The first voyage around the globe was a daring, high-stakes gamble that changed the world forever.
Portugal dominated the wildly lucrative spice trade, and Spain was desperate for a piece of the action. Spain had everything to gain. Portuguese officer Ferdinand Magellan had nothing to lose. His decades fighting for Portugal had left him with a crippled knee and his king's withering scorn.
And so Magellan left Portugal to lead an expedition for his country's bitter rival, Spain. He knew it would be an exceedingly dangerous voyage, but the reality proved much worse. Killer storms, mutinies, deadly battles, murders, deprivation and disease dogged the four-year journey. Magellan was driven to ever-greater extremes of brilliance, courage, brutality and madness as he sailed around the world.
Magellan's World is the story of a harrowing adventure, an inspiring and flawed hero, and an epic event in the history of the world.
Stuart Waldman is a writer and editor. His Great Explorers book We Asked for Nothing: The Remarkable Journey of Cabeza de Vaca won a Notable Children's Book Award from the International Reading Association. He lives in New York City.
Gregory Manchess' paintings have appeared in magazines and children's books. He has won a gold medal and three silver medals from the Society of Illustrators in New York. Previously he illustrated The Last River in The Great Explorers series.
King Manuel I glared as Ferdinand Magellan limped into his court. The Portuguese king had never liked Magellan, but recently his dislike had turned to anger. Months before, Magellan had asked Manuel to support an expedition to the distant Molucca Islands and Manuel had turned him down. Refusing to accept his king's decision, Magellan returned to court three times with the same request. His stubborn persistence infuriated Manuel.
On this day in September of 1517, Magellan made no mention of the Moluccas. Instead, he asked for permission to leave Portugal and offer his services elsewhere. Relieved to be rid of him, Manuel told Magellan he could go where he liked. Magellan bent down on one knee and reached out to kiss the king's ring. Manuel turned his back on him.
A month later, Magellan crossed the border into Spain. King Manuel would never see him again, but he would hear of him.
If someone had told the young Ferdinand Magellan that he would one day leave Portugal and move to Spain, he would have laughed -- or more likely drawn his sword.
Spain and Portugal were bitter rivals, and Magellan was a proud Portuguese, descended from a family of knights. In 1492, when he was twelve, his father sent him to the royal court in Lisbon where he was educated. Magellan studied traditional subjects like reading, writing and mathematics, but he also learned maritime skills like navigation and seamanship.
Portugal was a coastal nation and had always depended on the sea for its survival. In the early 15th century, Portuguese ships began exploring the long coast of Africa. As they sailed further and further south, Portuguese explorers learned that their maps were wrong: The African continent did not extend to the bottom of the world. The Portuguese believed that they could sail around the tip of Africa, and get to the southern part of Asia, or as Europeans called it, the Indies.
The Indies was the only place in the world where spices grew, and spices brought incredible wealth. Although it may seem difficult to believe now, a common spice like nutmeg was once worth as much as gold. Arab countries controlled all the land routes to the Indies, and for nearly 1,000 years, Arab merchants had made a fortune selling spices to Europeans. By sailing around Africa, Portugal would have its own route to this lucrative trade.
In 1499, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama returned from a voyage around Africa with a cargo of spices. Portugal was in business.
From the beginning, Portugal's policy was to dominate the Indies and gain control the spice trade. Fleets of Portuguese warships bristling with cannons sailed around Africa. Small, lightly-armed Arab ships called dhows were no match for them. The wooden walls of Asian cities had no defense against them. One by one they fell: India's Malabar coast and its harvest of pepper; the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and its forests of cinnamon trees; Malacca, the rich Malaysian port city where native traders from around the Indies so1d their cinnamon, ginger, pepper, nutmeg, mace and cloves. By 1511, little Portugal, a country smaller than the state of Indiana, had become one of the richest and most powerful nations on earth.
The money flowed to the royal family, to merchants and to those nobles who commanded expeditions to the Indies. Magellan yearned for wealth -- his family was noble but not rich -- but King Manuel appointed nobles he liked and trusted to lead expeditions. Ferdinand Magellan was not one of them.
In 1505, he joined an expedition to the Indies and set about proving his worth. Magellan turned out to be a born warrior -- courageous, decisive and a natural leader. During a major battle at Malacca, he slashed his way through an armed mob and saved the lives of his captain and shipmates. Magellan fought in many battles and was wounded numerous times. Still, no matter what he accomplished, King Manuel never gave him command of an expedition.