Secrets of the Dead


Magellan’s Crossing

500 years ago, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew set sail to gain control of the global spice trade. What resulted was the first circumnavigation of the earth, laying the groundwork for colonization and globalization still felt today.

AIRED: October 20, 2021 | 0:55:30


[ Suspenseful music plays ]


-September 1519.

Ferdinand Magellan sets out from Spain

on what would be the first expedition around the world.


Magellan sails in search of a western sea route to Asia

and the Spice Islands.

For Europeans, spices from the other side of the world

are worth their weight in gold

and Magellan hopes his voyage will lead to a huge payoff.

-Voyages of discovery are propelled

by commercial greed, by ambition.

-His obsession takes his crew to distant shores

where no Europeans had been before.

-So these are voyages of the imagination,

as well as voyages of discovery.

-In the end, Magellan would not complete the epic journey.

But members of his crew did,

setting the foundation

for global commerce and colonization

that remains with us today.

After three long years at sea,

only a handful of survivors returned to the Spanish harbor.

Their ship, laden with spices, provided proof

that it is possible to sail around the world.

It is a moment in history that transformed global civilization.


-"Secrets of the Dead" was made possible in part by

contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.


-At the beginning of the 16th century,

Seville is the starting point for Spanish expeditions

into the recently discovered New World.

The sailors hope to find a more efficient route to the Far East

so they can bring back exotic goods

and extremely valuable spices --

cloves and nutmeg.

Determined to make his fortune,

Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan tries

to convince his king to sponsor a voyage

in search of a western sea route to the Spice Islands.

But the king refuses.

-Dom Manuel is seeing Portugal becoming a great power

and traveling to the Far East by odd routes

really isn't very interesting.

He sees a vision which doesn't involve Magellan's voyage.

-Desperate and embittered,

Magellan leaves Portugal

and offers his services to its archenemy --


-Magellan is working for the king of Spain

because the king of Portugal, Dom Manuel,

despises him, has rejected his plans.

-His experience and energy

quickly convince the Spanish king

to fund his costly venture.

-Just like today, if you want backing for a big project,

you have to promise to find something

worth spending your money on.

So it's about investment.

It's about organization.

It's about persuasion.

You've got to sell the vision.

And Magellan's success is he sells the vision to Charles I

and that's his big breakthrough.

The Portuguese often said Magellan was a traitor.

He wasn't.

He was rejected by his own country

and, like many other Portuguese mariners and navigators,

he went off to serve elsewhere --

in Spain, in England.

All over the world, Portuguese navigators are serving.

-Magellan sets sail from Seville's shipyard,

which today bears witness

to centuries of maritime history.

-Seville is the center

of the Spanish enterprise of the Indies.

It's where Spain is organizing all its great voyages.

The bureaucrats are here.

The money men are here.

The sailors are here.

The visionary navigators, like Magellan, are here.

Indeed, we're just outside the walls

of Old Seville, in the shipyard.

Magellan would've been here, fitting out his ships.

He would've had that conversation

about getting his ship ready, finding the men,

right here, right outside the old city.

-The voyages to the other side of the world are just one facet

of a great shift happening in Europe at the time.

-The 16th century is an age of transformation.

Nicolaus Copernicus has just placed the world,

not at the center of the universe,

but as part of the mechanics of a much greater solar system.

Christopher Columbus has discovered America,

although he thinks it's still India.

And Martin Luther is challenging

the Universal Church of Western Europe.

So this constellation of little parochial places

has suddenly woken up and realized

there's a whole wide world out there to be discovered

and the 16th century will be the Age of Discovery.


-The goal of these expeditions, however,

is not to improve

the geographic understanding of the world.

Power and money are at the heart

of these so-called voyages of discovery.

But the sailors do bring back important knowledge

for scientists and cartographers.

Magellan is convinced he will find

an unknown passageway at the tip of South America,

and he isn't the only one who believes

there is a southern route around the continent.


The Historical Museum in Frankfurt has

in its collection a globe that was made roughly five years

before Magellan's journey

and still puzzles historians today.

-[ Speaking German ]

-[Interpreter] In South America,

we see a route going between the tip of the continent

and the land mass of Antarctica.

This passageway is puzzling.

How is this route going around South America possible

on a globe from 1515,

even though Magellan didn't take this route

until five years later?

-Each ship returning from the newly found Western Hemisphere

brings with it more information

about the true shape of the Earth.

