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Ferdinand Magellan

In the early 1500s, almost four and a half centuries before men first orbited the earth; an expedition completed and led by Ferdinand Magellan performed a task of comparable significance for that time period. Magellan, a Portuguese navigator for Spain, sailed westward with a fleet of five ships from the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda in September, 1519. Nearly three years later one ship returned, having circumnavigated the globe and crossed its largest ocean. A Philippine battle is where Magellan died and only left his crew to tell about the voyage.

Maximilian of Transylvania, a native of Brussels, was present when the only one of Magellans ships reached Sanlucar }. Maximilian assisted with the interrogations of the expedition survivors. Besides taking part in the official interviews, he questioned the returned mariners, quickly digested their accounts, and then rushed to get his letter off to Cardinal-Archbishop Lang of Salzburg who was also his father. Initially, Maximilian wrote the letter to practice his Latin and enhance his own fame.

The document is important not only for the valuable information it contains, but also because it was the first account released to the European public of the great voyage. Maximilian was the secretary to Charles V and made a lifelong study of overseas affairs. He is credited with having made a terrestrial globe, surpassing all others of the time, and which the precision of the map was proved by Magellan. His letter is undeniably one of the most valuable sources of information about the Magellan voyage.

In fact, it was the only printed account of the expedition for some time. Magellans voyage set sail on the 10th of August, 1519, with five ships from Seville, Spain. Three moths later, Maximilian tells how Magellans crew was forced to seek shelter for the winter at Port San Julian which is on the eastern coast of South America. In September 1520, he again sets sail after loosing one vessel to a storm. One month later, Magellan sights the straight that was later named after him and proceeds to cross into the ocean that he named Pacific because of its calmness.

He reached the Ladrone, Islands on March 6, 1521, and ten days later discovered the Philippines, landing on the island of Cebu on April 7. There he made an alliance with the ruler of the island and agreed to aid him in an attack on the natives of the neighboring island of Mactan. Magellan was killed on April 27,1521 during the Mactan expedition. Following Magellan’s death, one of the vessels in his fleet was burned, but the other two escaped and reached the Moluccas on November 6, 1521.

One of the vessels, the Victoria, commanded by the Spanish navigator Juan Sebastin del Cano, completed the circumnavigation of the globe, arriving in Seville on September 6, 1522. Although Magellan did not live to complete the voyage, he did circumnavigate the globe by passing the easternmost point he had reached on an earlier voyage. The cargo of spices carried back to Spain by the Victoria alone paid for the expenses of the expedition. The passage through the Strait of Magellan was too long and difficult to be a practical route from Europe to the Moluccas.

Nevertheless, the voyage laid the foundation for trade in the Pacific between the New World and the East. Although Spain did not immediately recognize the importance of the Philippines, they had become the greatest Spanish trading center in the East. Magellans voyage would have never received the recognition that it deserved if citizens such as Maximilian didnt properly document it. Magellans accomplishments in his three-year voyage were countless and forever will be remembered. It is because of explorers and historians like these, that we have the geological perfection of our globe today.

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