In 1513 Vasca Nunez de Balboa, following an Indian report, marched with a small force across the Isthmus of Panama and reached the shore of the Pacific. He was not the first European to sight that ocean; Antonio de Abreu had sailed round the Pacific extremity of the Sunda Islands in the previous year. Abreu’s report was kept secret, however, while Balboa’s discovery received wide and early publicity. In July 1515, only nine months after the event, Peter Martyr informed the Pope that Balboa had “scaled the mountains and saluted the ocean.”1 The new discovery, moreover, disposed in the clearest and most dra-matic way of the notion of a single encircling Ocean Sea. It demonstrated that there were two Ocean Seas, separated by a continental land-mass which, though narrow at the point where Balboa crossed it, was known to extend in a general north-south direction for thousands of miles. The Panama coast runs east and west, so Balboa called the other ocean the South Sea, a name which it long retained in Spanish use. Its salinity proved it to be a sea. The rise and fall of its tides—eighteen feet in the Gulf of San Miguel—showed it to be an ocean of considerable extent.
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