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The Bay and the Straits: The Melaka Era (1402-1641) in the Bengal Region

Rila Mukherjee

     Southeast Asia scholars see the founding of Sultanate Melaka as port and polity in 1402/03 facilitating a centralization of trade after the vacuum created by the polycentric Srivijaya empire’s decline which had fragmented the related Bay of Bengal world between 1300 and 1400.1 This study challenges the claim that Sultanate Melaka’s success as entrepôt lay in introducing new networks by integrating the China Seas with the Bay of Bengal, and will demonstrate that it was merely furthering an indigenous process already in place prior to 1402. It will contest the older, but ancillary, view that the commercial boom generated by Melaka from 1511 benefited all parties, and question the commonly held notion of Portuguese Melaka ushering in a new ‘Age of Commerce’ in the post-1511 period. It will do so with the aid of a change of historical perspective from that of Portuguese Melaka to the perspective of the northern Bay of Bengal where the province of Bengal and its uplands are situated (see the modern map 1). Although it is generally believed that the chief reason for the vitality of economies was a state of ‘openness’ in the ‘borderless’ Portuguese era, research from the records of the north Bay trade suggest that the openness was ephemeral and the borderlessness was, in actual fact, strictly controlled through the operation of very specific networks that ignored Bengal’s robust land-sea networks. The results will be placed within the context of two opposing, but well-established views. These are Anthony Reid’s thesis of a sixteenth century ‘age of commerce’ followed by a period of stagnation and decline that was visible in the Dutch capture of Melaka in 1641, and Victor Lieberman’s view of the seventeenth century as a ‘watershed’ in mainland Southeast Asia history. 2 This study includes a brief appendix with a number of related classroom activities.

Map 1: The Bay of Bengal and the Strait of Malacca (Melaka), 2006.3

Neglect of the Northern Bay of Bengal

Long before the Portuguese and Dutch attempts to control trade in the Melaka Straits, the Straits connected India’s Bay of Bengal coastline to the China Seas. Fringed by the Gulfs of Siam and Tonkin, and the Java, Banda, Celebes and Sulu Seas, this busy region saw not only the passage of great ocean-going vessels, but also coastal and small-scale local traffic, which, like its riverine traffic, has gone largely unrecorded.

     Southern Bay studies of imperial Chola-Srivijaya-Song China links or the Kalinga-Temasik-Melaka axis dominate historical scholarship.4 The Strait’s linkages with the northern Bay of Bengal geographical unit, called Sinus Gangeticus by Claudius Ptolemy, and comprising the Bengal and Arakan polities that are contained within India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, have received little attention with regard to the first Melaka era of 1402 to 1511. Also, if we study Lorenz Fries’ 1535 map with ‘Mallaqua’ (map 2), we see that India’s peninsular east-coast and the MyanmarMalay Bay of Bengal coastlines are well represented in the Portuguese era but the Bengal region, lying in the intermediate region between India intra Gangem (India within the Ganges) and India extra Gangem (India beyond the Ganges) and depicted by two wide but unnamed rivers which are obviously the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, is a blank marked by heathen practices and devil worshippers. Thus it is understandable that Sultanate Melaka retained Temasik’s (forerunner of modern Singapore) commercial ties with India’s Odisha (formerly Orissa)-Andhra coast, called ‘Kalinga’ (and its people Kling) in the Malay Annals. The term referenced India’s Vijayanagara polity (1336-1565) which replaced to a certain extent Chola-era networking in the southern Bay of Bengal. The Annals mention Kling merchants in permanent residence at Melaka. One such was given the title of Raja Mendaliar (Mudaliar, a Tamil title), made Port-Master, and became the richest man at Melaka. Another Kling merchant was ‘Kittul’. So, Kalinga, and not Bengal, was a source of Indian cotton textiles, and when Melaka’s Sultan Mahmud Shah needed forty varieties of textiles he dispatched Hang Nadim there for these had to be made according to royal specifications.5

Map 2: Lorenz Fries, “Tabula nova utriusque Indiae,” (Vienna: Gaspar Trechsel, 1522-1541). 6

The Greater Bengal Region

     The region is physically distinctive as its funnel-shaped coastline is the only asamudrahimacala region (from the mountains to the sea) in land-locked north India. Little mentioned are the Himalayan rivers that link remote uplands through numerous estuaries, including present day India’s northeast. The lower part of the Bengal region is defined by a huge low-lying delta called bhati (tidal zone) in the local language. The trans-regional common topography (upland/lowland and riverine to sea), climate (subtropical to tropical) and weather patterns (monsoon) make this world a composite unit in terms of seafaring trade and other contacts before the advent of modern navigation.

     These geographic quirks molded sailing conditions. As Bengal’s inverted funnelshaped coast generated vicious cyclones, mariners were aware of the risk of sailing southward during May and in July-August. Northeast monsoon winds blow between October-November and February, enabling shipping from east-coast India and Sri Lanka to Southeast Asia. From May-June until September, monsoon winds help ships to return via Lanka to India and beyond.

     The Bengal-Melaka run was an integral part of this perilous maritime world. A longused passageway prior to Melaka’s foundation, it is not possible to argue that that the northern Bay of Bengal entered the Straits trade network only in the second Melaka era (1511-1641). Until the eighteenth century, Bengali Hindus and Muslims were present in Straits so-cieties (and elsewhere in Southeast Asia) as goldsmiths, fishermen, slaves, interpreters, religious teachers, traders, diplomats, and warriors.7 Moreover, a ‘minor’ Bengali dynasty of four rulers, composed of Turkish adventurers who escaped to Sumatra’s Pasai from the turmoil arising out of Bengal’s reunification ca. 1352, ruled from ca. 1340 to 1390 when Zayn al-Abidin I restored the rightful dynasty at Pasai. 8

The Enigma of Melaka

     There are numerous debates regarding the date of the city’s foundation and the placename ‘Melaka’. The Sulalatus-Salatin, or Sejarah Melayu, known as the Malay Annals, suggest a date in the mid1200s. Diogo do Couto suggests ca.1350 or ca.1384, and Godinho de Eredia suggests the dates of 1398 or 1411. Georges Coedès placed the founding of Melaka around the year 1400. For Paul Wheatley Melaka was founded before 1403. But was Melaka already an emporium before 1400, as Gabriel Ferrand had suggested? Or, was it the Malaiur mentioned by Marco Polo in 1293?

