Aristotle first theorized that the earth was round.  Columbus died believing he proved Aristotle correct, but the real confirmation came in the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan, the captain of the first ship to sail completely around the world.

Magellan was a Portuguese sailor who explored Asia.  While he was in Asia, Magellan picked up an Asian boy he called Enrique, whom Magellan brought back to Portugal.  Magellan asked the King of Portugal to finance an expedition around the world.  The King rejected Magellan, so Magellan disowned his allegiance to Portugal and offered his services to Spain.

King Charles I of Spain accepted Magellan’s proposal, so the explorer left Spain in 1519 with five ships.  It took Magellan more than fourteen months to find the southern opening to the Pacific Ocean, which he found in the frigid, stormy waters later called the Strait of Magellan.  Magellan did not count on the immensity of the Pacific, a body of water larger than all of the land on Earth.  He expected Asia to be a few hundred miles past beyond the coast of South America.  Instead, the expedition traveled another 12,600 miles before reaching land.

Ferdinand Magellan


Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480 – 1521) organized and captained the first sailing expedition that circumnavigated the globe, though he died before completing the journey.

The starving sailors arrived on the island of Guam after more than six months at sea, then moved on to the Philippines.  While in the Philippines, Magellan discovered that his servant, Enrique, could understand the native language.  Magellan then realized that Enrique was the first person in history to have traveled around the entire world.

Magellan had survived eighteen months at sea but was killed in battle in the Philippines.  A local warrior persuaded Magellan to defeat his rival in battle.  Most of Magellan’s men considered the battle pointless and dangerous, so they refused to participate.  Magellan died in battle from a poisoned arrow.

Magellan's journey (map)


Magellan left Spain in 1519 with five ships a on fourteen month journey that would take his sailors more than 12,000 miles around the world.

One of Magellan’s five ships returned to Spain nearly three years after their journey started.  Only eighteen sailors remained of the 265 men who accompanied Magellan.


Download this lesson as Microsoft Word file or as an Adobe Acrobat file.

Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes a section on the Renaissance.

Magellan's death (drawing)


Eighteen of Magellan’s sailors made the journey around the world, but the captain was killed in a battle in the Philippines in 1521.