Malacca Sultanate

Dafato Team | Nov 6, 2022

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The Sultanate of Malacca (Malay: Kesultananan Melayu Melako) was a Malay sultanate located in what is now the state of Malacca, Malaysia, founded by the Malay ruler Parameswara initially in 1402 the sultanate as a Hindu kingdom and converted in 1409 to Islam because of the marriage of the princess of Pasai. Having its capital in what is now Malacca, the sultanate stretched from the Malay Muslim settlements of Phuket province, Satun, Pattani bordering the Ayutthaya kingdom of Siam (Thailand) in the north to Sumatra in the southwest.

The Portuguese invaded its capital in 1511 and 1528. Later the Malay prince Alauddin Riayat Shah II founded the Sultanate of Johor as a successor state.

Early foundation

The series of raids launched by the Chola Empire in the 11th century had weakened the once glorious Srivijaya empire. By the end of the 13th century, Srivijaya, already fragmented, came to the attention of the Javanese king, Kertanegara of Singhasari. In 1275, he launched the Pamalayu expedition to invade Sumatra. By 1288, Singhasari's naval expeditionary forces successfully sacked Jambi and Palembang and drove the Kingdom of Melayu, Srivijaya's successor state, into decline. 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 on the island of Bintan for several years before setting sail and landing at Temasek in 1299. The Orang Laut (people of the sea), famous for their loyal services to Srivijaya, eventually made him the king of a new kingdom called Singapura. In the 14th century, Singapura developed alongside the Pax Mongolica and rose from a small trading post to an international trading center with strong ties to the Yuan dynasty.

In an effort to revive Melayu's fortunes 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 as Srivijaya had done several centuries earlier. Upon learning of this diplomatic maneuver, immediately King Hayam Wuruk of Majapahit sent an emissary to Nanking, convincing the emperor that Melayu was his vassal and was not an independent country.

Subsequently, in 1377, a few years after the death of Gajah Mada, Majapahit launched a punitive naval attack against a rebellion in Palembang, which caused the complete destruction of Srivijaya and the diaspora of Srivijaya princes and nobles. Rebellions against Javanese rule began by fleeing Malay princes and attempted to revive the empire, which left the area of South Sumatra in chaos and desolation.

In the second half of the 14th century, the Kingdom of Singapore became rich. However, its success alarmed two regional powers at the time, Ayutthaya in the north and Majapahit in the south. As a result, the fortified capital of the kingdom was attacked by at least two 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 Shah" in some sources) fled north to Muar, Ujong Tanah and Biawak Busuk before reaching a fishing village at the mouth of the Bertam River (today's Malacca River). The village belonged to the Mar-sakai or Orang laut who were left alone by the Majapahit forces who not only sacked Singapura but also Langkasuka and Pasai. As a result, the village became a safe haven and in the 1370s began to receive an increasing number of refugees fleeing Mahapahit attacks. When Parameswara arrived in Malacca in the early 15th century, the place already had a cosmopolitan atmosphere 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 in the water while resting under the Malacca tree. He thought this was fine, commenting: 'this place is excellent, even the mouse deer is formidable; We had better establish a kingdom here'. Tradition holds that he named the settlement after the tree against which he leaned while witnessing the portentous event. Today, the mouse deer is part of the modern coat of arms of Malacca. The name "Malacca" itself is derived from the fruiting Melaka tree (Malay: Pokok Melaka), scientifically named Phyllanthus emblica. Another explanation for the origin of Malacca's names explains that during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Shah (r. 1424-1444), Arab traders called the kingdom 'Malakat' ('congregation of merchants') because it was home to many trading communities.


After the establishment of his new city at Malacca, Parameswara initiated the development of the site and laid the foundations for a trading port. The indigenous inhabitants of the strait, the Orang Laut, were employed to patrol the adjacent sea areas, to repel other small pirates and to direct traders to Malacca. Within a few years, news of Malacca becoming a center of trade and commerce began to spread throughout the eastern part of the world. In 1405, Emperor Yongle of the Ming dynasty (r. 1402-1424) sent an embassy led by Yin Qing to Malacca. Yin Qing's visit paved 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 to arrive at the port and pioneered the establishment of foreign trade bases in Malacca. Other foreign traders, particularly Arabs, Indians and Persians, established their trading bases, increasing its population to 2000. In 1411, Parameswara led a royal party of 540 and went to China with Admiral Zheng He to visit the Ming court. In 1414, Ming Shilu mentions that the son of the first ruler of Malacca visited the 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 witnessed the diversification of the kingdom's economic sources with the discovery of two tin mining areas in the northern part of the city, sago palms in the orchards, and nipah palms lining the estuaries and beaches. To improve the city's defense mechanism against possible aggressors, Megat Iskandar Shah ordered the construction of a wall surrounding the city with four guarded entrances. A fortress was also built in the center of the city where the state treasury and supplies were stored. The growth of Malacca coincided with the growing power of Ayutthaya in the north. The kingdom's growing ambitions against its neighbors and the Malay peninsula had alarmed the ruler of Malacca. In a preemptive move, the king led a royal visit to China in 1418 to express his concern about the threat. Yongle responded in October 1419 by sending an emissary to warn the Siamese ruler. The relationship between China and Malacca was further strengthened by several embassies sent to China led by Malacca princes in 1420, 1421 and 1423. Because of this, it can be said that Malacca was fortified economically and diplomatically.