     What does a given place name refer to exactly? If we disregard the old land-sea route over the Kra Isthmus (in Thailand, at the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula), the route up the straits to the Bay of Bengal, although troubled by piracy, were the most traversed passageway in the eastern Indian Ocean. ‘Malacca’ (with its different spellings) can refer to a settlement or city, a river, a city with a hinterland, a polity, the adjacent straits, the whole of the Malay Peninsula or any combination of these.9

     We do not know how far Melaka’s southern orientation disadvantaged the north Bay in this period. A calculation of Bengal’s bullion trends shows that the period from 1390 to 1415 was marked by heavy, yet disturbed, bullion inflows; 1416-29 saw the reverse—a net outflow from Bengal, suggesting negative trade balances; and the period from 1430 to 1492 saw a moderate but sporadic inflow of silver. It was the period from 1493 to 1533 (a period spanning the later years of the Sultanate and the early years of Portuguese Melaka) that saw steadily increasing inflow of silver on a regular basis.10 Thus the assumption that fifteenth-century Melaka provided a singular prominent intermediary marketplace at the intersection of Bay of Bengal, South China Sea, and Java Sea regional networks, does not seem to hold true for Bengal.

     Scholars such as Kenneth Hall view Melaka’s rise to prominence depending on the complexity of multicentered trade in the Indian Ocean, and the practicality of establishing a single Southeast Asia clearinghouse for East-West Indian Ocean trade in partnership with China in that era (see the graph below).11 As Melaka’s foundation coincided with the Ming Chinasponsored explorations in the Indian Ocean from 1405 until 1433, and since its decline from 1641 is mirrored by the Ming-Qing transition of 1644, it is but natural that the Melaka-China axis dominates studies of maritime Asia. Another reason why this sector attracts attention is due to the abundant documentation for the period.

Graphic: Trade Networks, c. 1300-1500. Used with permission from Kenneth R. Hall.12

     The China link, along with copious documentation on China’s tribute trade in Southeast Asia, makes fifteenth-century Melaka’s eastward networks more visible, but also reveal that China did not depend on Melaka alone to establish Indian Ocean contacts. While Ming rulers supported the founding of Melaka, Admiral Zheng He’s voyages are evidence of attempts to assert and revitalize the Tang-era China-centered tributary trade system. The Ming mounted independent tribute missions to the northern Bay countries (and elsewhere along the Indian Ocean). Seven maritime expeditions from Southeast Asia to the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and East Africa ports were undertaken by Ming China’s treasure fleet between 1405 and 1433.

     These capital-intensive missions illustrate the Ming desire to capture the Indian Ocean trade. In 1403, the Fujian Regional Military Commission was ordered to build 137 ocean-going ships. In the same year, various military units were ordered to build an additional 400 ships. In 1405, just after Zheng He departed on his first expedition, Zhejiang and other regional military commissions were ordered to build 1,180 ocean-going ships. By 1408, the task was assigned to a central ministry and the Ministry of Works was required to build fortyeight ‘treasure ships’. Each individual mission comprised between fifty and 250 ships, making them veritable armadas. A Ming shi-lu reference of 1427 mentions ’10,000 crack troops who had formerly been sent to the Western Ocean’, so a relatively large ratio of the members of these fleets were military men. Like the forces sent to Yunnan and Dai Viet, these forces would have been equipped with the best and most advanced firearms available in the world at that time.13 They were military missions with strategic aims, attacking Sumatra and Java (1407), Lanka (1411) and Samudra (1415), and conducting as yet undated attacks on the portcities of Ayutthaya and Calicut in attempts to impose tributary spaces in the Indian Ocean. Thus, it is debatable how far China depended on Melaka for its Indian Ocean networking. Significantly, it did not respond to Melaka’s appeal for military aid when faced with Portuguese aggression. Additionally, the first ‘Melaka era’ saw not only greater cross-cultural trade, but also considerable turmoil generated by China’s gun-boat diplomacy.

Northern Bay and Straits Worlds

     Although Melaka evolved into a great entrepôt within a hundred years of its foundation, we ignore that the transformation took place within a framework of developments in the northern Bay. As we noted, the late thirteenth to the early fifteenth centuries represented a transitional phase in Bay of Bengal, Melaka Straits and Island Southeast Asia history when many of the features that we note for the first Melaka era appeared. The fifteenth century, although little studied, brought in decisive changes. Cash cropping and commercialization were manifested in a trade boom, a demand for money and the emergence of new common means of exchange. Sophisticated technology was used in the newly established mints, and new financial systems of exchange appeared. The appearance of the Southeast Asian junk, new navigation techniques, the growing strength of Theravada Buddhism supported by Lanka and Bagan, introduction of new religions such as Islam and Christianity, and a mili-tary revolution were other fifteenth century manifestations. Yet more changes were territorial consolidation, emergence of a literate administration and a new history-writing, increasing prominence of legal codes and more links between Southeast Asia and India.14 A boom is discerned in the rise of cosmopolitan urban centers such as Melaka (ca. 1402), Arakan’s Mrauk U (ca. 1431), Ayutthaya’s prominence (ca. 1438) and Bengal’s Gaur (1450). Fifteenth century Melaka succeeded in replacing Buddhist religious, diplomatic and commercial networking with Islamic networking, but we have no idea how far Islamic adherence aided its Bay trade.

