1522: Who were the First People to Circumnavigate the Globe?

1522: Who were the First People to Circumnavigate the Globe?
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons/ „Elcano-estatua“ von JUE - Eigenes Werk. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 2.5 über Wikimedia Commons.

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 6 September 1522
  • It is often wrongly stated that Ferdinand Magellan was the first person to sail around the globe. Read why this isn't true and who actually accomplished this historical feat.

Ferdinand Magellan was not the first man to sail around the world.

Namely, he was killed during the journey (in the Philippines) and didn’t even originally intend to circumnavigate the world. Instead, he wanted to discover a western route to India, or more precisely to the “Spice Islands” (Moluccas), which had the potential to become a source of immense profit.

The man who decided to circumnavigate the globe rather than return the way they came was Magellan’s lieutenant, Juan Sebastian Elcano. He is rarely mentioned as the first man to achieve this historical feat, and is actually rarely mentioned at all.

Elcano was born in the Spanish part of Basque Country, and was a Basque by nationality. As the captain of a merchant ship, he had come into conflict with the law and applied to participate in Magellan’s expedition, so that he could receive a pardon. When Magellan set sail on his great voyage, Elcano became one of the 270 members of his crew, which manned a total of five ships.

Under Elcano’s leadership, only 18 members of the original crew made it back to Spain aboard one of the expedition’s smaller ships, the Victoria. The king awarded Elcano a coat of arms with the motto “Primus circumdedisti me” (Lat. “You went around me first”), and his descendants were later declared Marquesses of Buglas.

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