is one of the greatest Portuguese explorers to ever sail the ocean. Ferdinand Magellan was born in about 1480 in Sabrosa of a noble family, and he spent his years as a court page. He ran errands and helped out with general chores but he was still looking for something more. He was the first European explorer to reach the Philippine archipelago and brought it to European attention.

WHAT: Ferdinand Magellan’s Expedition

WHERE: On the island of Homonhon, Philippines

WHEN: On March 16, 1521

WHY: He wanted to see the world and find out what there was to explore : If Magellan could reach the Moluccas from the West, Spain’s wealth would exceed all other countries : Christianity

HOW: In 1506 he went to the East Indies, participating in many military and exploratory expeditions in Malacca and the Moluccas, known as the Spice Islands, and by 1510 he had been promoted to the rank of captain. He returned to Portugal in 1512 and in 1513 was stationed in Morocco, where he got wounds that injured him for life. He requested an increase in his royal allowance but was rejected by Emanuel, king of Portugal, who didn’t agree with Magellan’s plan to find a westward route to the Moluccas. This made Magellan renounce his Portuguese nationality. In 1517 he offered his services to the king of Spain, Charles I (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). With his good salesmanship skills, Magellan convinced Charles to fund the expedition to find a westward route to the Moluccas.

September 20, 1519 Magellan started his great journey to the Moluccas from
Sanlucar de Barrameda with five ships – Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepcion, Victoria, and Santiago – 270 men.

In November of that year he reached South America. In February 1520 he explored the Rio de la Plata estuary, and on March 31, 1520 his fleet put in to port at San Julian. His navy remained there for six months because of disease and complications. One ship was wrecked causing a revolt. After the mutiny had been settled, Magellan sailed the passage to the Pacific Ocean named after him, the Strait of Magellan, losing another ship by abandonment, on the way. After 38 days and traveling 330 miles, on November 28, 1520, his three great ships sailed into the ocean, which Magellan named “Pacific” because it was so calm. He reached the Marianas, or Ladrone, Islands on March 6, 1521, and ten days later he discovered the Philippines. Mutinies, hunger, and privations decimated the crew. With only 150 men left and three ships (Trinidad, Concepcion and Victoria) the expedition reached Homonhon Island, Philippines. Rajah Humabon of Cebu was friendly with Magellan and embraced but their enemy, Lapu-Lapu was not. Humabon wanted Magellan to kill Lapu-Lapu while Magellan wanted to convert Lapu-Lapu into Christianity. On April 17, 1521, Magellan sailed to Mactan and ensuing battle killed Magellan by the natives lead by Lapu-Lapu.

A young Spanish pilot named Juan Sebastian del Cano takes over. Meanwhile two ships escaped and the other one was burned. Out of the five ships and 270 men who left on the Magellan expedition in 1519, the last ship, Victoria, and 18 men was commanded by del Cano through the Cape of Good Hope route back to Seville on September 6, 1522. The cargo of spices brought back to Spain on the Victoria alone paid for the expenses of the Expedition.

Ferdinand Magellan proved to the world and all those who rejected his ideas that one could circumnavigate the world. Historians have described his expedition as the “greatest of all epics of human discovery.” His discoveries and passages opened new doors to a larger world. He will always be remembered as the first man who sailed around the world.

The written account of the Magellan Expedition by its chronicler, Antonio de Pigafetta, was the first documentary record about Philippine history and culture. The expedition marked the beginning of Philippines-Spain ties, which ended only on June 12, 1898. The battle at Mactan on April 27, 1521 signaled to the world the readiness of the Filipino people to defend their freedom.

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