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Juan Sebastián Elcano
Las Glorias Nacionales, 1852 "Juan Sebastian Elcano". (4013953698).jpg
Engraving of Elcano
Juan Sebastián Elcano

c. 1486
Died August 4, 1526 (aged 39–40)
Cause of death Malnutrition
Nationality Basque, Castilian (state)
Occupation explorer, navigator and mariner
Known for first circumnavigation of the earth
Partner(s) María Hernández Dernialde
Children Domingo Elcano III
Parent(s) Domingo Sebastián Elcano I, and Catalina del Puerto
Relatives Domingo Elcano II, Martín Pérez Elcano and Antón Martín Elcano
Firma Elcano.svg

Juan Sebastián Elcano (1476 – 4 August 1526) was a Spanish explorer of Basque origin. He completed the first circumnavigation of the world started by Ferdinand Magellan. After Magellan's death in the Philippines, Elcano took command of the expedition and completed the voyage to Spain. The voyage proved that the Earth was round. When he returned to Spain the king gave Elcano his own Coat of arms. He also received a pension of 500 ducats.

Early life

Elcano was born in 1476 in Getaria, Gipuzkoa in the Basque Country of northern Spain. His parents were Domingo Sebastián de el Cano and Catalina de el Puerto. From his childhood he was a sailor and fisherman. He later smuggled contraband into French ports. He was part of an expedition against Algeria in 1509. In 1519 he was in Seville when Charles V of Spain was sending a major expedition to find a shortcut to the Indies.

Magellan's voyage

Getaria - Estatua de Juan Sebastián Elcano (Ricardo Bellver, 1881) 1
Statue in Getaria, Spain of Juan Sebastián Elcano 1881

Charles V had selected the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan to lead an expedition made up of five ships and 239 men. Their mission was to find a shortcut to the Far East by going around the tip of South America. Elcano was selected as Magellan's second-in-command.

When the expedition wintered on the coast of Brazil the crews joined in a mutiny because they did not want to go any further. By this time Magellan and Elcano no longer trusted each other. Magellan blamed Elcano for the mutiny and placed him in chains. One of Magellan's ships was wrecked in Brazil. By the time they reached the passage between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, afterwards named the Strait of Magellan, one more ship had turned back. Magellan started through the strait in October 1520 taking a month to get through.

The three ships reached Guam in March 1521. Later in the month they reached Homonhon Island in the Philippines. By this time they had only 150 men. Magellan formed a friendship with the island's king and soon joined in a war between the king and a rival. On April 27, 1521 Magellan was killed in a battle. The remaining men and ships quickly escaped the Philippines arrived at the Spice Islands in November 1521.

By this time Elcano commanded the last ship in the expedition. They left the Spice Islands in December. On September 8, 1522 Elcano and his crew reached Spain completing Magellan's expedition. Elcano was surprised to learn they had lost a day in circumnavigating the globe.

Later years

He spent about three years at Valladolid, where he fell in love with María Vidaurreta. Together they had a daughter.

He joined the expedition of Garcia Jofre de Loaísa to colonize the Spice Islands. They left with seven ships and 450 men. The expedition was scattered by bad weather near Cape Horn. The expedition lost six of its seven ships. The remaining ship continued to the Spice Islands.

On July 30, 1526 Loaísa died of scurvy. Elcano took command but he died of the disease himself on August 4, 1526.

Juan Sebastián Elcano. Buque escuela-02
The figurehead on board the ship Juan Sebastián Elcano

Elcano, deleted from History

Journal of Magellan's Voyage p77
A page from Pigafetta's book, in French. The only surviving copy of the book seems to be a translation to Italian from the French translation.

Throughout the world Elcano has been a marginal character because he was almost forgotten for three centuries. In the first accounts of the voyage, the cold reception that the successful circumnavigation of the world got at the Court of Castile is noticeable; in the long seventeen-page account written by Peter Martyr d'Anghiera, for example, Elcano was not mentioned even once. The reason for this neglect is perhaps that those who sailed around the world were not hidalgos, but common sailors, a fact that contravened late medieval social attitudes among the upper classes.

Nor did the book, Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo, by Antonio Pigafetta, the Venetian scholar who sailed with Magellan and who was among the 18 men that survived the expedition and returned to Spain, mention Elcano. In its received form, his chronicle exaggerates his own role, perhaps explaining why in Italian historiography Elcano disappears and Capitano Pigafetta himself appears as an important character.

In recent years, however, another point of view has spread: Pigafetta quoted Elcano, but as the works of Pigafetta that have survived to modern times were retranslated from French. The hypothesis is that, since France was at war with Castile, the French eliminated all the "Spaniards" that Pigafetta had praised in his telling of the voyage. This 'eliminatory' view was further extended when it was written by Philip II's chronicler, embellishing the roles of the hidalgos Magellan and Pigafetta and minimising that of the plebeians. Spanish historiography transformed Magellan into a leader who favored the unity of Portugal and Spain, although he had betrayed Portugal by becoming Castilian.

Tall ship

The Sailing ship Juan Sebastián de Elcano is named for the explorer. It is a four-masted, topsail schooner, one of the largest in the world. It had sailed around the earth six times by 1986. The ship has participated in three Operation Sail events in New York harbor. It has probably been sailed more than any other major tall ship. Her home port is Cadiz, Spain. The ship is owned by the Spanish Navy.

500th anniversary

The 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation was celebrated in Spain on September 6, 2022. In view of this, several initiatives such as the Elkano Foundation have arisen, both to complete the history and perpetuate its memory and to plan the celebration of the event.

As part of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the Earth on September 6, 1522, the Basque Maritime Museum, with the support of the Elkano Foundation, has published a new book: Elcano y el País Vasco. Cómo se hizo posible la primera vuelta al mundo (June 2022).

Elcano in art

There is no description or contemporary artwork depicting Elcano, and all artworks depicting him were made centuries later, often with ahistorical elements in their composition and featuring anachronistic clothing.





In 2019 an animated movie was made in the Basque language by Ángel Alonso with the title Elkano, lehen mundu bira. In 2020 another animation movie by Manuel H. Martin called El viaje más largo was presented in Sevilla. In 2022 Amazon Prime broadcast the series Boundless, with Álvaro Morte as Elcano.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Juan Sebastián Elcano para niños

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