The history of Thailand

"Prathet Thai" is the official name of Thailand. Translated, this means "land of the free". 

The varied history of the country can hardly be divided into clearly defined epochs.


Just the question of whether, before the founding of the Sukhothai Empire of Thailand, it was even possible to speak of an independent history in relation to Thailand, divides the historians. But one thing is clear: The history of Thailand is shaped by dynasties that have united the cultures of past empires.

Table of Contents

  1. Early history: The Khmer rule today's Thailand
  2. Mon peoples founded the first states or kingdoms on Thai soil
  3. The Birth of the Kingdom of Thailand: The Empire of Sukhothai (1238-1350)
  4. The Sukhothai Empire flourished under King Ramkhamhaeng
  5. Ayutthaya takes over the Sukhothai Empire with virtually no bloodshed
  6. The Ayutthaya Empire reached its heyday in the mid-18th century
  7. Modern Thailand: The Chakri Dynasty 

1.) Early history: The Khmer ruled today's Thailand

The traces of the Thais are to the years 2,500 to 3,600 BC. To trace back to BC. In any case, the findings of clay and bronze vessels in the village of Ban Chiang (northeast Thailand) in 1967 prove the presence of prehistoric cultures. Traces of rice chaff deposits were also found in the Banyan Valley Cave; Settlement buildings could even be proven up to the 5th millennium BC by excavations.


However, the history of the prehistoric Thai peoples is sometimes in the dark. Only individual incidents are known. For example, in 2637 BC they joined forces. BC nine Thai tribes together in order to jointly offer resistance against Chinese conquerors. 1860 BC Then the two former adversaries joined forces to confront the Mongol tribes of the Gienjong, who threatened the Thais and Chinese. 122 BC Thai tribes finally founded the Kingdom of Aliao in southern China, which was conquered by the Chinese 35 years later before it was able to regain its independence in 9 AD. The first cities (Singburi, Nakhon Pathom, Ratchaburi, etc.) were founded in central Thailand even before the turn of the century (around 43 BC).


Researchers assume that at this time the early Thai peoples used the kingdom of Aliao as a stepping stone to advance further south. As they orientated themselves on smaller tributaries on their march south and avoided the deeply cut large rivers such as Salween or Mekong, the Thais hardly came into contact with the local population. The territorial gains of the Thai tribes are therefore not considered to be classical conquests, but are rather understood as an assimilation or takeover.

2.) Mon people founded the first states or kingdoms on Thai soil

While the Thais, Chinese, Khmer, Burmese and the Mon peoples fought armed conflict over centuries over areas in southern China, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, the year 857 AD is an important date in the history of the origin of the Kingdom of Thailand. In that year, Prince Phrom founded the city of Fang, west of Chiang Rai. Although the city never really grew in importance, the kingdom spread from Prince Phrom to Sawankhalok, which is north of Sukhothai. However, the Thais' urge to conquer was restricted by the Burmese and the Khmer, who claimed the area of today's Thailand for themselves and populated it accordingly. In contrast, several small Thai kingdoms developed in the region around Luang Prabang (today's Laos).


The Mon peoples, who lived in southern Burma and in northern and central Thailand, founded the first kingdoms based on the model of the Indianized Funan Empire in what is now Thailand. The cities of Nakhon Pathom and Lamphun probably acted as centers. The Khmer, who experienced their heyday between the 9th and 12th centuries and ruled large parts of Southeast Asia, then extended their sphere of influence under King Jayavarman II to the northeast of Thailand; Lopburi and Ayutthaya were the most important Khmer cities in today's Thailand.


In the 11th century, several Thai tribes finally immigrated to today's Thailand, displaced the Khmer around 1238 under the legendary Sri Indraditya and promptly founded the first states such as Sukhothai or Lan Na. Sukhothai was the first Thai kingdom to sustainably claim today's territory of Thailand as its dominion.

3.) The Birth of the Kingdom of Thailand: The Empire of Sukhothai (1238-1350)

Thailand's official history then begins with the Sukhothai Empire; the city of Sukhothai is revered today as the cradle of the Kingdom of Thailand. When King Sri Indraditya (1238 - 1257) founded the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai in 1238, however, for a long time it was not foreseeable how powerful the kingdom would become. In any case, in the early days Sukhothai did not get beyond the status of a local size. King Ban Muang (1257 - 1279), the eldest son of Sri Indraditya, succeeded in making a first major demonstration of power when he and his army drove the last Khmer out of Sukhothai in the year of his coronation as king. The following years were marked by many political, social and territorial upheavals.


Thus, in addition to the kingdom of Sukhothai, other Thai rulers were formed who, hungry for power, sought control over the area of today's Thailand. The kingdoms of Lan Na and Chiang Rai in particular should prove to be constant adversaries for power and possessions; King Mengrai was considered Sukhothai's greatest adversary.