-Very quickly, the Spanish realized

they needed to control knowledge.

They needed to bring all of the cartographic

understanding of the world as it expanded

inside Seville, to control it,

to limit it, to stop other people having it,

to make sure their people knew where to go

and other people didn't.


So they have a succession of expert cartographers

working here, taking all the information

coming back from Columbus' voyages

and, later, Magellan's voyages,

into the city, to be processed,

to record how much more we know,

year after year, across the century.

So this is where that knowledge expands.

Decade by decade, the map grows, the details become finer,

and, ultimately, we have a map of the world

that we would recognize being produced in this city.


-And finding a western sea route to the Spice Islands

becomes a battle for control

of the most lucrative trade of the day.


Today, Ternate and Tidore,

the island hubs of the 16th-century spice trade,

are part of Indonesia.

Tidore, less than six miles across,

is the larger of the two islands.

Despite their size,

they were the center of conflict for centuries.

The fight for these islands' resources began long

before Europeans came ashore,

as the crown prince of Ternate explains.

-[ Sniff ]

-[ Speaking native language ]

-[Interpreter] The first to discover

cloves and nutmeg were the Chinese.

They became world trade commodities,

resulting in exchange between China and Ternate,

more well-known as the Spice Road or the Silk Road.

-In Seville, Magellan presses ahead,

furnishing the fleet.

Five ships are readied, and a crew mustered.

A seasoned sailor from the Basque region

is part of the crew.


Name. -Sebastián Elcano.


-Elcano signs on as a crewman at the start of the expedition.

But by the time he returns, he will have become its leader,

guiding his ship across the Indian Ocean and back to Spain.


Elcano's family has a long history

of shipping and shipbuilding.


-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] We know that he came

from a very influential family in Getaria,

that was in the ship business and sea trade,

outfitting expeditions, organizing transports.

And that's no coincidence,

since 80% of all ships leaving Seville

in the 16th century, bound for America,

were built in the Basque region.

[ Gulls squawking ]

-In Pasaia, not far from Elcano's hometown,

a unique project is underway.

A team is building a replica of a 16th-century galleon,

relying on the same methods used nearly 500 years ago.


-These ships were used for the most fantastic trips

and adventures in the past.

You know, 500 years ago,

the only way humankind could connect with the world

was with ships because there was no other way

of transportation or communication, like nowadays.

So this was really a magical object.

It was like a floating church or cathedral, you know,

it was the most sophisticated object that mankind could build.

And, still, it comes from a few trees, you know.

You go to the forest with an ax, you cut the trees,

and then, with your work and your knowledge,

you are able to build what could be considered a spaceship.


-The forests bear witness to the impact

of shipbuilding throughout the centuries.


-As the Basque countries are small,

they had to manage the forests very wisely

and so they were keeping the trees in the shape they needed.

So they leave them grow upwards, like two, three meters

and then, from that height, they would grow branches

in the shape they needed for shipbuilding.


Now, I cannot come to a forest without looking at the trees,

like looking for naval timber on their branches.

-The original ship had three masts

and was used to transport whale oil back to Spain from Canada.

Few written plans or blueprints of this type of galleon remain,

but Agote and his team want the ship

to be as authentic to the period as possible.

The ropes, iron nails, and other elements

have all been made using historically accurate tools,

just like those of the Basque builders 500 years ago,

who outfitted a fleet that could sail around the world.

-In the 16th century, the entire coast

was filled with shipyards.

It was the main specialty, you know,

because of the iron mines, because of the oak forests.

So it was a society that was meant

to build ships in that time.

Hundreds of people, highly specialized,

building several boats and ships at the same time, you know,

and one of them was the Nao Victoria,

that was probably built very quickly.

I would say maybe three months.

-On the 20th of September 1519,

the five expedition ships finally leave Spain.


Magellan has negotiated a detailed contract

with the Spanish king,

guaranteeing himself a handsome share in the expected profits

and making him captain general of the fleet.


But Magellan's Portuguese roots

create tension with the mostly Spanish crew.


-He's surrounded by Spanish captains, Spanish officers.

Most of his crew are Spanish,

although there are Germans, English, and others onboard.

He is not in command of a national expedition

and many of the Spanish leaders do not trust him

and they despise him, as a Portuguese.

-Fearing espionage,

Magellan keeps the details of his plans to himself,

refusing to share information with crewmen.


The Portuguese are determined

to protect their interests in the Spice Islands.

