Memorial Days

The first circumnavigation of the earth 500 years ago

"Should erroneous views prevail about the creation of the world as described in Genesis, all divine promises would dissolve into nothing and our religion would lose its life."
The reformed theologian Peter Martyr (Pietro Mariano) Vermigli (1499-1562). (1, p. 387).

In modern times, at the latest since Copernicus (1473-1543), innumerable astronomical, biological, geographical discoveries shook the medieval worldview, on which the Christian teachings - partly still to this day - are based. But all refutations of Christian theologies fizzled out with little effect - to the horror of enlightened philosophers and materialistically thinking natural scientists.

The irrefutable proof of the spherical shape of the earth was actually of little religious and philosophical significance. Because even ancient philosophers and even medieval theologians were familiar with the earth as a sphere. Even if one or the other church teacher, such as Lucius Caecilius Firmius (called Lactantius, around 250-320), wanted to see a contradiction to the Bible in it.

Not so the common people. This one had - like that too Church father Augustine (354-430) - Difficulties with the antipodes, the "antipods". Many could not understand why one did not slip off the globe at the latest at the equator and fall somewhere else. Portuguese sailors had already crossed the equator several times in the 15th century. But many simple people still couldn't quite believe in the earth as a sphere before a trip around the world provided the final proof.

World power Portugal

It was mainly thanks to one man that the small, poor Portugal rose to become an important sea power in the 15th century. Prince Heinrich (1394-1460), later called "the seafarer", was a younger brother of the reigning king. In 1415, Prince Heinrich becomes Duke of Viseu, Governor of the Algarve and lord of Madeira, from which wood and valuable tree resins are imported. He also becomes administrator of the Order of Christ in 1420. This order is a successor organization to the Templar order persecuted in France. As already mentioned in the Grail World (cf. “Briefly, briefly, curiously”, page 143 "The annihilation of the Templars"), the Templars supposedly had excellent knowledge of nautical and shipbuilding. They are even said to have sailed regularly to South America.

Prince Heinrich "the seafarer", who was extremely interested in shipping - who never commanded a ship himself - was able to build on their knowledge, use their wealth to promote nautical studies and equip expeditions. Captains sent by him gradually explored the coasts of West Africa. They were research trips on tiny ships - with the Templar cross on the sails - to unknown regions, about which wild horror stories were circulating. So it was not easy to find captains and crews who dared adventure trips into the unknown on the legendary caravels.

Prince Heinrich was no longer allowed to experience the phenomenal success of his efforts. Only circumnavigated almost three decades after his death Bartholomew Diaz (1450-1500) reached the southern tip of the African continent in 1488, and reached another ten years later Vasco da Gama (1468-1524) the trading city of Calicut in India.

Sea routes to wonderland

From today's perspective, Columbus’s discovery of America was more significant than the Portuguese’s trips to India. Columbus, too, had looked for a way to India in the service of Spain and had not recognized throughout his life that he had not found a route to Asia, but had discovered a new continent.
But from the end of the 15th century onwards, great fortunes flowed from the Far East to Portugal through the spice trade: nutmeg, perfume, pepper, porcelain, saffron, silk, cinnamon, sugar. The lucrative Indian trade passed the far larger Spain as well as the other seafaring nations of Europe.

Through the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494, with papal blessing, the world was divided into Portuguese and Spanish areas of interest. A line, roughly along the 45th degree of longitude, separated the spheres of influence of the two great explorers: the countries in the west of this meridian were supposed to fall to Spain, those in the east to Portugal. So Brazil also became Portuguese, through whose east this longitude runs. The eastern sea route around Africa to India and the Spice Islands (Moluccas) was blocked to the Spaniards by the Treaty of Tordesillas. Spanish sea captains hated the Portuguese because they had "stolen half the world" from them. (Cf. “Discover, raise the flag, take possession”, in “Short, concise, curious” on page 332).

As a result of this treaty, conflicts between the European nations were inevitable. The English, French and Dutch also wanted to participate in overseas trade with India and the Spice Islands further to the east and set up trading stations that later became colonies. The peaceful trade soon turned into bloody raids in which the Europeans ruthlessly used their superior weapons. (See. "The most powerful invention in world history")

Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521)

The Portuguese Fernao de Magalháeswho is in Spain Magellanes called, was an experienced seafarer who - probably wrongly - fell out of favor in his homeland. So he could not hope that his king would finance a dream for him: an expedition to India via the western route, which Columbus had already been looking for.

Portugal had just opened the eastern sea route to India, gaining a monopoly on the highly profitable spice trade. A western sea route to India was therefore of great interest to the Spanish crown. The east route was blocked by the Treaty of Tordesillas. So the almost forty-year-old Magellan leaves his Portuguese homeland without further ado and offers his services to the Spanish competition, where he can inspire influential personalities for his plans. For the Portuguese it was treason. After all, Magellan was from the nobility and had served his Portuguese king for decades!

