On 20 September 1519, the Portuguese adventurer Ferdinand Magellan left Spain with five ships and 270 men. His goal? Find a western route to the Spice Islands of Indonesia.
On 06 September 1522, one of those ships returned to Spain, arriving at Sanlucar de Barrameda. Magellan was not on board.
In-between, Magellan sailed down the eastern South American seaboard in search of passage to the Pacific Ocean. He found the strait he was looking for on 21 October 1520.
Only three ships entered the waters separating Tierra del Fuego from the South American continent. (One wrecked; one deserted and returned to Spain.) It took the ships 38 days to negotiate the passage, which we know today as the Strait of Magellan.
On 28 November 1520, the ships entered the Pacific Ocean.
They sailed west for another 99 days before reaching land. They landed on the island of Guam on 06 March 1521, before moving on to the Philippine island of Cebu. The Spice Islands were now only about 400 miles away.
Magellan met with the chief of Cebu, who after converting to Christianity persuaded the Europeans to assist him in conquering a rival tribe on the neighboring island of Mactan. In fighting on April 27, Magellan was hit by a poisoned arrow and left to die by his retreating comrades.
One ship continued west; the other backtracked to the east.
The Vittoria, commanded by Basque navigator Juan Sebastian de Elcano, became the first ship to circumnavigate the globe.
Along the way, they had encountered a new ocean, mapped new routes for European trade, and set the stage for modern globalism. Sixty thousand miles later, and after the death of 80 percent of those involved, the expedition had proven that the globe could be circumnavigated and opened the door to European colonization of the New World in the name of commerce.
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