Magellan is sailing in treacherous waters.

Spain and Portugal are bitter adversaries,

fighting for control of the open seas.


Brokered by the Pope, the Treaty of Tordesillas

divided the world into east and west,

two hemispheres separated

by an imaginary line running down the Atlantic.


While the treaty clearly divides

Europe, Africa, and the Americas,

the other side of the world,

where Asia, including the Spice Islands is located,

remains unknown.


Any hope of Spain controlling the islands depends

on Magellan finding a direct western sea route

in the half of the world Spain possesses.


For Magellan, the voyage means a return to Asia.

As a young soldier,

he fought for Portugal in the conquest of Malacca,

an important trading post near today's Singapore.

Magellan's confidence comes

from his previous seafaring experience.

-What Magellan brought to this was all

of the knowledge the Portuguese already had

of how to get to the Spice Islands.

-He even brought a Malay slave back to Europe with him,

Henrique, who joins him on this voyage.

On that initial trip to Asia,

Magellan did not visit the Spice Islands,

but his friend and brother-in-arms

Francisco Serrao stayed behind

and sent letters back to Magellan,

describing an island paradise.


-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] These letters are enormously important.

There's one letter where Magellan asks Serrao

to wait for him.

He didn't know how he would get there,

via Portugal or Castille, but he would come at any cost.

Plus, the letters also tell of the riches

in the Moluccas and the exotic islands,

this paradise where Serrao lives,

and, for Magellan, that probably added to the attraction.

[ Waves crashing ]

-Magellan's fleet finds the winds needed

to carry them south in the Atlantic.

But then, without consulting the crew,

he orders the ships to change course,

off the Cape Verde Islands.

The ships sail to the southeast,

rather than moving west, directly for Brazil.


Perhaps he wants to lose

Portuguese ships that might be chasing him,

or is seeking a more favorable wind.

The crew would've accepted either explanation,

but Magellan's silence only worsens relations between them.


After two months at sea, the ships reach South America.


And, two months after that,

they sail into a huge passageway opening toward the west.


Magellan spends 15 days exploring the passage.

Has he really found the dreamed-of path

so quickly and so easily?

Is this the long-desired route

to the riches of the Spice Islands?


Magellan has gambled everything

on finding a passage to the Pacific.

But the water on which the ship sails...

-[ Spits ] not an ocean.

-[ Speaking German ]

-[Interpreter] Magellan was disappointed

to taste fresh water, a sign that they were

in the huge mouth of a river denying them a passage.

They had to turn around.

Today, we know it was the Río de la Plata,

where seafarers had been before and said they saw no land,

so it had to be a passage, something Magellan also assumed.

-Sailors returning from sea

and sharing their experience with cartographers

mistook the vast mouth of the Río de la Plata

for the Southern Coast of the South American continent.

Magellan is depending on maps

that have only limited information.


Despite this setback,

Magellan continues to push his fleet further

into unchartered waters,

without any sign of a westward passage.


Morale begins to flag.

The climate becomes colder and wetter.

Winter has begun in the Southern Hemisphere.


This is the farthest south any European has ever sailed.

Icy winds from Antarctica make the crew miserable.

Confidence -- in Magellan and in his belief

in a western sea route to the Spice Islands --

begins to fail.

And then, to everyone's despair,

Magellan makes another shocking decision.

-At the end of the first year's voyage,

they've reached the Bay of San Julián,

down on the South Coast of America,

and Magellan has to tell his people --

who are exhausted, weary,

and slightly frightened at being beyond the map --

they're going to have to stay there for the winter.

They're going to have to overwinter

in an inhospitable, unpleasant place,

when it would be so much easier to just turn round and go home.

This is what leadership looks like.

He has to persuade these people --

many of whom don't trust him,

a lot of whom don't like him --

that he's right;

that the king of Spain has given him authority to do this;

and that, if they don't do as they're told,

he will punish them.

-In the Bay of San Julián,

the crew reaches its limit

and rebels.

A mutiny breaks out,

but Magellan and a handful of loyal allies crush it

with ruthless brutality.

Magellan has the ringleader of the mutiny executed.

Sebastián Elcano joined the mutiny

and awaits Magellan's sentence, along with 40 other sailors.


-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] Elcano supports this mutiny against Magellan.

We know that.

And we also know how this mutiny ends.

It looks as if Elcano was demoted,

but, unlike others, spared of any severe punishment.

