Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

Medieval and Early Modern Myanmar and its Global Connections (900 - 1824AD)

1600s - 19th century
Origin of the Kokang

Kokang (now a ""Self-Administered Zone"") has a particularly interesting history. In the mid-1600s, the Ming dynasty in China was falling fast to the invading Manchus. The last Ming emperor (the Yongli Emperor, better remembered as the Prince of Gui) fled first to Yunnan and eventually across the border to Ava (Inwa). The new Manchu ""Qing"" dynasty would rule until 1912.In the train of the last emperor were tens of thousands (perhaps more) of Ming loyalists. One of these was a...

The Armenian Community of Myanmar

One of the least known but most interesting of Myanmar's minority communities were the Armenians. They had migrated here from Persia as early as the 1610s and the first Armenian tombstones in Myanmar date back to 1725. Hundreds of Armenian-Burmese served at the Court of Ava and worked as businessmen in Amarapura, Mandalay and Rangoon and elsewhere. The Strand Hotel was built by the Armenian Sarkies brothers (who also built the Raffles in Singapore). An Armenian-Burmese (Peter Aratoon) also owed...

The Jewish community of Myanmar

One of Myanmar's least known minority communities are the Myanmar Jews. There have likely been Jews in Myanmar for many hundreds of years, perhaps since ancient times. The first Jew known to Myanmar history was Solomon Gabirol, who served as an officer in the army of King Alaungpaya (c.1755). Jonas Goldenberg, a Moldavian Jew, made a fortune in logging as a business partner of the Mandalay court under King Mindon. 

Many Jews who arrived in the 19th century were Baghdadi...

17th Cen
Myanmar's first Christians?

Easter was perhaps first celebrated in Myanmar by the country's likely first Christians: the Nestorians, who may have arrived as early as the 7th century (ie even before the "Myanma" ethnicity existed). The Nestorians were widespread in China under the Tang (7th and 8th centuries AD) as well as across Central Asia and in Persia and parts of India. During the time of the Bagan (Pagan) dynasty, there was a large Nestorian presence in Yunnan (according to Marco Polo). The...

Panthay Muslims of Yunnan and Myanmar

One of the greatest explorers in world history was a Panthay Muslim from the Burma-Yunnan border. President Xi Jianping is this week touring Africa. In 1413, a great fleet of Chinese ships were arriving for the first time along the African coast (they would bring back with them, amongst other things, a giraffe for the Ming Emperor's menagerie). This was the fourth of seven monumental voyages (all in the early 15th century) commanded by the great admiral and imperial eunuch...

16 January 1516
Bayinnaung's birthday

Myanmar's archetypal warrior-king Bayinnaung who was born 16 January 1516. His polyglot empire dominated mainland southeast Asia, integrating the Irrawaddy valley with the Tai-speaking uplands and Chao Phraya valley to the east. His personal name was Ye Htut.

The map shows Bayinnaung's empire at its height c. 1565 after his conquests of Siam, and the Lanna and Lanxang kingdoms. The even more cosmopolitan empire of Arakan was of course then a separate and significant power.

The map is from GE...

9 September 1580
Bayinnaung's invasion of Arakan in 1580

On 9 September 1580: Bayinnaung began a massive invasion of Arakan. The Toungoo realm was then at its greatest extent - reaching from Manipur in the west across all the Shan states to Lanxang (Linzin in Burmese or Vientienne) and Ayutthaya in the east. Only Arakan remained.The invasion was led by Prince Thiri Thudhamma Raza of Martaban and was a joint land and naval expedition that included 24,000 foot, 1,200 horses, 120 elephants, and 1,300 vessels (leaving from Cape Negrais)....

