The First Voyage Round the World/Letter of Maximilian, the Transylvan

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to the


very delightful to read,





A Letter of Maximilianus Transylvanus, Secretary to His Majesty the

Emperor, written to the Most Illustrious and Reverend Lord

the Cardinal of Salzburg, concerning the wonderful and

astonishing Voyage made by the Spaniards in the

Year 1519, round the World.





The voyage made by the Spaniards round the world in the space of three years is one of the greatest and most marvellous things which have been heard of in our times; and, although in many things we surpass the ancients, yet this expedition far excels every other that has been made up till now. The voyage was described very minutely by Peter Martyr, who belonged to the Council of the Indies of His Majesty the Emperor, and to whom was entrusted the duty of writing this history; and by him were examined all those who remained alive of that expedition, and who reached Seville in the year 1522. But, as it was sent to be printed in Rome, it was lost in the miserable sacking of that city; and nothing is known even now as to where it is. And he who saw it, and read it, bears testimony to the same; and, amongst other things worthy of recollection that the aforesaid Peter noted concerning the voyage, was this, that the Spaniards, having sailed about three years and one month, and the greater part of them, as is usual amongst seafaring men, having noted down the days of the months one by one, found, when they arrived in Spain, that they had lost a day, for the day on which they arrived at Seville, which was the 7th of September, was, by their reckoning, the 6th. And the aforesaid Peter having mentioned this peculiarity to a certain excellent and extraordinary man, who was at that time ambassador for his Republic to His Majesty; and, having asked him how it could be, he, who was a great philosopher and learned in Greek and Latin literature, so that for his singular learning and rare excellence, he was afterwards promoted to much higher rank, gave this explanation: That it could not have fallen out otherwise, as they had travelled for three years continuously and always accompanied the sun, which was going westward. And he told him besides, that those who sailed due westwards towards the sun, lengthen their day very much, as the ancients also had noticed. Now, the book of the aforesaid Peter having disappeared, Fortune has not allowed the memory of so marvellous an enterprise to be entirely lost, inasmuch as a certain noble gentleman of Vicenza called Messer Antonio Pigafetta (who, having gone on the voyage and returned in the ship Vittoria, was made a Knight of Rhodes), wrote a very exact and full account of it in a book, one copy of which he presented to His Majesty the Emperor, and another he sent to the most Serene Mother of the most Christian King, the Lady Regent. She entrusted to an excellent Parisian philosopher called Jacomo Fabre, who had studied in Italy, the work of translating it into French.[1] This worthy person, I suppose to save himself trouble, made only a summary of it, leaving out what seemed fit to him; and this was printed, very incorrectly, in France, and has now come into our hands; and along with it a letter from one called Maximilianus of Transylvania, a secretary of His Majesty the Emperor, to the most Reverend Cardinal of Salzburg. And this we have wished to add to this volume of travels, as one of the greatest and most remarkable that there has ever been, and one at which those great philosophers of old, hearing of it, would have been stupified and beside themselves. And the city of Vicenza may well boast, among the other cities of Italy, that in addition to its nobility and high qualities; in addition to its many rare and excellent geniuses, both in letters and arms, there has been a gentleman of such courage as the aforesaid Messer Antonio Pigafetta, who has circumnavigated the whole globe, and has described it so exactly. There is no doubt that the ancients would have erected a statue of marble to him, and would have placed it in an honourable position, as a memorial and example to posterity of his great worth, and in acknowledgment of so stupendous an enterprise. But if, in this letter or in the summary, there be seen any discrepancy of names or things, let no one be astonished; for the bent of men's minds is various, and one notices one thing and one another, just as the things appear most deserving of attention. Let it suffice if, in the principal things they agree, and many parts which are left out in one can be read at length in the other. Fabulous stories, too, are noted for what they are. This may be safely affirmed by anyone, that the ancients never had such a knowledge of the world, which the sun goes round and examines every twenty-four hours, as we have at present, through the industry of the men of these our times.



Most Reverend and illustrious Lord, my only Lord, to you I most humbly commend myself.

One of those five ships has lately returned which Cæsar sent in former years, when he was living at Saragossa, to a strange, and for so many ages, an unknown world, in order to search for the islands where spices grow. For though the Portuguese bring a great quantity of them from the Golden Chersonesus, which we now suppose to be Malacca, yet their own Indies produce nothing but pepper. Other spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and the nutmeg, which we call muscat, and its covering (mace), which we call muscat flower, are brought to their own Indies from distant islands till now only known by name, and in ships which are fastened together not by iron but by palm leaves. The sails of these ships are round and woven, too, of the palm-fibre. This sort of ships they call junks, and they only use them with a wind directly fore and aft.

