TOUNGOO DYNASTY (1510–1752)

TOUNGOO DYNASTY (1510–1752)

The Toungoo Dynasty (also spelled Taungoo Dynasty) was the ruling dynasty of Burma (Myanmar) from the mid-16th century to 1752. Its early kings Tabinshwehti and Bayinnaung succeeded in reunifying the Pagan Empire for the first time since 1287, and in incorporating the Shan States for the first time. At its peak, the First Toungoo Empire also included Manipur, Chinese Shan States, Siam, and Lan Xang, but the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia collapsed in 1599, 18 years after Bayinnaung's death. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Survivors of the destruction of Inwa eventually established a new kingdom centered on Taungoo in 1531 led by Tabinshwehti (reigned 1531-50), who once again unified most of Myanmar. By this time. the geopolitical situation in Southeast Asia had changed drastically. The Shan gained power in a new kingdom in the North. Ayutthaya (Siam) while the Portugese had arrived in the south and conquered Malacca. With the coming of European traders Myanmar was once again an important trading center. and Tabinshwehti moved his capital to Bago due to its commercial value. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]

Tabinshwehti's brother-in-law. Bayinnaung (ruled 1551-81) succeeded to the throne and proceeded on a campaign of conquest conquering several states, including Manipur (1560) in present-day India and even Ayutthaya (1569) in present-day Thailand.. His wars stretched Myanmar to the limits of its resources however and both Manipur and Ayutthaya were soon independant once again. Faced with rebellion by several cities and renewed Portugese incursions. the Tourngoo rulers withdrew from southern Myanmmar and founded a second dynasty at Inwa. ~

Bayinnaung's grandson, Anaukpetlun, once again reunited Myanmar in 1613 and decisively defeated Portuguese attempts to take over Myanmar. His successor Thalun reestablished the principles of the old Bagan kingdom but spent too heavily on religious expenditure and paid to little attention to the southern part of his kingdom. ~

The kingdom entered a gradual decline due to the "palace rule" of its kings. Starting from the 1720s, the kingdom was beset with pesky raids by the Manipuris of the Chindwin valley and a nagging rebellion in Chiang Mai. The Manipuri raids intensified in the 1730s, reaching increasingly deeper parts of central Burma. In 1740, the Mon in Lower Burma began a rebellion, and founded the Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom. Encouraged by the French in India, Hanthawaddy finally rebelled against Inwa, further weakening the state. The Hanthawaddy armies captured Ava in 1752, and ended the 266-year-old Toungoo dynasty.

First Toungoo Empire (1510–1599)

Beginning in the 1480s, Ava faced constant internal rebellions and external attacks from the Shan States, and began to disintegrate. In 1510, Toungoo, located in the remote southeastern corner of the Ava kingdom, also declared independence. When the Confederation of Shan States conquered Ava in 1527, many Burmans fled southeast to Toungoo, the only kingdom remaining under Burman rule, and one surrounded by larger hostile kingdoms. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Toungoo, led by its ambitious king Tabinshwehti and his deputy Gen. Bayinnaung, would go on to reunify the petty kingdoms that had existed since the fall of the Pagan Empire, and found the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia. First, the upstart kingdom defeated a more powerful Hanthawaddy in the Toungoo–Hanthawaddy War (1535–1541). Tabinshwehti moved the capital to newly captured Pegu in 1539. Toungoo expanded its authority up to Pagan in 1544 but failed to conquer Arakan in 1546–1547 and Siam in 1548. Tabinshwehti's successor Bayinnaung continued the policy of expansion, conquering Ava in 1555, nearer Shan states (1557), Lan Na (1558), Manipur (1560), Farther/Trans-Salween Shan states (1562–1563), Siam (1564, 1569), and Lan Xang (1574), and bringing much of western and central mainland Southeast Asia under his rule. +

Bayinnaung put in place a lasting administrative system that reduced the power of hereditary Shan chiefs, and brought Shan customs in line with low-land norms. But he could not replicate an effective administrative system everywhere in his far flung empire. His empire was a loose collection of former sovereign kingdoms, whose kings were loyal to him as the Cakkavatti (Universal Ruler), not the kingdom of Toungoo. +

