5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Magellan

On November 28th, 1520, Ferdinand Magellan reached the Pacific Ocean after passing through the South American strait that now bears his name. Here are five things you probably didn't know about Ferdinand Magellan.


He Claimed Patagonia Was The Home Of 10-Foot-Tall Giants Magellan stopped in what is now the Patagonia region of South America while on his round-the-world trip. There, he apparently found what he thought was a giant, dancing on the shore. According to Antonio Pigafetta, a member of Magellan’s voyage who recounted his adventure in a book, Magellan discovered giants in South America “so tall that the tallest of us only came up to his waist.”  In reality, Magellan had encountered the Tehuelche people. Still, Magellan's insistence that these were giants led him to name the region "Patagonia". Some have argued it means “Land of the Big Feet,” from “pata,” Spanish for foot. Regardless, Magellan kidnapped two of them and named them Patagons. To this day, we still call their home Patagonia.

Magellan Was the Target of a Mutiny Magellan was Portuguese, and he was leading an expedition staffed by Spaniards – and a lot of those Spaniards didn't like that. They were jealous that a position of ultimate authority went to someone from Portugal, of all places (Portugal and Spain were enemies at the time). When the crew reached what is now southern Argentina, three of the Spanish captains plotted to kill him. Long story short, Magellan killed them instead. To show he wasn’t to be messed with, Magellan had their bodies drawn, quartered, and impaled on stakes on shore.


He Named the Pacific Ocean As Magellan reached what's now the Pacific Ocean, he became amazed at how tranquil it seemed and named the new ocean Mar Pacifico for its peacefulness. However, while that name stuck, it wasn't the first European to reach or name the ocean.  Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who crossed the Isthmus of Panama seven years earlier, had already called it the “South Sea.” 

He Died A Pretty Gory Death Magellan wasn't just sailing around the world; he was also trying to convert people he found to Christianity. In March 1521, Magellan reached the Philippines and converted some of the chieftains to Christianity. Magellan then moved to convert the ruler of Mactan, Datu Lapu-Lapu. When Lapu-Lapu refused, Magellan decided to kill him. Magellan's crew actually rushed at the Mactan, who fought back immediately. During the resulting battle, Magellan was struck by a bamboo spear by a Mactan warrior, and later surrounded and finished off with other weapons.

Enrique, Not Magellan, May Have Been The First To Circumnavigate The Globe History books will tell you that Magellan was the first person to lead a circumnavigation around the globe. However, Magellan died before the voyage was complete. Shortly after Magellan’s death, his slave, Enrique de Malacca (a Malaysian slave who was serving as a translator on the journey) managed to free himself and escape. If Enrique succeeded in returning home (and it’s unclear if he did or not), that would mean that he would have been the first person to actually circumnavigate the globe.