     The traditional Bengal-Melaka run was composed of a textiles-against-cloves trade and it knew the Islamicized polity of Bengal. In 1509: . . . there came a ship of the Franks from Goa trading to Malaka: and the Franks perceived how prosperous and well populated the port was. The people of Malaka for their part came crowding to see what the Franks looked like . . . and said ‘These are white Bengalis!’ 15 But why, since it lays in South Asia, are we seeing medieval Bengal as part of this Southeast Asian world? It is because, despite falling a victim to the Area Studies classification of South and Southeast Asia, the southeast Bengal-Arakan-Burma continuum was a composite unit called Monsoon Asia.16 Until the late sixteenth century maritime Bengal’s cultural and economic fulcrum was oriented toward mainland and island Southeast Asia rather than to the middle Gangetic plain which was the Indian heartland. Bengal had always been ruled from Laknawati/Pandua/Gaur/Tanda in western Bengal where Arid Asia ended, but its robust mercantile section lay in the dense forests and marshes of the southeast delta (now Bangladesh)—the start of Monsoon Asia. This line between South and Southeast Asia was the outer political frontier between Arid and Monsoon Asia.

     Bengal was the boundary between the terrestrial and maritime domains. In 1500, with a population estimated at 200,000, Gaur became the fifth-most populous city in the world and remained a primate city until its decline in 1575. Add this fact to the sixteenth-century Portuguese sources, and it is easy to understand why the second Melaka era draws our attention. A Portuguese account of 1521, on the occasion of a Melaka mission to Gaur, mentions an anonymous Bengal-based shipowner—‘Gromalle’—urging Bengal sultan Nusrat Shah to accept Portuguese suzerainty at sea: . . . if these noblemen (of Gaur) ask your highness not to make peace with the Portuguese it is because they receive numerous allowances. Above all it is because (Gaur) is one hundred and fifty leagues inland they do not fear reprisals . . . it is the poor merchants who travel the seas who have to pay for whatever happens.17

The Legend of ‘Portuguese’ Melaka

     Part of the reason for prioritizing ‘Portuguese’ Melaka was that the port-city was seen having strong maritime and military networks spanning east and west. Its importance was summed up by Tome Pires ca. 1513/14: ‘Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice . . . ’, a reference to Melaka’s monopoly over the eastern pepper trade. 18

     The ubiquity of Portuguese documentation made the legend of Melaka universal from the second decade of the sixteenth century and was due, in no small measure, to Pires’ Suma Oriental, which was written immediately after the Portuguese capture and which continues to color the historians’ imagination. But scholars note that sources on Melaka’s early history are so meagre, and often so contradictory, that not only is the detail in some doubt, but the whole framework of events rests on uncertain foundations. Ludovico de Varthema, for whom the Melaka Straits were a ‘river’ (Melaka was situated on the ‘river Gaza’—a corruption of the Arab word ‘boghaz’ for straits), noted ca. 1506: ‘(the Sultan) caused this place to be built about eighty years ago (my emphasis), because there is a good port there, which is the principal port of the main ocean . . . more ships arrive here than in any other place in the world’.19

     It is almost impossible to disentangle fact from legend in Melaka’s case, and what appear at first glance to be reliable testimonies—such as the stories of Melaka’s founding in the Suma Oriental, the Portuguese chronicles, or much later in Manuel Godinho de Erédia’s writings—represent the collective social memories of Portugal’s Asian subjects in Melaka after 1511. Similar problems arise with the Malay Annals, which reflect the collective memories of the post-Melaka Johor court, recorded in its most immediately recognizable and iconic form (Ms. Raffles 18) ca.1612.20

     The Portuguese capture of 1511 was not accidental. Melaka was already a target in the Cantino Planisphere (1502, not shown) which clearly marked ‘Malaca’ in the ‘Indian Sea’, while the Wolfenbuttel map (1510, not shown) depicted it as rich, populous and noble (‘A muito populosa & nobre & rica cidade de Malaca a qual de nos nao e sabida nem descuberta’). Other ports marked on this map are ‘Ormuz’, ‘Cambaia’ and Calicut, but none are depicted as prominently as Melaka.21

     Pedro Reinel’s map (1517, not shown) depicts Melaka proudly flying the Portuguese flag; and subsequent maps would contribute to the myth of Portuguese Melaka. Atlas Miller (1519, map 3) ‘Atlas Miller (1519, map 3) marks Melaka not just as port-city, but as a space denoting the entire Malay peninsula as does Joao Afonso’s Cosmographie (1545, not shown). Lopo Homem’s Mappamundi (1519, also not shown) marked the neighboring South China Sea region as ‘Malaca’, a nod to the contemporary practice of naming adjacent South China Sea islands the ‘archipelago of Malaca’, as did Duarte Barbosa.22

Map 3: Atlas Miller circa 1519, featuring Bengal, the Bay of Bengal, and Melaka with regional river systems in India and Burma. Source is in the Public Domain ( see

     Duarte Barbosa’s account of Melaka, written around 1518, noted that the Ansyane kingdom (Siam) threw out a great point of land into the sea, which made a cape where the sea returned again towards China to the north, and in this promontory was a small kingdom in which there was a large city called ‘Malaca’. He wrote: . . . this city of Malaca is the richest trading port and possesses the most valuable merchandise, and most numerous shipping and extensive traffic, that is known in all the world. And it has got such a quantity of gold that the great merchants do not estimate their property, nor reckon otherwise than by bahars of gold, which are four quintals each bahar. 23

     In actual fact, Melaka’s nodal position in Straits commerce was contested from the start. Pires also prioritized Samudra Pasai: The rich kingdom of Pase has many inhabitants and much trade . . . (it) stretches along by the sea coast . . . And now, since Malacca has been punished and Pedir is at war, the king-dom of Pase is becoming prosperous, with many merchants from different Moorish and Kling nations, who do a great deal of trade, among whom the most important are the Bengalees. There are Rumes, Turks, Arabs, Persians, Gujaratees, Kling, Malays, Javanese and Siamese. 24

