The Magellan Expedition Returns To Spain Without Its Captain

Today on September 6, 1522, the Magellan Expedition finally returns to Spain but without its captain.

Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who began his career as a naval officer. The Magellan Expedition to the East Indies became the first to fully circumnavigate the Earth, making him one of the most famous explorers in history. King Charles I of Spain (also known as Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor) recruited by Magellan to lead an expedition to the Maluku Islands (the “Spice Islands”). He offered his services to the Spanish government after quarreling with King Manuel of Portugal over pension issues. The two countries had previously agreed to divide the world into two “spheres of influence”. An imaginary line was drawn up across the Atlantic Ocean, granting Portugal the rights to any new territory to the east. However, Spain quickly became envious of their discoveries in Southeast Asia, especially with the Indonesian Spice Islands.

Being the clever man that Magellan was, he proposed that the Spanish expedition “legally” sail westward across South America in the hopes of stumbling upon the treasured islands. King Charles loved the plan and preparations immediately began. On September 20, 1519, an expedition fleet of five ships and nearly 300 men set sail from Spain. The crew passed through what is today known as the Strait of Magellan in southern Argentina. They found themselves in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which Magellan famously called the “peaceful sea”. Despite encountering many storms and mutinies, the expedition finally reached the Spice Islands in 1521, a massive archipelago within Indonesia.

While further exploring westward, Magellan and his crew were drawn into a conflict with local native tribes. On April 27, 1521, he was killed during a tribal skirmish on Mactan Island in the present-day Philippines. The esteemed Portuguese captain was struck by a poisoned-tipped arrow. His Spanish comrades hastily retreated and left him to die on the beach. The remaining ships carried on sailing to the Spice Islands with only one of the original five ships actually making it back to Spain. The survivors of the Magellan Expedition returned home by sailing across the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope.

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