Frequently Asked Questions
When we search on Google, there are many topics about the Battle of Mactan (Batalla de Mactan) that are often in the list of frequently asked questions. Much of the details about this event can be found in the historical overview of this project and the special article written by Dr. Danilo Madrid Gerona for the Foundation: https://www.sulugardenfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Gerona-Battle-of-Mactan-for-Miagao-with-foreword-from-JRM-and-for-Web-FINAL.pdf
However, here are some quick answers for students and those who wished to know specific aspects of that battle.
How long did the Battle of Mactan last?
Ferdinand Magellan and his men arrived in Mactan Island on three ships at about 2:00 AM on April 27, 1521. He sent another emissary to Rajah Lapulapu with an ultimatum to submit to the authority of King Humabon and the King of Spain. Rajah Lapulapu and his allies laughed at the ultimatum. In response, Magellan and his men boarded three small boats to take them to the beach. It was low tide and the ships could not get closer because of the wide coral reef stretching about 1.5 kilometers wide. The Spanish cannons would not have reached the shore at this distance. The time is likely about 5 AM with the morning sun already shining when Magellan and his men landed on the shore with his men. The battle was short and intense. Pigafetta noted that the fight was a little more than an hour. Very likely the battle ended by 7 AM.
How did Magellan die?
Dr. Gerona’s narrative on the death of Magellan in the link above, based on his 2016 book, “Ferdinand Magellan. The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines,” describes the death of Magellan as follows:
One of the poisoned arrows pierced Magellan’s right leg compelling the intrepid leader to order a gradual retreat but was ignored by his men who took a hasty flight, leaving behind 6 or 8 loyal soldiers to protect the wounded leader. As Magellan limped his way out on the shore, but still pursued by the natives who continued to hurl their spears 5 or 6 times, the men succeeded in reaching “a distance of a crossbow shot from the shore,” or a little less than a kilometer from their boats. With waters still shallow, just above their knees, Magellan thought of maintaining their position, “without choosing to retreat further,” wrote Pigafetta.
Different sources provided varying versions of how Magellan died. The battle, according to Pigafetta lasted for more than one hour which, having identified Magellan, directed their fury, knocking his helmet off his head twice, “but always stood firmly like a good knight, together with some others,” wrote Pigafetta. A native hit the captain’s face with a bamboo spear but before his assailant could inflict another wound, Magellan quickly killed him with his lance piercing through the chest which remained embedded. As he tried pulling out his other weapon, a sword, another bamboo spear hit his right arm, a signal for the natives to gang upon him. Although bleeding, Magellan tried to parry the attackers with his sword, only drawn halfway from the sheath. But a scimitar or a kind of a bladed weapon struck his left leg bringing the captain down on his face, a signal for the native warriors to “rush upon him and ran him through with lances and scimitars, and all the other arms which they had.”
Nicolas de Napoles, a companion of Magellan who made an official report of the event to the royal authorities dated 4 June 1529, provided a slightly different version of the captain’s death. Napoles testified that he saw Magellan, fighting with him on one side, killed by an arrow and struck by a lance on his throat. The chronicler, Antonio de Herrera, claimed that Magellan’s helmet was knocked out by a stone, exposing his head. As he was already weakened by the deep wound on his leg, the natives hurled stones at him which could have severely wounded his head, finally knocking him down. As he had fallen on the soil, Magellan was again struck by natives with their long bamboo lances or cañas indianas.
Where is the Island of Mactan located?
Where did the battle take place?
The battle between Rajah Lapulapu and Ferdinand Magellan’s forces occurred in the area marked as Puenta Engano and in the bay area now called Magellan’s Bay. See the map above.
Dr. Danilo Madrid Gerona wrote:
“Obviously, the exact spot where Magellan fell and the location of the battle was never identified by available contemporary sources. But in 1839, the Spanish colonial authorities made an intensive research on the place of Magellan’s death and the report concluded “the older natives claimed that according to their preserved tradition, with few variations, the said hero lost his life in the island of Mactan, in a sitio called Punta Pangusan or Punta del Engaño, a small promontory similar to the entrance to the Port of Cebu.” Exactly fifty years after the construction of his monument, Camilo de Arana’s marginal note indicated that it was a short distance to the south west of Punta Pangusan, at the extreme north of the island of Mactan. The name Pangusan was a Visayan word which means “a nose eaten by leprosy.” The Punta Pangusan was described the shoreline as “low, clear but stiff,” located in the center of a cove fronting the coastal village of Lapu-lapu in between Pangusan and Opon.”