This was quite reasonable, since Magellan needed

the experienced sailors who knew how to navigate.

And among those were the so-called masters

and Elcano was such a master sailor

and knew how to navigate such ships.

And so, he may have been demoted, but he's not killed.

But, naturally, relationships were damaged and at a low.

-With this demotion, Elcano temporarily disappears

from any of the voyage's official records.

But, in just 12 months,

as he continues to sail around the world,

his fortunes would change dramatically.

The fleet waits out the winter

and spends seven months in San Julián.

A year after they left Spain, the crew set sail again.

Magellan feels the pressure.

If he does not find the passage soon,

the voyage will have been a waste.


But, just two weeks after they return to sea,

another broad channel opens to the west.


Knowing what happened at the Río de la Plata,

Magellan sends two scouting ships ahead.


Those left behind can do nothing but wait.



iMiran el barco!

-Magellan knows this is his last chance.

The crew will not accept another disappointment.


[ Two blasts ]



-[ Speaking Spanish ] -And that

is an extremely happy moment for Magellan.

Of course he was extremely excited about it.

I mean, there were rebellions and mutinies

and he really had his share of troubles,

caused by nature, itself, but also by his own crew.

And so, at this moment, he was vindicated as a good captain

because he had led his men to a good destination

that can make them rich.

Basically, they were at the doorstep to wealth

and that's why he was very, very happy.

-Magellan has achieved the first goal of the voyage --

finding a western route to the Pacific.

But then, he quickly suffers another setback.

The San Antonio and her crew


It's a devastating loss.

The ship was the largest in the fleet

and carried indispensable equipment and vital provisions.

And the San Antonio made its way back to Spain,

with disastrous consequences for Magellan.

-The desertion of the San Antonio

has two terrible consequences.

Magellan runs out of food,

but, more importantly, it gets back to Spain,

there's a court-martial, and the Portuguese hear

that Magellan has entered the Pacific.

From this point on, Magellan is a hunted man.

The Portuguese are out to stop him

and they are not going to do anything,

other than kill every last person onboard this expedition.

This is a secret they need to preserve.

The Spice Islands are the source of their wealth.

They will kill everybody.


-The problems continue.

A ship runs aground.

The three remaining ships sail slowly through the rocky maze

of what today are called

the Straits of Magellan.

Antonio Pigafetta,

one of the men who made the complete voyage,

chronicled what he observed aboard the ship.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-Pigafetta's story is of great interest to us,

since he is the first to write

about the indigenous people he met up north in Patagonia.

And also, when passing through the strait,

Magellan describes signs of people in Terra del Fuego.

He saw fire and columns of smoke everywhere.

-He gives this barren stretch of land its name --

Tierra del Fuego, "Land of Fire."

Even now, 500 years later, Magellan is celebrated

for discovering Tierra del Fuego and the straits.

But little attention has been paid

to the fate of the indigenous population,

who had lived there for thousands of years

and included the Kawésqar, Selk'nam, and Yaghan people.


-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] We are not celebrating

the 500-year anniversary,

since it marks the ensuing disappearance

of ancient civilizations,

rape, death, arrests, poisoning,

and the vanishing of ethnic identities.

And this place was not called Magellan's,

but Kawésqar, a part of the Kawésqar land.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] The Europeans have not discovered anything at all.

They kidnapped the locals

and dragged them to various places,

even Germany, to be part of a human zoo.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] In the process,

the people were taken away from their culture

and this happened in an area

where the Kawésqar, who did not speak Spanish,

did not understand the newly established order.

Many were shot and driven from their temporary campsites.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] But since the Kawésqar

were excellent navigators,

many were able to escape that mission.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] But this is what was here before

and even shortly after Magellan came here

and he presumed to be called a discoverer.

-Today, these people celebrate their heritage.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] I am proud to have this ancestral lineage

and it fills me with energy as well, as it manifests.

-Historian Andrew Lambert offers an explanation

for the Europeans' violent and oppressive colonial tactics.

-Now, we look at the world to understand.

They looked at the world to control, to subjugate,

and to exploit.

That it's the right and duty of Christian Europeans

to dominate the world, at the expense of all other peoples,

and everybody else they meet must convert to their faiths,

follow their rules, obey their orders.

It's a whole different world and Magellan is of that world.

-The Spanish hope to use the passage

to defend their Pacific territories.

They attempted to establish a settlement

on the north shore of the straits

several times over the next 50 years.