King of Spain (from 1519-1556 as Charles V also Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire), provided Magellan with five older ships for his daring voyage of discovery. On September 20, 1519 the great voyage of discovery begins with a mixed crew of 270 men. It was difficult to find a halfway suitable crew. The promised wages were not exactly generous and the risk of not returning was particularly great.

The Portuguese King Dom Manuel, well informed by his spies, wants Magellan first to return to Portugal and then even to have him murdered - in vain. Finally, he sends out ships to stop the expedition. But Magellan escapes these reenactments.

Around the world in 1082 days

Magellan confidently heads west on the Atlantic. Its fleet consists of the flagship Trinidad (120 tons), the San Antonia as the largest ship with 130 tons, the Concepción (90 tons), the Victoria (90 tons) and the little Santiago (60 tons).

Tensions will soon arise because the Spanish captains hate the Portuguese Magellan. The Spanish captain of the San Antonia refuses to respect him. Magellan has him imprisoned and appoints another captain. Then there are storms. Some crew members are planning a mutiny and even want to murder Magellan. But this remains calm and prevails.

At the beginning of December America was reached and the fleet anchored in a bay where Rio de Janeiro is today. It is Portuguese territory and the fleet is leaving as soon as possible after having been able to supply itself with water and provisions.

The Strait of Magellan

Now a passage to the Pacific (Magellan gave the previously unknown ocean this name) has to be looked for. Nobody knows exactly why Magellan was looking for a passage in a maze of islands of all places. Allegedly there was a nautical chart in Spain that indicated such a fictitious passage.

Bartholomäus Diaz had circumnavigated the southernmost cape of Africa in search of the way to India. Why didn't Magellan look for the South Cape of America, which is now Cape Horn?

The discovery of the Strait of Magellan
“If it hadn't been for the captain-general, we wouldn't have found this strait, because we all thought and said that the water was enclosed on all sides with land. But the captain-general knew where to sail and how to find a well hidden strait. He had seen it on a map owned by the King of Portugal and written by an excellent man, Martin von Beheim. The captain-general dispatched two ships, the San Antonio and the Conceptione, to investigate what was on the other side of Cape de la Baia (that is, in the bay). We with the other two ships, the flagship Trinitade and the Victoria, waited for them in the bay. That night there was a great storm that lasted until noon the following day, forcing us to raise anchor and drift down into the bay.
The other two ships received headwinds and therefore could not avoid the cape at the end of the bay when they tried to sail back to meet us. They therefore feared running aground. But as they neared the end of the bay, thinking they were lost, they saw a small opening that didn't look like one, but like a sharp bend. Desperate as they were, they headed for it and discovered the strait by accident. When they recognized this, they sailed on and found a bay. And after that they found another strait and another bay that was larger than the first two. They returned very gladly at once to tell the captain-general. We thought they were shipwrecked, one because of the strong storm and the other because we hadn't seen them for two days ... And while we were still in doubt, we suddenly saw the two ships with full sails and flags waving in the wind to meet. As they approached, they fired a few mortars and the crew burst out cheering. We all thanked God and the Virgin Mary and set out to explore the strait.
Antonio Pigafetta (4).

His team is discouraged after a journey of over a year. Another mutiny ensues. The Santiago is lost on a reconnaissance voyage and the San Antonio breaks away and secretly returns to Spain. Magellan's only three ships now.
But the happiness of the able is with him. He finds the 310 nautical miles (570 km) long Strait of Magellan named after him; until the construction of the Panama Canal one of the most important sea routes of modern times, which is still used regularly today. Strong tides and frequent storms make it still dangerous, especially for smaller ships.

The pacific ocean

On November 28, 1520, the three remaining ships finally reached the largest of all oceans, which no European ship had previously crossed. The passage through the Strait of Magellan took 38 days, sometimes under difficult weather conditions.

But now the weather is kind to the courageous seafarers; the sea is so calm that they call it “mare pacifico”, the calm sea or the calm ocean.

You are now on the way to the Spice Islands, of which one only roughly knows the geographical latitude. How far away these legendary islands may be, how wide the Pacific actually is, nobody suspects. Food is running out, the crew is on the verge of starvation when you finally come across land, more by chance: the Marianas.

The “Island of Thieves” (probably near today's Guam), discovered on March 6, 1721, where natives tried to steal a dinghy, is quickly abandoned. On March 16, the explorers can finally load up on an island (probably Homonhon), where they are welcomed in a friendly manner, like in a South Seas paradise. This island already belongs to the Philippines. A slave of Magellan who comes from Sumatra can communicate with the locals. Sea travelers from Europe can trade, convert the islanders to Christianity and hope for lasting, friendly relationships.