Between 1424 and 1433, two more royal visits were made to China during the reign of the third ruler, Raja Tengah (r. 1424-1444). During Raja Tengah's rule, an ulama named Saiyid Abdul Aziz was said to have visited Malacca to spread the teaching of Islam. The king along with his royal family, high officials and the subjects of Malacca listened to his teachings. Soon after, Raja Tengah adopted the Muslim name, Muhammad Shah and the title of Sultan on the advice of the ulama. He introduced Islamization into his administration: customs, royal protocols, bureaucracy and commerce were brought in line with Islamic principles. As Malacca became increasingly important as an international trading center, 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 was the appointment of four Shahbandars for the different port communities. This accommodated foreign merchants, who were also assigned their own enclaves in the city. By the 1430s, China had reversed its policy of maritime expansion. However, by then Malacca was strong enough to defend itself. Despite these developments, China maintained a continued show of friendship, suggesting that it held Malacca in high regard. Indeed, although it was China's practice to regard most foreign countries as vassal states, including Italy and Portugal, its relations with Malacca were characterized by mutual respect and friendship, like that of two sovereign countries.

In 1444, Muhammad Shah died after having reigned twenty years and left behind two sons; Raja Kasim, the son of Tun Wati, who was herself the daughter of a wealthy Indian merchant, and Raja Ibrahim, the son of the Princess of Rokan. He was succeeded by his youngest son, Raja Ibrahim, who reigned as Sultan Abu Syahid Shah (r. 1444-1446). Abu Syahid was a weak ruler and his rule was largely controlled by Raja Rokan, a cousin of his mother who remained at the Malacca court during his reign. The situation led court officials to plan to assassinate Raja Rokan and install Abu Syahid's older brother, Raja Kasim, on the throne. Both the sultan and Raja Rokan were eventually killed in the attack in 1446. Raja Kasim was then appointed the fifth ruler of Malacca and reigned as Sultan Muzaffar Shah (r. 1446-1459). A looming threat from the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya became a reality when he launched a land invasion of Malacca in 1446. Tun Perak, the governor of Klang, marched with his men to assist Malacca in the battle against the Siamese, from which Malacca emerged victorious. His strong leadership qualities attracted the attention of the Sultan, whose desire to see Malacca prosper caused him to appoint Tun Perak as Bendahara. In 1456, during the reign of King Trailokanat, the Siamese launched another attack, this time by sea. When news of the attack reached Malacca, naval forces immediately joined forces and a defensive line was formed near Batu Pahat. The forces were commanded by Tun Perak and assisted by Tun Hamzah, a warrior nicknamed Datuk Bongkok. The two sides eventually engaged in a fierce naval battle. However, the more superior Malacca navy succeeded in driving out the Siamese, chasing 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 Southeast Asia.

Golden age

Malacca reached the height of its glory in the early 15th century. Its territory stretched from today's southern Thailand in the north to most of the east coast of Sumatra in the south after battling Majapahit and Ayutthaya spheres of influence. The kingdom conveniently controlled the vital choke point of global trade; the narrow strait that today bears its name, Strait of Malacca. Its port city had become the center of regional and international trade, attracting regional traders as well as traders from other eastern civilizations, such as the Chinese Empire and Ryukyu, and western civilizations such as Persia, Gujarat and Arabs.

The reign of Muzaffar Shah's son, Sultan Mansur Shah (r.1459-1477) saw the great expansion of the sultanate to achieve its greatest influence. Among the first territories ceded to the sultanate was Pahang, with its capital, Inderapura, a huge unexplored land with a great river and an abundant source of gold that 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 hulubalangs ('commanders'). Upon arrival at Pahang, a battle broke out in which the Pahangites were decisively defeated and their entire royal court was captured. The Malacca fleet returned home with Dewa Sura and her 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 subsequently initiated by Mansur Shah to ensure a steady supply 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 was able to speak 12 languages fluently, including Mandarin, Arabic, Javanese, Persian and Japanese. He was skilled with weapons such as sword, keris, long keris, bow, cross bow and spear. He was the leader among them and the Sultan conferred upon him the office of laksamana ("admiral").