It is no wonder that these islands should be unknown to any human beings almost up to our time. For whatever we read concerning the native soil of the spices has been told us by ancient authors, and is partly, certainly, fabulous; and, partly, so far from the truth, that even the very countries in which they said that they grew naturally, are but little less distant from those where it is now known that they grow, than we are. For to omit others, Herodotus, in other respects a most famed author, has said that cinnamon is found in birds' nests, to which the birds have brought it from most distant regions, and specially the Phœnix, and I know not who has seen his nest. But Pliny, who thought himself able to give more certain information, because, before his time, many things had been made clear by the voyages of the fleets of Alexander the Great and of others, relates that cinnamon grows in Æthiopia on the borders of the land of the Troglodytæ, whilst now it is known that cinnamon is produced very far from any part of Æthiopia, and specially from the Troglodytæ (that is, the dwellers in subterranean caverns). But our men, who have now returned, and who were perfectly acquainted with Æthiopia, have been obliged to make a complete circuit of the world, and that a very wide one, before they could find the islands and return. As this voyage may be considered marvellous, and not only unaccomplished, but even unattempted either in our age or in any previous one, I have resolved to write as truly as possible to your Reverence the course (of the expedition) and the sequence of the whole matter. I have taken care to have everything related to me most exactly by the captain and by the individual sailors who have returned with him. They have also related each separate event to Cæsar and to others with such good faith and sincerity, that they seemed not only to tell nothing fabulous themselves, but by their relation to disprove and refute all the fabulous stories which had been told by old authors. For who can believe that these were Monosceli, Scyopodæ, Syrites, Spitamei, Pygmies, and many others, rather monsters than men. And as so many places beyond the Tropic of Capricorn have been sought, found, and carefully examined, both by the Spaniards in the south-west and by the Portuguese sailing eastwards, and as the remainder of the whole world has now been sailed over by our countrymen, and yet nothing trustworthy has been heard concerning these man-monsters, it must be believed that the accounts of them are fabulous, lying, and old women's tales, handed down to us in some way by no credible author. But lest I, who have to travel over the whole world, should seem too diffuse in my introduction, I return to my story. When, nearly thirty years ago, the Spaniards in the west, and the Portuguese in the east, began to search for new and unknown lands, their two kings, lest one should be a hindrance to the other, divided the whole globe between them by the authority, most likely, of Pope Alexander the Sixth, in this manner: that a straight line should be drawn 360 miles, which they call leucæ, west of the islands of the Hesperides, which are now called the islands of Cape Verd; towards the north, and another towards the south Pole, till they should meet again, and so divide the world into two equal parts. And whatever strange land should be discovered eastwards (of this line) should be ceded to the Portuguese, and whatever west of it to the Spaniards. In this manner it happened that the Spaniards always sailed south-west, and there they discovered a very large continent and very great and innumerable islands, rich in gold and pearls and in other wealth, and now, quite lately, have they discovered the vast Mediterranean city, Tenostica[2] situated in a lake, like Venice. About this city Peter Martyr, an author more careful about his facts than the elegance of his style, has written many wonderful, and yet true, things. But the Portuguese, passing southwards by the shores of the Hesperides, and of the ichthyophagous Æthiopians, and crossing the equinoctial line and the Tropic of Capricorn, sailed eastward, and discovered many great and unknown islands, and afterwards the sources of the Nile and the land of the Troglodytæ. Thence they sailed past the Arabian and Persian Gulfs to the shores of India, within the Ganges, where there is now the mighty emporium and kingdom of Calicut. Thence they sailed to Taprobanes, which they now call Zamatara. For there is now no island which either can be, or can be supposed to be, Taprobanes, in the position in which Ptolemy, Pliny, and the other cosmographers placed it. Going thence, they arrived at the Golden Chersonesus, where now is situated that most famous city of Malacca, the greatest emporium of the East. After this they entered the Great Gulf,[3] which reaches as far as the country of the Sinæ, which they now call Schinæ, where they found a white and tolerably civilised people, like our Germans. They believe that the Seres and the Asiatic Scythians extend as far as there. And though there was a certain rumour afloat that the Portuguese had progressed so far to the east as to cross their own limits and enter the territory of the Spaniards, and that Malacca and the Great Bay were within our limits, still all these things were said rather than believed, until four years ago Ferdinand Magellan, a distinguished Portuguese, who, for many years had explored the coasts of the whole of the East as Admiral, took a great hatred to his king, whom he complained of as being most ungrateful to him, and came to Cæsar. Christopher Haro, too, my own father-in-law's brother, who had traded for many years in the East by means of his agents, he himself staying in Ulyssipone, commonly called Lisbon, and who had lastly traded with the Chinese, so that he has great practice in such things, having also been unjustly treated by the King of Portugal, came also home to Spain. And they both showed Cæsar that though it was not yet quite sure whether Malacca was within the confines of the Spaniards or the Portuguese, because, as yet, nothing of the longitude had been clearly proved, yet that it was quite plain that the Great Gulf and the people of Sinæ lay within the Spanish boundary. This, too, was held to be most certain, that the islands which they call the Moluccas, in which all the spices are produced, and are thence exported to Malacca, lay within the Spanish western division, and that it was possible to sail there; and that spices could be brought thence to Spain more easily, and at less expense and cheaper, as they came direct from their native place.

