Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tabinshwehti (Burmese King) - Wikipedia article

Below is my initial efforts on a Wikipedia article on the Burmese king Tabinshwehti (r. 1531-1550).

[Ruminations and confession for writing a Wikipedia article on Burmese or Myanmar history]

Tabinshwehti (Burmese King)

After the fall of Ava to Tai invasions in 1527 the king of Toungoo Tabinshwehti (r. 1531-1550) rebuilt an ethnic Burmese state at Toungoo (1531-38) and then Pegu (1538-1550) and engaged in long series of military campaigns that ended only with his assassination in 1550:

Pegu (1535-38)

Between 1535 and 1538 Tabinshwehti marched south from Toungoo in a series of four military expeditions against the Mon kingdom of Pegu. A succession of Mon kings had ruled over a united Lower Burma at least since the time of king Rajadhirat (r. 1385-1421). In 1538 after first taking the western delta region around Bassein and augmenting his forces with military manpower and arms, Tabinshwehti overcame the defences of Pegu and occupied the town.

Several factors explain why Toungoo started attacking Pegu shortly after Tabinshwehti became king of Toungoo in 1531. Trade wealth and maritime markets favored coastal Pegu as a military target (Harvey, 1925, 153; Lieberman, 1980, 209; Surakiat, 2006, 17; 2005, 87). Toungoo relied on Pegu for important commodities such as cloth and salt (Lieberman 1984, 209, citing UK III, p. 111). This trade contact brought knowledge of Pegu's wealth.

Another factor was the threat posed by the Tai confederation that ruled over Ava to the north (c. 1527-1555) which conquered Prome to the west of Toungoo in 1532, the year after Tabinshwehti became king of Toungoo. This left Toungoo, the only remaining ethnic Burmese stronghold, as the next logical target for Tai controlled Ava to attack and subjugate. Conquering Pegu first would also augment Toungoo's supply of military man and animal power and weapons, strengthening Toungoo to better face the Tai threat from the north (Fernquest, 2005, 106).

Prome (1540)

Tabinshwehti sent his top general and brother-in-law the future king Bayinnaung north to Prome in pursuit of Takayutpi the Mon king of Pegu (r. 1526-1538) who had fled north to seek refuge at Prome.

In the famous Battle of Naung Yo, Bayinnaung faced a superior force on the other side of a river. After crossing the river on a Pontoon bridge (rafts in another version) Bayinnaung ordered the bridge to be destroyed. This action was taken to spur his troops forward in battle and provide a clear signal that there would be no retreat. Before the battle began Bayinnaung also disregarded a message from king Tabinshwehti ordering him to wait for the main body of troops to arrive. Bayinnaung replied that he had already met the enemy and defeated them. To those who criticized this action, Bayinnaung replied that if they lost, they would all be dead anyway and it wouldn't matter whether they were alive or not (Harvey, 1925, 154-155; U Kala II p. 173, ch. 168).

Tabinshwehti could not take Prome because it was well-defended with strong walls and supported militarily by Tai Ava. When Takayupti died, many of his loyal followers came over to Tabinshwehti's side. Tabinshwehti increased his military strength by employing mercenaries of many nationalities including Portuguese and Muslim. The number of Portuguese in his employ is said to have numbered as many as 700 men (Lieberman, 1980, 209-210).

Martaban (1541-42)

The thriving port of Martaban proved difficult to subdue because it was supported by Portuguese soldiers and arms. On the land side of the town strong fortifications backed by earthwork and on the water side seven Portuguese ships commanded by Paulo Seixas provided a strong defense. When supplies ran out, Martaban tried to negotiate a surrender, but Tabinshwehti would only accept a complete surrender. Martaban tried to draw the Portuguese mercenary Joano Cayeyro who was helping Tabinshwehti away, but these efforts failed. Finally, Tabinshwehti used fire rafts to burn and drive away the ships guarding the water side of the fortifications. A high fortress raft armed with guns and cannons was maneuvered to a position in front of the river side fortifications. The walls were cleared of defenders and a final assault was made on the town (Harvey, 1925, 155-157; Lieberman, 1980, 212-213). The Portuguese writer Pinto records in great detail the pillaging and executions that supposedly took place in the wake of the defeat after seven months of siege (Pinto, 1989, 314-325)

Prome and Upper Burma (1542-45)

After a coronation ceremony and religious donations at the Shwedagon pagoda in 1541 Tabinshweihti led an expedition to the north to subjugate Prome. The first assaults against the walls of Prome failed (UKII:177-178). Prome requested aid from Tai Ava and Arakan. Tai forces arrived first, but Bayinnaung met them in advance before they could arrive to Prome and defeated them.