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

Friendly relations between China and Malacca intensified during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah. The Sultan sent to China an embassy led by Tun Perpatih Putih, who carried 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 greatness of Sultan Mansur Shah that the Emperor decreed that his daughter, Hang Li Po, should marry the Sultan. A chief minister of state and five hundred women in waiting accompanied the princess to Malacca. The Sultan built a palace for his new consort on a hill known 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 distinctive characteristics of Malay architecture.

A brief conflict between Malacca and the Lê dynasty of Annam began shortly after the Vietnamese invasion of Champa in 1471, which was already a Muslim kingdom. The Chinese government, not knowing about the event, sent a Ch'en Chun censor to Champa in 1474 to install King Champa, but discovered that Vietnamese soldiers had taken over Champa and were blocking its entrance. He proceeded to Malacca instead and its ruler sent tribute to China. In 1469, the Malacca envoys on their return from China were attacked by the Vietnamese who punished the young men and enslaved them. In view of the Lê dynasty's position as a protectorate of China, Malacca refrained from any act of retaliation. Instead, he sent emissaries 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 were present at the Ming court. However, the Chinese reported 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 in the event of a Vietnamese attack, an event that never happened after that. The Vietnamese with full-strength battalion were heavily defeated by the outnumbered Malacca battalion during an invasion of Lan Sang as reported in a Chinese source.

Mansur Shah's expansionist policy continued throughout his reign when he later added Kampar and Siak to his kingdom. He also made several states of the archipelago his imperial dependencies. The ruler of such states would come to Malacca after his coronation to obtain the blessing of the Sultan of Malacca. Rulers who have been overthrown also came to Malacca seeking the sultan's help in reclaiming their throne. One such example was Sultan Zainal Abidin of Pasai who was overthrown by his own relatives. He fled to Malacca and begged Sultan Mansur Shah to reinstate him as ruler. The Malaccan armed forces were immediately sent to Pasai and defeated the usurpers. Although Pasai was never under Malacca's control afterwards, the event greatly demonstrated the importance of Malacca and the mutual support it had established between the leaders and states of the region. While Malacca was at the height of its splendor, 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), during which time more foreign rulers within the region began to pay homage to the Sultan of Malacca. Among them were a ruler of the Moluccan Islands who was defeated by his enemies, a ruler of Rokan and a ruler named Tuan Telanai of Terengganu. Alauddin Riayat Shah was a ruler who attached great importance to the maintenance of peace and order during his reign. He was succeeded by his son, Sultan Mahmud Shah (r. 1488-1511), who was a teenager at the time of his accession. Malacca was therefore administered by the Bendahara Tun Perak with the help of other high officials. The city of Malacca continued to flourish and prosper with an influx of foreign merchants after the appointment of Tun Mutahir as Bendahara. This was due to his efficient and wise administration and his ability to attract more foreign merchants to Malacca. Around 1500, Malacca was at the height of its power and glory. Its city of Malacca was the capital of a great Malay empire, the main center of trade in Indian clothing, Chinese porcelain and Malay silk and spices, and the seat of Muslim activity in the Malay archipelago. Malacca was still seeking to expand its territory until 1506, when it conquered Kelantan.

Portuguese invasion

By the 15th century, Europe had developed an insatiable appetite for spices. At that time, the spice trade was virtually monopolized by Venetian merchants through a trade route passing through Arabia and India, which in turn linked to its source in the Spice Islands via Malacca. On becoming king in 1481, John II of Portugal decided to break this chain and control the lucrative spice trade directly from its source. This led to the expansion of Portuguese maritime exploration, initiated by Vasco da Gama, on the eastern coasts of India, resulting in the establishment of the Portuguese stronghold at Calicut.

Years later, during the reign of Manuel I, a person named Diogo Lopes de Sequeira was assigned to analyze the commercial potentials in Madagascar and Malacca. He arrived in Malacca on August 1, 1509 with 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 to Tun Mutahir, the Bendahara, were hostile towards the Christian Portuguese. The Gujarati merchants who were also Muslims and had met the Portuguese in India, preached a holy war against "the infidels". Unfortunately, due to dissension between Mahmud Shah and Tun Mutahir, a plot was hatched to kill Sequeira, imprison his men and capture the Portuguese fleet anchored in the Malacca River. The plot became known and De Sequeira managed to escape from Malacca in his ship, leaving several of his men as captives.