Their course would be this, to sail westward, coasting the southern hemisphere (till they came) to the East. The thing seemed almost impossible and useless, not because it was thought a difficult thing to go from the west right to the east under the hemisphere, but because it was uncertain whether ingenious nature, which has done nothing without the greatest foresight, had not so dissevered the east from the west, partly by sea and partly by land, as to make it impossible to arrive there by either land or sea travelling. For it had not then been discovered whether that great region which is called Terra Firma did separate the western sea from the eastern; it was clear enough that that continent, in its southern part, trended southwards and afterwards westwards. It was clear, also, that two regions had been discovered in the North, one of which they called Regio Bacalcarum (Cod-fish Land), from a new kind of fish; and the other Terra Florida. And if these two were united to that Terra Firma, it was impossible to get to the east by going from the west, as nothing had ever been discovered of any channel through this land, though it had been sought for most diligently and with great labour. And they considered it a very doubtful and most dangerous enterprise to go through the limits of the Portuguese, and so to the east. For which reason it seemed to Cæsar and to his counsellors that these men were promising a thing from which much was to be hoped, but still of great difficulty. When they were both brought to an audience on a certain day, Magellan offered to go himself, but Christopher offered to fit out a fleet at his own expense and that of his friends, but only if it were allowed to sail under the authority and protection of Cæsar. Whilst they both persisted rather obstinately in their offers, Cæsar himself equipped a fleet of five ships, and appointed Magellan its admiral. Their orders were, to sail southwards along the coast of Terra Firma till they found either its termination or some channel through which they might reach the spice-bearing Moluccas. So Magellan set sail on the 10th of August, 1519, with five ships from Seville. A few days after he reached tho Fortunate Islands, which are now sometimes called the Canaries. Thence they arrived at the Islands of the Hesperides,[4] from which they took a south-western course towards that continent which we mentioned before; and after some days' fair sailing they sighted a promontory, to which the name of Santa Maria has been given. Here Juan Ruy Diaz Solis had been eaten, with some of his companions, by the anthropophagi, whom the Indians call cannibals, whilst, by order of Ferdinand the Catholic, he was exploring the coast of this continent with a fleet. Sailing thence, our men coasted in an unbroken course along the coasts of this continent, which extend a very long way south, and tend a little west, so that they crossed the Tropic of Capricorn by many degrees. I think that this continent should be called that of the Southern Pole. But it was not so easy as I have said; for not till the last day of March of the following year did they reach a bay, to which they gave the name of Saint Julian. Here they found the Antarctic Pole star 49⅓ degrees above their horizon, both by the altitude and declination of the sun from the Equinoctial, and also by the altitude of the Antarctic (Pole star) itself. This star our sailors generally make use of more than of any other. They state also that the longitude was 56 deg. west of the Fortunate Isles. For, as the ancient cosmographers, and specially Ptolemy, reckoned the longitude from the Fortunate Islands eastward to Catigara at 180 deg., so our men, sailing as far as they could westward also, began to reckon another 180 deg. westward to Catigara, as was right. Yet our sailors seem to me rather to be mistaken in the calculation of the longitudes (of distances?) than to have fixed them with any certainty, because in so long a voyage, and being so distant from the land, they cannot fix and determine any marks or signs for the longitude. Still I think that these accounts, whatever they be, should not be cast aside, but rather accepted till more certain information be discovered.

This Gulf of Saint Julian seemed very great, and had the appearance of a channel. Wherefore Admiral Magellan ordered two ships to explore the Gulf and anchored the rest outside. After two days, information was brought to him that the Gulf was full of shoals, and did not extend far inland. Our men, on their way back, saw some Indians picking up shell-fish on the shore; for they call the natives of all unknown lands Indians. They were of extraordinary height, that is to say, about ten spans, were clothed in the skins of wild beasts, and seemed darker than would be expected from the situation of the country. When some of our men went on shore to them and showed them bells and pictures painted on paper, they began a hoarse chant and an unintelligible song, dancing round our men, and, in order to astonish them, they passed arrows a cubit and a half long down their throats to the bottom of their stomachs, and without being sick. And forthwith drawing them out again, they seemed to rejoice greatly, as having shown their bravery by this exploit.

At last three came as ambassadors, and prayed our men, by certain signs, to go further inland with them, as if they would receive them with all hospitality. Magellan sent seven men, well armed, with them, to investigate as carefully as possible both country and people. When they had gone with them about seven miles inland, they came to a thick and pathless wood.

Here was a rather low hut, covered with skins of wild beasts. There were two apartments in it; in one lived the women with their children, in the other the men. There were thirteen women and children, and five men. These received their guests with a (ferali apparatu[5]) barbarous pomp, which seemed to them a royal one. An animal was slaughtered, which seemed to differ little from the onager, and they served it up half roasted to our men, without any other food or drink. Our men were obliged, contrary to their custom, to sleep under skins, on account of the severity of the snow and wind. Wherefore, before they slept, they set watch. The Indians did the same, and lay down near our men, snoring horribly.

When the day had broken, our men asked them to return with them to the ships, with the whole family. When the Indians had refused for a considerable time, and our men had insisted upon it rather imperiously, the men entered the den-like[6] women's apartment. The Spaniards thought that they were consulting with their wives concerning this expedition; but they returned covered, from the sole of their feet to the crown of their heads, with different horrible skins, and with their faces painted in different colours, and equipped in this terrible and horrible garb with bows and arrows for battle, and (seemingly?) of much greater stature than before. The Spaniards, who thought that it would come to a fight, ordered (a shot) to be fired. Though this shot was harmless, still the giants, who looked just before fit to contend with Jove, were so frightened by this sound, that they began forthwith to speak of peace. The upshot was, that three men returned with our fellows to the ships, having sent away the rest of the family. So they started for the ships. But, as our men could not only not keep up with these almost giants when the latter were running, but could not, even by running, keep up with them walking, two of them escaped upon the march, on the pretext of pursuing an onager, which they saw feeding at a distance upon a mountain. The third was brought to the ship, but died, within a few days, of fasting, which he had imposed upon himself, according to the habit of the Indians, through homesickness. And though the admiral sent again to that hut, in order to catch some one of these giants to take to Cæsar on account of their novelty, yet no one was found there, but all had gone elsewhere with the hut. Whence it seems clear that that race is a wandering one, nor did our men ever see another Indian on that coast, though they remained in that bay for many days, as we shall mention farther on. They did not think that there was anything in that region of sufficient importance to justify their exploring it and the interior any farther. Though Magellan perceived that any longer stay there was useless, yet, as the sea for several days was stormy and the sky threatening, and the land stretched continuously southwards, so that the farther they went the colder they would find that region, his departure was necessarily put off from day to day, till the month of May was close upon them, from which time the winter there begins to be most severe, so that it became necessary to winter at the very time when we have our summer. Magellan foreseeing that the voyage would be a long one, ordered provisions to be served out more sparingly among his crews, so that the stock might last longer. When the Spaniards had borne this patiently for some days, fearing the severity of the winter and the barrenness of the country, they at last petitioned their admiral, Magellan, that, as he saw that the land stretched uninterruptedly to the south, and that no hope remained of its terminating or of the discovery of a strait through it, and that a severe winter was imminent, and that many of them were dead of starvation and hardships; and declared that they could no longer bear the rule which he had made about the allowance of provisions (lex sumptuaria), and begged that he would increase the allowance of provisions, and think about going home; that Cæsar never intended that they should too obstinately attempt what nature itself and other obstacles opposed; that their exertions were already sufficiently known and approved of,—for they had gone farther than either the boldness or rashness of mortals had ever dared to go as yet; and that they could easily reach some milder shore, if they were to sail south (north?) for a few days, a south wind being then blowing. But in reply, Magellan, who had already made up his mind either to die or to complete his enterprise, said that his course had been laid down for him by Cæsar himself, and that he neither could nor would depart from it in any degree, and that he would in consequence sail till he found either the end of the land or some strait (through it). That though they could not at present succeed whilst winter was against them, yet that it would be easy in the summer of that region. But that, if they would continue towards the Antarctic portion of this country, the whole of its summer would be one perpetual day. That there were means if they would only try them, by which they might avoid famine and the rigour of the winter, inasmuch as there was abundance of wood, and the sea provided shellfish and many sorts of the very best fish. The springs there were wholesome, and birdfowling and hunting would supply many wants; and neither bread nor wine had as yet been lacking, nor would they lack in future if they would only bear that they should be served out when needed, or for health's sake, and not for pleasure or for luxury. They had done nothing as yet worthy of admiration, or which could serve as an excuse for their return, inasmuch as the Portuguese crossed the tropic of Capricorn by as much as 12 deg. not only every year, but almost every day, when they were sailing eastwards. They would be thought worthy of very little praise who had gone only 4 deg. southwards. He had certainly made up his mind to endure the worst rather than return ignominiously to Spain, and he trusted that all his comrades, or at least those in whom the noble Spanish spirit was not yet dead, would be of the same mind.