The overextended empire unraveled soon after Bayinnaung's death in 1581. Siam broke away in 1584 and went to war with Burma until 1605. By 1593, the kingdom had lost its possessions in Siam, Lang Xang and Manipur. By 1597, all internal regions, including the city of Toungoo, the erstwhile home of the dynasty, had revolted. In 1599, the Arakanese forces aided by Portuguese mercenaries, and in alliance with the rebellious Toungoo forces, sacked Pegu. The country fell into chaos, with each region claiming a king. Portuguese mercenary Filipe de Brito e Nicote promptly rebelled against his Arakanese masters, and established Goa-backed Portuguese rule at Thanlyin in 1603. +

Restored Toungoo Kingdom (Nyaungyan Restoration) (1599–1752)

While the interregnum that followed the fall of Pagan Empire lasted over 250 years (1287–1555), that following the fall of First Toungoo was relatively short-lived. One of Bayinnaung's sons, Nyaungyan, immediately began the reunification effort, successfully restoring central authority over Upper Burma and nearer Shan states by 1606. His successor Anaukpetlun defeated the Portuguese at Thanlyin in 1613; recovered the upper Tenasserim coast to Tavoy and Lan Na from the Siamese by 1614; and the trans-Salween Shan states (Kengtung and Sipsongpanna) in 1622–1626. His brother Thalun rebuilt the war torn country. He ordered the first ever census in Burmese history in 1635, which showed that the kingdom about two million people. By 1650, the three able kings–Nyaungyan, Anaukpetlun and Thalun–had successfully rebuilt a smaller but far more manageable kingdom. [Source: Wikipedia +]

More importantly, the new dynasty proceeded to create a legal and political system whose basic features would continue under the Konbaung dynasty well into the 19th century. The crown completely replaced the hereditary chieftainships with appointed governorships in the entire Irrawaddy valley, and greatly reduced the hereditary rights of Shan chiefs. It also reined in the continuous growth of monastic wealth and autonomy, giving a greater tax base. Its trade and secular administrative reforms built a prosperous economy for more than 80 years. Except for a few occasional rebellions and an external war—Burma defeated Siam's attempt to take Lan Na and Martaban in 1662–64—the kingdom was largely at peace for the rest of the 17th century. +

The kingdom entered a gradual decline, and the authority of the "palace kings" deteriorated rapidly in the 1720s. From 1724 onwards, the Manipuris began raiding the Upper Chindwin valley. In 1727, southern Lan Na (Chiang Mai) successfully revolted, leaving just northern Lan Na (Chiang Saen) under an increasingly nominal Burmese rule. The Manipuri raids intensified in the 1730s, reaching increasingly deeper parts of central Burma. In 1740, the Mon in Lower Burma began a rebellion, and founded the Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom, and by 1745 controlled much of Lower Burma. The Siamese also moved their authority up the Tenasserim coast by 1752. Hanthawaddy invaded Upper Burma in November 1751, and captured Ava on 23 March 1752, ending the 266-year-old Toungoo dynasty. +

Pegu (Bago) Kings of the Taungoo Dynasty

King Mingyinyo founded the First Taungoo Dynasty (1486–1599) at Taungoo, far up the Sittang River south of Ava, towards the end of the Ava dynasty in 1510 AD. After the conquest of Ava by the Shan invaders in 1527 many Burmans migrated to Taungoo which became a new center for Burmese rule. The dynasty conquered the Mohnyin Shan peoples in northern Burma.

Mingyinyo's son King Tabinshwehti unified most of Burma, consolidating his power and pushing southward, overrunning the Irrawaddy Delta region and crushing the Mon capital of Bago (Pegu). In 1544, Tabinshwehti was crowned as king of all Burma at the ancient capital of Bagan. A period of unrest and rebellions among other conquered peoples followed and Tabinshwehti was assassinated in 1551.

Faced with rebellion by several cities and renewed Portuguese incursions, the Taungoo rulers withdrew from southern Myanmar and founded a second dynasty at Ava, the Nyaungyan Dynasty or Restored Taungoo Dynasty (1597–1752). Bayinnaung's grandson, Anaukpetlun (1605–1628), once again reunited Myanmar in 1613 and decisively defeated Portuguese attempts to take over Myanmar, but the empire gradually disintegrated. Anaukpetlun's successor Thalun (1629–1648) rebuilt the war torn country. Based on Thalun's revenue inquest in 1635, the kingdom's population was estimated to be around 2 million. The Taungoo dynasty survived for another century and a half, until the death of Mahadammayaza in 1752. Encouraged by the French in India, Pegu finally rebelled against Ava, further weakening the state, which fell in 1752.

