What Does Circumnavigate Mean in World History?

Circumnavigation is a term used to describe the act of traveling around the world by sea, air, or land. In world history, circumnavigation has played a crucial role in shaping our understanding of the Earth’s geography and the cultures that inhabit it.

Early Circumnavigation Attempts

The concept of circumnavigation has been around for centuries, with the earliest recorded attempt made by the Phoenicians in the 6th century BCE. However, it wasn’t until the 16th century that successful circumnavigations were achieved.

Ferdinand Magellan

Perhaps the most well-known circumnavigation was completed by Ferdinand Magellan in 1522. Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who set out on an expedition to find a western route to Asia for Spain. He embarked on his journey with five ships and over 270 men.

Magellan’s expedition encountered many obstacles, including mutiny and harsh weather conditions. However, after crossing the Pacific Ocean, he reached Guam and then arrived in the Philippines where he was killed in battle.

Despite Magellan’s death, one of his ships managed to complete the journey back to Spain under Juan Sebastian Elcano’s leadership. This made Magellan’s expedition the first known circumnavigation of Earth.

Francis Drake

Another famous circumnavigator was Francis Drake who completed his journey between 1577-80 on behalf of England. Like Magellan, Drake faced numerous challenges during his voyage including storms and battles with hostile locals.

However, unlike Magellan’s expedition which aimed to find a new trade route to Asia, Drake’s goal was to attack Spanish ships and ports in South America. Despite this difference in motive, Drake still became one of history’s most celebrated explorers due to his successful completion of a difficult journey.

The Impact of Circumnavigation

Circumnavigation had a significant impact on world history. It allowed for the discovery of new trade routes, the exchange of goods and ideas, and the exploration and colonization of new lands.

Furthermore, circumnavigation helped to expand our understanding of the world’s geography, leading to improvements in navigation and cartography. It also led to increased scientific knowledge as expeditions such as Charles Darwin’s HMS Beagle voyage conducted extensive research on the flora and fauna encountered along their journey.


In conclusion, circumnavigation is a term that has played a significant role in world history. From early attempts by the Phoenicians to successful expeditions by Magellan and Drake, circumnavigation has expanded our understanding of the world and its inhabitants. Today, it continues to inspire exploration and discovery around the globe.