4.) The Sukhothai Empire flourished under King Ramkhamhaeng

When the second eldest son of Sri Indraditya, Ramkhamhaeng, became king in 1279, the Sukhothai Empire began a steep rise. Despite various cultural influences, the legendary military leader and King Ramkhamhaeng (1279 - 1298) managed to form a unified state structure, using diplomatic and military means to push back the Khmer and other adversaries ever further. Incidentally, it was Ramkhamhaeng who developed the Thai alphabet, which is still used today, around 1283. The empire was based on an ideology or order that was strongly influenced by Mongolian systems of rule, while the culture emerged from assimilation with other tribes such as the Khmer. The Thais, on the other hand, took over the faith or religion from the Mon peoples who practiced Sinhala Buddhism. The kingdom was also defined by free trade, a mild judiciary, tax exemption and free access to the king. Thanks to these characteristics, the Sukhothai Empire had a comparatively modern state for the time.


The city of Sukhothai was of particular importance due to its excellent strategic location on the old trade routes between Angkor and Pagan. In order to secure this strategic advantage, for example, in 1275 King Mengrai of Mae Sot attacked the city with a vastly outnumbered army; however, the desired conquest of the city did not succeed. Even China had to recognize the strength, power and state of Sukhothai and in 1282 sent a delegation to the city to negotiate a peace treaty; In 1287 Ramkhamhaeng even concluded alliances with the Thai states Lan Na and Phayao. Sukhothai also offered such a rich heritage of cultural and architectural achievements and works of art that historians consider the time under King Ramkhamhaeng to be the heyday in the history of the Kingdom of Thailand. Sukhotai was first referred to as Siam in the 13th century.

5.) Ayutthaya takes over the Sukhothai Empire with virtually no bloodshed

After Ramkhamhaeng's death (1298) the empire began to decline almost immediately. Under the new King Lo Thai (1298 - 1346) Sukhotai lost more and more importance, as power in the empire was divided and it was divided into several principalities. The beneficiary of this situation was the Principality of Ayutthaya, which was able to significantly increase its sphere of influence. When Sukhotai had finally lost his ability to defend himself, Prince U Thong took over the kingdom almost without bloodshed and demoted Sukhotai's then ruler, King Liu Thai, to Ayutthaya vassal.


U Thong, on the other hand, was the first king to establish the Ayutthaya period and henceforth was called Rama Thibodi. In the period that followed, Ayutthaya determined political events in almost the entire Southeast Asian region; A total of 33 rulers controlled the fate of the kingdom during this period (1351-1767). Rama Thibodi already led the empire into a great future. He not only conquered Angkor and drove the then ruling Khmer king to Laos, but also wrote a code of law based on Hindu sources, introduced Theravada Buddhism and built a large number of magnificent temples. In the period that followed, the respective rulers competed to expand their area of power. The Khmer empire was finally destroyed in 1431 and the remains of the former Sukhotai dynasty were eliminated at the same time. However, Ayutthaya also had an uncomfortable rival in the kingdom of Lan Na at this time. Since there were constant conflicts and armed conflicts, the two empires were in a kind of permanent state of war. A relative equilibrium of power did not allow either party to achieve the final victory.

6.) Ayutthaya reached its heyday in the middle of the 18th century

According to the relevant traditions, the kings of Ayutthaya presented themselves as absolute rulers, who in part decided arbitrarily about the life and death of their subjects; the kingdom was practically transformed into an absolute rule. Ayutthaya first came into contact with Europeans under Rama Thiboldi II (1491-1529). Three trade delegations or embassies from Portugal visited the kingdom between 1509 and 1516; Thanks to the established trading stations, Ayutthaya subsequently operated a lucrative trade with the Europeans. As a result, however, the disputes and conflicts with Burma intensified. In 1549 the Burmese besieged Ayutthaya for four months, albeit in vain. For decades the battles against Cambodians and Burmese raged from then on. When Eka Thotsarot was crowned King of Ayutthaya in Thailand, he was able to sustainably improve and consolidate the political organization of Siam and also the external relations, so that he commanded an empire that was characterized by the largest territorial expansion to date. Ayutthaya only reached its heyday in the middle of the 18th century under the kings Boramakot (1733 - 1758) and Suriyamarin (1758 - 1767), before throne disputes and internal conflicts weakened the state lastingly and the strengthened Burma threatened the empire. Ayutthaya has now faced constant attacks from Burma. At first the enemy armies could still be pushed back, but the capital Ayutthaya was finally completely destroyed in 1767. King Taksin (1767 - 1782) founded a new capital with Thonburi, organized the armed resistance against the Burmese and reunited the empire in 1778. However, Taksin was deposed in 1982 and executed for megalomania.

7.) The Chakri dynasty

The history of the Kingdom of Thailand was strongly shaped by various events in the period that followed. With the creation of the Chakri dynasty and the later official renaming to Siam (1855), reconstruction was made possible and modernizations and reforms were implemented. Rama V (1868 - 1910) is still venerated today as the decisive reformer. In World War I, Siam fought on the side of the Allies and was one of the founding members of the League of Nations after the end of the war. After a limited armed conflict with France over the colonies of Cambodia and Laos (1940-1941), Siam and Thailand respectively survived World War II without becoming involved in major acts of war. Thailand is currently a constitutional Monarchy with an elected parliament, prime minister and the King as the Head of state. The King of Thailand is H.M. King Maha Vajiralongkorn - Rama 10, who took the crown after the death of his beloved father late King Bhumibol Adulyadej or Rama 9 in 2016.


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