King Tabinshwehti (ruled 1531-50)

King Tabinshwehti (b. 1512,ruled 1531-50) unified Myanmar and was the second monarch of the Toungoo dynasty. Mingyinyo's son, he consolidated his power and pushed southward, overrunning the Irrawaddy Delta region and crushing the Mon capital of Bago (Pegu). In 1535 Tabinshwehti began a military campaign against the kingdom of Pegu in southern Myanmar, capturing the city of Bassein in the Irrawaddy delta. Four years later Pegu fell. and Takayutpi, the Pegu king, fled to Prome (northwest of the present Yangon). Employing Portuguese soldiers of fortune, Tabinshwehti captured the towns of Martaban and Moulmein in 1541, and in the following year he took Prome. With most of the southern princes his vassals, he dominated southern Myanmar as far south as Tavoy on the border of Siam (Thailand). [Source: Myanmar Travel Information, Wikipedia ~~]

In 1544, Tabinshwehti was crowned as king of all Burma at the ancient capital of Bagan. By this time, the geopolitical situation in Southeast Asia had changed dramatically. The Shan gained power in a new kingdom in the North, Ayutthaya (Siam), while the Portuguese had arrived in the south and conquered Malacca. With the coming of European traders, Burma was once again an important trading center, and Tabinshwehti moved his capital to Pegu due to its strategic position for commerce. ~~

Although Tabinshwehti's campaigns in southern Myanmar were extremely savage he adopted many Mon customs. incorporated Mon soldiers into his army, and made the ancient city of Pegu his capital in 1546. The king planned to use Myanmar as a base from which to invade Siam. His first campaign outside of Myanmar was in Arakan, the kingdom to the west of the Irrawaddy delta, where he attempted to place a subservient local prince on the throne; his siege of the capital at Mrohaung was suspended after the Siamese attacked Tavoy. Tabinshwehti's forces were defeated at Arakan but he was able to gain control of Lower Burma up to Prome. He led his retreating army eastward to Ayutthaya where he was defeated again by Siamese forces. His campaign to Ava in Upper Burma was likewise unsuccessful. ~~

After the defeats Tabinshwehti gave himself up to drink, leaving to his brother-in-law. Bayinnaung. the task of suppressing a southern revolt. In 1550 Tabinshwehti was assassinated by a rival prince. who proclaimed himself king at Pegu. Bayinnaung crushed the revolt and carried on his brother-in-law's work of unifying Myanmar. ~~

King Bayinnaung (reigned 1551-81)

Tabinshwehti's brother-in-law, King Bayinnaung (reigned 1551-81) conquered the Shan States and Siam (now Thailand). making Myanmar the most powerful kingdom in mainland Southeast Asia. An energetic leader and effective military commander, he reigned 30 years, launching a campaign of conquest against Manipur in India (1560) and Ayutthaya in Siam (1569) and extended Taungoo’s borders from Laos to Ayutthaya, near Bangkok. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information, Wikipedia ~~]

In 1550 a revolt broke out among the Mons of southern Myanmar. This was followed by the assassination of Tabinshwehti at Pegu in 1551 by a Mon prince. Bayinnaung marched to Toungoo, eliminating a pretender to the throne there and proclaimed himself king. He then marched south and captured the city of Pegu and executed the rebel leader, Smim Htaw. The other Mon rulers then surrendered and the revolt ended. Bayinnaung made Pegu his capital as Tabinshwehti had. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

In 1554 Bayinnaung set out against Shan chiefs who occupied the ancient Myanmar capital of Ava. He captured it the following year. The Shans were placed under Myanmar suzerainty and Bayinnaung was consequently in a position to attack his most powerful enemy, Siam. In 1563 Bayinnaung took as a pretext for war the refusal of the Siamese to acknowledge his suzerainty. The following year he captured the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya and brought the Siamese royal family to Myanmar as hostages. In 1568 when a revolt flared up Bayinnaung again invaded Siam. Because the Siamese put up fierce resistance Ayutthaya was not captured until August 1569. The Myanmar king installed a new vassal on the throne and deported thousands of Siamese into Myanmar as slaves. The Myanmar dominated Siam for more than 15 years; they were expelled by a liberation movement led by a Siamese prince.