He advised them to bear at least the remainder of the winter patiently, and said that their rewards would be the more abundant the more difficulties and dangers they had endured in opening to Cæsar a new unknown world, rich in spices and gold. Magellan thought that the minds of his crews were soothed and cheered by this harangue, but within a few days was harassed by a shameful and foul conspiracy. For talking began amongst the crews about the old eternal hatred between the Portuguese and the Spaniards, and about Magellan's being a Portuguese. He, they said, could do nothing more glorious for his own country than to cast away this fleet, with so many men. Nor was it credible that he should wish to discover the Moluccas, even if he were able; but he would think it sufficient if he could lure Cæsar on for some years with a vain hope, and meanwhile something new would turn up, by which the Spaniards would for the future be diverted from the search for spices. Nor even had their course began to turn towards those happy Moluccas, but rather to distant snows and ice, and to perpetual storms.

Magellan, very much enraged by these sayings, punished the men, but rather more harshly than was proper for a foreigner, especially when commanding in a distant country. So, having planned a conspiracy, they seize upon a ship, and make ready to return to Spain. But he, with the rest whom he had still obedient to his commands, attacked that ship, and put to death the head man and the other ringleaders, those even who could not lawfully be so treated sharing the same fate. For these were certain servants of the king, upon whom no one but Cæsar and his Council could lawfully pronounce a sentence of death. Nevertheless, no one from that time dared to disparage the power of the commander. Still, there were not wanting some who whispered that Magellan would, in the same manner, murder all the Spaniards to the last man, until he, having got rid of them all, might return with the few Portuguese with the fleet to his own country. And so this hatred settled more deeply in the hearts of the Spaniards.

As soon as ever Magellan saw the storminess of the sea and the rigour of the winter mitigated, he set sail from the gulf of St. Julian on the 24th of August. And, as before, he followed the course of the coast southwards for many days. A promontory was at last sighted, which they called Santa Cruz, when a severe storm, springing from the east, suddenly caught them, and one of the five ships was cast on shore, the men being all saved, with the merchandise and equipment, except one Ethiopian slave, who was caught and drowned by the waves. After this the land seemed to bear a little east and south, and this they began to coast along as usual, and on the 26th of November certain inlets of the sea were discovered, which had the appearance of a strait. Magellan entered them forthwith with the whole fleet, and when he saw other and again other bays, he gave orders that they should be all carefully examined from the ships, to see if anywhere a passage might be discovered; and said that he would himself wait at the mouth of the strait till the fifth day, to hear what might happen.

One of the ships, which Alvarus Meschito, his nephew, commanded, was carried back by the tide to the sea, to the very place where they entered the gulf. But when the Spaniards perceived that they were far away from the other ships, they made a plot to return home, put Alvarus, their captain, in irons, bent their course northwards, and were at last carried to the coast of Æthiopia (Guinea), and, having victualled there, they reached Spain eight months after they had deserted the rest. There they compel Alvarus to stand his trial in chains (causam ex vinculis dicere faciunt quasi), for having, by his counsel and advice, induced his uncle Magellan to practise such harshness on the Spaniards.

But when Magellan had waited for this ship some days longer than the time fixed, another returned, which had discovered nothing but a bay full of shoals and shingle, and very lofty cliffs. The third ship, however, reported that the largest bay had the appearance of a strait, as in three days' sail they had found no way out; but the farther they had gone the narrower the sea was, and they had not been able to sound the depth of it in many places by any length of line, and that they had also noticed that the tide was rather stronger than the ebb, and that so they were persuaded that a passage was open in that direction to some other sea. He made up his mind to sail through it. This channel, which they did not then know to be a channel, was at one place three Italian miles wide, at another two, sometimes ten, and sometimes five, and pointed a little westward. The altitude of the southern pole was found to be 52 deg., and the longitude to be the same, as at St. Julian's Bay. The month of November was upon them (Aderat jam mensis Novembris), the night was rather more than five hours long, and they had never seen any human beings on the shore.

