The Longest Journey: Setting Sail

1517 - 1518 | Discover how the expedition of the first circumnavigation of the world was prepared.

Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

Antonio Fernández Torres, Guillermo Morán Dauchez (General Archive of the Indies) and Braulio Vázquez Campos (General Archive of the Indies).

View of Seville (16th Century) by Alonso Sánchez CoelloOriginal Source: Museo de América

"To drown in the abyss—heaven or hell, who cares? Through the unknown, we'll find the new … "

Charles Baudelaire, French writer.

Europa and Asia by Lola Bermúdez (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

About 500 years ago in Seville, Europe's long-awaited dream of reaching the unexplored, mythical lands of the Orient and the Spice Islands became a reality.
Ferdinand Magellan set off on his voyage in 1519, and three years later it became the longest voyage of the era: the first circumnavigation of the world was completed by Juan Sebastián Elcano, captain of the Victoria, and his crew in 1522.

Supplies by Lola Bermúdez (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

The Preparations: Ships and Supplies

Seville | July 1518–August 1519

The Carracks by Antonio Arévalo (Fotowork fotografía)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

Once the charters were signed, the King ordered the House of Trade (Casa de la Contratación) in Seville to get everything ready immediately for the voyage. The Spice Island Fleet was born—next came the complex task of making it a reality.
>Take a virtual tour of the exhibition in the General Archive of the Indies.

The Longest Journey: The First Circumnavigation of the Globe by Tannhauser EstudioAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

Five carracks (merchant ships) were acquired for the voyage: the Trinidad, the Victoria, the Concepción, the Santiago, and the San Antonio. All the ships had to be repaired and readied for crossing the ocean on a voyage which, at the time, was expected to last two years.

Why do we go?

Historians, navigators, athletes, explorers, and astronauts try to describe what this call to adventure meant to them.

Accredited documentation of the monetary balance of the Spice Islands armada (1522)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

With the terms of the Armada set out in the charters (known as Capitulaciones de Valladolid), the expedition had to be planned down to the finest detail. This was made possible thanks to a bureaucratic organization that followed standard procedures and pre-established rules and believed in the value of written documents. The House of Trade of the Indies (Casa de la Contratación de Indias), founded in Seville in 1503, was charged with this task.

This document summarizes all the costs involved in organizing the Armada, neatly noted beside a reason why the cost was necessary. In addition to showing how much an item cost, this document provides the organizational details that were taken into account for each item.

The Longest Journey: The First Circumnavigation of the Globe by Braulio VázquezAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

The five ships needed were bought in Cádiz and Sanlúcar and then brought to Seville to ready them for the voyage. All the cargo needed for the voyage was then loaded onto the ships: from pieces of artillery and ammunition to plates, food supplies, and navigation instruments—and not to forget reserve merchandise, which was to be used for trading once they arrived at their destination.

The Longest Journey: The First Circumnavigation of the Globe by Braulio VázquezAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

The food supplies, provisions, and every technical and operational aspect of the Armada was carefully planned, ensuring the ships had everything required for journey. The expedition party had to have everything they might need to hand, especially when it came to entering unexplored territories.

List of Crew Members Magellan Took on his Journey to Discover the Spice Islands (1519)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

The Crew: 245 Dreams, 245 Reasons To Explore

Seville | October 1518–August 10, 1519

Details and account of the people who helped Magellan discover the Spice Islands Details and account of the people who helped Magellan discover the Spice Islands / Page 01 by Casa de contratación de las IndiasArchivos Estatales

Magellan secured funds from the Crown, the support of the House of Trade, and the ships he needed to get his quest underway, but he struggled to find men to accompany him on the voyage. The substantial risks, low pay, and mistrust of Magellan as a Portuguese captain were contributing factors.

As there were not enough volunteers, two extraordinary measures were taken: several navigators from the House of Trade were forced to enroll, and foreigners were allowed to join the crew.

Details and account of the people who helped Magellan discover the Spice Islands / Page 01Archivos Estatales

Although 234 crewmembers were specified for the Armada in the signed charters, 239 are listed in this document. The number varied due to last-minute changes to crew numbers in Seville, Sanlúcar, and Tenerife. It is now thought that the figure lies somewhere in region of 245 crewmembers.
As for how the crew was divided between ships, there is proof that at the start of the expedition, the flagship—Trinidad—carried 62 men; San Antonio, 57; Concepción, 44; Victoria, 45; and Santiago, 31, due to its smaller size.

Details and account of the people who helped Magellan discover the Spice Islands Details and account of the people who helped Magellan discover the Spice Islands (1519)Archivos Estatales

The list of crewmembers for the Spice Island fleet showed the men were grouped by ship, and then by category: there were officers (captains, navigators, clerks, boatmasters, boatswains, and a bailiff aboard the flagship) and specialists (surgeon, barber, carpenter, storekeeper, caulker, cooper), sailors, artillery soldiers, cabin boys, pageboys, servants, and a second-in-command.

Is a ship like a miniature world?

The scientists and explorers Pedro Duque, Tomás Mazón, Tomás Echegoyen, Kitín Múñoz, Íñigo Múñoz, Matthias Mauer, and Ignacio Orcada, among others, speak about their experiences of the voyage.

Crew Salaries Crew Salaries - Officers and soldiersArchivos Estatales

One notable characteristic of the modern Spanish monarchy was its thorough, almost obsessive, attention to financial accounts. From the very first expeditions, there was a constant obsession with the economic aspect of these voyages; the cost of the supplies, provisions, and the salary of the crew based on their office and position.
This document, drawn up some time after the expedition returned in 1522, outlined the salaries due to each member of the crew. In addition to listing the salaries due to those who returned on the Victoria with Elcano, the document also lists the salaries of many other crewmembers who had departed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda and died on the voyage.

Crew Salaries Crew Salaries - SailorsArchivos Estatales

Starting with Ferdinand Magellan himself, each of the positions occupied by the crew on each ship is listed. This shows the multitude of positions (captain, ship's master, navigator, carpenter, caulker, artillery soldier, barber, sailor, cabin boy, etc.) that crewmembers occupied when they went on expeditions such as this.

Crew Salaries Crew Salaries - Craftsmen and tradesmenArchivos Estatales

The members of this community formed at sea therefore had to be prepared for any eventuality, and they had to be self-sufficient for a prolonged period of time.

The Victoria by Antonio Fernández Torres (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E


In the morning, cannon-fire told the men it was time to leave. Hugs and kisses of farewell were lost among shouts from the boatswains as they called the crew to their posts. The fleet dropped sail and the land they knew disappeared from view.

The creaking of the ship as it charged into the waves for the first time echoed in the sailors' ears as they set sail, their hearts full of dreams and doubt: they were starting on a voyage that had never before been undertaken.

The Longest Voyage. SeaAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

Continue to the next stage of the adventure: The Longest Voyage: The Exploration.

Credits: Story

Adaptation of the exhibition "The Longest Journey: The First Around the World".

Organizers: Spanish Cultural Action, Ministry of Culture. General Archive of the Indies
Curated by: Antonio Fernández Torres, Guillermo Morán Dauchez, Braulio Vázquez Campos
Program: Raquel Mesa
Images: Archivo General de Indias, Tannhauser Estudio

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This exhibition is part of the First Voyage Around the World project.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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