Detail from a map of Ortelius: Magellan’s ship Victoria, 1590.

First ship to circumnavigate the world

The Victoria was one of five ships of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet during the expedition to find the Spice Islands (now the Moluccas) in the early 16th century. The expedition set sail from Spain in 1519, with the flagship Trinidad, the Victoria and the other three ships Concepcion, Santiago, and San Antonio. Three years later, in 1522, the Victoria was the only one to return to Spain, making it the first ship known to successfully circumnavigate the globe. The other ships were either destroyed, captured, or deserted. The San Antonio deserted the expedition in South America and returned to Spain.

Victoria was the best of the five, and the most expensive: its construction price (300,000 maravedies) was 38 percent higher than the price for the other four ships. The Victoria was 20.26 meters (or more than 66 feet) in length, weighed 85 tons and had 180 tons of displacement.

The Victoria was built in Zarauz in the Basque region of Spain as ordered possibly by Juan Sebastian Elcano. Elcano would eventually take over command of the expedition after Magellan’s death in the Philippine islands and would return to Spain aboard the Victoria. During the expedition the captain of the Victoria was Luis de Mendoza. He was among the organizers of a mutiny in San Julian Bay in Southern Argentina in 1520 and died after being stabbed by Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa.

Of the more than 200 men who were part of the Magellan expedition, less than 20 returned to Spain aboard the Victoria.

After the historic voyage, the Victoria was auctioned in a public bid on 26 February 1523. A Genovese merchant, Esteban Centurion, bought it for 285 ducats. Two years later, in 1525, Centurion passed away and his daughter María inherited the Victoria. It was scheduled to sail to Santo Domingo in the Caribbean. It is unknown what happened to it.

In recent years, different replicas of the Victoria have been built. The most recent and faithful one docked in Saipan (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) in 2006 on its voyage around the world.

By Carlos Madrid

For further reading

Bergreen, Laurence. Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.

Fernandez-Vial, Ignacio, and Guadalupe Fernández Morente. La Primera Vuelta al Mundo: La Nao Victoria. Seville: Muñoz Moya, 2001.