Flag of Malay Sultanate of Malacca 1400 AD/CE to 1511 AD/CE

Capital: Malacca

Malacca Sultanate en.svg (1).png

Continent: Asia

Official Languages: Classical Malay

Established: 1400 AD/CE

Disestablished: 1511 AD/CE


The series of raids launched by the Chola Empire in the 11th century had weakened the once glorious empire of Srivijaya. By the end of the 13th century, the already fragmented Srivijaya caught the attention of the expansionist Javanese King, Kertanegara of Singhasari. In 1275, he decreed the Pamalayu expedition to overrun Sumatra. By 1288, Singhasari naval expeditionary forces successfully sacked Jambi and Palembang and brought Malayu Dharmasraya—the successor state of Srivijaya, to its knees. In 1293 Singhasari was succeeded by Majapahit ruling the region.

According to the Malay Annals, a prince from Palembang named Seri Teri Buana who claimed to be a descendant of Alexander the Great, stayed in the island of Bintan for several years before he set sail and landed on Temasek in 1299. The Orang Laut (Sea People), famous for their loyal services to Srivijaya, eventually made him king of a new kingdom called Singapura. In the 14th century, Singapura developed concurrently with the Pax Mongolica era and rose from a small trading outpost into a centre of international trade with strong ties with the Yuan Dynasty.

In an effort to revive the fortune of Malayu in Sumatra, in the 1370s, a Malay ruler of Palembang sent an envoy to the court of the first emperor of the newly established Ming dynasty. He invited China to resume the tributary system, just like Srivijaya did several centuries earlier. Learning this diplomatic maneuver, immediately King Hayam Wuruk of Majapahit sent an envoy to Nanking, convinced the emperor that Malayu was their vassal, and was not an independent country. Subsequently, in 1377—a few years after the death of Gajah Mada, Majapahit sent a punitive naval attack against a rebellion in Palembang, which caused the complete destruction of Srivijaya and caused the diaspora of the Srivijayan princes and nobles. Rebellions against the Javanese rule ensued and attempts were made by the fleeing Malay princes to revive the empire, which left the area of southern Sumatra in chaos and desolation.

By the second half of 14th century, Kingdom of Singapura grew wealthy. However, its success alarmed two regional powers at that time, Ayuthaya from the north and Majapahit from the south. As a result, the kingdom's fortified capital was attacked by at least two major foreign invasions before it was finally sacked by Majapahit in 1398. The fifth and last king, Parameswara fled to the west coast of the Malay Peninsula.

Parameswara (also known as "Iskandar Syah" in some accounts) fled north to Muar, Ujong Tanah and Biawak Busuk before reaching a fishing village at the mouth of Bertam river (modern-day Malacca River). The village belonged to the sea-sakai or orang laut which were left alone by Majapahit forces that not only sacked Singapura but also Langkasuka and Pasai. As a result, the village became a safe haven and in the 1370s it began to receive a growing number of refugees running away from Mahapahit's attacks. By the time Parameswara reached Malacca in the early 1400s, the place already had a cosmopolitan feel with Buddhists from the north, Hindus from Palembang and Muslims from Pasai.

Legend has it that Parameswara saw a mouse deer outwit his hunting dog into the water when he was resting under the Malacca tree. He thought this bode well, remarking, 'this place is excellent, even the mouse deer is formidable; it is best that we establish a kingdom here'. Tradition holds that he named the settlement after the tree he was leaning against while witnessing the portentous event. Today, the mouse deer is part of modern Malacca's coat of arms. The name "Malacca" itself was derived from the fruit-bearing Melaka tree (Malay: Pokok Melaka) scientifically termed as Phyllanthus emblica. Another account of the naming origin of Malacca elaborates that during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Shah (r. 1424–1444), the Arab merchants called the kingdom 'Malakat' (Arabic for 'congregation of merchants') because it was home to many trading communities.

Following establishment of his new city in Malacca, Parameswara initiated the development of the place and laid the foundation of a trade port. The indigenous inhabitants of the straits, the Orang Laut, were employed to patrol the adjacent sea areas, to repel other petty pirates, and to direct traders to Malacca. Within years, news about Malacca becoming a centre of trade and commerce began to spread all over the eastern part of the world. In 1405, Yongle Emperor of Ming Dynasty (r. 1402–1424) sent his envoy headed by Yin Qing to Malacca. Yin Qing's visit opened the way for the establishment of friendly relations between Malacca and China. Two years later, the legendary Admiral Zheng He made his first of six visits to Malacca. Chinese merchants began calling at the port and pioneering foreign trading bases in Malacca. Other foreign traders notably the Arabs, Indians, and Persians came to establish their trading bases and settle in Malacca, soaring its population to 2000. In 1411, Parameswara headed a royal party of 540 people and left for China with Admiral Zheng He to visit the Ming court. In 1414, the Ming Shilu mentions that the son of the first ruler of Malacca visited Ming court to inform Yongle that his father had died.