The country sent dozens of ships and thousands of soldiers.

The results were disastrous.

-[ Conversing in Spanish ]

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] And then, the fatal ending --

within the space of a few years, they were all dead.

There were two survivors

and, in the end, only one of them was left.

They christened the city Port of Hunger, Famine.

Different designations were used on maps,

but they all referred to either hunger,

bad luck, failure, or misery.

-But Magellan must keep sailing west.

Facing dwindling provisions and the loss of two ships,

he cannot afford to spend much time

at the southern tip of the Americas.

And, after four weeks,

the vastness of the Pacific Ocean

stretches before Magellan's fleet.

-The discovery of the passage

faces Magellan with a huge problem.

He thinks the islands that he's heading for

are a few weeks away, so, instead of stopping

and gathering as much provision as he can on the coast,

he decides to take a risk.

They'll just set off.

They'll go now and it'll be fine.

They'll arrive in the Spice Islands.

His friend lives there.

They will pick up supplies.

It'll be good.

So he takes a big decision

and, this time, it's the wrong decision

and it's going to cost a lot of men their lives.

It's going to compromise the expedition

and it could've led to an absolute disaster.

-Magellan believes the Spice Islands

are roughly 600 nautical miles away.

In reality, the actual distance is 30 times that --

20,000 nautical miles lie between him and his destination.

-So it's a question of scale.

His world is half the size of the real world

and that nearly destroyed his expedition.

-The Pacific becomes a graveyard for Magellan's crew.

Pigafetta, the voyage's chronicler, writes,

"And we ate all biscuit turned to powder,

all full of worms and stinking of urine,

which the rats made on it, having eaten the good.

And we drank water impure and yellow.

And every time someone had drawn his last breath,

Magellan quickly committed their bodies to the sea.

He probably feared some of his crew could turn into cannibals.


-[ Grunts ]


-Magellan doesn't understand why,

after two months in the scorching heat of the Pacific,

they have not reached land.

Where are the eagerly awaited Spice Islands?

-[ Hyperventilating ]


-Guided by the Sun and the stars,

Magellan is able to determine the latitude of his position.

He knows, relatively well,

his exact position north or south on the globe.

What he cannot measure

is his east-west position, his longitude.

-This proves critical in Magellan's voyage

because, as he leaves the Magellan Straits,

he thinks he's only a few days, maybe a week or two,

away from the Spice Islands,

so he's looking for those islands

day after day after day,

and they're not going to be there.

He's about to cross the biggest ocean in the world

and he thinks it's a pond.

The irony, ultimately, of Magellan, is

he proves his point, but he has to go way beyond

what he expected would be necessary.

He has to take his men,

not just to the jaws of death, but beyond.

He has to take them through that

and bring them out the other side.

It's a tremendous feat of human endurance,

but, above all, of compelling leadership.


-Land! Land ahoy!

Land ahoy!


-On March 16, 1521,

a year and a half after leaving Spain,

Magellan's emaciated crew make landfall.


They spent 100 days drifting through the Pacific

before casting anchor on the shores

of what are today the Philippine Islands.


For Magellan and his crew,

the islands feel like heaven on Earth,

even though they still don't know where they've landed.


Magellan is sure they must be close to the Spice Islands,

but that also means the Portuguese could be nearby,

coming from the other direction.

If they find him, they will stop him

from laying claim to the islands' resources,

as negotiated by the Treaty of Tordesillas.

-The great problem with the Treaty of Tordesillas is

they knew where the Atlantic was

and they divided it very neatly down the middle.

The problem was, on the other side of the globe,

nobody really knew how big the world was

or where the line came,

so nobody knew who owned the Spice Islands.

The most valuable real estate on Earth was

in unknown territory.

Claiming it and owning it would be the key to success,

but proving that would lead

to many misfortunes along the way.

-When successful,

these voyages of discovery become part of history.

But far more often, they ended in failure and the loss of life.

As soon as the crewmen regained their strength,

Magellan set sail again.

On the Island of Cebu,

he forges an alliance with its ruler

and is drawn into a local conflict.


To demonstrate the superiority of his religion and his power,

Magellan decides to make an example

of the local rebels' leader, Lapulapu.



-Hoping to impress the new allies

with the military skill of his men,

Magellan declines the offer of reinforcements.

-[ Grunting ]


-But Magellan deeply underestimates

the men he is fighting.

