Thursday, March 01, 2007

Suhkothai history's relevance for Mon history of Lower Burma

Looking beyond the contemporary nation state is important in writing pre-modern history. That the pre-modern state of Burma was very different from modern states of the 19th and 20th centuries is obvious. Limitations of communication and transportation over inhospitable terrain (with horses, elephants, and footpaths) made political control more difficult in pre-modern eras. This meant that the area of effective direct rule was a lot less and that remoter areas of indirect rule often had dual allegiances to the larger states around them. Despite this geographical separation of peoples, ideas and religious practices spread slowly but surely across regional boundaries.

Last weekend I found a thread of Thai history that touches upon Mon history in Lower Burma via the inscriptional and chronicle history of Sukhothai. Griswold and Prasert na Nagara (1972,40-44) has a long discussion about the founding of Martaban and how Ramannadesa [Mon Kingdom] was "tributary" to Sukhothai citing Rajadhirat texts and the Mulasasana. Griswold and Prasert na Nagara(1975, 41) which has a good overview of Sukhothai history covering all the kings. There certainly seems to be a clear intellectual genealogy from Coedes to Griswold and Prasert na Nagara to Vickery. They are all dealing with the same issues and Vickery seems to be going back to Coedes's more regional approach:

"In studying the Hsien-Ayutthaya-Martaban-Pegu-central northern Menampolities and the relations between Ayutthaya and Cambodia, it might be helpful to bracket out entirely conceptions of modern boundaries and think rather of an area of ancient common cosmopolitan culture and constantly shifting alliances." (Vickery,2004, 23-24)

He poses some textual issues that have yet to be resolved:

"There too, a certain Ba๑a U was ruler in Martaban and moved from there to establish a new dynasty in Pegu just about the same time as Uthong was active inAyudhya, and in some versions this occurred in 1369, also a year of important change in Ayutthaya. Just like the Uthong of Ayudhyan history, he is supposed to have comefrom a provincial town, or former capital, to found what would henceforth be a new political center for his people. According to one Mon chronicle,78 his reign was 19 years like that of Uthong-Ramadhipati, although at slightly different dates (1364-1383), and he was also followed by a king entitled rajadhiraj, although a son, rather than a brother or brother-in-law, who, like the first Param Rajadhiraj of Ayudhya, was involved in a long series of campaigns against rivals to the north. This suggests that the foundation stories in both the Mon and Ayutthayan chronicles derive from a common origin, or have contaminated one another." (Vickery, 2004, 23)

I would just like to note that the period in question was a period of continual endemic warfare, so the fact that both of the two kings above were both engaged in warfare is not really that exceptional, rather something to be expected.


Coedes, George (1968) The Indianized States of Southeast Asia, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. [Google Books]

Griswold, A. B. and Prasert na Nagara (1975) "On Kingship and Society at Sukhodaya," In Change and Persistence in Thai Society, ed. by William Skinner and A. Thomas Kirsch, 29-92. Ithaca and London : Cornell University Press.

Griswold, A.B. and Prasert Na Nagara (1972) "King Lodaiya of Sukhodaya and his contemporaries, Epigraphic and historical studies, no. 10," Journal of the Siam Society.

Vickery, Michael (2004) "Cambodia and Its Neighbors in the 15th Century," ARI Working Paper No. 27, June 2004,