How old was Ferdinand Magellan at the time of the battle?
Magellan was born in the Portuguese town of Sabrosa in or around 1480. His father, Pedro de Magalhães, was a minor member of Portuguese nobility and mayor of the town. His mother was Alda de Mezquita. Magellan’s siblings included Diego de Sosa and Isabel Magellan. He was brought up as a page of Queen Eleanor, consort of King John II. In 1495 he entered the service of Manuel I, John’s successor. (Wikipedia)
He died in the Battle of Mactan at the age of about 40-41 years.
How old was Rajah Lapulapu and what happened to him after the battle?
Lapulapu was approximately 70 years of age during the time of Magellan.
“Owing to his advanced age, Lapulapu was probably directing his men from a safer location which explains why all the accounts providing brief details on the battle were silent about his role. In fact, he was never mentioned at all. Except for the mention made by Sula prior to the attack of Magellan, Lapulapu vanished in history and any references to him by any other sources were purely speculation, or derived from legends and oral traditions. This is another indication of Lapulapu’s deteriorated physical condition as an old man.”
–from Dr. Danilo Madrid Gerona’s account of the Battle of Mactan, as described in the links above.
How many men died in the Battle of Mactan?
From the writing of Danilo M. Gerona in the link above, he wrote:
As Pigafetta reported: “There perished with him eight of our men, and four of the Indians, who had become Christians; we had also many wounded, among whom I must reckon myself.” Aside from Magellan, the recorded casualties in this battle were: Cristobal  de Rabelo, Magellan’s servant and captain of the ship Victoria; Francisco de Espinosa, sailor; Juan de Torres, bearer of arms; Rodrigo Nieto; Anton Gallego, cabin boy; Pedro, servant of the Alguacil Gonzalo de Espinosa. Pigafetta received wounds on his forehead from a poisoned arrow which began to swell and caused him intense pain. Two days later, on 29 April, Antón de Escobar who survived the Battle of Mactan, eventually died from his wounds. On the part of the natives, Pigafetta reported having incurred only 15 dead and 24 injured.
There are other skirmishes that Pigafetta did not see. Rajah Zula’s men tried to rescue some of Magellan’s retreating men by sending his warriors. It is not known how many men died on the side of Zula and Lapulapu. More men likely died than was observed by Pigafetta.
What happened to the Spanish of the Battle of Mactan?
After the defeat in Mactan, Rajah Humabon hosted a feast in honour of the Spanish. Many of the Spanish survivors of the battle were poisoned. Those that survived the treachery boarded two ships, the Victoria and Trinidad. The third ship was burned since there were not enough men to man the ship. The two surviving ships meandered through the archipelago and finally reached Moluccas on November 6th where they loaded with a precious cargo of spices. But, the Trinidad had a damaged hull and could not be repaired. The 52 men stayed with their ship and were later captured by the Portuguese, imprisoned and sold to slavery. The Victoria, commanded by Juan Sebastian Elcano, managed to evade the Portuguese and sailed through the Portuguese controlled Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
Only 18 Spanish crew and 4 Timorese Asians reached Spain in 1522. Pigafetta estimated that the voyage of the Armada de Maluco sailed about 14,460 leagues, equivalent to 81,449 kilometers or 50,610 miles.
What is the significance of the Battle of Mactan?
For the people of the Philippines, Magellan’s defeat in the Battle of Mactan is hailed as the country’s first of many attempts to resist Western colonization of the islands. Rajah Lapulapu became the first of its many heroes over the three centuries of resistance against Spanish rule.
The arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and his Armada de Maluco was the beginning of the Spanish Conquest of the Philippines and eventually the creation of a nation out of thousands of islands and people of diverse cultures. Magellan’s dream was to reach the Spice Islands of the Moluccas through another way via West rather than through the East which was reserved, under the Treaty of Tordesillas, exclusively for Portugal. By sailing West he would have circumnavigated the world, if successful. He found a passage under the South American continent (now called Strait of Magellan), found the ocean he called the Pacific and accidentally landed in the Visayan Islands of the future Las Islas Filipinas.
Magellan died in the Battle of Mactan. He was not able to circumnavigate the world himself, but he made it possible for the survivors to achieve the dream. The 18 survivors under the command of Juan Sebastian Elcano sailed onwards through Portuguese controlled Moluccas and then around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, finally arriving in Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain on September 6, 1522, thereby circumnavigating the world.