240 men started Magellan's voyage around the world. Only 18 finished it.

The explorer died on a Philippines beach in April 1521, joining the scores who perished in Spain's quest to circumnavigate the globe.

At the southernmost tip of South America lies a perilous strait linking the Atlantic with the Pacific that bears Magellan’s name. When the expedition spent a month cautiously navigating these waters in November 1520, the fleet had been reduced from five to three ships. Colored woodcut, 1880.
AKG/ALBUM

As it moored under Seville’s imposing skyline on September 8, 1522, the Victoria may not have stood out as anything exceptional among the bustle of Spanish ships arriving from the Americas. When 18 men stepped off board, “leaner than old, worn-out nags,” as one of them later recalled, they stepped into the history books as the first people to have sailed entirely around the world.

It had been a brutal voyage, led by the brilliant, if ruthless, Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan. When they set out from Seville, three years before in summer 1519, they were a crew of 240 manning five ships. A series of blows—including starvation, illness, mutiny, executions, and the death of their leader—decimated their numbers and their fleet before returning to Spain.

These men had, however, completed their global journey, despite the violence and greed that marred it from the outset. The venture would be remembered for the skill and endurance of many of its members. As the first Europeans to enter the eastern Pacific, the expedition radically altered Europe’s understanding of the world, while posterity would lionize Magellan for an accomplishment that he never lived to see.

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