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The "Fantastic Four" of the First Circumnavigation of the World

Updated on May 25, 2020
Sandra Miliers profile image

Sandra, a hobby writer that loves creating essays about everything inside her head full of knowledge.

Exploring the seas.

The portuguese were pioneers in sailing and exploration of the seas, and founded the first ever colonial empire. Driven by merchandise, they traded in almost everything from slaves to fruits and vegetables. They also became the first to circumnavigate the globe.

During the age of discoveries, there were, among many others, four men that stood out. I call them, "the fantastic four". Let me tell you about them now.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Lisbon. A monument to cherish to portuguese naval history.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Lisbon. A monument to cherish to portuguese naval history.

Prince Henry the Navigator.

It all starts with prince Henry the navigator. He was born the third son of the king John I of Portugal, and Phillipa of Lancaster, who married in 1384 and sealed the world's longest ongoing trading union.

Phillipa noticed in her son at an early age that he was fascinated with navigation and boats and placed him in the navigation in Lagos, on the Algarve coast, a school that he later ended up running.

Prince Henry, after returning to Lisbon, wanted to explore, but his father wasn't to keen on giving him money to do so, so he had to go and look for it elsewhere. He went to church asking for help. At birth, he had become a member of the order of Christ, the old Temple order, and he now asked his church friends for fundations. Of course they would give him money, if they could come along and evangelise the people in the new teritories.

Prince Henry did not normally go on the actual expeditions, except from the conquest of Ceuta in 1418. After this conquest, he decided to continue exploring the African coast. His expeditions rounded the upper African coast, thinking that he had rounded the cape of Africa, from here, in his mind, it was only sailing westwards to the spicelands India. Prince Henry died 1460.

Then Bartholomeu dias.

After his death, nobody took after Prince Henry directly, things kind of became “floating” in the water when he had died. But them Bartholomeu Dias, came around. We don't really know to much about this man, except from that he worked at the cort of king John II and decided that, if Prince Henry already had found the cape of Africa, he was going to be the person to discover the sea route to india.

But it turned out for Bartholomeu that there was alot more left of Africa. After coming to modern day Benin, he realized that the African coast continued towards the south, which he followed. Coming to modern day Congo and Angola, (which later became Portugal’s slave trading territories) he continued and finally, in january of 1488, he rounded the cape of good hope, entering the Indian ocean. He eventually landed in the eastern part of South Africa. When he arrived in zulu land, it was christmas time, (natal-christmas in portugues) hence today's name Kwa Zulu Natal.

Vasco da Gama.

Vasco da Gama is the third man on our list of the fantastic four. He was born in Portugal, like the other two, and his idea was, if Bartholomeu Dias managed to sail around the cape , it shouldn’t be to far to India from the other side. He now folllowed Bartholomeu's trail. Following the coast of Africa rounding the cape and continuing to modern day Mozambique. Then he continued sailing eastwards and finally managed to find the sea route to India docking in Goa in 1498. Vasco da Gama started the luxurios era of bringing spices and foreign fruit, vegetables, flowers and animals to the mother continent, europe.

Flowers and trees were brought from all corners of the empire.
Flowers and trees were brought from all corners of the empire.

Then lastly, Fernando.

I am absolutely sure that you know of this man as well, but you are thinking wrong now and probably know him by his last name, Magellan. Magellan, or Magalhães, as he is called in portuguese, was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Or in reality not.

Fernando Magellan is the fourth and last of the fantastic four. Magellan thought, ok, if the other ones are sailing around the cape of Africa, but this takes a long time, why don’t we go through Brazil instead, that should be shorter. So off he went, sailing westwards towards Brazil instead of south towards Africa, like the other three had done before him. When coming to south america, he followed the coast, and eventually came to the tip of the continent. Instead of sailing all the way down through terra de fuego, he decided to sail through a passage that was later named after him, the strait of Magellan.

After coming out on the other side, he continued westwards sailing towards Australia, and there are theories that the portuguese had colonies there as well, but this has never been proven. He later went to the Molucas islands, which had been claimed by the portuguese, and proved that it was really possible to sail westwards towards the spice lands.

When arriving in the Phillipines, Magellan and his crew entered in a battle with the local people and the local people ended up killing him, and the major part of his tripulation. One of his captains, Juan Sebastian El cano, who had sailed with a whole bunch of famous sailors, made himself in charge of taking the remaining crew back to portugal. He came back to Lisbon in 1524. So saying that Magellan sailed around the globe, is actually not correct. His ships sailed around the globe, but he “only” made it to the phillipines.

Replica of Magellan's boats.
Replica of Magellan's boats.

The portuguese empire stretched over the globe.

So this is the story of the "fantastic four" that made Portugal become the first nation officially to sail around the globe. There was a time when the portuguese empire stretched throughout the globe, sailing and trading merchandise from any corner possible. It all became possible, thanks to, among others, these four..

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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      14 months ago from UK

      This is a very interesting article. I remember passing the statue near Belem on a boat trip. I also recall a link between Henry the navigator and Sagres on the Algarve.

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