During the reign of Parameswara's son, Megat Iskandar Shah (r. 1414–1424), the kingdom continued to prosper. The period saw the diversification of economic sources of the kingdom with the discovery of two tin mining areas in the northern part of the city, sago palms in the orchards and nipah palms lining in the estuaries and beaches. To improve the defence mechanism of the city from potential aggressors, Megat Iskandar Shah ordered the construction of a wall surrounding the city with four guarded entrances. A fenced fortress was also built in the town centre where the state's treasury and supply were stored. The growth of Malacca coincided with the rising power of Ayuthaya in the north. The growing ambitions of the kingdom against its neighbours and Malay Peninsula had alarmed the ruler of Malacca. In a preemptive measure, the king headed a royal visit to China in 1418 to raise his concerns about the threat. Yongle responded in October 1419 by sending his envoy to warn the Siamese ruler. Relationship between the China and Malacca were further strengthened by several envoys to China, led by the Malaccan princes in the years 1420, 1421 and 1423. Due to this, it can be said that Malacca was economically and diplomatically fortified.

Between 1424 and 1433, two more royal visits to China were made during the reign of the third ruler, Raja Tengah (r. 1424–1444). During Raja Tengah's rule, it was said that an ulama called Saiyid Abdul Aziz came to Malacca to spread the teaching of Islam. The king together with his royal family, senior officials and the subjects of Malacca listened to his teachings. Shortly after, Raja Tengah adopted the Muslim name, Muhammad Shah and the title Sultan on the advice of the ulama. He introduced the Islamisation in his administration – customs, royal protocols, bureaucracy and commerce were made to conform to the principles of Islam. As Malacca became increasingly important as an international trading centre, the equitable regulation of trade was the key to continued prosperity – and the Undang-Undang Laut Melaka ('Maritime Laws of Malacca'), promulgated during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Shah, was an important facet of this. So too was the appointment of four Shahbandars for the different communities of the port. This accommodated foreign traders, who were also assigned their own enclaves in the city. In 1430s, China had reversed its policy of maritime expansion. However, by then Malacca was strong enough militarily to defend itself. In spite of these developments, China maintained a continuous show of friendship, suggesting that it placed Malacca in high regard. In fact, although it was China's practice to consider most foreign countries as vassal states, including Italy and Portugal, its relations with Malacca were characterised by mutual respect and friendship, such as that between two sovereign countries.

In 1444, Muhammad Shah died after reigning for twenty years and left behind two sons; Raja Kasim, the son of Tun Wati who in turn a daughter of a wealthy Indian merchant, and Raja Ibrahim, the son of the Princess of Rokan. He was succeeded by his younger son, Raja Ibrahim, who reigned as Sultan Abu Syahid Shah (r. 1444–1446). Abu Syahid was a weak ruler and his administration was largely controlled by Raja Rokan, a cousin of his mother who stayed in the court of Malacca during his reign. The situation prompted the court officials to plan the assassination of Raja Rokan and to install Abu Syahid's older brother Raja Kasim to the throne. Both the Sultan and Raja Rokan were eventually killed in the attack in 1446. Raja Kasim was then appointed as the fifth ruler of Malacca and reign as Sultan Muzaffar Shah (r. 1446–1459). A looming threat from the Siamese kingdom of Ayuthaya became a reality when it launched a land invasion of Malacca in 1446. Tun Perak, the chief of Klang brought his men to help Malacca in the battle against the Siamese of which Malacca emerged victorious. His strong leadership qualities gained the attention of the Sultan, whose desire to see Malacca prosper made him appointing Tun Perak as the Bendahara. In 1456, during the reign of King Trailokanat, the Siamese launched another attack, this time by sea. When the news about the attack reached Malacca, naval forces were immediately rallied and a defensive line was made near Batu Pahat. The forces were commanded by Tun Perak and assisted by Tun Hamzah, a warrior by the nickname Datuk Bongkok. The two sides were ultimately clashed in a fierce naval battle. Nevertheless, the more superior Malaccan navy succeeded in driving off the Siamese, pursuing them to Singapura and forcing them to return home. Malacca's victory in this battle gave it new confidence to devise strategies to extend its influence throughout the region. The defeat of Siam brought political stability to Malacca and enhanced its reputation in South East Asia.