     Portuguese dominance over the Melaka Straits after 1511 forced others to concentrate on the already-known, but lesser-used (and longer) Sunda Straits passage. A Portuguese map (1525, not shown) marks this passage, but not as part of the ‘official’ route, and Jean Rotz’ Atlas (1542, also not shown) marks the ‘Canal de Sunda’. 25 Although Linschoten remarked ca.1596 that the European (that is, Dutch) ‘discovery’ of the Sunda Straits route signaled European acquisition of Javanese pepper without running the Portuguese gauntlet at Melaka or the Ottoman stranglehold around Achin, Chinese and Gujarati merchants were already using the Sunda route, and it was known until 1450 as the ‘Gujarati route’. When most Gujarati traders moved to Melaka, private Portuguese traders used this route through the ports of Banten and Kelapa for smuggling pepper to China, since a large part of the pepper came from the Sunda area and was sold by local merchants to foreign merchants.26

     As more and more ports-of-call were discovered, the importance of Melaka as principal port-city receded. The Portuguese had failed to realize that Melaka was no more than an agreed-upon marketplace for the commodities of other centers, and when they seized Melaka the sedentary and migratory merchant communities responded by shifting their trade to other equally acceptable and mutually interchangeable regional ports such as Achin (from 1511), Banten (from 1527), Johor (from 1528), Ayutthaya and Pegu. 27 The Bengal trade at Portuguese Melaka was hampered by a customs duty of 8% against the usual 6% for other Asian shipping, and at the end of the sixteenth century the Bengal-Melaka trade was again hampered by the imposition of an exit duty at Melaka for goods destined for Bengal. This forced Asian mariners to explore alternate routes in the eastern Indian Ocean and led Asian merchants and Portuguese private traders to favor the Indonesia ports of Achin and Banten and the Malay peninsula ports of Kedah, Trang and Perak. 28

     Seventeenth-century Banten became an alternate Southeast Asia port and a lively trade center. Locals lived in the inner city and foreigners, among them Gujarati and Bengali Muslims, lived outside the city walls. Foreign ships visited this international port-city, as did local shipping which drew up alongside the walls bringing goods for export. Coming from the port, one entered the city by the river-mouth which formed the harbor itself. The shallowness of the port, five feet at high river tide, permitted only small boats to operate the shuttle between the port and the city when the cargos of the big ships were loaded and unloaded. To facilitate access, Sultan Ageng had the river dredged during the dry season of 1661 and constructed two piers in the sea to fight siltation.29

     As their trade receded at Melaka, Bengalis appeared as distinct communities throughout Southeast Asia. In central Java’s Jepara, where the administration seems to have been organized with several shahbandar (harbor master), two Bengalis held this position. Key Raxa Bengala was shahbandar in the mid1660s and took part in two embassies to Batavia; in 1674, Karti-Sedana was another Bengali among the shahbandar. ‘Since at least the 1660s, he was among the four major traders in town with much influence on the governor. Like his predecessor, he too took part in embassies to Batavia.30

     Bengalis had their own quarters at Banten, as at sixteenth-century Melaka and Pasai (Pires had noted ‘the people of Pase are for the most part Bengalees’). Achin’s rise from the mid-sixteenth century was a factor, for the export of textiles, rice and slaves to this Sumatra port, counterbalanced by the import of Indonesian spices, copper, silver, gold and war-animals, was important not merely at the close of the sixteenth century but well into the mid-seventeenth century when Achin entered commercial stagnation and joined the Bay slave trade. Bengalis in seventeenth-century Achin had their own quarters. Circa 1600 Achin’s market contained peoples and stalls of ‘China, Bengala, Pegu, Coro, Guserate, Arabia and Rumos’, while Banten’s market included all of these as well as Malays, Portuguese, French, Danes and Spaniards. 31

     This Bengal-Achin trade was a diversion from Melaka. The rise of alternative ports in the seventeenth century was partly due to the fact that from 1560 Portuguese interests in the Indian seas had become divergent and had moved away from the much wished-for centralizing role of Melaka. By the 1560s the Estado da India was conceived as three separate entities: one running along East Africa, one from Hurmuz to the Bay of Bengal, and a third extending from the eastern Bay of Bengal littoral to Macau. The Arabian Sea, with the Portuguese strongholds of Hurmuz and Goa became the official space of the Estado da India’s cartaz system while the Bay of Bengal, the space of concessions, became a ‘shadow empire’.32

     Where Melaka itself was concerned, Portuguese sources continue to talk of quite a considerable commercial traffic from Bengal to this port at least as late as the 1540s. But toward the middle of the century Gujarati merchants left the Bengal ports for some reason and concentrated on the Coromandel ports instead. There was a decline in the Bengal-Melaka trade thereafter, and this possibly contributed to the problems of rice supply faced by the Portuguese in the last two decades of the sixteenth century. The decline of independent Melaka-based Asian shipowners by the end of the sixteenth century, as well as the short-sighted policies followed by the captains of Melaka and their superiors at Goa and in Europe, contributed to the crisis in the Bengal-Melaka trade.33

     Significantly Melaka disappeared from Portuguese maps from the 1560s. As its importance receded, the practice of highlighting Melaka as port-city, a region or a larger maritime space also disappeared. The new style is evident from maps and atlases made between 1560 and 1640. In fact, when the Dutch captured Melaka in 1641, the city had already become a ghost of its former self. As Achin had lost its prominence with Sultan Iskandar Muda’s (r.1607-36) death in 1636, the VOC’s Malay ally Johor benefitted from Melaka’s decay. 35 The Dutch wanted their colonial capital of Batavia to be the regional entrepôt, and although they tried to revive Melaka the city never recovered its former glory.36 Other ports now dominated Straits commerce.

