Ferdinand Magellan (məjel´ən), Port. Fernão de Magalhães, Span. Fernando de Magallanes, c.1480–1521, Portuguese navigator who sailed for Portugal and Spain. Born of a noble family, he was reared as a page in the royal household. He served (1505–12) in Portuguese India under Francisco de Almeida and later under Alfonso de Albuquerque. While in service (1513–14) in Morocco, he was accused of financial irregularities; he lost the favor of Manuel I, who rejected his proposal to reach the Moluccas by a western route. In 1517 he went to Spain, where his plan was approved (1518) by Charles I (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). Portuguese efforts failed to prevent the voyage.
With five vessels and about 265 men, Magellan sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda on Sept. 20, 1519. Sighting the South American coast near Pernambuco, he searched for the suspected passage to the South Sea. In Jan., 1520, the Río de la Plata was explored. While wintering in Patagonia (Mar.–Aug., 1520), he summarily put down a mutiny of some of his officers. On Oct. 21, Magellan discovered and entered the strait which bears his name, and on Nov. 28 he reached the Pacific. His fleet, by then consisting of three vessels, the Concepción, the Trinidad, and the Victoria, sailed NW across the Pacific. No land was sighted for nearly two months, no provisions obtained for three; the men suffered intensely. On Mar. 6, 1521, Magellan reached the Marianas and 10 days later the Philippines, where he was killed (Apr. 27) while supporting one group of natives against another. Soon after, the Concepción was burned as unseaworthy, but the remaining two vessels visited Borneo and then the Moluccas, where they loaded spices.
The Trinidad sailed for Panama but was wrecked; only four of her crew eventually reached Spain. The Victoria, commanded by Juan Sebastián del Cano, sailed across the Indian Ocean and rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese detained 13 of her crew at the Cape Verde Islands, but finally, with only 18 men, she reached Sanlúcar on Sept. 6, 1522, thus completing the first voyage around the world. Although he did not live to complete the journey, Magellan provided the skill and determination that took the vessels over the great unknown portion of the globe, one of the greatest achievements of navigation. The voyage proved definitively the roundness of the earth, it revolutionized ideas of the relative proportions of land and water, and it revealed the Americas as a new world, separate from Asia.
See the firsthand account of Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's Voyage around the World, tr. by R. A. Skelton (1969); biographies by F. H. H. Guillemard (1890, repr. 1971), E. F. Benson (1929), and C. M. Parr (2d ed. 1964); L. Bergreen, Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe (2003).