Balboa and the Discovery of the Southern Ocean

Balboa taking possession of the South Sea

On September 25, 1513, Spanish conquistador and explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa discovered the legendary Southern Ocean, having crossed the Isthmus of Panama facing the Pacific Ocean.

Inspired by Christopher Columbus, Balboa embarked on a trip to the Americas as part of Rodrigo de Bastidas’ expedition. The young explorer started settling at Hispaniola in 1505 but was bankrupt shortly after. Balboa hid in a barrel during a later expedition to this area but was discovered quite quickly. Still, he was liked and respected by the other crew members due to his great knowledge and charisma.

Balboa became governor of Veragua and along with it the Spanish colonial town Santa María, which is located in present day Colombia. There he started exploring the area including rivers and mountains. He searched for gold and did everything to enlarge his territory. He gained respect and was mostly liked, but also feared by many. Balboa and his men got more and more used to exploring the new territories and even managed to plant corn and collect gold. Native tribes were sometimes met peacefully, sometimes they were robbed violently. During this period he heard of the ‘other sea’ for the first time.

On September 1, 1513, Balboa started his journey across the Isthmus of Panama with the help of native guides and almost 200 Spanish men. They sailed along the coast and entered the jungle on September 20. After a fight with further natives, the crew entered the mountain range along Chucunaque River since his guides promised to see the South Sea from the summit. On September 25, Balboa finally reached the summit and indeed saw the sea on the very far horizon. The group then descended from the mountain top towards the water, reaching its shoreline a few days after. Standing in the ‘newly’ discovered water now, Balboa claimed the possession of the new sea and all of its adjoining lands. He continued searching for gold along the waters and named several regions. The discoverer decided to come back to Santa Maria in November, taking a different route to expand territory and collect more gold.

However, Balboa was replaced as governor and mayor in 1514 and was succeeded by Pedrarias, who had to fight overpopulation of the area. Balboa then organized more exploration journeys, which were certainly not in the favor of the new governor. Balboa was arrested and became Pedrarias’ enemy. Vasco Núñez de Balboa was executed on in January 1519.

At yovisto academic video search you may enjoy a video on the ‘Age of Discovery‘ by Tim Bennett.


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