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


After the conquest in 1511, the great Malay port of Malacca passed into Portuguese hands and for the next 130 years remained under Portuguese rule despite incessant attempts by the former rulers of Malacca and other regional powers to evict them. Around the foot hill on which the sultan's Istana stood, the Portuguese built the stone fort known as A Famosa, which was completed in 1512. The Malay tombs, mosque and other buildings were dismantled to obtain the stone from which, along 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 that they now controlled the Asian trade that centered on it. Their rule in Malacca was marred by difficulties. They could not become self-sufficient and were heavily dependent on Asian suppliers, as were their Malay predecessors. They lacked both funds and manpower and administration was hampered by organizational confusion and overlapping commands, corruption and inefficiency. Competition from other regional ports such as Johor which was founded by the exiled Sultan of Malacca, Asian traders bypassed Malacca and the city began to decline as a trading port. Instead of achieving their ambition to dominate it, the Portuguese had fundamentally disrupted the organization of the Asian trading network. The previously centralized trading port that guarded the Strait of Malacca to maintain its security for commercial traffic was replaced by a scattered trading network of several competing ports in the strait.

However, efforts to propagate Christianity, which was also one of the main objectives of Portuguese imperialism, were not very successful, mainly because Islam was already strongly rooted among the population.

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

Among the first victims were the Portuguese envoys led by Tomé Pires in 1516, who were received with great hostility and suspicion. The Chinese confiscated all Portuguese property and goods in the possession of Pires' embassy. Many of the envoys were imprisoned, tortured and executed. Pires himself was said to be 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 illegal installation of bases in Fujian, Wuyu Island, Yue Port in Zhangzhou, Shuangyu Island in Zhejiang and Nan'ao Island in Guangdong, the deputy commander of the Chinese Imperial Right, Zhu Wan, exterminated all pirates and razed the Portuguese Shuangyu Base, using force to prohibit trade with foreigners by sea. In addition, Chinese merchants boycotted Malacca after it fell under Portuguese control, and some Chinese in Java even aided Muslim attempts to invade the city.

However, with the gradual improvement of relations and aid given against the Japanese Wokou pirates along the Chinese coasts, in 1557, China finally agreed to allow the Portuguese to settle in Macau in a new Portuguese trading colony. The Malay Sultanate of Johor also improved relations with the Portuguese.

The exiled Sultan Mahmud Shah made several attempts to regain the capital, but his efforts were unsuccessful. 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 disorganized Malayan forces and organized several attacks and blockades against the Portuguese position. Frequent raids on Malacca caused serious difficulties for the Portuguese. The raids helped to convince the Portuguese that the exiled sultan's forces must be destroyed once and for all. Several attempts were made to suppress the Malayan forces, but it was not until 1526 that the Portuguese finally swept through Bintan. The sultan then retired 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 inhabitants of the northern 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. However, the Portuguese stronghold did not fall to the force of Dutch or Johor arms, but due to famine and disease that brutally decimated the surviving population. As a result of mutual agreement between the Dutch and Johor in early 1606, Malacca was handed over to the Dutch.


  1. Malacca Sultanate
  2. Sultanato de Malaca
  3. ^ Another version of the Malay Annals gave 6 rulers instead of the 5 here
  4. Cœdès, George  (англ.) (рус.. The Indianized states of Southeast Asia (неопр.). — University of Hawaii Press  (англ.) (рус., 1968. — ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1.
  5. Ahmad Sarji, 2011, p. 119
  6. Barnard, 2004, p. 7
  7. ^ (EN) George Cœdès, The Indianized States of South-East Asia, University of Hawaii Press, 1968, ISBN 9780824803681. URL consultato il 19 settembre 2019.
  8. ^ Ahmad Sarji e Abdul Hamid, The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, 16 - The Rulers of Malaysia, Editions Didier Millet, 2011, ISBN 978-981-3018-54-9.
  9. ^ Il concetto di una "razza malese unita".
  10. ^ Timothy P. Barnard, Contesting Malayness: Malay identity across boundaries, Singapore University Press, 2004, ISBN 9971-69-279-1.
  11. ^ Barbara Watson Andaya e Leonard Yuzon Andaya, A History of Malaysia, Palgrave Macmillan, 1984, ISBN 0-333-27672-8.
  12. Heikkilä-Horn & Miettinen 2005, 147–149.
  13. a b c d e f g h i j Barwise, J.M; White, N.J.
  14. a b Lehtipuu, Markus: Malesia, Singapore, Bali, s. 18-24. Helsinki: Otava, 2006. ISBN 952-9715-16-1.

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