List of Posts

  • Journals of Pigafetta: Gutenberg Project
  • Who Closed the Circle First?
  • The Royal World of Magellan
  • A Pound of Cloves
  • The End of the Beginning

Who Closed the Circle First?

August 26th, 2015 by

While many people correctly associate the first recorded circumnavigation of the Earth with Ferdinand Magellan, most do not know that Magellan only made it part of the way. On April 27th, 1521, Magellan died at the Battle of Mactan in the archipelago he named San Lazaro, known today as The Philippines.

Juan Sebastian del Cano captained the Victoria, the only surviving ship of the original five, home to Spain, arriving just two weeks short of when and where the Magellan Armada de Moluccas left from three years earlier. Cano was a competent mariner. As the ranking leader among the 18 Europeans onboard the returning Victoria, he initially received all the Spanish royal recognition for the first circumnavigation.

Subsequently in 1526 Cano rose to the rank of Captain General on what started out as a seven ship fleet trying to sail west to the Spice Islands via the Magellan expedition route. On August 6th, 1526, he died of scurvy in the mid-Pacific Ocean less than one week after replacing Jufre de Loaisa, the initial Captain General of the fleet, who also died of scurvy. Cano was buried at sea. The smudge on his record is his participation in the mutiny against Magellan over Easter weekend at Port St. Julian in 1520. His death sentence for participation in the mutiny was not carried out. The need for competent mariners spared him to a hard labor sentence that progressed to return to duty on deck and eventually to be the only surviving captain of the expedition. Sebastian del Cano’s name is associated with the Earth’s first circumnavigation mostly only by historians.

There is the possibility Magellan’s slave Enrique was the first person to circumnavigate the earth. Magellan had participated in the Portuguese conquest of Malacca in 1511. While there, Magellan purchased Enrique, then estimated to be 14 years old, as a slave. While still a servant to Magellan when the Armada de Moluccas departed Spain in 1519, Enrique da Malacca was listed with the fleet as a supernumerary (interpreter) and was being paid 1,500 maravedis per month. Antonio Pigafetta, the de facto expedition chronicler, was only paid 1,000 maravedis per month. One can say Enrique was no longer a slave at this point but instead an indentured well-paid servant.

Pigafetta reported Enrique was from Sumatra. Linguists suggest a Sumatran would not have understood the language of the central Philippines (Visayan) as Enrique did when the expedition first reached the Philippines in early 1521. Enrique’s language skills facilitated Magellan’s alliance with the leaders there at the time and played a key role in the mass baptisms that were to follow.

Enrique was possibly raised in the central Philippines and sold into slavery in Sumatra, eventually being taken to Malacca where he was purchased by Magellan. Another possibility is for Enrique to have been born of Filipino parents in Sumatra or Malacca where he lived in a ‘Filipino Town’ community similar to ‘China Town’ communities around the world, from whence he came to the service of Magellan.
Enrique disappears from the historical record after the Massacre of Cebu, 4 days after the Battle of Mactan.

The historical record documents both Enrique and Magellan being in Malacca before returning to Portugal, travelling to Spain, and then sailing west as far as Cebu. Cebu is 1,528 miles from Malacca. Dividing this distance by the circumference of the Earth (24,901) shows they both came at least 94% of the way to a complete circumnavigation.

If Enrique was not indeed the first human to encompass the planet, he deserves an A for the effort.

The Silk Road

July 18th, 2015 by

When you Google for “The Silk Road” today, you find a lot more search results for the drugs-and-guns site than for the historically significant network of travel routes between China, the middle east and ancient Rome. Yet, for centuries this “international commercial highway” was the source of valuable goods, spices, gems and China’s silks for those who had the money to pay.

Watch a short, well-done video at

When the Great Mongol State (the largest empire in history from 1206 to 1368) began to break down, the anarchic conditions in the middle east made it virtually impossible to travel the Silk Road by land. There was a sea route from China to the Near East, but in 1453, The Turks captured Constantinople and took control of the sea routes in the Black Sea. The Turks also controlled Egypt at this time and created an expensive hardship on both land and sea routes to and within that region as well.

Ottoman Empire just after the capture of Constantinople

These bottlenecks to trade began to take its toll on the price of goods for the ruling classes in Europe. Gold and silver coffers were being severely drained. As we shall see, viewed from the vantage point of the future, this strain on the wealthy acted as a catalyst to the Age of Discovery.

The Iberian Peninsula just after Portuga's independence

In the meantime, the little kingdom of Portugal attained its independence from Castile with the help of a contingent of English archers in 1385. Twenty-six years later a treaty was signed.

In the next episode, you will see how the events of this revolution created the life of a significant player in Magellan’s Geodrama, Prince Henry the Navigator.

These articles are small essays from the reading of “Magellan” by Tim Joyner.

The Magellan Project is a seafaring adventure that will retrace the 3-year route of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world – in time for the 500 year anniversary.

Ongoing documentation, in various media, will be transmitted to the public as it happens. Outreach and cultural research are being planned for the ports o’ call. Collected materials will be compiled to produce a documentary, and all materials will be available to educators and researchers.

This is an ambitious project, and we need your help. See how you can JOIN THE ADVENTURE.


Featured Image (at top)

Silk Road and Related Trade Routes ~Maps / Atlas~

Genghis Khan (where we learn the pronunciation is really ‘Chingas’ )
Watch an entertaining and educational video HERE

Ottoman Empire Map

Map of Portugal (Citation)
By Gabagool (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

China, Central Asia, and the New Silk Road (where we learn about modern-day China’s Silk Road initiative)