Lapulapu is a keen strategic thinker

and battle-hardened warrior.

Each of his tattoos symbolizes a victorious battle.


[ Gunshot ]



Ultimately, Magellan's overconfidence proves fatal.


On April 27, 1521,

he dies without ever having reached the Spice Islands.

-After Magellan's death,

the Spanish leaders were ambushed.

They were wiped out

and this left just one man standing

who could really take the expedition back home again.

It was the sailor Sebastián Elcano, the Basque.

He was the man who would ultimately have

to bring the expedition home

because everybody else in a leadership role

had been killed or had died.


-With the death of Magellan

and most of the high-ranking officers,

Sebastián Elcano must now lead the expedition.

After the mutiny a year earlier, in San Julián,

this is the first time

Elcano is mentioned again in official records.


His first decision is to leave the Concepción,

the third remaining ship, behind.

It is not fit for the challenges of the voyage to come.


Once empty of supplies,

the crew sinks the ship off the Philippines,

leaving no trace of their presence.


Elcano sails on with the two remaining ships,

the Trinidad and the Victoria.


The search for the Spice Islands continues unsuccessfully

for another two months.


And then, more than two years into the voyage,

the long-searched-for destination appears

on the horizon --

the Spice Islands,

with their promise of immense wealth.


Pigafetta recorded this moment in his travel diary.

"On Friday, the 8th of November 1521,

we entered the port of an island called Tidore

and, after anchoring in a depth of 20 fathoms,

we discharged all our artillery."


The arrival of the Europeans begins centuries of colonization

and memories of Elcano and the sailors

remain vivid on the small island today.

-[ Speaking native language ]

-[Interpreter] When the Trinidad and Victoria entered Matara Bay,

they knew that the capital of Tidore

was located here in Maluku

and that's why Sebastián Elcano

ordered 20 cannon shots to honor them.

-[ Speaking native language ]

-Sultan al-Mansur appeared and he lifted his hands up.

A long time before, he'd had a dream

and it came true --

the Europeans, particularly the Spaniards,

will bring prosperity.

-But is the Europeans

who benefit the most from this new prosperity.

At that time, the spices could fetch a purchase price

easily multiplied by 1,000 when sold to Europeans markets.

The profit margins were astronomical

and the tiny volcanic islands

become part of the global conflict

between Spain and Portugal.

-[ Speaking native language ] -[Interpreter] The Portuguese

were already on Ternate in 1512.

Ten years later, the Spaniards arrived at Tidore.

Although the two islands are right net to each other,

there has always been a great rivalry.

Tidore and Ternate were enemies at that time.

-The arrival of the warring Europeans

only emphasizes the conflict between the two islands.

Today's crown prince of Ternate is a direct descendant

of the family that's ruled the island since Elcano arrived.

The current heir to the throne

views the initial encounters with Europeans

as a meeting of exchange, not domination.

-[ Speaking native language ] -[Interpreter] It just happened

that the trigger for interaction among us and the Europeans

were cloves and nutmeg.

When they arrived in search of these spices,

they also brought over technologies.

But that doesn't mean they came to a primitive country.

No, we were civilized, just like the Europeans.

If anything, back then,

the Europeans were still in the Dark Age.

-[ Speaking native language ]

-[Interpreter] We know that, back then, our civilization,

in terms of technology, was still simple.

Our swords were still short.

After the Europeans came,

we were able to create long ones.

Our ships were small.

After the Europeans came,

we were able to build a big ship named Kagunga.

Kagunga is a big ship from Ternate,

a battleship that is quite large.

This is what is inevitable about human interaction.

It can't be denied that humans need

to know and interact with each other.

-Global trade for the Spice Islands' commodities

had existed for centuries,

but the Europeans brought changes.

-[ Speaking native language ]

-[Interpreter] Ternate was so famous for its cloves and nutmeg

that the Europeans,

Chinese, and Arabs came here.

But it was the Europeans who wanted

to occupy and monopolize the spice trade

and that's the beginning of the Colonial Era in Indonesia.

Once the Portuguese conquered Ternate

and monopolized the spice trade,

they wanted to keep the location a secret.

-With the arrival of the Spanish on Tidore,

the secrecy is over.

Elcano is lucky the Portuguese base on Ternate

has just been deserted

and there is no trace of Francisco Serrao,

whose letters drove Magellan halfway around the world.

-[ Speaking Spanish ] -[Interpreter] We really

cannot say that the story has a happy end

because the two protagonists have never met.

