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Antonio Pigafetta

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Antonio Pigafetta
Statue in Cebu City in the Philippines
Bornbetween 1480 and 1491
Diedc. 1531 (aged around 40–50)
Vicenza, Republic of Venice
Years active1500s–20s
Known forChronicling Magellan's circumnavigation

Antonio Pigafetta (Italian: [anˈtɔːnjo piɡaˈfetta]; c. 1491 – c. 1531) was a Venetian scholar and explorer. He joined the Spanish expedition to the Spice Islands led by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, the world's first circumnavigation, and is best known for being the chronicler of the voyage. During the expedition, he served as Magellan's assistant until Magellan's death in the Philippine Islands, and kept an accurate journal, which later assisted him in translating the Cebuano language. It is the first recorded document concerning the language.

Pigafetta was one of the 18 men who made the complete trip, returning to Spain in 1522, under the command of Juan Sebastián Elcano, out of the approximately 240 who set out three years earlier. These men completed the first circumnavigation of the world while others mutinied and returned in the first year. Pigafetta's surviving journal is the source for much of what is known about Magellan and Elcano's voyage.

Early life


Pigafetta was born to a prominent noble family in the city of Vicenza in northeast Italy. Recent archival research indicates that his father was Giovanni Pigafetta and his mother was a noblewoman named Lucia, daughter of Marco Muzan. The couple was married in March 1492, implying that Antonio was born sometime after that date.[1] Details of his education are unknown but he later boasted of having "read many books".[2]

There is a tradition that as a youth Pigafetta sailed the Mediterranean with the Knights of Rhodes but there is no record of such activity, only the observation that he later became a member of the order.[3] At some point he entered into the service of papal ambassador Francesco Chiericati, an apostolic protonotary and a close associate of Pope Leo X. Like Pigafetta, Chiericati was also from Vicenza.[1] In 1518, Leo X sent Chiericati to the royal court in Spain to serve as ambassador. Pigafetta accompanied the ambassador's retinue, first to Zaragoza for two months and then to Barcelona.[3]

Voyage around the world

Map of Borneo by Pigafetta.
Nao Victoria, Magellan's boat Replica in Punta Arenas

While in Spain, Pigafetta heard of Magellan's planned expedition to find a western route to the Spice Islands. The adventure appealed to him and he convinced Chiericati that his participation on this historic voyage would be advantageous for the Vatican. With the approval of the papal ambassador and King Charles, Pigafetta was provided with letters of introduction before he set out for Seville in May 1519. Magellan accepted his application to join the expedition and hired him for a modest monthly salary of 1,000 maravedís. He was enrolled under the name Antonio Lombardo and his position was described as one of the "servants of the captain and supernumeraries".[4][5]

When the expedition set sail in August 1519, Pigafetta was assigned to the flagship Trinidad where he served Magellan and became his great admirer. Pigafetta did not appear to have any specific role except to keep a daily record of his observations, a task that he undertook with great diligence. He recorded extensive information concerning the geography, climate, and natural history of the places visited by the expedition. He was especially interested in the native inhabitants encountered along the way and took meticulous notes on their appearance, social customs and languages. In contrast to the accuracy of his personal observations, he had a tendency to accept even the most outrageous tales told to him about the lands they visited.[5]

Pigafetta was wounded on Mactan in the Philippines, where Magellan was killed in the Battle of Mactan in April 1521. Nevertheless, he recovered and was among the 18 who accompanied Juan Sebastián Elcano on board the Victoria on the return voyage to Spain.


Casa Pigafetta, the family palace in Vicenza.

Upon reaching port in Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the modern Province of Cadiz in September 1522, three years after his departure, Pigafetta returned to the Republic of Venice. He related his experiences in the "Report on the First Voyage Around the World" (Italian: Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo), which was composed in Italian and was distributed to European monarchs in handwritten form before it was eventually published by Italian historian Giovanni Battista Ramusio in 1550–59. The account centers on the events in the Mariana Islands and the Philippines, although it included several maps of other areas as well, including the first known use of the word "Pacific Ocean" (Oceano Pacifico) on a map.[6] The original document was not preserved.

However, it was not through Pigafetta's writings that Europeans first learned of the circumnavigation of the globe. Rather, it was through an account written by a Flanders-based writer Maximilianus Transylvanus, which was published in 1523. Transylvanus had been instructed to interview some of the survivors of the voyage when Magellan's surviving ship, Victoria, returned to Spain in September 1522 under the command of Juan Sebastian Elcano. After Magellan and Elcano's voyage, Pigafetta utilized the connections he had made prior to the voyage with the Knights of Rhodes to achieve membership in the order.

The Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo

Statue of Antonio Pigafetta in Vicenza

Antonio Pigafetta also wrote a book, in which a detailed account of the voyage was given.

Although the text is written in semi-chronological order, it does not read as a linear history of the voyage. Rather, it is a collection of descriptions, events, translations of foreign languages, thoughts, and illustrations. The resulting work is therefore described as being unusually personal for the times.[7]

It is unclear when it was first published and what language had been used in the first edition, given that the original text was lost, though it is believed that it might have been written in the author's Venetian dialect, mixed with Spanish and Italian.[8] The remaining sources of his voyage were extensively studied by Italian archivist Andrea da Mosto, who wrote a critical study of Pigafetta's book in 1898 (Il primo viaggio intorno al globo di Antonio Pigafetta e le sue regole sull'arte del navigare[9]) and whose conclusions were later confirmed by J. Dénucé.[10]

Commemorative plaque placed in Cebu City, Philippines on the 500th anniversary of Magellan's and Pigafetta's arrival

Today, three printed books and four manuscripts survive. One of the three books is in French, while the remaining two are in the Italian language. Of the four manuscripts, three are in French (two stored in the Bibliothèque nationale de France and one in Cheltenham), and one in Italian.[10]

From a philological point of view, the French editions seem to derive from an Italian original version, while the remaining Italian editions seem to derive from a French original version. Because of this, it remains quite unclear whether the original version of Pigafetta's manuscript was in French or Italian, though it was probably in Italian.[10] The most complete manuscript, and the one that is supposed to be more closely related to the original manuscript, is the one found by Carlo Amoretti inside the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan and published in 1800 (Primo viaggio intorno al globo terraqueo, ossia ragguaglio della navigazione alle Indie Orientali per la via d'Occidente fatta dal cavaliere Antonio Pigafetta patrizio vicentino, sulla squadra del capitano Magaglianes negli anni 1519-1522). Unfortunately, Amoretti, in his printed edition, modified many words and sentences whose meaning was uncertain (the original manuscript contained many words in Veneto dialect and some Spanish words). The modified version published by Amoretti was then translated into other languages carrying into them Amoretti's edits. Andrea da Mosto critically analyzed the original version stored in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana and published this rigorous version of Pigafetta's book in 1894.[9]

Regarding the French versions of Pigafetta's book, J. Dénucé extensively studied them and published a critical edition.[11]

At the end of his book, Pigafetta stated that he had given a copy to Charles V. Pigafetta's close friend, Francesco Chiericati, also stated that he had received a copy and it is thought[by whom?] that the regent of France may have received a copy of the latter. It has been argued that the copy Pigafetta had provided may have been merely a short version or a draft. It was in response to a request, in January 1523, of the Marquis of Mantua that Pigafetta wrote his detailed account of the voyage.[10]



An exhibition on Pigafetta opened in 2019 in Madrid at the library of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).[12]

The Italian destroyer Antonio Pigafetta, of the Navigatori class, was named after him in 1931.



Antonio Pigafetta wrote at least two books, both of which have survived:

  • Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo (1524-1525);
  • Regole sull'arte del navigare (1524-1525) (contained in Andrea Da Mosto, ed. (1894). Il primo viaggio intorno al globo di Antonio Pigafetta e le sue regole sull'arte del navigare.).


  1. ^ a b Cachey 2007b, p. xxxviii.
  2. ^ Bergreen 2003, p. 62.
  3. ^ a b Nowell 1962, p. 80.
  4. ^ Nowell 1962, p. 81.
  5. ^ a b Joyner 1992, pp. 286–287.
  6. ^ Quanchi 2005, p. 207.
  7. ^ Bergreen, Laurence (2018). Magallanes: hasta los confines de la Tierra. Víctor Pozanco, Isabel Fuentes García Fuentes (Primera edición: noviembre de 2018 ed.). Barcelona. p. 434. ISBN 978-84-344-2939-0. OCLC 1089219310.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ Bergreen, Laurence (2018). Magallanes: hasta los confines de la Tierra. Víctor Pozanco, Isabel Fuentes García Fuentes (Primera edición: noviembre de 2018 ed.). Barcelona. pp. 433–434. ISBN 978-84-344-2939-0. OCLC 1089219310.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  9. ^ a b andrea-da-mosto-1894
  10. ^ a b c d "PIGAFETTA, Antonio in "Enciclopedia Italiana"". www.treccani.it (in Italian). Archived from the original on 2018-10-02. Retrieved 2018-12-25.
  11. ^ denuce-1923
  12. ^ "Pigafetta: cronista de la primera vuelta al mundo Magallanes Elcano" (Press release) (in Spanish). AECID. Retrieved 10 November 2019.