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Juan Sebastián Elcano

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Juan Sebastián Elcano
Las Glorias Nacionales, 1852 "Juan Sebastian Elcano". (4013953698).jpg
Engraving of Elcano
Juan Sebastián Elcano

c. 1486
DiedAugust 4, 1526 (aged 39–40)
NationalityBasque (Crown of Castile)
OccupationExplorer, navigator, and mariner
Known forFirst circumnavigation of the earth
Partner(s)María Hernández Dernialde
ChildrenDomingo Elcano III
Parent(s)Domingo Sebastián Elcano I, and Catalina del Puerto
Firma Elcano.svg

Juan Sebastián Elcano[1] (sometimes misspelled del Cano;[1] 1486/1487[2] – 4 August 1526) was a Castilian explorer of Basque origin[3][4][5] who completed the first circumnavigation of the Earth. After Magellan's death in the Philippines, Elcano took command of the carrack Victoria from the Moluccas to Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Spain.

Even though Magellan did not survive the trip, he has received more recognition for the expedition than Elcano has, since Magellan was the one who started it, since Portugal wanted to recognize a Portuguese explorer, and due to fear of Basque nationalism.[6] In 2019, the 500th anniversary of the voyage, Spain and Magellan’s native Portugal have submitted a new joint application to UNESCO to honour the circumnavigation route.[6]

Early life[edit]

Elcano was born in around 1486 to Domingo Sebastián Elcano and Catalina del Puerto. He had three brothers: Domingo Elcano, a Catholic priest, Martín Pérez Elcano, and Antón Martín Elcano.

Military life[edit]

Elcano fought in the Italian Wars under the command of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba in Italy, and in 1509 he joined the Spanish expedition organized by Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros against Algiers.

Merchant shipping[edit]

Elcano settled in Seville and became a merchant ship captain. After breaking Castilian laws by surrendering a ship to Genoan bankers in repayment of a debt, he sought a pardon from the emperor Charles V, by signing on as a subordinate officer for the Magellan expedition to the East Indies.

Voyage of circumnavigation[edit]

The Magellan expedition
Nao Victoria, a replica of Elcano's ship, in Punta Arenas

Elcano served as a naval commander of the emperor Charles V, and took part in the expedition to the Philippines. In 1519, this 241-man expedition set sail with five ships, Trinidad, Concepción, San Antonio, Santiago, and Victoria. Elcano participated in a fierce mutiny against Magellan before the convoy discovered the passage through South America, the Strait of Magellan. He was spared by Magellan and after five months of hard labour in chains was made captain of the galleon.[7] Santiago was later destroyed in a storm. The fleet sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern coast of Brazil and into Puerto San Julián in Argentina. Several months later they discovered a passage now known as the Strait of Magellan located in the southern tip of South America and sailed through the strait. The crew of San Antonio mutinied and returned to Spain. On 28 November 1520, three ships set sail for the Pacific Ocean and about 19 men died before they reached Guam on 6 March 1521. Conflicts with the nearby island of Rota prevented Magellan and Elcano from resupplying their ships with food and water. They eventually gathered enough supplies and continued their journey to the Philippines and remained there for several weeks. Close relationships developed between the Spaniards and the islanders. They took part in converting the Cebuano tribes to Christianity and became involved in tribal warfare between rival Filipino groups in Mactan Island.

Route of the Spanish expedition through the Spice Islands. The red cross shows the location of Mactan Island in the Philippines where Magellan was killed in 1521.

On 27 April 1521, Magellan was killed and the Spaniards defeated by natives in the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines. The surviving members of the expedition could not decide who should succeed Magellan. The men finally voted on a joint command with the leadership divided between Duarte Barbosa and João Serrão. Within four days these two were also dead. They were killed after being betrayed at a feast at the hands of Rajah Humabon. The mission was now teetering on disaster and João Lopes de Carvalho took command of the fleet and led it on a meandering journey through the Philippine archipelago.

During the six-month listless journey after Magellan died, and before reaching the Moluccas, Elcano's stature grew as the men became disillusioned with the weak leadership of Carvalho. The two ships, Victoria and Trinidad finally reached their destination, the Moluccas, on 6 November. They rested and re-supplied in this haven, and filled their holds with the precious cargo of cloves and nutmeg. On 18 December, the ships were ready to leave. Trinidad sprang a leak, and was unable to be repaired. Carvalho stayed with the ship along with 52 others hoping to return later.[8]

Victoria, commanded by Elcano along with 17 other European survivors of the 240 man expedition and 4 (survivors out of 13) Timorese Asians continued its westward voyage to Spain crossing the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. They eventually reached Sanlúcar de Barrameda on 6 September 1522.[9]

Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian scholar, was a crew member of the Magellan and Elcano expedition. He wrote several documents about the events of the expedition. According to Pigafetta the voyage covered 14,460 leagues—about 81,449 kilometres (50,610 mi).


Elcano's coat of arms

Emperor Charles V granted Elcano an augmentation of his coat of arms featuring a world globe with the words Primus circumdedisti me (Latin: "You first encircled me")[10] and an annual pension. His family were given rule over the Marquisate of Buglas in Negros Island, Philippines.[11] In the modern era, the country with the most people surnamed "Elcano" is currently the Philippines.[12]

Loaísa expedition[edit]

In 1525, Elcano returned to sea, and became a member of the Loaísa expedition. He was appointed leader along with García Jofre de Loaísa as captains, who commanded seven ships and sent to claim the East Indies for King Charles I of Spain. Both Elcano and Loaísa and many other sailors died of malnutrition in the Pacific Ocean, but the survivors reached their destination and a few of them managed to return to Spain.

Family life[edit]

Elcano never married but he had a son by María Hernández Dernialde named Domingo Elcano, whom he legitimized in his last will and testament.[13] Elcano also fathered a daughter with a different woman named Maria de Vidaurreta.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Elcano y no Cano
  2. ^ Aguinagalde, F. Borja (2018). "El archivo personal de Juan Sebastián de Elcano (1487-1526), Marino de Getaria" (PDF). IMO. In Medio Orbe 1519-1522 (1). ISSN 2659-3556.
  3. ^ Totoricagüena, Gloria Pilar (2005). Basque Diaspora: Migration And Transnational Identity. University of Nevada Press. p. 132. ISBN 9781877802454. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  4. ^ Facaros, Dana; Pauls, Michael (2 September 2008). Cadogan Guide Bilbao & the Basque Lands. New Holland Publishers. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-86011-400-7. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  5. ^ Salmoral, Manuel Lucena (1982). Historia general de España y América: hasta fines del siglo XVI. El descubrimiento y la fundación de los reinos ultramarinos. Ediciones Rialp. p. 324. ISBN 978-84-321-2102-9. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Who First Circled the Globe? Not Magellan, Spain Wants You to Know".
  7. ^ Murphy, Patrick J.; Coye, Ray W. (2013). Mutiny and Its Bounty: Leadership Lessons from the Age of Discovery. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300170283.
  8. ^ Humble, Richard (1978). The Seafarers—The Explorers. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books.
  9. ^ Kattan-Ibarra, Juan (1995). Perspectivas Culturales de España. p. 71.
  10. ^ Nobiliario de conquistadores de Indias. Madrid: Sociedad de Bibliófilos Españoles. 1892. p. 57.
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Kelsey, Harry (2016). The First Circumnavigators: Unsung Heroes of the Age of Discovery. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300220865.

External links[edit]