As we know, Magellan died in the Battle of Mactan

and Serrao died at about the same time.

It's possible that Serrao was poisoned

in a conspiracy against the Sultan of Ternate.

In the end, these two pen pals never managed to meet.

-Finding the Portuguese trading post on Ternate deserted,

Elcano is relieved he and his men

will not be forced to fight their rivals.

But he knows the Portuguese fleet is hunting him

and could show up at any time.

He and the crew immediately secure the island's spice crops.

The men are dazzled by what they see --

more cloves and nutmeg than they ever dared dream.


Today, the nutmeg harvest takes place

in much the same way it did 500 years ago

and, as a commodity traded

on stock exchanges around the world,

it still has the power to enrich people.


Half a millennia later,

spices continue to be one

of the most important sources of income

for the island population.


-[ Speaking native language ] -[Interpreter] In my shop,

the amount of one-year-old nutmeg

could be more than 100 tons.

As for cloves, it depends on the harvest season.

During harvest season, I could get up to 10 containers,

even 20 containers.

-Elcano and his men quickly get to work.

-[ Speaking native language ]

-[Interpreter] Antonio Pigafetta writes in his report

that they succeeded in filling the holds of the two ships,

the Trinidad and the Victoria, within only 40 days.

-[ Speaking native language ]

-[Interpreter] And so Tidore became a Spanish trading center.

-Elcano has made good on the promise

Magellan made to the Spanish crown.

He establishes direct trading relations

with the royal family on Tidore.

After that, he wants to sail home as quickly as possible.

But he is faced with a difficult decision.

-He can go back the way he came, but he's a sensible fellow.

He doesn't want to do that.

It's dangerous. It's a long way.

So he sets off the way that the Portuguese would've gone --

Spice Islands, Indian Ocean, south of Africa,

up the Atlantic, back into Seville.

-He decides to split up the two remaining ships in his fleet.

The Trinidad will sail east, back through the Pacific;

and the Victoria will take its chances,

sailing westward, into enemy territory.

-So Elcano, I think he was in a very desperate situation

and that's there because he understood the Pacific,

so it was going to be very difficult

to go back home through the Pacific.

So it is only then that Elcano decided

to face the circumnavigation of the world.

-Elcano knows they must sail halfway around the world,

through Portuguese sovereign territory,

and the hunt has already begun.

-The Portuguese, if they catch him, they'll kill him.

They'll sink the ship, they'll kill all the people onboard,

and they'll take the spices home and sell them for themselves.

So he's sailing through enemy waters, quite literally.

Outside Europe, Spain and Portugal are at war.

-While Elcano tries his luck going west,

the Trinidad fails at her attempt

to cross the Pacific again.

Violent storms batter the ship.

Utterly exhausted, they try to go back to the Spice Islands.

But, in the meantime,

the Portuguese fleet has arrived there --

a catastrophe for the Spanish.

-So the Trinidad had to return, very damaged by the storms,

to the Spice Islands

and she was, right away, captured by the Portuguese.

They took her near the fortress to take all the valuable items,

like the anchors and the masts and the sails

and also part of the timber of the ship,

to build a fortress.

Afterwards, the Trinidad sank right there,

very close to the shore.

We had a very fair idea of where she can be

and I hope that she will be found.

-[ Speaking native language ]

-Today, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs

is leading an expedition

to find out the fate of the Trinidad.

-We are conducting a marine archeology survey.

We want to find a shipwreck site

that is the Trinidad shipwreck, a Spanish shipwreck,

and it's said that Trinidad sank in front of Kastela.

We want to find the coral reef in front of the port

because the archives mentioned that the Trinidad

smashed the coral reef and then it caught a storm.

So we have to find the reef, first,

so we will have a clue where Trinidad sank.

[ Speaking native language ]

-The search is made more difficult

by the fact that the seabed

has sunk considerably since the 16th century.

As a result,

the remains of the former Portuguese fort

are not located at the shore anymore,

but at the bottom of the sea.


-So our diving team, they mentioned that, underwater,

they found like a structure, the ruins.

Looks like similar with the Kastela Fort

and also, they found like a passage or a tunnel,

the channel and the water, between the reef.

-It is likely that the bigger ships had

to anchor outside the reef.

Only small dinghies would've been able

to shuttle back and forth through a manmade breach

to unload the ships.

-So, later on, we can do the things

to prove this is a part of the Kastela Fort, or not.