But one night a great number of fires were seen, mostly on their left hand, from which they guessed that they had been seen by the natives of the region. But Magellan, seeing that the country was rocky, and also stark with eternal cold, thought it useless to waste many days in examining it; and so, with only three ships, he continued on his course along the channel, until, on the twenty-second day after he had entered it, he sailed out upon another wide and vast sea. The length of the channel they attest to be nearly a hundred Spanish miles.

There is no doubt that the land which they had upon their right was the continent of which we have spoken, but they think that the land on the left was not a mainland, but islands, because sometimes on that side they heard on a still farther coast the beating and roaring of the sea. Magellan saw that the continent stretched northwards again in a straight line; wherefore, leaving that huge continent on the right hand, he ordered them to sail through that vast and mighty sea (which I do not think had ever seen either our or any one else's ships) in the direction whence the wind called Corus[7] generally blows—that is, 'twixt north and west—so that he might, by going through west to east, again arrive at the torrid zone; for he thought that it was proved sufficiently clearly that the Moluccas were in the most remote east, and could not be far from the equator. They kept this course uninterruptedly, nor did they ever depart from it, except when rough weather or violent winds compelled them to diverge; and when they had in this manner been carried for forty days by a strong and generally favourable wind, and had seen nothing but sea, and everywhere sea—when they had almost reached the tropic of Capricorn once more, two islands were sighted, but small and barren. These they found uninhabited when they tried to land; still, they stopped there two days for their health's sake, and general recruiting of their bodies, for there was very fair fishing there. They named these the Unfortunate Islands by common consent. Then they again set sail thence, following their original course and direction of sailing. And when, for three months and twenty days, they had been sailing over this ocean with great good fortune, and had traversed an immense part of the sea—more vast than mind of man can conceive, for they had been driven almost continuously by a very strong wind—they were now at last arrived on this side of the equinoctial line, and at last they saw an island, called, as they learnt afterwards, Inuagana by the natives. When they had approached nearer, they discovered the altitude of the Arctic pole to be 11 deg. The longitude they thought to be 158 deg. west of Gados. Then they saw other and still more islands, so that they knew they had arrived at some vast archipelago. When they reached Inuagana, the island was discovered to be uninhabited. They then approached a rather small island, where they saw two Indian canoes—for that is the name by which this strange kind of boat is called by the Indians. The canoes are cut and hollowed out of a single trunk of a tree, and hold one, or, at most, two men; and they usually speak by gestures and signs, as if the dumb were talking with the dumb.

They asked the Indians the names of the islands, and where they could get provisions, of which they were in great want. They understood that the island in which they had been was called Inuagana, and that the one where they now were was Acaca, but both of them uninhabited. They said that there was an island not far off, which was called Selani, and which they almost showed with their finger, and that it was inhabited, and that an abundance of everything necessary for life was to be found there.

Our men, having taken in water in Acaca, sailed towards Selani; here a storm took them, so that they could not bring the ships to that island, but were driven to another island called Massaus, where lives a king of (the?) three islands, after that they arrived at Subuth. This is an excellent and large island, and, having made a treaty with its chieftain, they landed immediately to perform divine service, according to the manner of Christians, for it was the feast of the resurrection of Him who was our salvation. Wherefore they built a small chapel of the sails of the ships, and of boughs, and in that they built an altar according to the Christian rites, and performed service after their home fashion. The chieftain came up with a great number of Indians, who seemed in every way delighted by this worship of the gods. They led the admiral and some of the officers to the chief's hut, and put before them whatever food they had. Their bread, which they call sago, was made of the trunk or wood of a tree, rather like a palm. This, when cut in pieces, and fried in oil in a pan, supplies them with bread, a small piece of which I send to your reverence. Their drink was a liquor which flows and trickles from the boughs of the palm-trees when cut. Fowling, too, supplied the feast, and the rest was the fruit of that region.

Magellan beheld, in the chief's hut, one sick, and almost at the last gasp. He asked who he was, and what illness he was suffering from. He learnt that he was the chief's grandson, and had now suffered for two years from a raging fever. But he told him to be of good cheer, and that he would immediately recover his health and former strength, if he would only become a Christian. The Indian accepted the condition, and, having adored the Cross, he received baptism, and the next day declared that he was well, rose from his bed, walked, and took food like the rest. He told I know not what visions to the Indians. What need I say more? The chief himself, with two thousand two hundred Indians, was baptised, and professed the name and religion of Christ. But Magellan, judging this island to abound in gold and ginger, and, besides, to be convenient from its position with respect to the neighbouring islands, for exploring with ease their wealth and produce of the earth, goes to the Chief of Subuth, and persuades him that as he had abandoned that vain and impious worship of the gods, and had turned to the religion of Christ, it was only fair that the kings of the neighbouring isles should be subject to his rule and command; and he said that he had resolved to send ambassadors concerning this, and compel by arms those who did not listen to his command.

This proposition pleased the savage, and the ambassadors were sent. The chiefs came in one by one, and did homage. The nearest island was called Mauthan, the king of which excelled the others in number of soldiers and in arms, and he refused to do homage to one whom he had been accustomed for so long to command.

