Malacca Sultanate

The Malay Sultanate of Malacca
كسلطانن ملايو ملاك
Kesultanan Melayu Melaka



The extent of the Sultanate in the 15th century
Capital Malacca
Languages Classical Malay
Religion Hinduism (upon founding), then Islam
Government Monarchy
 •  1400–1414 Iskandar Shah
 •  1414–1424 Megat Iskandar Shah
 •  1424–1444 Muhammad Shah
 •  1444–1446 Abu Syahid Shah
 •  1446–1459 Muzaffar Shah
 •  1459–1477 Mansur Shah
 •  1477–1488 Alauddin Riayat Shah
 •  1488–1511 Mahmud Shah
 •  1511–1513 Ahmad Shah
 •  1400–1412 (first) Tun Perpatih Permuka Berjajar
 •  1445–1456 Tun Ali
 •  1456–1498 Tun Perak
 •  1498 - 1500 Tun Perpatih Putih
 •  1510–1511 Paduka Tuan
 •  Established 1400
 •  Portuguese invasion 1511
Currency Tin ingot, native gold and silver coins
Today part of  Malaysia
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The Malacca Sultanate (Malay: Kesultanan Melayu Melaka; Jawi script: كسلطانن ملايو ملاك) was a Malay sultanate centred in the modern-day state of Malacca, Malaysia. Conventional historical thesis marks c. 1400 as the founding year of the sultanate by a renegade Malay Raja of Singapura, Parameswara who was also known as Iskandar Shah.[1]:245–246 At the height of the sultanate's power in the 15th century, its capital grew into one of the most important entrepots of its time, with territory covering much of the Malay Peninsula, Riau Islands and a significant portion of the east coast of Sumatra.[2]

As a bustling international trading port, Malacca emerged as a centre for Islamic learning and dissemination, and encouraged the development of the Malay language, literature and arts. It heralded the golden age of Malay sultanates in the archipelago, in which Classical Malay became the lingua franca of the Maritime Southeast Asia and Jawi script became the primary medium for cultural, religious and intellectual exchange. It is through these intellectual, spiritual and cultural developments, the Malaccan era witnessed the enculturation of a Malay identity,[3][4] the Malayisation of the region and the subsequent formation of an Alam Melayu.[5]

In the year of 1511, the capital of Malacca fell to the Portuguese Empire, forcing the last Sultan, Mahmud Shah (r. 1488–1511), to retreat to the further reaches of his empire, where his progeny established new ruling dynasties, Johor and Perak. The legacy of the sultanate's political and cultural legacy remains to this day. For centuries, Malacca has been held up as an exemplar of Malay-Muslim civilisation. It established systems of trade, diplomacy, and governance that persisted well into the 19th century, and introduced concepts such as daulat – a distinctly Malay notion of sovereignty – that continues to shape contemporary understanding of Malay kingship.[6] The fall of Malacca benefited Brunei when its ports became a new entrepôt as the kingdom emerged as a new Muslim empire in the Malay Archipelago, attracting many Muslim traders who flee from the Portuguese occupation since the ruler of Brunei conversion into Islam.[7][8]


  • History 1
    • Early foundation 1.1
    • Growth 1.2
    • Golden era 1.3
    • Portuguese invasion 1.4
  • Post-1511 2
    • Portuguese Malacca 2.1
    • Chinese retaliation 2.2
    • Successors of Malacca 2.3
  • Administration 3
  • Islam and Malay culture 4
  • Trade 5
  • Legacy 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Readings 9


Early foundation

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 Srivijaya to its knees. The complete destruction of Srivijaya 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.

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.[9] 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. Its wealth and success however, 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.[10][11][12] The fifth and last king, Iskandar Shah fled to the west coast of the Malay Peninsula.

Iskandar Shah (also known as "Parameswara" 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). Legend has it that the king saw a mouse deer outwit his hunting dog into the water when he was resting under the Malacca tree. He thought this boded 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.[13] 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.[14]


Map of 15th century Malacca and its contemporaries.

Following the establishment of his new city in Malacca, Iskandar Shah 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.[15] 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) send his envoy headed by Yin Qing to Malacca in 1403.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] In 1411, Iskandar Shah headed a royal party of 540 people and left for China with Admiral Zheng He to visit Ming's court.[19] 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.[20]

During the reign of Iskandar Shah'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.[21] 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.[22][23][24] 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.[25] 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).[26][27] 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.[28] Shortly after, Raja Tengah adopted the Muslim name, Muhammad Shah and the title Sultan on the advice of the ulama.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31]

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.[32] 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.[33][34][35]

Golden era

The replica of Malacca Sultanate's palace which was built from information and data obtained from the Malay Annals. This historical document had references to the construction and the architecture of palaces during the era of Sultan Mansur Shah, who ruled from 1458 to 1477.

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.[36] 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, then known as 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 Ayuthayan king. 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 Maharaja Dewa Sura and his daughter, Onang Seri who were handed over to Sultan Mansur Shah. The Sultan appointed Tun Hamzah to rule Pahang.[37][38] A policy of rapprochement with Ayuthaya was later initiated by Mansur Shah to ensure steady supplies of rice.[31]

The military prowess of the sultanate was further strengthened with nine young Pendekars who were famous for their bravery and appointed by the Sultan as Hulubalangs 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, skilful and brave among them, was conferred the office of Laksamana ('admiral') by the Sultan. On his royal visit to Majapahit, Mansur Shah was also accompanied by these young warriors. At that time, Majapahit was already at a declining state and found itself unable to check on the rising power of the Malay sultanate. After a display of Malaccan military prowess in his court, the king of Majapahit married off his daughter, Radin Galuh Cendera Kirana to Sultan Mansur Shah and relinquished control over Indragiri, Jambi, Tungkal and Siantan to Malacca.[39][40]

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 a 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.[41] 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.[42]

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.[43] 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.[44]

The Vietnamese were defeated by Malacca during an invasion of Lan Sang as reported in a Chinese account.[45]