Ferdinand Magellan – A Great Navigator With A Great Crew

On the 27th of April 1521, on an ordinary day just like today 500 years ago, the Filipino natives killed Ferdinand Magellan during the Battle of Mactan. The battle took place during a voyage that he organized in his quest for the westward passage to the acclaimed Spice Islands.

It was two years earlier, on the 10th of August 1519, when five ships and 243 men onboard to serve as Magellan’s crew officially sailed away from Seville. These ships were the San Antonio, Concepcion, Santiago, Victoria and Trinidad as the flagship of the mission.

After Magellan’s death, Juan Sebastian Elcano took over the leadership of the mission and decided to return back. He continued west this time, sailing through the Cape of Good Hope as the route was closer and more familiar. Finally, of the five ships of the fleet, only one completed the voyage. The Victoria docked in Seville on 6th of September 1522 after it spent three years at the sea. The ship with the remaining crew became the first to successfully circumnavigate the world


ferdinand maggelan's circulation of the globe

About Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan, as a young boy, studied navigation and mapmaking. When he reached his mid-20s, Magellan was already sailing in the large fleets and even engaged in a war. Backed by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Magellan embarked in 1519 to look for a better and easier route that leads to the acclaimed Spice Islands. Magellan assembled the armada of ships that was able to circumnavigate the globe in just one voyage in spite of the death of Magellan himself and many other huge setbacks.

ferdinand maggelan portrait

The Early Life

Ferdinand Magellan was born circa 1480 in the Portugal either in Sabrosa or the city of Porto. His parents were part of the nobility in Portugal and following their demise. Magellan served as the queen’s page at a young age of 10. He attended Queen Leonora’s School of Page located in Lisbon. His days spent poring over texts on celestial navigation, astronomy, and cartography. All these subjects were able to serve him well during his pursuits later life.

Magellan as an Explorer and Navigator

Magellan, already in his mid-20s, became a member of the Portuguese fleet in 1505 that was travelling to East Africa. He also fought during the Battle of Diu in 1509 during which the Egyptian ships were destroyed by the Portuguese in the Arabian Sea. A couple of years later, Magellan explored Malacca that is located in what is known today as Malaysia. He also took part in the conquest of the port of Malacca.

This was where he got the native servant that he called Enrique. There is a possibility that Magellan was able to sail as far as the Indonesian islands of Moluccas, known as Spice Islands back then. The Moluccas were considered as the original source of some of the most valuable spices of the world, including nutmeg and cloves. As a result, the conquest of the countries rich in spices became a source of much competition in Europe.

His Injury

In 1514, while he was serving in Morocco, Magellan was injured. As a result, he spent the rest of his life walking with a limp. Following his injury, Magellan was also falsely accused of engaging in an illegal trade with the Moors. In spite of is his several pleas to the king and his loyal service to the country of Portugal, future employment offers for him were withheld.

Ferdinand Magellan relocated to Seville, Spain in 1517 to provide his skills to the court of Spain. This departure from Portugal arrived at the perfect time. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas declared all the newly discovered and soon to be discovered territories east of demarcation line were awarded to Portugal while the territories on the western side of the line went to Spain.

During the three years after he left Portugal, Magellan extensively studied all of the newest navigation charts. Similar to all navigators during that time, Magellan was able to understand from Greek texts that Earth was round.

How is Magellan Related to Rhodes island?

In Maggelan ‘s  memoirs, mentioned his two trips to Rhodes in 1501 and 1504. He recounts how he met with King Constantine II and Queen Helena of Constantinople. While he did not mention exactly what they discussed, it is possible that they talked about how to protect their respective empires against the encroaching Ottoman Turks.

During his visit to Greece he also recruited some men for his future quest. A fact about Rhodes you may didn’t know is that among the 18 men out of the 243 of the crew managed to complete their mission, there were 7 Greeks! All of the seven sailors from Greece who started the voyage were able to survive. Out of them, three were on board the Victoria and successfully circumnavigate the world. They are:

The mariner Miguel Sanchez de Rodas and the maritime pilot Miguel de Rodas who were both from Rhodes. Also the maritime pilot Francisco Albo who was from Chios island. 


Miguel de Rodas

The name of Miguel de Rodas in Greek is given as Michael of Rhodes. The island of Rhodes back then was going through the end of the Knighthood Period (1309 – 1522) which ended with the surrender of the island by the Knights of the Order of St. John to the Ottomans after a five-month siege, just three months after Michael’s return to Spain. 


Miguel Sanchez de Rodas

Michael, however, was not the only one associated with the island of Rhodes. Sailor Miguel Sanchez, although his surname is purely Spanish, his place of origin is Rhodes (de Rodas) and this is not so strange. The Knights who had occupied and protected the island from Ottoman attacks, came from the kingdoms of Europe. Many of them had also arrived from the Iberian Peninsula. Most likely, Miguel Sanchez was a descendant of a Spanish knight who lived in Rhodes.


Fransisco Albo

Nautilus Francisco Albo also came from Greece, as Chios island is mentioned as his place of origin. The name of Chios is rendered as Axio by the Italian Scio, as at that time the island was under Genoese occupation (from 1346 to 1566). Francisco Albo recorded in detail the passage of the Strait of Magellan. His descriptions, which are now preserved in the General Archive of the Indians of Seville, are historical evidence of the Discovery of Chile.


Apart from the seafarers who managed to survive and return to Spain completing their mission, there were others who participated in the mission too.

A sailor named Simon de Asio, known as Simeon of Chios, served on the ship San Antonio. Symeon returned to Spain early as his ship sank.

There was a sailor in Concepsion named Mateo di Gorfo. The Spaniards gave as Gorfo the Venetian Corfu of the then Venetian-occupied Corfu. 

On board the ship Victoria, there were at least four Greeks. Apart from Michael of Rhodes and Nicholas of Nafplio, Felipe de Rodas (Philip of Rhodes) with obvious origin from the island of Rhodes and Juan Griego (John the Greek) from Nafplio served on the ship.


The origin of the sailors from specific Greek areas, was not accidental at all.

Rhodes as well as Chios, Corfu and Nafplio was under the domination of the Latins. In result latin languages dominated in these areas, making the communication with the Spanish much easier. Then, there was intense naval activity with many of the natives joining the ships of the West and pursuing the naval profession which would ensure them high wages and prestige.


ΜΕΓΑΛΟΙ ΘΑΛΑΣΣΟΠΟΡΟΙ – Argiris Nakos (2019) / Έλληνες που ακολούθησαν το Μαγγελάνο

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Erin Blakemore (2019) / Magellan was first to sail around the world, right? Think again

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About the author

I have been working in the tourism industry more than 10 years, gaining experience in tour operating, transportation and accommodation. As a seasoned tour leader, I am passionate about developing tourist services and making them unique experiences. In addition to tour leader job, I am also involved in digital marketing and article blogging. Outside of the office, I enjoy travelling, photography and enriching my knowledge with new skills.

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