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Thailand - Ayutthaya Kings

King Ramathibodi l (1350-1369)

The Kingdom of Sukhothai was eventually supplanted by the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, founded by U Thong, an adventurer allegedly descended from a rich Chinese merchant family who married royalty. When an outbreak of plague occurred, King U Thong and his people evacuated the old Ayutthaya city to establish a new town and set up a new government system. He moved his court south into the rich floodplain of the Chao Phraya. On an island in the river he founded a new capital, which he called Ayutthaya, after Ayodhya in northern India, the city of the hero Rama in the Hindu epic Ramayana. He divided the civil service administration into four departments, namely Wiang, Wang, Khlang, and Na, which were collectively called "Chatusadom" (Interior, Royal Household, Finance, and Agriculture). This system which the King initiated was effective for more than 400 years. King U Thong, the first king of Ayutthaya, was also known as King Ramathibodi I.

The city of Ayutthaya was established as the capital in AD 1350, but the emergence of the Ayutthaya Kingdom was not so sudden. There is evidence that King U Thong, the first king of Ayutthaya, and his subjects had previously evacuated the city to establish a new capital in Nong Sano District. This area had long been settled, and many of the important temples situated near the bank of the Pa Sak River near Ayutthaya existed before the new town's establishment.

Throughout the 19 years of King Ramathibodi I's reign, Ayutthaya was enlarging and expanding its power over nearby territories. Ramathibodi tried to unify his kingdom. In 1360 he declared Theravada Buddhism the official religion of Ayutthaya and brought members of a sangha, a Buddhist monastic community, from Ceylon to establish new religious orders and spread the faith among his subjects. He also compiled a legal code, based on the Indian Dharmashastra (a Hindu legal text) and Thai custom, which became the basis of royal legislation. Composed in Pali -- an Indo-Aryan language closely related to Sanskrit and the language of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures -- it had the force of divine injunction. Supplemented by royal decrees, Ramathibodi's legal code remained generally in force until the late nineteenth century.

King Borommatrailokkanat (1448-1488)

One century after the establishment of Ayutthaya, King Borommatrailokkanat, the eighth king of Ayutthaya, established the authentic Royal Kingdom between AD 1448-1488. The power of the king was centralized through government and state administration reforms. The king ceased sending high-ranking members of the royal family to rule the provinces and instead appointed aristocrats from the central government to rule under the supervision of officials in Ayutthaya, to whom they reported. Furthermore, King Borommatrailokkanat also established the sakdina system (feudal system); under this system people could own rice fields in proportion to their rank. Sakdina was used to separate people according to status, and for the allocating or withdrawing of privileges.

King Ramathibodi II (1491-1529)

During the reign of King Ramathibodi II, Ayutthaya began to have more contacts with foreign countries. The Portuguese were the first to establish a relationship and to trade with Ayutthaya. They brought with them the technology for manufacturing cannons and constructing fortresses, and they taught new battle strategies. As a result, towns and town walls were built in the important localities of the kingdom. The wealth gained from trade with foreign countries resulted in the construction of temples and the palace. The construction of a huge Buddha image wrapped in gold, the principal Buddha image in Wat Phra Si Sanphet, resulted in foreigners often talking about the beauty and wealth of Ayutthaya.

After King Chairachathirat ascended the throne (1534-1546), there was another great change in Ayutthaya. Following the king's assassination, there was a fight for the throne. Ayutthaya's leaders became weaker, while Burmese leaders gradually became stronger. The Burmese army attacked Ayutthaya in AD 1569 in the reign of King Maha Chakkraphat. Ayutthaya was defeated for the first time. Burma captured the city and took the people and all the wealth.

King Naresuan the Great (1590-1605)

Fifteen years later, King Naresuan declared Ayutthaya's independence from Burma. Throughout his reign there were wars with Burma until finally Burma became weaker and no longer was strong enough to invade Thailand. Ayutthaya grew stronger and expanded its authority to nearby towns, once more becoming a prosperous kingdom.

The sixteenth century witnessed the rise of Burma, which, under an aggressive dynasty, had overrun Chiang Mai and Laos and made war on the Thai. In 1569 Burmese forces, joined by Thai rebels, captured the city of Ayutthaya and carried off the royal family to Burma. Dhammaraja (1569-90), a Thai governor who had aided the Burmese, was installed as vassal king at Ayutthaya. Thai independence was restored by his son, King Naresuan (1590-1605), who turned on the Burmese and by 1600 had driven them from the country.

Determined to prevent another treason like his father's, Naresuan set about unifying the country's administration directly under the royal court at Ayutthaya. He ended the practice of nominating royal princes to govern Ayutthaya's provinces, assigning instead court officials who were expected to execute policies handed down by the king. Thereafter royal princes were confined to the capital. Their power struggles continued, but at court under the king's watchful eye.

In order to ensure his control over the new class of governors, Naresuan decreed that all freemen subject to phrai service had become phrai luang, bound directly to the king, who distributed the use of their services to his officials. This measure gave the king a theoretical monopoly on all manpower, and the idea developed that since the king owned the services of all the people, he also possessed all the land. Ministerial offices and governorships -- and the sakdi na that went with them -- were usually inherited positions dominated by a few families often connected to the king by marriage. Indeed, marriage was frequently used by Thai kings to cement alliances between themselves and powerful families, a custom prevailing through the nineteenth century. As a result of this policy, the king's wives usually numbered in the dozens.

Even with Naresuan's reforms, the effectiveness of the royal government over the next 150 years should not be overestimated. Royal power outside the crown lands--although in theory absolute -- was in practice limited by the looseness of the civil administration. The influence of central government ministers was not extensive beyond the capital until the late nineteenth century.

King Narai the Great (1656-1688)

The reign of King Narai the Great can be said to be the period when Ayutthaya reached its zenith. There was trade with Portugal, Holland, Japan, and England, not counting China, which was already trading with Ayutthaya. Closer ties with France were established in order to lessen the influence of other Western countries like Holland. In conse- quence, the relationship between Siam and France prospered greatly. During this time, diplomatic corps were sent to Siam, and the coming of a large number of Europeans enriched the city. This resulted in more progress with the help of new technology in architecture, medicine, astronomy, and military affairs. The palace, other buildings, and fortresses were constructed in the Western style.

After King Narai's death, the fight for the throne constantly caused internal conflicts, so the people lacked unity to protect their kingdom. Finally, the Burmese army invaded again. Ayutthaya lost the battle in the reign of King Ekkathat in 1767, and the palace and all the temples were burnt.

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Page last modified: 08-04-2012 18:43:21 ZULU