Magellan, who desired to finish what he had once begun, gave orders that forty of his men, whose bravery and prowess he had proved, should arm, and he crossed over to Mauthan in boats, for the island was very near. The Chief of Subuth added some of his own men to show him the situation of the island, and to fight, if matters came to that. The King of Mauthan, seeing our men coming, draws up about three thousand of his subjects in the field, and Magellan draws up his on the shore, with their guns and warlike engines, though only a few; and though he saw that he was far inferior to the enemy in number, yet he thought it better to fight this warlike race, which made use of lances and other long weapons, than either to return or to use the soldiers from Subuth. So he orders his men to be of good cheer and brave hearts, and not to be alarmed at the number of the enemy, for they had often seen, as formerly, so in quite recent times, two hundred Spaniards in the island of Yucatan put sometimes two or three hundred thousand men to flight. But he pointed out to the Subuth islanders that he had brought them, not to fight, but to watch their bravery and fighting power (robur in acie). So, having charged the enemy, both sides fought valiantly: but, as the enemy were more numerous, and used longer weapons, with which they did our men much damage, Magellan himself was at last thrust through and slain. But the rest of our men, though they did not seem quite conquered, yet retreated, having lost their leader. And the enemy dared not follow them, as they were retreating in good order.

So the Spaniards, having lost their admiral, Magellan, and seven of their comrades, returned to Subuth, where they chose another commander, John Serrano, a man not to be despised. He immediately renewed with fresh gifts the alliance that had been made with the King of Subuth, and promised to subdue the King of Mauthan.

Magellan had a slave, born in the Moluccas, whom he had bought in Malacca some time back; this man was a perfect master of the Spanish language, and, with the assistance of one of the islanders of Subuth as interpreter, who knew the language of the Moluccas, our men managed all their communications. This slave had been present at the battle of Mauthan, and had received some slight wounds in it. For which reason he lay all day long nursing himself. Serrano, who could manage nothing without him, spoke to him very harshly, and told him that he had not ceased to be a slave and bondsman because Magellan was dead, but that the yoke of slavery would be heavier, and that he would be severely flogged unless he did the services required of him more zealously.

This slave conceived an intense hatred of us from these words; but, concealing his anger, he went a few days after to the Chief of Subuth, and told him that the greed of the Spaniards was insatiable, that they had resolved and determined, after they had conquered the King of Mauthan, to make a quarrel with him and take him away prisoner, and there was no other remedy possible than to anticipate their treachery by treachery. The savage believed it all. He made peace secretly with the King of Mauthan and the others, and they plotted our destruction. Serrano, the commander, with all the rest of his officers, who were about twenty-seven in number, were invited to a solemn banquet. They suspecting no evil—for the savages had cunningly dissimulated in everything—land, careless and unsuspecting, as men who were going to dine with the chief would do. Whilst they were feasting they were set upon by those who had been placed in ambush. Shouts were raised on all sides, and news flew to the ships that our men were murdered, and that everything on the island was hostile to us. Our men see from the ships that the beautiful cross which they had hoisted on a tree was hurled to the ground, and kicked to pieces by the savages with great fury. But the remaining Spaniards, who had stopped on board, when they knew of their comrades' murder, feared some still greater treachery. Wherefore, when they had weighed anchor, they begin to set sail quickly. Shortly after, Serrano was brought down to the shore bound most cruelly, and he begged them to redeem him from so harsh a captivity. He said he had prevailed upon them to permit his being ransomed, if our men would only do it.

Though our men thought it shameful to leave their commander in this way, yet, fearing fraud and treachery, they put out to sea, leaving Serrano on the shore, weeping bitterly, and imploring the help and assistance of his fellow-countrymen with great and grievous lamentation. The Spaniards sailed along, sad and anxious, having lost their commander and their shipmates, not only alarmed by their loss and by the slaughter of their mates, but because their number was reduced so low that it was quite insufficient for the management of three ships. Wherefore they hold a council, and, having taken the votes, they agree that there was nothing better to do than to burn some one of the three ships, and keep only two.

So they go to an island near, Cohol[8] by name, and transfer the equipment to the other two ships, and burn the third. Then they sailed to the island called Gibeth. Though they found that it was rich in gold and ginger and many other things, yet they thought it better not to stay there long, because they could not, by any kindness, attract the Indians to them. And their scantiness of number prevented their fighting. Thence they went to the island Porne (Borneo). There are two great and rich islands in this archipelago, one of which was called Siloli, the king of which had six hundred children; and the other Porne.

Siloli was greater than the one called Porne. For it takes nearly six months to sail round it, but Porne only three. But just so much as the former is larger, so much is the latter better situated as regards fertility of soil, and more famed also for the size of a city of the same name as itself. And, as Porne must be considered of more importance than any of the other islands which they had examined, and seemed to be the source whence the others received their good customs and civilization (cultum vitæ), I have resolved to touch, in a few words, upon the customs and laws of these peoples. All these islanders are Caphræ, that is, heathen, and worship the sun and moon. They ascribe the rule of the day to the sun, but that of the night to the moon; the former they call male and the latter female; and them, too, they call the parents of the stars, which they deem to be all gods, though small ones. They salute the rising sun with certain hymns before they worship it. This they do also to the moon, when it shines at night, to whom they pray for children, and fruitful increase of cattle, and abundant fruits of the earth, and other things of that sort.