The siege of Prome dragged on and when the rainy season arrived Tabinshwehti ordered his troops to plant rice and gather manpower and provisions from Lower Burma (UKII:179) The overland contingent of forces sent by Arakan was ambushed by Bayinnaung. This defeat caused both the land and river forces of Arakan to return to Arakan. After five months of siege starvation led to defections and weakened defences which were easily overcome. The sack of Prome and the punishments that were supposedly meted out to the inhabitants are described in great detail by Pinto (1989, 328-333). In 1544 Tai forces led a counterattack but were again defeated by Tabinshwehti's forces. In 1545 Tabinshwehti marched north and took Pagan and Salin, leaving a garrison in Salin (Harvey, 1925, 157-158; Shorto, n.d., 46; UKII:179- 181).Instead of driving northwards and reestablishing an ethnic Burmese state at Ava, Tabinshwehti turned his attention to the coastal polities to his west and east, Arakan and Ayutthaya.

Arakan (1546-7)

The ruler of Sandoway in south Arakan had pledged loyalty to Tabinshwehti in exchange for the throne of Arakan. The fortifications at Mrauk-U the capital of Arakan had been built with the assistance of the Portuguese, so the normal strategies of frontal assault or siege were ineffective against these fortifications. Arakan with the intercession of monks finally convinced Tabinshwehti to give up the siege and return to Pegu (Harvey, 1925, 158; Lieberman, 1980, 213; Charney, 1998, 15; Leider, 1998, 144-159).

Ayutthya (1548)

While Tabinshwehti was campaigning in Arakan, Ayutthaya had sent raiding parties against Tavoy in Tenasserim. Tabinshwehti ordered the lord of Martaban to regain Tenasserim and in 1548 Tabinshwehti himself led a large invasionary force westwards over the Three Pagodas Route to attack Ayutthaya.

Facing strong fortifications and Portuguese mercenaries at Ayutthaya Tabinshwehti decided to move north and attack the weaker towns to the north, Kamphaengphet, Sukhothai, and Phitsanulok (Surakiat, 2005, 79-80; Harvey, 1925, 158-160; Lieberman, 1980, 213).

While Tabinshwehti had been campaigning in the east, a Mon revival had been gathering momentum in Lower Burma. Upon his return Tabinshwehti was assasinated by Mon members of his own court in 1450. A short period of Mon rule ensued while Bayinnnaung fought to restore the kingdom that Tabinshwehti had built (Shorto, 50-60; Pinto, U Kala, Harvey, 1925, 160-162).

Tabinshweihti Nat

The Tabinshwehti Nat is one of the 37 Nat spirits or gods worshipped in Myanmar.

Historical Fiction

One of the first modern novels published in the Burmese language in the early 20th century was a fictional recreation of Tabinshweihti's reign.

Modern Military Operations

The campaign against communist insurgents in 1962 was named Operation Tabinshwehti.


Charney, Michael Walter (1998). "Rise of a Mainland
Trading State: Rahkaing Under the Early Mrauk-U Kings, c. 1430-1603." Journal of Burma Studies 3: 1-34.

Fernquest, Jon (2005b) "Min-gyi-nyo, the Shan Invasions of Ava(1524-27), and the Beginnings of Expansionary Warfare in Toungoo Burma: 1486-1539." SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research 3.2 Autumn.

Harvey, G.E. (1925) History of Burma from the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824, The Beginning of the English Conquest, London: Longmans, Green and Co.

Kala, U. 1959-1961. Mahayazawinkyi [The great chronicles]. 3 vols. Burma Research Society,Burmese text series no. 5. vol. 1 (1959) and vol. 2 (1960), edited by Saya Pwa, vol. 3 (1961), edited by Saya U Khine Soe. Rangoon: Hanthawaddy Press. (Kala I, 1959; Kala II, 1960; Kala III, 1961)

Leider, Jacques Pierre. (1998) "Le Royaume D'Arakan (Birmanie): Son Histoire Politique Entre le Debut du XV et la Fin du XVII Siecle," PhD dissertation, Institut
National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris.

Lieberman, Victor B. (1980) "Europeans, Trade, and the Unification of Burma, c. 1540-1620," Oriens Extremus 27 (1980):203-226.

Pinto, Fernão Mendes. 1989. The travels of Mendes Pinto. Translated and edited by Rebecca. D. Catz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Shorto (tr.) (no date) Unpublished typescript translation of pp. 34-44, 61-264 of Phra Candakanto (ed.) Nidana Ramadhipati-katha (or as on binding Rajawamsa Dhammaceti Mahapitakadhara), authorship attributed to Bannyadala (c. 1518-1572), Pak Lat, Siam, 1912.

Surakiat, Pamaree (2005) "Thai-Burmese Warfare during the Sixteenth Century and the Growth of the First Toungoo Empire." Journal of the Siam Society 93: 69-

Surakiat, Pamaree (2006) "The Changing Nature of Conflict between Burma and Siam as seen from the growth and development of Burmese states from the 16th to the 19th centuries." ARI Working Paper, No. 64, March 2006,