Ferdinand Magellan

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Related to Fernao de Magalhaes: Ferdinand Magellan, Fernando de Magallanes
Ferdinand Magellan
Fernão de Magalhães
BirthplaceSabrosa, Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Portugal
Known for Captaining the first circumnavigation expedition

Magellan, Ferdinand

Magellan, Ferdinand (məjelˈən), Port. Fernão de Magalhães, Span. Fernando de Magallanes, c.1480–1521, Portuguese navigator who sailed for Portugal and Spain. Born of a noble family, he was reared as a page in the royal household. He served (1505–12) in Portuguese India under Francisco de Almeida and later under Alfonso de Albuquerque. While in service (1513–14) in Morocco, he was accused of financial irregularities; he lost the favor of Manuel I, who rejected his proposal to reach the Moluccas by a western route. In 1517 he went to Spain, where his plan was approved (1518) by Charles I (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). Portuguese efforts failed to prevent the voyage.

With five vessels and about 265 men, Magellan sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda on Sept. 20, 1519. Sighting the South American coast near Pernambuco, he searched for the suspected passage to the South Sea. In Jan., 1520, the Río de la Plata was explored. While wintering in Patagonia (Mar.–Aug., 1520), he summarily put down a mutiny of some of his officers. On Oct. 21, Magellan discovered and entered the strait which bears his name, and on Nov. 28 he reached the Pacific. His fleet, by then consisting of three vessels, the Concepción, the Trinidad, and the Victoria, sailed NW across the Pacific. No land was sighted for nearly two months, no provisions obtained for three; the men suffered intensely. On Mar. 6, 1521, Magellan reached the Marianas and 10 days later the Philippines, where he was killed (Apr. 27) while supporting one group of natives against another. Soon after, the Concepción was burned as unseaworthy, but the remaining two vessels visited Borneo and then the Moluccas, where they loaded spices.

The Trinidad sailed for Panama but was wrecked; only four of her crew eventually reached Spain. The Victoria, commanded by Juan Sebastián del Cano, sailed across the Indian Ocean and rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese detained 13 of her crew at the Cape Verde Islands, but finally, with only 18 men, she reached Sanlúcar on Sept. 6, 1522, thus completing the first voyage around the world. Although he did not live to complete the journey, Magellan provided the skill and determination that took the vessels over the great unknown portion of the globe, one of the greatest achievements of navigation. The voyage proved definitively the roundness of the earth, it revolutionized ideas of the relative proportions of land and water, and it revealed the Americas as a new world, separate from Asia.


See the firsthand account of Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's Voyage around the World, tr. by R. A. Skelton (1969); biographies by F. H. H. Guillemard (1890, repr. 1971), E. F. Benson (1929), and C. M. Parr (2d ed. 1964); L. Bergreen, Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe (2003).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Magellan, Ferdinand


(Magalhães in Portuguese; Magallanes in Spanish). Born about 1480 in Tras-Os-Montes, Portugal; died Apr. 27, 1521, on Mactan Island in the Philippines. Navigator.

Magellan served in Portuguese expeditions between 1505 and 1512, twice reaching Malacca (1509 and 1511). Returning to Lisbon, he worked out a plan to reach the Moluccas by sailing westward, but it was rejected by the Portuguese king. In 1517 he went to Spain and proposed the plan to the Spanish king, who appointed him head of an expedition. On Sept. 20, 1519, he left the Spanish harbor of Sanlúcar de Barrameda with five ships, in January 1520 reaching the Río de la Plata. Failing to find there a passage to the west, he sailed southward in February, following the coast of the unknown land that he named Patagonia for more than 2,000 km and discovering the large gulfs of San Matias and San Jorge. In March 1520 the flotilla reached the Bay of San Julian, where a mutiny broke out on three ships. Magellan quelled the mutiny and in August 1520, after wintering in the Bay of San Julian, sailed southward with his four remaining ships and discovered and explored the entry to the strait he was seeking, later named after him. He also discovered the Tierra del Fuego archipelago to the south. In November 1520 he reached the ocean which his fellow voyagers later called the Pacific. Sailing more than 17,000 km without halting, in March 1521 he discovered, above 13°N lat., three islands of the Marianas (including Guam) and later the Philippines (Samar, Mindanao, and Cebu). Magellan made an alliance with the ruler of Cebu, gave him military support against the neighboring island of Mactan, and was killed in a battle with local inhabitants. Magellan’s voyage showed that a great ocean stretched between the Americas and Asia. Only one ship of the flotilla, the Victoria, commanded by del Cano, completed the first voyage around the world in 1522. Magellan’s expeditions established that the world was round and that there was a single world ocean.


Pigafétta, A. Puteshestvie Magellana. Moscow, 1950. (Translated from Italian.)
Zweig, S. Podvig Magellana. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from German.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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The history of Fernao de Magalhaes is very different.