The Sixteenth-Century Bengal-Melaka Trade

     Having demonstrated the important role played by northern Bay people in the Straits region, let us see to what extent the Melaka-based Portuguese, both official and private individuals, piggybacked on Bengal’s networks. For this we need to appreciate Portuguese official and unofficial commercial roles in the region. Benefitting from the realignment of polities and networks, Portugal had claimed trading rights and dispatched squadrons to Gaur and Mrauk U in 1518, 1521 and 1534. An anonymous Portuguese document on Bengal in 1521 refers to Bengali Muslim shipping to Southeast Asia in the first half of the sixteenth century. A reference of 1522 discusses the Banten-Melaka accord. It mentions a grandee Bemgar (‘a clear Portuguese reference to his Bengali origin’), who was thereafter replaced by Tamil dignitaries, collectively designated as ‘Raja Mudelyar’, between 1522 and 1609. 37 The generic title mudalier designated port-masters. In maritime Southeast Asia, several port-masters bore the title of Raja Mudeliar (or Mendeliar) used in Tamil Nadu, and in the Tamil areas of Lanka and Malabar, to designate a head of territory. Klings were prominent in this post; during the sixteenth century they monopolized the position of portmaster at Banten, using the title of Mudaliar, but soon after the foundation of Banten, shahbandar Keling replaced the last Raja Mudelyar as harbor master. Since the term derived from Safavid Persia, this possibly indicates Islamization of the post, although the Bengal-Melaka trade was dom-inated by Klings, and the presence of Persians was marginal.

     Compared to the absence of data for fifteenth-century Bengal trade, Portuguese documentation is copious for sixteenth-century Bengal’s indigenous networks. In Portuguese perception, the first branch of trade from Bengal went to Melaka with textiles, rice, sugar and conserves. In the early sixteenth century this branch of trade sent up to five or six ships a year, some relatively small vessels, as well as one or two larger ones, whose cargoes may have been worth as much as 80,000 to 90,000 cruzados. While exports from Bengal largely comprised textiles and agricultural produce, imports into Bengal from Melaka included Borneo camphor, pepper, Moluccan spices, sandalwood, Chinese porcelain and silk, and metals. The import of metals probably comprised the base metals—copper, tin, lead and mercury—as well as the precious ones, with more of silver than gold.38

     The second branch of trade from Bengal went to Cosmin (Kusuma), the principal Pegu port which also traded with the Coromandel coast. Each year four or five Bengal vessels touched there, bringing all kinds of textiles. These normally arrived in March and early April, and returned in the end of June, taking back with them silver rings and small hoops of silver. Pegu, like Melaka, had its golden age—in terms of peace, security, religious activity, wealth and leadership—in the fifteenth century. The forging of economic, political, diplomatic and cultural ties with polities to the east of Muttama (Martaban) such as Sukhothai placed Pegu within the Kra Isthmus and the Melaka Straits in a significantly structural way that was to pay great commercial dividends,39 linking these to the Bengal trade. Pegu’s maritime age continued until it was conquered by Toungoo Burma in 1539 and lost its maritime power. Federici, visiting Pegu in 1566, commented: ‘the King of Pegu, hath not any army or power by sea’, but he also added that Toungoo Pegu was a hinterland power, of greater might than even the ‘great Turke’. 40 A third branch of Bengal’s early sixteenth-century trade went to the central Indian Ocean—Lanka, Malabar, and the Maldives—and a fourth went to Gujarat and the Red Sea, but less to the Persian Gulf. 41

     Did the transformation of Melaka into an international hub after 1511 herald a truly open and borderless era? In 1513, on Melaka captain Rui de Brito’s encouragement Nina Chatu, bendahara of Melaka, sent a ship to Bengal on a trading voyage to ‘give news of us in that land truthfully, so that they might come here without fear.’ In early 1516, an official Portuguese expedition was given the task of ‘discovering the Bay of Bengal’ and despatched Joao Coelho, who eventually reached Chittagong on a ship owned by a Muslim merchant, Ghulam Ali (Gromalle), described as a ‘relative of the governor of Chittagong’. Coelho remained in Bengal until 1518, when the first Portuguese fleet of three vessels commanded by D. Joao da Silveira arrived.42

     The Melaka-Bengal trade under Portuguese aegis took off ca. 1530. Around 1538, in return for Portuguese help against Sher Shah Suri’s invasion from northern India, Gaur’s Mahmud Shah granted Joao Correa part of customs collected at the port of Satgaon. Nuno Fernandes Freire was simultaneously appointed collector of customs at Chittagong. By the 1540s two carreira existed in Bengal—one for Chittagong, the other for Satgaon. Pipli entered Portuguese networks around 1560 becoming, like Chittagong and Satgaon, part of the concession trade that was introduced in the 1560s. But by the late 1570s the Chittagong and Pipli concessions declined, albeit temporarily, suggesting commercial decay, or perhaps a reorientation of Portuguese networks in the north Bay. 43 Satgaon, attracting the Crown trade, and Hugli after 1580, became the chief hubs of Portuguese trade in Bengal. The Arakan trade was meagre, not forming part of the concession trade.

     Turning our lens away from the chief ports of Satgaon and Chittagong, we find minor ports in the Bengal delta benefitting from Portuguese networks, not always through Crown trade but as ‘quasi-informal’ concessions. On April 30, 1559 a treaty was signed at Goa between Bakla’s king Paramananda Rai, and Portuguese Viceroy Constantino de Braganza. Bakla was thrown open to Portuguese shipping with fixed and low customs duties provided the Portuguese discontinued their visits to Chittagong, then under Arakan’s control. In return Bakla was granted license for four ships to trade with Goa, Hurmuz and Melaka. 44 This run, supplemented by stops at the Bengal port-towns of Sripur and Sandwip, introduced a new network in southeast Bengal that extended into lesser ports such as Loricoel and Catrabuh along the Padma-Meghna River system. As the formal and the ‘informal’ became intertwined at these river-ports benefitting from the new commercial networks, religious conversion accelerated. A Portuguese Augustinian church was built at Loricoel. Sripur’s king Kedar Rai gave Portuguese Francis Fernandez the right to erect a church in 1599, as well as land and money to that purpose. Around 1599/1600, Bakla’s king Pratapaditya gave Jesuit Father Fonseca the right to erect churches and carry out conversion, and the first Catholic church of Bengal was built in Ishwaripur with his financial help.45

