A merchant ship captain from Getaria (Spanish Guetaria), Elcano violated Spanish law by surrendering a ship of his to Genoan bankers in repayment of a debt. Seeking a pardon from the King (Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire), he signed on, as a low level officer, to Ferdinand Magellan's expedition to circumnavigate the globe. Spared from execution by Magellan after taking part in a failed mutiny, Elcano went on to take command of the fleet when the legendary explorer was killed in the Philippines.
On September 6, 1522, Elcano sailed into Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain, aboard the Victoria, along with 17 other survivors of the 265 man expedition. The profits of the spices they carried made them rich though. The king conceded him a coat of arms picturing a globe with the motto: Primus circumdedisti mihi (in Latin, "You went around me the first"). In fact, it was an East Asian native who was a servant of Magellan, that became the first man to circumnavigate the world when the fleet arrived to his home country.