Who Paid for Magellan's Exploration?

Ferdinand Magellan discovered a strait connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
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Ferdinand Magellan was born in 1480 in Sabrosa, Portugal. He is recognized as the first European explorer to circumnavigate the globe, although he didn't personally complete the journey. In 1521, Magellan was killed in a tribal skirmish on the Southeast Asian islands later known as the Philippines. Though he was Portuguese, the Spanish king funded the expedition that would make him famous.

1 A Sailor Scorned

Magellan was a Portuguese noble and spent his boyhood as a page in the queen's household. He was inspired by stories he heard of explorers, such as Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama, and wanted to sail for Portugal. His first voyages under the Portuguese flag left him in disgrace, when King Manuel refused to pay him after pirates had looted his ship. Undaunted, Magellan volunteered to fight for Portugal in Morocco. Returning to the king in 1514, he asked for pay, and again was refused. King Manuel, having heard stories of Magellan's misconduct in Morocco, humiliated the young sailor in front of his entire court by refusing to allow Magellan to kiss his hand, a symbol of fealty. If Magellan were to become a famous explorer, it would not be under the flag of Portugal.

2 The Spice Wars

All his life, Magellan had heard stories of the vicious rivalry between Portugal and Spain to control the spice trade. In 16th-century Europe, spices were at the center of the economy. Because they couldn't be cultivated in Europe and required lengthy and dangerous ocean voyages to acquire, they were expensive. Having and using spices in 16th-century Europe was an indicator of wealth and social status. In 1494, Spain and Portugal had come to an agreement dividing the world into spheres of influence. An imaginary line was drawn down the center of the Atlantic Ocean, and everything discovered to the west of the line belonged to Spain; everything to the east was Portugal's. However, Spain was envious of Portugal's discovery of spice islands in Indonesia, and Magellan could use this jealousy to his advantage.

3 A Treasonous Gamble

After discussions with a few fellow Portuguese explorers, including John of Lisbon, a navigator who had explored South America, Magellan learned of the existence of a strait through the continent. In 1517, he took this information to Charles I, the king of Spain. Magellan knew the line through the Atlantic was pointless since the earth was round. If he sailed west from Spain through this strait, he could sail from there to the Indonesian spice islands, proving those islands were actually to the west of the line and therefore belonged to Spain. Charles I, the grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who had funded Christopher Columbus's voyage to America, readily agreed to support this proposal. Magellan renounced his Portuguese nationality and took an oath of allegiance to the Spanish crown.

4 The Voyage Begins

After 18 months of preparation, Magellan and his fleet set sail from Spain on August 10, 1519. Magellan captained Trinidad, the lead vessel. Four other ships accompanied him on this expedition: the San Antonio, the Concepcion, the Victoria and the Santiago. Though the ships carried hundreds of thousands of pounds of food, including 213,800 pounds of biscuits and 72,000 of salted beef, the crew would deplete it all over the course of their three-year voyage. Of the five ships that left, only the Victoria would return home to Spain after circumnavigating the globe. Of the roughly 270 crew members who set sail with Magellan, only 18 completed the entire journey. Despite the fact that Magellan never returned to Spain and would have been executed had he ever stepped foot in Portugal, he is recognized as a hero in both countries.

Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.