The history of Raja of the Bohmong Circle

By historical accident, a direct male-line descendent of King Bayinnaung still holds hereditary office in neighbouring Bangladesh. A son of King Nanda Bayin (son of Bayinnaung) was placed in charge of an area around Chittagong by the King of Arakan in 1599 (after the successful Arakanese attack on Pegu). He was Maung Saw Pru and reigned until 1631. Ever since, his descendants have ruled over what's become known as the "Bohmong Circle", home to over 200,000 people of Arakanese, Burmese,...

The Bayingyis of Myanmar

One of the smallest but perhaps most interesting Christian community in Myanmar are the Bayingyi of the Mu valley (near Shwebo). "Bayingyi" is a derivation of the Arabic "Feringi" or "Frank", meaning, roughly, a western European. It's the same as the Thai word "Farang" or the Khmer "Barang". The first Bayingyi of the Mu valley were the hundreds of mainly Portuguese followers of the Syriam warlord Filipe de Brito who were exiled there by King Anaukpetlun in the early 1600s....

April 1613
The end of Filipe de Brito

In April 1613 the warlord Filipe de Brito e Nicote (known as Nga Zinga in Burma) was impaled on a stake in Syriam. He was the most colourful of Portuguese adventurers: he began his life in poverty in Lisbon, served the king of Arakan as a mercenary, and then rose to become to the lord of Syriam. His friend and ally was the renowned Burmese prince, poet, and polo player Natshinaung of Toungoo. Together with a motley crew of Portuguese,...

"People of Pegu" c. 1617

An early European depiction of a woman and man in what is today lower Myanmar. The image is from a book by Father Manuel D'Abreu Mousinho on the exploits of the Portuguese adventurer Salvador Ribeyro de Souza. In the 16th and 17th centuries thousands of Portuguese and people of mixed Luso-Asian descent served different regimes at Mrauk-U, Ava, Pegu, and Martaban as well as their own 'king of Syriam' Filipe de Brito e Nicote. The people of the Pegu area...

March 1659
Richard Cogan: the Englishman who saved Burma?

In the 1650s the Manchus were completing their conquest of China. As they moved into Yunnan, thousands of Ming soliders (of the old dynasty) together with freebooters, their wives and children crossed the hills into Burma, attacking Shan principalities and advancing towards Ava itself. By March 1659 a force of approximately 4,000 Chinese cavalry reached Tada-U and laid siege to Ava. Portugese and Decanni Muslim artillerymen were employed by the king (Pindale) for the defense of the city walls. It...

April 1661
Somewhere at the bottom of the Yangon River: the "Koning David" ship

Somewhere at the bottom of the Yangon River: The "Koning David" a Dutch "East Indiaman" (ship) that had sailed from the Cape of Good Hope to Batavia and then to Pegu before sinking just off the coast of what is today Yangon in April 1661. The ship belonged to the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company) and its captain was Kornelis Rob of Amsterdam. The enterprising Dutch then had a fairly substantial business operation in Myanmar (Burma), with offices...

5 May 1757
Alaungpaya’s occupation of Pegu and the defeat of Hanthawaddy kingdom

On 5th May 1757, Pegu fell to the forces of Alaungpaya, ending the war between the upper and lower Irrawaddy valley, extinguishing the Hanthawaddy kingdom, and establishing the Konbaung as the new rulers of all Burma. The war had taken place within the context of the global “Seven Years War” whose battlefields stretched from Quebec to Pomerania to Bengal. In Burma the Konbaung were aided by the British, whereas the Hanthawaddy kingdom under its Mon ruler Bannya Dala was actively...

1765 - 22 December 1769
The Treaty of Kaungton

The Treaty of Kaungton was signed on 22 December 1769 and thus, ending the Sino-Burmese War (1765-22 December 1769). Burmese forces had sucessfully resisted four Qing (Manchu) invasions, including a massive 4th invasion of over 60,000, aimed at the annexation of Burma by the Emperor Qianlong. It was the Qing Empire's greatest defeat.The Qing armies included elite Bannermen - Manchus and Mongols as well as Han Chinese - brought down from the Russian border. The Burmese side was led by...