Then the king of one of the islands resists the Europeans. Magellan's aim is to intimidate these hostile natives with his firearms; but he misjudges the situation. Eight of his sailors and Magellan himself are killed. The life journey of the great navigator ends on April 27, 1521 on the island of Macatan. This also ended the peaceful coexistence with the locals and Christianization.

Magellan's death
“We defended ourselves as best we could and withdrew to the coast, constantly fighting. But even when we were already in the water, the islanders did not let go of us. Their bullets continued to pound us. Knowing our commander, their attack was mainly directed against him. His helmet was torn off his head twice. But he did not give up, although few fought by his side.
This unequal fight lasted more than an hour. Magaglianes still didn't budge, and so one of the islanders managed to wound him in the face with the tip of his lance. The captain general immediately pierced his opponent with his lance, which got stuck in the body of the victim. He wanted to draw his sword, but was only able to get it half out of its scabbard because the wounded right arm hardly obeyed him. When the islanders saw this, they all pressed on him, and one of them thrust the lance into our captain-general's left thigh so hard that it fell on his face. At the same moment all the enemies threw themselves on him and struck him with their weapons. So our leader, our light, our support, perished. "
Antonio Pigafetta (4).

The long way back

Of the 270 sailors who left Seville, 47 were still alive after further fighting. They have to try to get home somehow.

The Concepción has to be abandoned due to a lack of crew. The mood of the seafarers, who are distributed among the two remaining ships, is approaching the lowest point. In search of the spice islands, the Victoria and the Trinidad cross through the island maze of Indonesia and even reach the sought-after Moluccas, where they can exchange their merchandise and take spices on board. Here they are lucky enough to escape a Portuguese ship again. However, the Trinidad, which has to stay behind for repairs, is raised by the Portuguese.

Now finally the way to my distant home seems free. But the way home is still long and difficult. We continue on the last ship, the Victoria, with a tonnage of 90 tons. The Spaniards have to follow the route developed by the Portuguese: around the Cape of Good Hope and along the coast of West Africa.

As was customary at the time, all nautical data were kept strictly confidential so that the Spaniards could not fall back on the experience of the Portuguese. Magellan was missing here, who was the only one of the crew who had already been to India with Portuguese ships and had distinguished himself in combat there. Spanish seafarers have to avoid Portuguese bases. In order not to starve to death, they still have to eat provisions on one of the Cape Verde islands. This archipelago is ruled by the Portuguese who arrest thirteen crew members.

In September 1522, after a sea voyage of approx. 69,000 km, a ragged, exhausted crew finally reached Seville on a leaky ship that was barely floating. Of the original crew, only eighteen men had survived the entire trip around the earth. Underneath Sebastiàn Elcano, the captain of the Victoria, and Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of the trip (4). The whole voyage of discovery had taken two years, eleven months and two weeks.

The importance of the first circumnavigation

From an economic point of view, the greatest trip of all time was even a success. The Victoria brought home 26 tons of spices from the Moluccas, which after deducting the costs involved in the loss of the other ships, still brought a net profit of 500 gold ducats (5).

The geographical and philosophical importance of the Magellan Expedition can hardly be overestimated:
* The earth was circled for the first time. One thing is certain: on a southern route you have to bypass all continents in both directions!
* On return, a day was missing from the logbook. The date line became clear.
* For the first time Europeans sailed the Great Ocean, which covers a third of the earth's surface.
* It becomes obvious that the "West Indies" (Caribbean) discovered by Columbus do not belong to Asia, but to a large continent of their own. And that this newly discovered "America" is far from the east coast of China, which Marco Polo described. Magellan turns a world with three continents (Europe, Asia, Africa) into a world with four continents [1].
* For the first time you got a practically experienced, realistic idea of the size of our planet.
Although had Eratosthenes of Cyrene The circumference of the earth was calculated with astonishing accuracy as early as the 3rd century BC. However, these were theoretical calculations that only a few astronomers understood and hardly anyone was able to verify. It was not until Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe that all doubts were dispelled by irrefutable observations: the Earth is a sphere! Its long underestimated size also became clear. A new era in human history could begin, in which European ships sailed all the seas and circumnavigated the earth in both directions. In Magellan's voyage, we can already see the first step towards globalization.

The Englishman successfully circumnavigated the world Francis Drake (1540-1596) from 1585 to 1586, a good half a century later!

Read also in "Short, concise, curious" page 332: "Discover, raise flag, take possession".

Final grade:
The fifth continent - Australia - was still unknown. Likewise the Antarctic.

(1) Durant Will, Cultural History of Mankind Volume 19, Editions Recontre, Lausanne, undated
(2) Die Zeit Geschichte 1/2011, “The Age of Discoverers”, Hamburg.
(3) Kay Bernhard, Der Navigator, Bastei Lübbe, Bergisch-Gladbach, 2007.
(4) Pigafetta Antonio, The first journey around the world, Thienemanns, Stuttgart, 1983.