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July 2014

Scurvy Aboard Ferdinand Magellan’s Voyage of Circumnavigation

Author Affiliations
  • 1Private practice
  • 2retired
JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(7):742. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.21

One of the greatest feats of exploration was Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage of circumnavigation (1519-1522). The story of this Spanish expedition was chronicled by Antonio Pigafetta, who traveled with Magellan and kept a diary.

Pigafetta’s most harrowing account concerns their crossing of the Pacific Ocean, during which Magellan’s crew endured a deadly encounter with scurvy. Scurvy is a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency that would plague sailors for the next 3 centuries. This nightmare began on November 28, 1520, after Magellan (1480-1521) and his crew successfully completed their crossing of the treacherous Straits of Magellan and entered the Pacific Ocean. This accomplishment fulfilled Magellan’s dream, first envisioned 500 years ago, of finding a westward maritime route from Europe that would lead to the Spice Islands of Indonesia.

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