Malacca reached its height of glory at the beginning the middle of the 15th century. Its territory extended from modern-day Southern Thailand in the north to most of eastern coast of Sumatra in the south after wrestling it from Majapahit and Ayuthaya sphere of influence. The kingdom conveniently controls the global trade vital choke point; the narrow strait that today bears its name, Straits of Malacca. Its port city had become the centre of regional and international trade, attracting regional traders as well as traders from other Eastern civilisations such as the Chinese Empire and the Ryukyu and Western civilisations such as Persian, Gujarat and Arabs.

The reign of Muzaffar Shah's son, Sultan Mansur Shah (r.1459–1477) witnessed the major expansion of the sultanate to reach its greatest extent of influence. Among the earliest territory ceded to the sultanate was Pahang, with its capital, Inderapura – a massive unexplored land with a large river and abundant source of gold which was ruled by Maharaja Dewa Sura, a relative of the King of Ligor. The Sultan dispatched a fleet of two hundred ships, led by Tun Perak and 19 Malaccan hulubalangs' ('commanders'). On reaching Pahang, a battle broke out in which the Pahangites were decisively defeated and its entire royal court were captured. The Malaccan fleet returned home with Dewa Sura and his daughter, Wanang Seri who were handed over to Sultan Mansur Shah. The Sultan appointed Tun Hamzah to rule Pahang. A policy of rapprochement with Ligor was later initiated by Mansur Shah to ensure steady supplies of rice.

The military prowess of the sultanate was further strengthened by the nine elite knights of the kingdom. They were Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir, Hang Lekiu, Hang Ali, Hang Iskandar, Hang Hasan and Hang Husain. Hang Tuah, the most intelligent among them is able to speak fluently 12 languages including Mandarin, Arabic, Javanese, Persian, and Japanese. He is skillful with weaponries such as the sword, keris, long keris, bow, cross bow and spear. He was the leader among them and was conferred the office of laksamana ('admiral') by the Sultan.

On his royal visit to Majapahit, Mansur Shah was also accompanied by these warriors. At that time, Majapahit was already at a declining state and found itself unable to overcome on the rising power of the Malay sultanate. After a display of Malaccan military prowess in his court, the king of Majapahit, afraid of losing more territories, had agreed to marry off his daughter, Raden Galuh Cendera Kirana to Sultan Mansur Shah and relinquished control over Indragiri, Jambi, Tungkal and Siantan to Malacca.

The friendly relations between China and Malacca escalated during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah. The Sultan sent an envoy headed by Tun Perpatih Putih to China, carrying a diplomatic letter from the Sultan to the Emperor. According to the Malay Annals, Tun Perpatih succeeded in impressing the Emperor of China with the fame and grandeur of Sultan Mansur Shah that the Emperor decreed that his daughter, Hang Li Po, should marry the Sultan. THe Malay Annals further asserts that a senior minister of state and five hundred ladies in waiting accompanied the "princess" to Malacca. The Sultan built a palace for his new consort on a hill known ever afterwards as Bukit Cina ("Chinese Hill"). As trade flourished and Malacca became more prosperous, Mansur Shah ordered the construction of a large and beautiful palace at the foot of Malacca Hill. The royal palace reflected the wealth, prosperity and power of Malacca and embodied the excellence and distinct characteristics of Malay architecture.

