Home HRAcademia Greeks in the expedition of Magallanes-Elcano…

Greeks in the expedition of Magallanes-Elcano…

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A replica of Nao Victoria arriving to the port of Sevilla.

Greeks in the expedition of Magallanes-Elcano…

by  Prof. Juan Gil Fernandez*


In the article “Greeks in Spain (centuries XV-XVII)” [“Griegos en España (siglos XV-XVII)”] that I published in the former number of this magazine (pages 111-132) I left without mention the part corresponding to the seamen, who are a vast group within the Greeks that served the kings of Spain. In order to fulfill this void, I have composed this addendum, although I am certain that many others could be added as well.

From the five ships that set out from Sanlucar de Barrameda on August 10th, 1519 with Hernando de Magallanes[1] as Lead Captain, all but one, the “Santiago” had one or more Greek crew members. In Nao “Trinidad”, the Admiral Ship of the fleet[2], the boatswain was Francisco Albo, who is mentioned in all documents as “Axio[3], (which means “from Scio = Chios”) resident in Rhodes” In the ship “San Antonio” there was a sailor named Simon de Asio, also born in Chios and in the ship “Concepcion” Mateo de Gorfo (meaning from Corfu) In the ship “Victoria” there were four Greeks, two from Rhodes, the boatswain Miguel de Rodas and the sailor Felipe de Rodas and two from Nafplion, the town mentioned as Napoli di Romania, Nicolaos de Napoles and Juan Griego.

We have to mention that in the year that Magallanes set out to discover the westward access to the Spice islands, Rhodes was still under the control of the Order of the Knights of Saint John Hospitallier from Jerusalem, Chios under the Genoese and Corfu and Nafplion under the Venetians. We can therefore assume that, apart from their native language, they all could speak Italian, fact that made the communication easier. Besides, taking in count his surname, we could also assume that the father of Francisco Albo was Italian.

The fate of our sailors, that in great part depended of the ship they were serving, was diverse. Simon de Asio witnessed how, when they were reaching Cape Verde, there were differences between Magallanes and Juan de Cartagena, the captain of “San Antonio”, and as a consequence the captain was removed from his position and substituted by Alvaro de Mezquita[4]. Later he also witnessed, like the rest of the crews, the execution and dismemberment of the traitors Gaspar de Quezada and Luis de Mendoza, captains respectively of the ships “Concepcion” and “Victoria” who had revolted, and the abandonment ashore (August 24th, 1520) of Juan de Cartagena and the priest who was serving in his ship. Simon de Asio returned to Spain before crossing Cape Horn in the ship “San Antonio”[5] whose crew mutinied against Alvaro de Mezquita and decided to set course back to Spain.

Mateo de Gorfo passed to serve the “Victoria” when his ship the “Concepcion” was considered useless and burned in Bohol. Francisco Serrano, the captain of “Victoria”, died with Magallanes on April 27th, 1521, fighting against the inhabitants of Mactan, a small island in the Philippines. He was substituted by Gonzalo Gomez de Mendoza, who was assassinated during a banquet. The command of the ship was given to the former master and later pilot of the “Concepcion” Juan Sebastian Elcano[6], who was elected by the crew. When he still had not received the command of the “Victoria” Mateo de Gorfo and Juan Griego, who was a sailor in the same ship, both deserted in Borneo on July 25th, 1521[7] What could happen to them in those lands remains unknown.

The two surviving ships of the fleet arrived at Tidore on November 6th,  1521 where “Trinidad” was forced to remain in need of repairs. Francisco Albo, her boatswain, became the pilot of “Victoria” whose boatswain became the master while Nicolaos de Napoles de Romania remained a sailor. After loading the ship with clove, Elcano set out on December 21st, 1521 with a crew of 57 men of his original crew plus 13 local people. He crossed the Cape of Good Hope and arrived at the islands of Cape Verde on July 7th, 1522. The local governor, who believed they were coming from America, welcomed them but, when he later discovered where they were actually coming from and what was the nature of their shipment he ordered to arrest the Spanish sailors. Elcano managed to escape leaving 13 of his men in the hands of the Portuguese. On September 4th, 1522 he arrived to Sanlucar and on the 8th of the same month to Seville. Only 18 out of the 237 men who had embarked with Magallanes managed to return alive in the “Victoria” Amongst them the three Greeks who ever completed the complete circumnavigation of the Globe, a pilot, a boatswain and a sailor. The pilot, Francisco Albo, left a logbook of the Nao “Victoria” covering the whole navigation from the Brazilian Cape of San Agustin until the return to Spain. The book is preserved in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, and was published by Fernandez de Navarrete.

Prof. Luis GiI.

Universidad Complutense, Facultad de Filología, A 303 Ciudad Universitaria, 28040 Madrid


[1] The history of Magallanes and Elcano, as well as all documents that allow the reconstruction of the facts, can be easily checked in MARTIN FERNANDEZ DE NAVARRETE, Viajes al Maluco, primero el de Hernando de Magallanes y Juan Sebastián de Elcano (Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, no. 76)

[2] The names of all the crew members can be found in FERNANDEZ DE NAVARRETE pages 421-427.

[3] The letter [x] in Spanish at that time was pronounced as a voiceless fricative labialized palatal approximant as it is pronounced today in Gallego or like the Italian [-sc-] that reproduced the Greek combination for -χι


[5] The ship “Santiago” sank on May 22nd, 1520 before entering Cape Horn, although the shipment and crew were saved

[6] September 1521, FERNANDEZ DE NAVARRETE p. 452



*Juan_Gil_curriculum_academico (1)

The above text had been translated from Spanish into English by Ms. Belen Castro Martin; many thanks.

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