MARIANAS, MARIANNES, or LADRONES (Ger. Marianen), an archipelago in the north-western Pacific Ocean, in about 12 to 21 N. and 145 E. With the exception of the island of Guam (United States) it belongs to Germany, and administratively forms part of the New Guinea protectorate. It consists of two groups a northern of ten volcanic main islands, of which only four (Agrigan, Anatahan, Alamagan and Pagan) are inhabited; and a southern of five coralline limestone islands (Rota, Guam, Aguijan, Tinian and Saypan), all inhabited save Aguijan. In the volcanic group an extreme elevation of about 2700 ft. is reached, and there are craters showing signs of activity, while earthquakes are not uncommon. Coral reefs fringe the coasts of the southern isles, which are of slight elevation. The total area, excluding Guam, is about 245 sq. m. and the population 2500, mostly descendants of the Tagal immigrants from the Philippines. All the islands except Farallon de Medinilla and Urracas or Mangs (in the northern group) are more or less densely wooded, and the vegetation is luxuriant, much resembling that of the Carolines, and also of the Philippines, whence many species of plants have been introduced. Owing to the humidity of the soil cryptogams are numerous, as also most kinds of grasses. Coco-nut and areca palms, yams, sweet potatoes, manioc, coffee, cocoa, sugar, cotton, tobacco and mother-of-pearl are the chief products, and copra is the principal export. Agriculture is neglected, in spite of the exceptional advantages offered by the climate and soil. On most of the islands there is a plentiful supply of water. The native population known to the early Spanish colonists as Chamorros has died out as a distinct people, though their descendants have intermarried with the immigrant Tagals and natives of the Carolines. At the Spanish occupation in 1668 the Chamorros were estimated at 40,000 to 60,000, but less than a century later only 1800 remained. They were typical Micronesians, with a considerable civilization. In the island of Tinian are some remarkable remains attributed to them, consisting of two rows of massive square stone columns, about 5 ft. 4 in. broad and 14 ft. high, with heavy round capitals. According to early Spanish accounts cinerary urns were found imbedded in the capitals.
The fauna of the Marianas, though inferior in number and variety, is similar in character to that of the Carolines, and certain species are indigenous to both colonies. Swine and oxen run wild, and are hunted when required: the former were known to the earlier inhabitants; the latter with most other domestic animals were introduced by the Spaniards. The climate though damp is healthy, while the heat, being tempered by the trade winds, is milder than that of the Philippines; the variations of temperature are not great.
The discovery of this archipelago is due to Magellan, who on the 6th of March 1521 observed the two southernmost islands, and sailed between them (O. Peschel, Geschichte des Zeitalters der Entdeckungen, Stuttgart, 1877). The name Idas de los Ladrones (or " Islands of the Thieves ") was given them by the ship's crew of Magellan on account of the thieving propensity of the inhabitants; and the islands are still commonly called the Ladrones. Magellan himself styled them Islas de las Velas Latinas (" Islands of the Lateen Sails "). San Lazarus archipelago, Jardines and Prazeres are among the names applied to them by later navigators. They received the name Las Marianas in 1668 in honour of Maria Anna of Austria, widow of Philip IV. of Spain. Research in the archipelago was carried out by Commodore Anson, who in August 1742 landed upon the island of Tinian (George, Lord Anson, Voyage round the World, bk. iii., 1748). The Ladrones were visited by Byron in 1765, Wallis in 1767 and Crozet in 1772. The entire archipelago (except Guam) together with the Caroline and Pelew Islands was sold by Spain to Germany for 837,500 in 1899.
See Anson, op. at.: L. de Freycinet, Voyage autour du monde (Paris, 1826-1844) : " The Marianas Islands " in Nautical Magazine, xxxiv., xxxv. (London, 1865-1866); O. Finsch, Karolinen und Marianen (Hamburg, 1900) ; Costenoble, " Die Marianen " in Globus, Ixxxviii. (1905).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)