The brief conflict between Malacca and Lê Dynasty of Annam, began shortly after the 1471 Vietnamese invasion of Champa, then already a Muslim kingdom. The Chinese government, without knowing about the event, sent a censor Ch'en Chun to Champa in 1474 to install the Champa King, but he discovered Vietnamese soldiers had taken over Champa and were blocking his entry. He proceeded to Malacca instead and its ruler sent back tribute to China. In 1469, Malaccan envoys on their return from China was attacked by the Vietnamese who castrated the young and enslaved them. In view of Lê Dynasty's position as a protectorate to China, Malacca abstained from any act of retaliation. Instead, Malacca sent envoys to China in 1481 to report on the Vietnamese aggression and their invasion plan against Malacca, as well as to confront the Vietnamese envoys who happened to be present in the Ming court. However, the Chinese informed that since the incident was years old, they could do nothing about it, and the Emperor sent a letter to the Vietnamese ruler reproaching him for the incident. The Chinese Emperor also granted permission for Malacca to retaliate with violent force should the Vietnamese attack, an event that never happened again after that. The Vietnamese with full force battalion were heavily defeated by outnumbered Malacca battalion during an invasion of Lan Sang as reported in a Chinese account. A bronze relief of Hang Tuah, a legendary Malay hero. Exhibited at the National History Museum, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The expansionist policy of Mansur Shah was maintained throughout his reign when he later added Kampar and Siak to his realm. He also turned a number of states in the archipelago into his imperial dependencies. The ruler of such states would come to Malacca after their coronation to obtain the blessing of the Sultan of Malacca. Rulers who have been overthrown also came to Malacca requesting the Sultan's aid in reclaiming their throne. One such examples was Sultan Zainal Abidin of Pasai who was toppled by his own relatives. He fled to Malacca and pleaded with Sultan Mansur Shah to reinstall him as a ruler. Malacca armed forces were immediately sent to Pasai and defeated the usurpers. Although Pasai never came under the control Malacca afterwards, the event greatly demonstrated the importance of Malacca and the mutual support it had established among leaders and states in the region. While Malacca was at the peak of its splendour, Sultan Mansur Shah died in 1477.

The prosperous era of Malacca continued under the rule of his son, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah (r. 1477–1488) and more foreign rulers within the region began paying homage to the Sultan of Malacca. Among them were a ruler from the Moluccas Islands who were defeated by his enemies, a ruler of Rokan and a ruler named Tuan Telanai from Terengganu. Alauddin Riayat Shah was a ruler who placed a great importance in maintaining peace and order during his reign. He was succeeded by his son, Sultan Mahmud Shah (r. 1488–1511) who was a teenage boy upon his accession. Hence Malacca was administered by Bendahara Tun Perak with the help of other senior officials. The legendary Princess of Gunung Ledang was said to have lived during the reign of Mahmud Shah and once wooed by the sultan himself. The town of Malacca continues to flourish and prosper with an influx of foreign traders after the appointment of Tun Mutahir as Bendahara. This was due to his efficient and wise administration and his ability to attract more foreign traders to Malacca. By about 1500, Malacca was at the height of its power and glory. Its city of Malacca was the capital of a great Malay empire, the chief centre of trade in Indian cloth, Chinese porcelain and silk and Malay spices, and the headquarters of Muslim activity in the Malay Archipelago. Malacca was still looking to expand its territory as late as 1506, when it conquered Kelantan.

By the 15th century, Europe had developed an insatiable appetite for spices. At that time, spice trade was virtually monopolised by the Venetian merchants via a convoluted trade route through Arabia and India, which in turn linked to its source in Spice Islands via Malacca. Upon becoming king in 1481, John II of Portugal determined to break this chain and control the lucrative spice trade directly from its source. This led to the expansion of Portuguese sea exploration, pioneered by Vasco da Gama, into the east coasts of India that had resulted in the establishment of Portuguese stronghold in Calicut.

Years later, during the reign of Manuel I, a fidalgo named Diogo Lopes de Sequeira was assigned to analyse the trade potentials in Madagascar and Malacca. He arrived in Malacca on 1 August 1509 carrying with him a letter from the King. His mission was to establish trade with Malacca. The Tamil Muslims who were now powerful in the Malaccan court and friendly with Tun Mutahir, the Bendahara, were hostile towards the Christian Portuguese.The Gujarati merchants who were also Muslims and had known the Portuguese in India, preached a holy war against "the infidels". Unfortunately, because of the dissension between Mahmud Shah and Tun Mutahir, a plot was hatched to kill de Sequeira, imprison his men and capture the Portuguese fleet anchored off the Malacca River. The plot leaked out and de Sequeira managed to escape from Malacca in his ship, leaving behind several of his men as captives.

Meanwhile, the position of the Portuguese in India was consolidated with the arrival of a new Viceroy, Afonso de Albuquerque, who conquered Goa in 1510. Having established Goa as the Portuguese eastern headquarters and naval base, de Albuquerque decided to capture Malacca and in April 1511, left Goa with 18 ships and 1400 men, comprising both Portuguese troops and Indian auxiliaries. Upon their arrival in Malacca, the Portuguese did not attack immediately, but instead began negotiations for the return of their prisoners while the at same time tried to find any insider information regarding the Malacca Fortress. Malacca procrastinated, thinking it could withstand a Portuguese assault, which started three months later on 25 July 1511. After many failed attempts, the breakthrough was made when the Portuguese bribed an insider of the fortress. The main post gate of the fortress was opened up to allow the Portuguese army to rush through the main gate. The Malaccan army was unprepared for the surprise attack and the invasion concluded on 24 August when de Albuquerque's troops, marching six abreast through the streets, swept aside all resistance. By the time they sacked the city and the palace, Sultan Mahmud Shah had already retreated.

