Maris Pacifici

Maris Pacifici (quod vulgò mar del zur) cum regionibus circumiacentibus, insulisâque in eodem passim sparsis, novissima descriptio1 – by Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), Antwerp, 1589. Approximately 48 cm x 33 cm. Used by permission of the National Library of Australia.

Maris Pacifici, compiled by Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) and printed in 1589 in Antwerp, represents one of the first comprehensive maps of the Pacific basin as known in the late 16th century. Ortelius was a collaborator and friend of Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594), who in 1569 published the first world map using the projection now bearing his name. Encouraged by Antwerp merchants needing reliable and up-to-date maps, Ortlelius, with the help of Mercator, collected the best maps available. The maps were reduced to a standard size and bound in Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (The Picture of the World), the first modern atlas. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum was printed by Christophe Plantin (1520-1589) in Antwerp in 1570, and was in its 28th edition in seven languages by the time of Ortelius's death in 1598. It is unclear as to whether Maris Pacifici was initially part of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, but in editions published in the early 17th century, Maris Pacifici is included in the atlas. Maris Pacifici and Theatrum Orbis Terrarum are remarkable intellectual and technical achievements given the turbulent and frequently dangerous religious and political climate of 16th century Europe – a time when the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Roman Inquisition (Holy Office) were at their zenith of conflict.

The Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475-1519) first glimpsed the Pacific Ocean from a promontory at the eastern end of the rain forest-clad Isthmus of Darien (now Panama) on 25 September 1513. He reached El Mar del Sur (The Southern Sea) four days later and claimed it for his king, Ferdinand II of Aragón (1452-1516). The ship depicted off the west coast of South America in Maris Pacifici is the Victoria, one of Ferdinand Magellan's2 three remaining ships to cross the Pacific beginning 28 November 1520, from the straits at the southern tip of South America. Victoria was captained by Duarte Barbosa during the crossing. The two other ships were Magellan's Trinidad, and, the Concepción, captained by Juan Serrano. Landfall was reached in Guam in the Marianas on 6 March 1521 – one week later the armada was in the eastern Philippine archipelago, where Magellan was killed in a tribal dispute on 27 April 1521. It was only the Victoria, under Juan Sebastián de Elcano (del Cano, 1476-1526) for its final leg, that was able to circumnavigate the globe. Del Cano's crew arrived in Spain on 7 September3 1522, almost three years after the departure of Magellan's fleet from Sanlúcar de Barrameda (20 September 1519) at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivir.

1 "The newest description of the Pacific Ocean (commonly known as "the southern sea") with the surrounding regions and the islands randomly scattered therein." Translation courtesy of Todd Olson.

2 ca 1480-1521. Portuguese by birth, Farnão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan) renounced his nationality in 1517 and was in the service of Charles I of Spain (1500-1558) during the voyage. Charles I (grandson of Ferdinand II of Aragón and Isabella I of Castile, King of Spain 1516-1556, and Holy Roman emperor as Charles V, 1519-1556) signed the fateful Edict of Worms in May 1521, outlawing Martin Luther (1483-1546) and his supporters.

3 The date 7 September 1522 is significant because the date recorded in the journal of Antonio Pigafetta (1491-ca 1534), a meticulous chronicler of the Magellan expedition and one of the few to survive and circumnavigate the globe, was 6 September 1521. In other words, by traversing the globe from east to west Magellan's expedition had lost one day, consistent with the spherical shape of the earth and its eastward rotation, a moderately heretical notion in one of the strongholds of Christendom and the seat of the Spanish Inquisition.


I have gathered and cross-referenced material from four reliable sources. Any inaccuracies or omissions are solely my responsibility.

Boorstin, Daniel. J. The Discoverers. A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself. New York: Random House, 1985.

Encyclopædia Britannica. The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th ed. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 1998.

Manchester, William R. A World Lit Only by Fire. The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, Portrait of an Age. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1993.

Merriam-Webster. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1990.

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