Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture

By John S. Bowman | Go to book overview
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In the late thirteenth century, Marco Polo refers to a thriving port that is possibly Temasek; archaeological evidence dating from the late fourteenth century suggests that Temasek is engaged in prosperous commerce. However, these histories conflict with Chinese chronicles from this time, in which piracy and violence in a small outpost are described. The stories in the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), which are intended to establish a venerable Malaccan lineage, describe a great trading city destroyed by Srivijaya. The island is referred to as Singapura, or the “Lion City,” which has led historians to propose a variety of interpretations, inasmuch as there are no lions on the island. The Portuguese traveler Tomé Pires's account, written just after the fall of Malacca in 1511, describes Singapore as consisting of nothing more than a few villages that are engaged in war and piracy. The picture of a small port lying off the main trade route, at times tied to an empire and at times surviving on piracy, emerges from these disparate sources.

13th century: Temasek (Sea Town) is likely the site of a small Srivijayan port on what is now Singapore.

1365: The Javanese epic poem Nagarakertagama describes a settlement on Singapore as Temasek.

Early 14th century: A Chinese trader's chronicle describes Temasek as a port with Chinese inhabitants and some two hundred to three hundred pirate boats.

By 1365: Majapahit (Javanese) lays claim to Temasek as vassal state.

c. 1390: According to Malay legend, Sumatran prince Paramesvara rebels against Majapahit and is driven out by the Javanese. He establishes himself as ruler on Singapore.

c. 1398: Singapore is attacked by invading Majapahit and Ayudhya (Siamese) empires. According to tradition, Paramesvara leaves for Malacca on Malay Peninsula and founds a sultanate. Singapore remains a minor port, with a small population of orang laut (sea people), under vassalage to Malacca.

1613: Date of burning down of a port, possibly Singapore, by the Portuguese after seizing Malacca.

Early 19th century: Temenggong (chief) of Johor Abdul Rahman establishes a town on the former site of Singapore. It is populated by a small number of Chinese and Malays, as well as the orang laut tribes.


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