The Tai Kingdom of Ayutthaya [ Ayuthaya ]The Ayutthaya Kingdom dominated trade and politics in the region for 417 years. In 1347 from within the neighbouring town of U Thong a new settlement was created on the Lop Buri, Pasak and Chao Phya rivers. Ayuthaya was founded in 1350 by King U-Thong. The City of Ayutthaya was so positioned for defence and trade.
In 1350 the City was positioned on a bow in the Chayo Phraya River, later moats were cut isolating the city blocks surrounded by water ways for defence and water transport. Subsequently a parallel system of canals were dug in a north- south direction cutting the city land mass into an urban hydraulic system. The remains of some of these can be seen today. At its zenith it controlled the area of South East Asia shown on the map below.
The Ayutthaya Kingdom saw 5 dynasties, 33 kings and was involved in 70 wars. In 1352, King Ramathibodi of Ayutthaya conquered the Khmer and in 1378 the Empire conquered the Kingdom of Sukhothai to its north. Again in 1431 the Ayutthaya Kingdom waged war with the Khmer finally sacking Angkor after a 7 month siege. From 1548 -1578 the city was under siege from the Mon Burmese. In 1767 the City and Empire collapsed and was sacked and burnt down. What we see today at the World Heritage Park at Ayutthaya are the ruins in brick, stone and stucco of that event in 1767.
Early Ayutthaya [ Ayuthaya ]Ayutthaya was a centre of administrative power for the lower Chao Phraya Basin from 1350. Originally there were 2 Kingdoms, Lavo and Ayutthaya. Important ancient ruins of this prior period are Thammikkarat Temple, Khunmuangchai Temple, Pakaew Temple, Bhudthaisawan Temple and Phananchoeng Temple. There is also the works of art of the early U-Thong style. King U-Thong commanded the construction of the new city in 1347 and it was founded in April 1350 and called Krung Thep Dvaravati Si Ayutthaya . This island city is detailed in the major places of interest link for Central Thailand.
Absolute Monarchy In The Ayuthayan KingdomUnlike the patriarchal system of the Kingdom of Sukhothai, in Ayutthaya beliefs from Indian and Khmer influences prevailed and the King was seen as both Emperor and God [ or Deity ] at the same time. People had to kowtow and kneel down and put their hands on their heads and place their foreheads on the ground, rather excessive behavior. Brahmanism and buddhism laid the basis of monarchial power and controlled the minds of the subjects.
This system had its supporters who benefited from the myth of the divine right of Kings [ just the same as in the European Monarchial systems ]. Ayutthaya society was divided into the haves, the administrators, and the have not, the commoners and slaves. The priesthood was regarded as a separate institution. The distinguishing issue was known as sakdina meaning status in terms of land. Slavery was not abolished in Thailand until 1905. Today some Thai pay homage to the then King who freed them from slavery and regard him as a God. Until 1905 commoners were known as ‘’phrai ‘’. In Ayutthaya times commoners and slaves under the corvee system were utilised by the elite to provide manpower for political and economic benefit. There were precise rules to define and govern the obligations of the phrai. Slaves were a recognised type of civilian. There were 7 classified types of slaves depending upon the method or reason for their indenture. All captives of war became slaves, debtors and bankrupts became slaves to pay off their debts, parents would sell their children to pay off debts, some destitute people would sell themselves and some were born slaves as the children of slaves. The concept of slavery was, and still is, prevalent throughout Asia, and elsewhere in the world.
Western InfluencesIn the 16th C European powers developed their sea power and could navigate the Cape of Good Hope to enter and interfere in Asia. The Portuguese were the first in Siam in 1551, then Spain in 1598. Their aim was to promote Christain Catholicism. Then came the Dutch in 1602. The British followed into Siam in 1612. In 1662 the Catholic French sought to develop influence in the reign of King Narai the Great through the influence of the Greek adventurer Constantine Phaulkon. This episode in Siam's history is dealt with in the Events link for Central Thailand. The Europeans exerted influence in Asia through their trading in arms. [ As is still the case in the 20th C ]. The role of arm's trading is pivotal to the course of events in the Burmese wars.
The Decline and Destruction of AyuthayaAyutthaya was not simply destroyed by the Burmese, there was a sickness within to destroy its strength. The power of the King was absolute, but without functionaries, the commoners who had no right to participate in National affairs and hence no interest in politics. The aristocrats were consumed in competition for political power. Ayutthaya's insecurity originated in the many rebellions and attempts to usurp the throne. This occurred 13 times. The country lost its discipline in administration and disunity arose. The commoners felt discouraged to protect the Kingdom. There was no sense of nationhood in modern political terms. The vassal states were no longer interested in fighting the Burmese, so Ayutthaya went it alone and was destroyed. This story is significant as today's Thailand is a Nation with all its citizens having a national identity and sense of purpose.
The Destruction of The Empire and KingdomIn the 16th C European powers developed their sea power and could navigate the Cape of Good Hope to enter and interfere in Asia. The Portuguese were the first in Siam in 1551, then Spain in 1598. Their aim was to promote Christian Catholicism. Then came the Dutch in 1602. The British followed into Siam in 1612. In 1662 the Catholic French sought to develop influence in the reign of King Narai the Great through the influence of the Greek adventurer Constantine Phaulkon. The Europeans exerted influence in Asia through their trading in arms. [ As is still the case in the 20th C ]. The role of arm's trading is pivotal to the course of events in the Burmese wars.
These wars were all fought by Buddhists against Buddhists. On the Burmese sides there were at different times, Mons, Shan and Burmese ethnic groups. These three groups at times had wars between themselves and sometimes some supported the Tai in their wars with the Burmese. On the Tai side it involved the Kingdom of Lan Na, Ayutthaya and its successor Kingdom. In Thailand's history the most defining results are 218 years of Burmese occupation of Upper North Thailand and the sacking of Ayutthaya and the resulting emergence of Bangkok. There were 24 wars when Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam and 20 wars when Thon Buri, and later Bangkok was the capital of Siam.
There were two important issues in these wars. First was the role of fire-arms and second was the need for access to the Andaman Sea for trade and access across the Southern Peninsula. Chinese cannons were used in the 15th C but warfare changed decisively when the Portuguese sold arms in bulk from 1510. In addition Portuguese mercenaries were employed to fight. For example in 1563, 400 Portuguese mercenaries mounted cannons on platforms to fire over the city defence walls of Ayutthaya to kill its citizens.
Different victories by either side were largely the result of the acquisition of the latest military equipment and the support of foreign mercenaries. Traditionally the balance of power in war depended on elephants and large armies but the introduction of cannons and small arms changed the nature of war and the mobility to fight anywhere. The southern centres had access to the sea and trade for guns. So by the mid 16th C the supply of arms precipitates a wave of fighting. The Burmese strategy of using elevated cannons to subdue the population within the city walls became standard practice.