But they practise justice and piety, and specially do they love peace and quiet, but war they greatly detest, and they honour their king as a god whilst he is bent upon peace. But if he be too desirous of war, they rest not till he has fallen by the hand of the enemy in battle. Whenever he has determined to wage war, which is rarely done, he is placed by his subjects in the vanguard, where he is compelled to bear the whole onslaught of the enemy. Nor do they fight against the enemy with any spirit until they know that their king is dead; then, first do they begin to fight for their liberty and for their future king, nor has there ever been seen among them a king who began a war who has not died in battle. Wherefore they rarely wage war, and think it unjust to extend their territories; but the special care of all is not wantonly to attack either the neighbouring or the distant peoples. But if at any time they are attacked, they meet force by force (par pari referunt). But lest the mischief should spread further they look immediately to making peace. There can be nothing more houourable among them than to be the first to ask for peace, nor more disgraceful than to be anticipated in asking for it, and they think it shameful and hateful to refuse it to anyone, even if he had attacked them without provocation. And all the neighbouring people unite against the one (who refuses peace) for his destruction, as against a cruel and impious man. Whence it happens that they almost always enjoy quiet and repose. There is no robbery among them, and no murder. No one but his wives and children may speak to the king, except by means of canes, which they place to his ear from a distance, and whisper what they wish through them. They say that man, after his death, has no feeling, as he had none before his birth. They have small houses, built of logs and of earth, partly roofed with rubble, and partly with palm leaves, [Ædes habent exiles ex lignis & terra constructas, partim rudere, partim palmatis frondibus coopertas.] It is, though, quite certain that in Porne there are twenty thousand houses. They marry as many wives as they can afford, and live on food, which bird-fowling or fishing supplies them with. They make bread of rice, and a drink which drops from the severed branches of the palm, as we said before.

Some carry on traffic in the neighbouring islands, to which they go in junks; some devote themselves to hunting; some to fishing; and others to agriculture. They have dresses of cotton, and almost all the animals that we have, except the sheep, the ox, and the ass; but their horses are very small and feeble. The produce of camphor, of ginger, and of cinnamon, is great among them. Thence our men, having saluted this king, and heaped him with presents, directed their course to the Moluccas, which had been pointed out to them by the same king. They came to the shores of the island of Solo, where they heard that there were pearls as big as dove's eggs, and sometimes as hen's eggs, but which can only be fished up from the very deepest sea. Our men brought no large pearl, because the season of the year did not allow of the fishery. But they testify that they had taken an oyster in that region, the flesh of which weighed forty-seven pounds. For which reason I could easily believe that pearls of that great size are found there; for it is clearly proved that pearls are the product of shell-fish. And to omit nothing, our men constantly affirm that the islanders of Porne told them that the king wore in his crown two pearls of the size of a goose's egg. Hence they went to the island of Gilo, where they saw men with ears so long and pendulous, that they reached to their shoulders. When our men were mightily astonished at this, they learnt from the natives that there was another island not far off where the men had ears not only pendulous, but so long and broad, that one of them would cover the whole head, if they wanted it (cum ex usu esset). But our men, who sought not monsters but spices, neglecting this nonsense, went straight to the Moluccas, and they discovered them eight months after their admiral, Magellan, had fallen in Mauthan. The islands are five in number, and are called Tarante, Muthil, Thidore, Mare, and Matthien: some on this side, some on the other, and some upon the equinoctial line.

One produces cloves, another nutmegs, and another cinnamon. All are near to each other, but small and rather narrow.

The kings (of?) Marmin began to believe that souls were immortal a few years ago, induced by no other argument than that they saw that a certain most beautiful small bird never rested upon the ground nor upon anything that grew upon it; but they sometimes saw it fall dead upon the ground from the sky. And as the Mahometans, who travelled to those parts for commercial purposes, told them that this bird was born in Paradise, and that Paradise was the abode of the souls of those who had died, these kings (reguli) embraced the sect of Mahomet, because it promised wonderful things concerning this abode of souls. But they call the bird Mamuco Diata, and they hold it in such reverence and religious esteem, that they believe that by it their kings are safe in war, even though they, according to custom, are placed in the fore front of battle. The common folk are Caphræ, and of almost the same manners and laws as the islanders of Porne; they are rather poor, as would be likely with people in whose land nothing grows except spices. These they willingly barter for poisons, namely, arsenic and what is commonly called sublimate of mercury, and for linens, in which they generally are dressed; but for what purpose they use these poisons, we have not yet found out. They live on sago bread and fish, and sometimes on parrots, and they shelter in low huts. What need of many words. Everything there is humble, and of no value, but peace, quiet, and spices. The best and noblest of which, and the greatest good possible, namely, peace, seems to have been driven by men's wickedness from our world to theirs. But avarice and the insatiable greed of the belly, have driven us to seek for spices in their unknown world. (Adeo hominum protervia salubria quaeque haud longius satis nequet protudere neque quæ luxus et libidinis appetere.) But, our men having carefully inspected the position of the Moluccas and of each separate island, and also having inquired about the habits of the kings, went to Thedori, because they learnt that in that island the supply of cloves was far above that of the others, and that its king also surpassed the other kings in wisdom and humanity. So, having prepared their gifts, they land, and salute the king, and they offer the presents as if they had been sent by Cæsar. He, having received the presents kindly, looks up to heaven, and says: "I have known now for two years from the course of the stars, that you were coming to seek these lands, sent by the most mighty King of Kings. Wherefore your coming is the more pleasant and grateful to me, as I had been forewarned of it by the signification of the stars."

And, as I know that nothing ever happens to any man which has not been fixed long before by the decree of fate and the stars, I will not be the one to attempt to withstand either the fates or the signification of the stars, but willingly and of good cheer, will henceforth lay aside the royal pomp and will consider myself as managing the administration of this island only in the name of your king. Wherefore draw your ships into port, and order the rest of your comrades to land; so that now at last, after such a long tossing upon the seas, and so many dangers, you may enjoy the pleasures of the land and refresh your bodies. And think not but that you have arrived at your king's kingdom. Having said this, the king, laying aside his crown, embraced them one by one, and ordered whatever food that land afforded to be brought. Our men being overjoyed at this, returned to their comrades, and told them what had happened. They, pleased above measure with the friendly behaviour and kindness of the king, take possession of the island. And when their health was completely restored, in a few days, by the king's munificence, they send envoys to the other kings, to examine the wealth of the islands, and to conciliate the other kings. Tarante was the nearest, and also the smallest, of the islands; for it has a circumference of a little more than six Italian miles. Mathien is next to it, and it, too, is small. These three produce a great quantity of cloves, but more every fourth year than the other three. These trees only grow on steep rocks, and that so thickly as frequently to form a grove. This tree is very like a laurel (or bay tree) in leaf, closeness of growth, and height; and the gariophile which they call clove from its likeness (to a nail, clavus) grows on the tip of each separate twig. First a bud, and then a flower, just like the orange flower is produced.