Bayinnaung was a patron of Buddhism; he built pagodas, gave generous donations to monasteries and maintained extensive diplomatic relations with the Buddhist kingdom of Ceylon. When Pegu was burned in a Mon revolt in 1564 he rebuilt it on an even grander scale, making it one of the richest cities in Southeast Asia. His wars however stretched Myanmar to the limits of its resources, and both Manipur and Ayutthaya, which had remained under Myanmar domination for 15 years, were soon independent once again. Bayinnaung was poised to deliver a final, decisive assault on the kingdom of Arakan when he died in 1581. His son Nanda Bayin and his successors were forced to quell rebellions in other parts of the kingdom, and the victory over Arakan was never achieved.

King Nanda (reigned 1581-99) and King Binnya Dala (reigned 1747-57)

King Nanda.(reigned 1581-99) ruled during a period that ended with the dismemberment of the empire established by his father, Bayinnaung. Upon coming to the throne, Nanda Bayin was faced with a rebellion of his uncle. the viceroy of Ava, whom he defeated three years later. In 1584 Nanda Bayin marched into Siam, which had been a vassal of his father, to subjugate the Siamese patriot Naresuan. For the next three years he sent several armies into the Chao Phraya river valley near present-day Bangkok, but Naresuan defeated all of them. The Siamese then went on the offensive, taking Tavoy and Tenasserim in 1593. Nanda Bayin's troubles were compounded when another group of his father's subject peoples in southern Myanmar revolted and invited the Siamese to occupy Martaban and Moulmein on the Salween River.

In 1595 Nanda Bayin was obliged to retreat to Pegu and defend the city from a Siamese attack. In 1599 Nanda Bayin's brothers, the viceroys of Toungoo, Prome and Ava, revolted and. after inviting the king of Arakan to join in the fray, besieged Pegu, took Nanda Bayin prisoner and dismembered the last remnants of Bayinnaung's empire. Nanda Bayin's reign had been a series of catastrophes but this was due less to a lack of energy and initiative on his part than to the overreaching ambition of his father, who had built an empire too large to govern.

King Binnya Dala (reigned 1747-57) was the last king of the Taungoo Dynasty. He ruled from Pegu in southern Myanmar, whose independence from the northern Myanmarns was revived briefly between 1740 and 1757. In 1747 Binnya Dala succeeded Smim Htaw Buddhaketi, who had seven years earlier been set up as king of the Mon in the new capital of Pegu after their successful revolt against the Myanmarns. Binnya Dala. who was his predecessor's chief minister and a more capable military leader, made numerous raids into northern Myanmar, penetrating beyond Ava, the capital. In 1751 he raised a large army for the conquest of northern Myanmar, capturing Ava in April 1752. Two years later he executed the last king of the Toungoo dynasty. Binnya Dala was eventually deposed by Alaungpaya. the founder of the Myanmarn Alaungpaya dynasty, who captured Pegu in 1757. He was kept captive and was executed by Alaungpaya's son Hsinbyushin. in 1774.

Restored Hanthawaddy (1740–1757)

Though Toungoo kings would rule all of Lower Burma well into the mid-18th century, the golden age of Hanthawaddy was fondly remembered by the Mon. In 1740, they rose up against a weak Toungoo Dynasty on its last legs, and succeeded in restoring the fallen Hanthawaddy Kingdom. Supported by the French, the upstart kingdom quickly carved out a space for itself in Lower Burma, and continued its push northward. On 23 March 1752, its forces captured Ava, and ended the 266-year-old Toungoo dynasty. [Source: Wikipedia +]

A new dynasty called Konbaung led by King Alaungpaya rose in Upper Burma to challenge the southern forces, and went on to conquer all of Upper Burma by January 1754. After Hanthawaddy's second invasion of Upper Burma failed in May 1754, the kingdom's leadership in self-defeating measures killed off the Toungoo royal family, and persecuted ethnic Burmans in the south, both of which only strengthened Alaungpaya's hand. In 1755, Alaungpaya invaded Lower Burma. Konbaung forces captured the Irrawaddy delta in May 1755, the French defended port of Thanlyin in July 1756, and finally the capital Pegu in May 1757. +

The fall of Restored Hanthawaddy was the beginning of the end of Mon people's centuries-old dominance of Lower Burma. Konbaung armies' reprisals forced thousands of Mons to flee to Siam. By the early 19th century, assimilation, inter-marriage, and mass migration of Burman families from the north had reduced the Mon population to a small minority. +

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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