-If the archeological findings confirm the historical accounts

of a harbor entrance through the reef,

the team will return to continue its search

for the wreck of the Trinidad.


With the sinking of the Trinidad,

Elcano's ship is now the expedition's only hope.

In order to avoid the Portuguese,

he sails the Southern Indian Ocean

for four months, without making landfall once.


Hunger and scurvy decimate the crew,

and the ship is barely seaworthy.

By the end of the voyage,

the crew must pump out water around the clock.


On September 6, 1522,

nine months after leaving the Spice Islands,

Sebastián Elcano miraculously sails

into the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda,

as one of only 18 survivors.

Magellan is generally credited

as the first person to sail around the world,

despite dying halfway through the trip.

But what about Sebastián Elcano,

the man who actually completed the entire voyage?

Some years ago, a unique written document turned up

in a private Basque archive --

a handwritten letter that Sebastián Elcano sent

to his king upon his return.

-[ Speaking Spanish ] -[Interpreter] It was really

emotional because, within four or five seconds,

I realize that it's the letter from Elcano,

that it's the original letter.

What shall I say? I start sweating

and all the people in the archives standing around me.

I'm holding the letter and saying, "Look what I found!"

How can it be possible that the letter is now being found,

after several centuries?

I mean, everybody believed it to be lost.

-[ Speaking Spanish ] -[Interpreter] You can't just

read this like, "We sailed around the globe

and then we were here and there" -- no, no.

He returns with a ship so ravaged,

that it was just about to sink.

That's how damaged it was.

A week longer, and it goes down.

The ship is loaded, but absolutely ruined.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] Elcano reports in his letter

that they had to bail out water for more than 30 days.

A week more, and no one would've arrived.

There would've been no circumnavigation of the world.


-Upon arrival,

25 tons of spices are unloaded from the Victoria.


Elcano and his crew are rewarded handsomely

and the investors make a profit

off the cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg,

despite the loss of four of the five ships

and the deaths of 200 sailors.

-In some ways, this is a very unusual expedition of discovery.

They actually made a slight profit.

Despite losing three of the ships,

despite coming back with very few people,

the spices on the Victoria paid off the costs,

so the investors got their money back.

Nobody made a windfall profit.

The men didn't get particularly well-paid,

but they did set off to do it all over again.


-Elcano is knighted

and the king grants him his own coat of arms,

emblazoned with spices, a globe,

and the words Primus circumdedisti me,

"You were the first to circumnavigate me."

And, still, his name rarely appears

in today's history books.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] He is, indeed, a tragic hero.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] In part,

he only has himself to blame for this tragedy

because, when he returned after sailing around the world

and was given the title Primus circumdedisti me

and his own coat of arms,

in this moment of glory,

he fails to write or publish a book.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] The printing press was the Internet of those days.

-[ Speaking Spanish ]

-[Interpreter] Instead, he was trying to assemble

a new expedition to the Moluccas and back,

to establish and secure the sea route for good.

However, another member of the expedition,

Antonio Pigafetta, writes a book

and he does something very peculiar.

He doesn't mention Elcano at all.

Not a single word.

-Four years later, Sebastián Elcano sets off

for the Spice Islands for the second time.

He dies on this voyage

and is erased from humanity's collective memory.

The passage found at the southern tip of South America

proves too dangerous to be of much use.

Despite the great sacrifices made to find the Spice Islands,

the Spanish only possess them for a few years

before selling them to the Portuguese.

The islands would go on to be Dutch and British territories

for the next 350 years,

until Indonesia declared its independence in 1950.

But the significance of Magellan and Elcano's voyage

is still felt half a millennia later.

-Even at the end of the expedition,

with only 18 crew left standing,

these men are still recording data in their log books.

They're taking an accurate record of every single day,

every single position.

And, when they get back to Seville,

they realize they've lost a day,

and that information is priceless.

It proves that the Earth is round,

that it's rotating through space,

and this breakthrough changes the way

16th-century men see the Earth.

They begin to understand what's going on.

They begin to understand our place in the planetary system --

not just the size of the Earth, but the place of the Earth.

That, perhaps, is Magellan's greatest legacy.

[ Poignant tune plays ]

-With Magellan's voyage came an understanding

of the true shape of the Earth

and the beginnings of what, today, we call


The Earth remains immense,

but, thanks to explorers, like Magellan and Elcano,

it is now connected.




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