The pointed part of the clove is fixed at the extreme end of the branch, and then growing slightly longer, it forms a spike. It is at first red, but soon gets black by the heat of the sun. The natives keep the plantations of these trees separate, as we do our vines. They bury the cloves in pits till they are taken away by the traders.

Muthil, the fourth island, is not larger than the rest, and it produces cinnamon. The tree is full of shoots, and in other respects barren; it delights in dryness, and is very like the tree which bears pomegranates. The bark of this splits under the influence of the sun's heat, and is stripped off the wood; and, after drying a little in the sun, it is cinnamon. Near to this is another island, called Bada,[9] larger and more ample than the Moluccas. In this grows the nutmeg, the tree of which is tall and spreading, and is rather like the walnut tree, and its nut, too, grows like the walnut; for it is protected by a double husk, at first like a furry calix, and under this a thin membrane, which embraces the nut like network. This is called the Muscat flower with us, but by the Spaniards mace, and is a noble and wholesome spice. The other covering is a woody shell, like that of hazel-nut, and in that, as we have already said, is the nutmeg. Ginger grows here and there in each of the islands of the archipelago. It sometimes grows by sowing, and sometimes spontaneously; but that which is sown is the more valuable. Its grass is like that of the saffron, and its root is almost the same too, and that is ginger. Our men were kindly treated by the chiefs in turn, and they, too, submitted freely to the rule of Cæsar, like the King of Thidori. But the Spaniards, who had but two ships, resolved to bring some of each (spice) home, but to load the ships with cloves, because the crop of that was most abundant that year, and our ships could contain a greater quantity of this kind of spice. Having, therefore, loaded the ships with cloves, and having received letters and presents for Cæsar from the kings, they make ready for their departure. The letters were full of submission and respect. The gifts were Indian swords, and things of that sort. But, best of all, the Mamuco Diata; that is, the Bird of God, by which they believe themselves to be safe and invincible in battle. Of which five were sent, and one I obtained from the captain (con gran prieghi), which I send to your reverence, not that your reverence may think yourself safe from treachery and the sword by means of it, as they profess to do, but that you may be pleased by its rareness and beauty. I send also some cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves, to show that our spices are not only not worse, but more valuable than those which the Venetians and Portuguese bring, because they are fresher. When our men had set sail from Thedori, one of the ships, and that the larger one, having sprung a leak, began to make water, so that it became necessary to put back to Thedori. When the Spaniards saw that this mischief could not be remedied without great labour and much time, they agreed that the other ship should sail to the Cape of Cattigara, and afterwards through the deep as far as possible from the coast of India, lest it should be seen by the Portuguese, and until they saw the Promontory of Africa, which projects beyond the Tropic of Capricorn, and to which the Portuguese have given the name of Good Hope; and from that point the passage to Spain would be easy. But as soon as the other ship was refitted, it should direct its course through the archipelago, and that vast ocean towards the shores of the continent which we mentioned before, till it found that coast which was in the neighbourhood of Darien, and where the southern sea was separated from the western, in which are the Spanish Islands, by a very narrow space of land. So the ship sailed again from Thedori, and, having gone twelve degrees on the other side of the equinoctial line, they did not find the Cape of Cattigara, which Ptolemy supposed to extend even beyond the equinoctial line; but when they had traversed an immense space of sea, they came to the Cape of Good Hope and afterwards to the Islands of the Hesperides. And, as this ship let in water, being much knocked about by this long voyage, the sailors, many of whom had died by hardships by land and by sea, could not clear the ship of the water. Wherefore they landed upon one of the islands, which is named after Saint James, to buy slaves. But as our men had no money, they offered, sailor fashion, cloves for the slaves. This matter having come to the ears of the Portuguese who were in command of the island, thirteen of our men were thrown into prison. The rest were eighteen in number. Frightened by the strangeness of this behaviour, they started straight for Spain, leaving their shipmates behind them. And so, in the sixteenth month after leaving Thedori, they arrived safe and sound on the sixth of September, at the port near Hispalis (Seville). Worthier, indeed, are our sailors of eternal fame than the Argonauts who sailed with Jason to Colchis. And much more worthy was their ship of being placed among the stars than that old Argo; for that only sailed from Greece through Pontus, but ours from Hispalis to the south; and after that, through the whole west and the southern hemisphere, penetrating into the east, and again returned to the west.

I commend myself most humbly to your Reverence. Given at Vallisoleti, on the 23rd of October, 1522.

Your most Reverend and Illustrious Lordship's

Most humble and constant servant,

Maximilianus Transylvanus.

(Printed at) Cologne, in the house of Eucharius Cervicornus, in the year of the Virgin's Child, 1523, in the month of January.


  1. It was written in French. See Introduction.
  2. "Tenistitan," Ramusio.
  3. Gulf of Siam.
  4. Cape Verde Islands.
  5. Literally, with funereal or lugubrious state; but Maximilian and his translators appear to have thought that feralis is derived from fera. Ramusion translates: "Dando loro a mangiar carne di fiere;" and the Spanish version in Navarrete has: "Con su aparato y cerimonias bestiales." Ducange has an adverb, feraliter, with the sense of beastly.
  6. "Feralis," again.
  7. Or, Caurus.
  8. Bohol.
  9. Bandan.