     Private Portuguese traders entered into multiple networks from Bengal. The first was a textile-and-rice trade to Melaka, the second was the coastal trade to Nagapattinam, the Sinhalese ports, Cochin and Goa, and a third was to Hurmuz where Portuguese private traders brought from Bengal sugar, preserves, rice and textiles.46

     The private trade was not free from abuses. A pepper circuit, linking the Arabian Sea port-city of Cochin to the Bengal coast and with China and Ottoman Turkey as chief buyers, took off in the mid-sixteenth century and yielded in Bengal a net profit of around 76%. The trade, avoiding the official stronghold at Melaka, involved various levels of the Goa and Cochin Estado da India bureaucracy. The network went beyond the Bay of Bengal, spanning the Maldives and the central Sea of Ceylon circuits. The Portuguese controlled only the Sea of Ceylon circuit, and the Maldives and Bengal-Southeast Asia sectors were, despite their efforts, beyond control.47 The foundation of Portuguese Macau in 1557 has to be seen in the context of such clandestine commerce. Networks between Macau and the Portuguese-dominated Bay ports caused a rejigging of routes, diminishing the centralizing role of Melaka. The establishment of Spanish Manila in 1571 caused yet another reorientation, as it diverted official trade away from Melaka and opened new sea-lanes for contraband trade.48 Thus, private networks, and the Bengal’s coast’s participation in clandestine trade, undermined the hoped-for centralising role of Melaka. At the same time, unofficial networks created a borderless sea.

An Age of Commerce or Decline in the Northern Bay?

     The fluctuating fortunes of ports in Portugal’s shadow empire was not just restricted to the Bengal coast. When we ascribe Chittagong’s decline to the decay of inland Gaur, as well as the westward shift in Portuguese attention to Hugli and Pipli, we tend to forget that its fading importance occurs simultaneously with the rise of Mrauk U.49Melaka’s emergence in 1402 presaged Singapura’s decline, and Ayutthaya’s rise in 1438 was at Sukhothai’s expense. Sultanate Melaka’s hold over international trade was challenged by Samudra Pasai and Ayutthaya; Melaka’s fall to the Portuguese in 1511 benefitted Ayutthaya, Achin, Banten, and Pegu; and the Dutch conquest of Melaka in 1641 temporarily benefitted Achin and Johor.

     As the international Melaka era had only a limited impact in the northern Bay, and since other ports consistently challenged Melaka’s commercial dominance, it is appropriate to revisit Reid’s ‘age of commerce’ thesis insofar as the northern Bay world is concerned. The evidence presented in this article suggests that not only can the thesis be pushed back to the fifteenth century but, as the sixteenth century showed decline rather than growth in some parts, the decline was not confined just to the seventeenth century as Reid had argued.

     Hinterland and coastal polities declined simultaneously: Ava (1527), Bengal (1538), Pegu (1539), Lan Na (1558) and Ayutthaya (1596). Moreover, the trajectory of decline varied from region to region, suggesting various kinds of overland pressures at play. Lieberman saw the seventeenth-century crisis in the eastern Indian Ocean as part of a process of population decay and political fragmentation in major markets (such as Ming China), accompanied by a decline in prices, a drop in world temperatures (negatively affecting harvests) and a decay in world silver supply; all these produced a global-trade depression. As a result, polities diverted their energies from cash crops and maritime trade to staple crop cultivation. They showed a withdrawal from maritime trade in pursuit of self-sufficiency, resulting in de-urbanization, a decline of port-cities, and political decentralization.50 For the Southeast Asian mainland Reid saw interior states—less dependent on maritime trade—expanding and establishing control over their maritime-based rivals as coastal polities declined.51

     Lieberman changed the terminology of the debate from ‘crisis’ to ‘watershed’ and argued that Burma, despite a lull in maritime trade, avoided the long-term negative impact of the seventeenth century events and, unlike the archipelago, experienced a continuation of long-term state expansion and political centralization, domestic commercial growth and cultural homogenization, trends that survived Reid’s seventeenth-century crisis. He provided a far-reaching analysis of the early modern period in mainland Southeast Asia, suggesting that along with the continuity of these long-term developments in core polities such as Burma, Vietnam and Thailand, smaller mainland Southeast Asian states on the periphery experienced crisis and decline in response to the expansion of the core states. Thus, while Burma, Vietnam and Thailand expanded, centralized and defined themselves and their cultures, smaller fringe polities such as Lan Na and Cambodia declined and became lost in the shadow of their expansive neighbors.

     It is now time to look at pressures on maritime Bengal. Sixteenth-century polities like Tripura that acquired maritime outlets experienced a commercial surge, but maritime and overland pressures combined adversely to precipitate economic decline. Environmental factors intensified the crisis. The sixteenth-seventeenth century west-east fluvial shifts in Bengal fragmented the delta by introducing six new rivers. As these channels opened up new agrarian frontiers with new rice growing areas, agricultural revenues shot up in the southeast delta but this was also the time when, due to the magh (Arakanese-Portuguese raiding combine) raids, the delta became a slave-raided and ultimately a deserted zone.

