Greatest legacy was proving that the earth is circumnavigable

Luís Filipe Thomaz

Historian Luís Filipe Thomaz considers that the greatest legacy left to us by Portuguese navigator Fernão de Magalhães was proving that the Earth is circumnavigable and that the Pacific Ocean is navigable.

In an interview with Lusa about the 500th anniversary of the world's first circumnavigation voyage, completed by Magalhães and Elcano between 1519 and 1522, Luís Filipe Thomaz said that the 16th-century navigator 'demonstrated by practice that the earth was circumnavigable', by confirming the communicability between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, proving that it is the oceans that surround the continents and not the other way around.

'It was already known that [the earth] was round. It was Pythagoras [ancient Greek philosopher] who stated that the earth was round, so that was known about two thousand years ago', said the author of ' O Drama de Magalhães e a Volta ao Mundo sem Querer' (The Magellanic drama and the unintentional voyage around the world), adding that 'the consensus' regarding the paradigm of a spherical earth 'was huge' in the sixteenth century.

According to this historian, what was 'not so well established' at the time was 'the circumnavigability of the globe'.

Until Fernão de Magalhães discovered the strait that bears his name today, an approximately 600-kilometer-wide passage that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans between the continental tip of South America and the island of Tierra del Fuego.

'This proved, by practice, that the globe was circumnavigable and that the Pacific was navigable', said Luis Filipe Thomaz.

This was shown by this first-try crossing of unsailed waters, thanks to Fernão de Magalhães' intuition that 'the Pacific wind regime was identical to that of the Atlantic', which allowed him to set the right route to cross the Pacific.

A 'genius intuition' that Spanish navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano, who made the expedition across the Indian Ocean to the south and the Atlantic to the north to reach Spain, did not have, according to Luis Filipe Thomaz.

The historian, who specializes in oriental studies, understands that Portugal 'did right by Magalhães', despite his betrayal in giving Castile (Spain) 'nautical secrets that belonged to the Portuguese', and not for the fact that the Portuguese navigator was at the service of Castilian king Charles I (also known as Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire).

For Luís Filipe Thomaz, Magalhães was duly honored in the country and 'there is every reason' for Portugal and Spain to 'jointly celebrate' the 500th anniversary of the planet's first circumnavigation voyage.

Fernão de Magalhães, a native of Porto, as 'is written' in the contracts he signed with Carlos I and in his will, according to Luís Filipe Thomaz, organized the voyage, which was to meant to head west and reach the Moluccan Islands (Indonesia), which he could not do, having died in 1521 in the Philippines.

Juan Sebastián Elcano, a Basque, completed the voyage by chance, in desperation of cause and against the orders of the king of Castile, sailing unknown seas to avoid the vicissitudes of returning by the same maritime routes, having crossed the Pacific with a small crew.