The Significance of Ferdinand Magellan

by Exa von Alt

The unexpected "discovery" of the Americas in 1492 sparked a wave of European exploration and conquest. European nations -- particularly Spain -- financed dozens expeditions to both explore the New World and find what Columbus had been looking for: a western route to access Asia's spices and silks. One of these explorers, Ferdinand Magellan, found the route and led the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe.

Ferdinand Magellan

Magellan was born in Portugal in 1480. He spent years serving in the Portuguese navy before falling out of favor with the Portuguese King Manoel. In 1517, Magellan moved to Spain and successfully petitioned King Charles VI to finance a voyage searching for an alternative route to Asia.

The Fateful Voyage

In August 1519, Magellan set out with five ships and 265 men to find a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that would lead him to Asia. After two of his ships were driven ashore during a harsh storm, Magellan and his men discovered the strait, which now bears his name, connecting the oceans. Magellan set out to cross the Pacific, but after three months starving at sea, he was killed by Filipinos whom he provoked. After three years at sea, the voyage's 18 survivors returned to Spain having circumnavigated the globe for the first time and proved definitively that the world was round.

About the Author

Based in Dallas, Exa von Alt has been working in education and the social sciences for nearly 10 years. Her lesson plans are published on the University of Oklahoma's K20ALT website and she has written several entries in "American Centuries: The Ideas, Issues, and Trends that Made U.S. History"(MTM Publishing). Exa von Alt holds a Master of Arts in history from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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