     When the new rivers linked trade to the western channels, the northeast trade through the Meghna-Brahmaputra channel and thence to Ava, Yunnan and China, declined. Southeast Bengal had to look westward for trade as markets in mainland and maritime Southeast Asia broke down due to ecological, political and economic pressures. The Bengal-Arakan sea route fell into disuse as Arakan started on an eastward expansion. By 1614 it was wasting most of its energy fighting an expansive Toungoo Burma. Moreover, Ayutthaya’s commercial policy under Naresuen, Songtham and Prasart Thong from the 1590s to the 1650s challenged Arakan’s dominance of the northern Bay, and sometime after 1620 Arakan, under Thiri Thudhamma (1622–38), attempted to seize Mergui and Tenasserim from Prasat Thong’s Siam. As guns and mercenaries were imported in increasingly large numbers, Arakan’s treasury became exhausted. Alternate sources of finance were absent.

     With the diminishing of its southeast frontier, southeast Bengal underwent a double squeeze: an ecological squeeze from the west, an expanding frontier squeeze from the northeast. As raids dislocated shipping and trade, and undermined local communities in the delta, the circulation of people increased. 52 A necklace of slave ports from Pipli, Sagor, Sandwip, Chittagong and Mrauk U went south to Kedah, Johor and Achin. Mrauk U became an important slave market composed of both raided slaves from Bengal and forced converts. Arakan’s slave trade had two components; domestic and international. Arakan had entered the slave trade not only through the pressures of international trade but also because of the chronic shortage of manpower within Arakan. While initially used as mercenaries and for clearing jungles and as agriculturists for additional rice cultivation, skilled workers and craftsmen (metal and textile workers) were increasingly chosen for resettlement. Mid-seventeenth century Mughal chronicler Shihabuddin Talish observed that ‘[o]nly the Feringi pirates sold their prisoners. But the Maghs employed all their captives in agriculture and other kinds of service’.53 Manrique justified slave raiding as part of the crusade against Mus-lims, claiming that he converted on average around 2,000 Hindu and Muslim peasants from Bengal every year at Dianga, a fishing village adjoining Chittagong. Another ‘slave’ port, Angarcale, brought in similar numbers.54 Achin became a premier slave market where, ca. the 1660s, ships from Bengal, Borneo and Macassar brought in slaves. Bengal long pepper (deemed better than Kedah pepper), rice, oil, wheat, butter, sugar, stick lac, and textiles such as cambayas, ellachas, rumals, malmals supplemented the Bengal trade at Achin.55

     Fluvial shifts did not just reorient trade and dislocate communities. As rivers shifted east to west until the fifteenth century and then moved from west to east from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, they affected port fortunes in Bengal. A severe earthquake in 1505 caused a change in the course of the Ganges river system and flooded the first city of Gaur. It was finally abandoned in 1575, and the second city of Gaur had to be built on the opposite bank of the Bhagirathi river in the sixteenth century. The shifts left behind swampy marshlands with recurring pestilences and plagues, most particularly in the uplands. The court chronicles of Ahom Assam, Tripura and Manipur report escalation in horse and cattle pestilences and small pox epidemics from the sixteenth century. These however often seem to be allegories for disorder and decay. The Ahom Buranji chronicle records cattle pestilences in 1534 and 1618, and a cholera epidemic in 1663 following the devastation caused by Mughal campaigns in the region. Manipur suffered the most as regards cattle and horse epidemics in 1520, 1531, 1534, 1535, 1541, 1574, 1581 and 1651, and these continued into the middle of the eighteenth century. 56 Smallpox, allegorical or real, was particularly severe in the northeast. Several Tripura kings apparently died of the disease: Dharma Manikya (1462), Dhanya Manikya and Vijay Manikya (dates unknown), and Chatra Manikya (1670s). 57 Smallpox is recorded for 1574, 1637 and 1768 in the Ahom polity, 58 and in Manipur for 1520, 1531, 1541, 1581, 1651, 1672, 1685, 1699, 1720 and 1744. 59 Famines from 1630-35 affected Lower Burma and Bengal. Glanius60 noted a particularly severe famine in Bengal between 1662 and 1666, corroborated by contemporary Persian records and which spread to Assam.61

     The seventeenth century was also a century of decline for Portuguese power in the northern Bay. Can the decline be wholly attributed to the diminishing role of Melaka? Following the Dutch siege of 1606, Melaka’s customs revenues fell steadily; by 1620 they totaled 18, 000, 000 reis against 27, 000, 000 in 1606, its fortifications were in disarray, and there was a lack of fighting men to defend the city. 62 Defense of Portuguese networks in the northern Bay was affected adversely. The dismal situation was echoed by their expulsion from Sandwip in 1602, from Chittagong and Dianga in 1607, and from Sandwip again in 1617. Felipe de Brito e Nicote, leader of a small Portuguese commercial empire in Syriam, was killed by the Mon Burmese in 1613. To the Estado this was a disaster, for Syriam had meant a true foothold in the Bay of Bengal, a window into the dreamed-of conquest of mainland Southeast Asia, but equally a center that would act as a significant aid to Melaka in controlling the trade that was passing into ports outside of the Estado’s direct control such as Perak, Kedah, Trang, Ujangselang, and Mergui.63 The Portuguese were eliminated from the western Bengal littoral when Mughal emperor Shah Jahan expelled them from Hugli and Hijli in 1632 and 1635, and only allowed to return to Hugli in July 1633 as a vastly diminished force.

     Bocarro’s Livro das Plantas lamented the Bay trade’s decline in the 1630s:

. . . the great Bay of Bengala, and Pegu, where . . . we once had great settlements of Portuguese . . . all of them came to an end with great destruction and devastation, and hence today one only navigates to the port of Orixa (Pipli) in the kingdom of Bengala, where there is a Portuguese captain appointed by the viceroy only in order to treat with the Moorish vassals of the Mogor, to whom the port belongs . . . but he has nothing else there, not even a house, save some made of straw . . . 64
Bengal entered into a dependent relationship with the Mughal at Agra, becoming a raw material and cash crop (rice, sugar, oilseeds) supplier for western Bengal and other regions within the Mughal Empire. This factor accounted for its still high revenue assessment at 50 crore dams as its agricultural produce supplemented food-deficit parts of the Mughal Empire throughout the seventeenth century. As the Mughals promoted Gujarat’s port-city of Surat for their westward traffic, most ports became subsidiary ports, furnishing sugar and grains as ballast.


