Southeast Asian Warfare, 1300-1900

Southeast Asian Warfare, 1300-1900

Southeast Asian Warfare, 1300-1900

Southeast Asian Warfare, 1300-1900

Synopsis

This study of warfare in Southeast Asia between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries examines the chief aspects of warfare in the region. It begins with an examination of the cultural features that made warfare in the region unique, followed by a discussion of the main weapons used, and the two major sites of fighting, sieges and naval contests. Three chapters examine the role played by animals such as elephants and horses. The final two chapters examine the shift from mercenary armies and masses of levies to smaller standing armies. The study closes with an examination of the tumultuous nineteenth century, in which European naval power won the coast and rivers, while Southeast Asians held the advantage further inland.

Excerpt

Among the most famous of early European-Southeast Asian military contests was that waged by various Burmese states against the Portuguese enclave at Syriam (1601-1613), ruled by Filippe de Brito y Nicote. One of the main sources for these campaigns is the personal account of Salvador Ribeyro, a Spanish captain in De Brito’s service, who had returned to Spain after falling out with De Brito. Far from being biased in his consideration of the quality of indigenous warfare, Ribeyro described Burmese forces with a respect that would have seemed odd to his nineteenth century counterparts. Ribeyro, like many Iberians of his day, was not preoccupied with issues of technological superiority over non-Europeans. As he relates in his account, the Burmese possessed the same kind of warfare technology as the Portuguese, for they too had cannon, muskets, and powder jars. Burmese were also innovative in their reaction to Portuguese tactics, at one point erecting a complicated system of nets to toss Portuguese powder jars back away from their walls and onto the Iberian assailants. Indeed, rather than technological superiority, Ribeyro indicates that divine intervention was his salvation. As he describes the fighting at one point when all seemed lost:

Our side was in very truth in notable peril, but as the cause they
defended was God’s, His help could not fail them. As the fiery column
guided the people of Israel, and killed the saucy soldiers sent by King
Ahab to take the holy Prophet Elias, even so near midnight, when the
enemy’s attack was hottest and our men stood bravely to their ramparts,
the Divine Majesty caused to appear above the Fort a wheel of fire
equal to the circuit of the walls. Little by little it rose, growing ever
larger, and then settled down with bright and burning flames upon the
machines and the encampment of the enemy, to their great fear, and
great comfort of our men, who seeing in the marvel the mercy of God’s
pitiful hand, gave thanks and discharged their carbines and cannon with

Adas observes that Iberians in the early centuries of European exploration believed in the technological superiority of their ships, but had little to say about other kinds of technology. Adas 1989, 27.

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