Following the 1511 conquest, the great Malay city port of Malacca passed into Portuguese hands and for the next 130 years remained under Portuguese governance despite incessant attempts by the former rulers of Malacca and other regional powers to dislodge the Europeans. Around the foot hill on which the Sultan's Istana once stood, the Portuguese built the stone fort known as A Famosa, completed in 1512. Malay graves, the mosque and other buildings were dismantled to obtain the stone from which, together with laterite and brick, the fort was built. Despite numerous attacks, the fort was only breached once, when the Dutch and Johor defeated the Portuguese in 1641.

It soon became clear that Portuguese control of Malacca did not mean they now controlled Asian trade that centred on it. Their rule in Malacca was marred with difficulties. They could not become self-sufficient and remained highly dependent on Asian suppliers, as had their Malay predecessors. They were short of both funds and manpower and the administration was hampered by organizational confusion and command overlap, corruption and inefficiency. Competition from other regional ports such as Johor which was founded by the exiled Sultan of Malacca, saw Asian traders bypass Malacca and the city began to decline as a trading port. Rather than achieving their ambition of dominating it, the Portuguese had fundamentally disrupted the organisation of the Asian trade network. The previously centralised port of exchange that policed the Straits of Malacca to maintain its safety for commercial traffic, was replaced with scattered trading network over a number of ports rivalling each other in the Straits.

The efforts to propagate Christianity which was also one of the principal aims of Portuguese imperialism did not, however, meet with much success, primarily because Islam was already strongly entrenched among the local population.

The Portuguese conquest of Malacca enraged the Zhengde Emperor of China when he received the envoys from the exiled Sultan Mahmud. The furious Chinese emperor responded with brutal force, culminating the period of three decades of prosecution of Portuguese in China.

Among the earliest victims were the Portuguese envoys led by Tomé Pires in 1516 that were greeted with great hostility and suspicion. The Chinese confiscated all of the Portuguese property and goods in the Pires embassy's possession. Many of the envoys were imprisoned, tortured and executed. Pires himself was said among those who died in the Chinese dungeons. Two successive Portuguese fleets bound for China in 1521 and 1522 were attacked and defeated in the first and second Battle of Tamao.

In response to Portuguese piracy and the illegal installation of bases in Fujian at Wuyu island and Yue harbour at Zhangzhou, Shuangyu island in Zhejiang, and Nan'ao island in Guangdong, the Imperial Chinese Right Deputy Commander Zhu Wan exterminated all the pirates and razed the Shuangyu Portuguese base, using force to prohibit trading with foreigners by sea. Moreover, Chinese traders boycotted Malacca after it fell under Portuguese control, with some Chinese in Java even assisting in Muslim attempts to invade the city.

However, with gradual improvement of relations and aid given against the Japanese Wokou pirates along China's shores, by 1557 Ming China finally agreed to allow the Portuguese to settle at Macau in a new Portuguese trade colony. The Malay Sultanate of Johor also improved relations with the Portuguese.

The exiled Sultan Mahmud Shah made several attempts to retake the capital but his efforts were fruitless. The Portuguese retaliated and forced the Sultan to flee to Pahang. Later, the Sultan sailed to Bintan and established his capital there. From the new base, the Sultan rallied the disarrayed Malay forces and organised several attacks and blockades against the Portuguese's position. Frequent raids on Malacca caused the Portuguese severe hardship. The raids helped convince the Portuguese that the exiled Sultan's forces must be silenced once for all. A number of attempts were made to suppress the Malay forces, but it wasn't until 1526 that the Portuguese finally razed Bintan to the ground. The Sultan then retreated to Kampar in Sumatra where he died two years later. He left behind two sons named Muzaffar Shah and Alauddin Riayat Shah II.

Muzaffar Shah was invited by the people in the north of the peninsula to become their ruler, establishing the Sultanate of Perak. Meanwhile, Mahmud Shah's other son, Alauddin succeeded his father and established the Sultanate of Johor. Malacca was later conquered by the Dutch in a joint military campaign in January 1641. The Portuguese fortress, however, did not fall to the force of Dutch or Johorean arms as much as to famine and disease that had brutally decimated the surviving population. As a result of mutual agreement between the Dutch and Johor earlier in 1606, Malacca was handed over to the Dutch.

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