     This article showed that the nature of contacts in the north Bay was markedly different from elsewhere in the Bay by virtue of the northern Bay being an asamudrahimacala region. It argued for a continuity and uniformity of historical experience dependent on the distinctive geography of the northern Bay so much so that the extent and impact of external contacts varied at different times. Thus, one theory does not fit all while reviewing maritime regions in the Melaka period.

     Records of the north Bay trade suggest that the integrity of the region was predicated on a Bengal-Arakan networking which collapsed in the seventeenth century. Along with increased slave raids, Arakan campaigned against Sripur and Bhalwa in 1612, Tripura in 1615, and contested Portuguese control of Sandwip from 1615 onward, but it suffered a major defeat to Mughal forces in 1666 and lost control of southeast Bengal and Chittagong port thereafter.

     Sultanate Bengal’s economic growth was linked to its policy of following a mix of cowries and silver coinage for transactions, and this largely protected it from the vicissitudes of international trade. 65 However, as its economy became progressively monetised from the sixteenth century, it could not count on the Melaka trade to bring in the bullion it needed. The Melaka trade does not appear to have offset its low bullion supplies until the period from 1493 to 1533. As the boom generated by Melaka was ephemeral, late sixteenth-century Bengal saw a northwest shift toward the Mughal economy, but how far the failing Melaka factor was a contributory cause is as yet unknown. When the Mughals conquered Bengal in 1575 it was one of the empire’s richest provinces but thereafter its agricultural productivity declined sharply. Revenue figures from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth centuries— spanning Akbar’s, Shah Jahan’s and Aurangzeb’s reigns—show that as high agricultural growth tapered off in terms of absolute revenue, Bengal’s projected revenue became low and ultimately static compared to other Mughal provinces. 66 Whether the economic shrinkage was an outcome of fluvial shifts and subsequent famine and disease, of slave raids, or of aborted international networks cannot be established, but the sea receded in popular imaginary and Bengal became the hinterland state it is today.

Appendix: Classroom Activities

     Students may be asked to identify the different factors involved in generating an age of commerce. Students can compare Tome Pires’ account of the primacy of Portuguese Melaka by contrasting it with the indigenous accounts on the northern Bay of Bengal presented in this article.

     Do these materials overturn the ‘Melaka factor’? If so, how? Can the decline of a portcity be attributed solely to maritime factors?

Rila Mukherjee is Professor of History at University of Hyderabad in India, specializing in the cultural and economic history of the eastern Indian Ocean world. She teaches a World History survey course titled the World of the Indian Ocean and is presently engaged in writing a text on India in the Indian Ocean world. She can be reached at the History Department , School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India and may be contacted at


*My thanks to Professor Marc Jason Gilbert and the two peer reviewers of this article for their assistance in refining my arguments.

1 For example, see Kenneth R. Hall, “Commodity Flows, Diaspora Networking, and Contested Agency in the Eastern Indian Ocean c. 1000–1500,”TRaNS: Trans -Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia, Vol. 4, no. 2 (2016), 387-417: 407; Kenneth R. Hall, “Local and International Trade and Traders in the Straits of Melaka Region: 600-1500,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 47, no. 2 (2004), 218.

2 Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680: Vol. 1: The Lands below the Winds (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988); Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680: Vol. 2: Expansion and Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993); Victor B. Lieberman, Southeast Asia in Global context, c.800-1830: Vol. 1: Integration of the Mainland (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Victor B. Lieberman, Southeast Asia in Global context, c.800-1830: Vol. 2: Mainland Mirrors: Europe, Japan, China, South Asia, and the Islands (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

3From “China Report,: U.S. Department of Defense Map in the Public Domain. Map can be found at

4Rila Mukherjee, “The Indian Ocean World of Srivijiya,” in Kenneth R. Hall, Suchandra Ghosh, Kaushik Gangopadhyay and Rila Mukherjee, eds.,Cross-Cultural Networking In the Eastern Indian Ocean Realm, c.100-1800 (Delhi: Primus Books, 2019), 170-197; Derek Heng, “State-Formation and the Sociopolitical Structure of the Malay Coastal Region in the Late Thirteenth to Early Fifteenth Centuries,” in Kenneth R. Hall, Suchandra Ghosh, Kaushik Gangopadhyay and Rila Mukherjee, eds., Cross-Cultural Networking In the Eastern Indian Ocean Realm, c.100-1800(Delhi: Primus Books, 2019), 198-223.

5 C.C. Brown, “The Malay Annals,” Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 25, no. 2/3 (159) (1952), 5-276: 140-141, 160, 162.

6 This is the fourth edition of an (unchanged) map first published in 1522. Fries adds numerous vignettes purporting to depict the cultures of the region. The map, used with permission from Frances Pritchett, can be found at

7Daniel Perret, “From Slave to King: The Role of South Asians in Maritime Southeast Asia (from the late 13th to the late 17th century),” Archipel, Vol. 82 (2011), 159-199.

8 See Claude Guillot and Ludvik Kalus, Les Monuments Funeraires et l’Histoire du Sultanat de Pasai a Sumatra (Paris: Cahiers d’Archipel, Vol. 37, 2008).

9Peter Borschberg, “When was Melaka founded and was it known earlier by another name? Exploring the debate between Gabriel Ferrand and Gerret Pieter Rouffaer, 1918−21, and its long echo in historiography,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies,(2020), 122.

10 John S. Deyell, “The China Connection: Problems of Silver Supply in Medieval Bengal,” in J.F. Richards, ed., Precious Metals in the Later Medieval and Early Modern Worlds, (Durham: N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1983), 207-224.

11Hall, “Commodity Flows”: 407; Hall, “Local and International Trade”: 218.

12From Kenneth R. Hall, Ports-of-Trade, Maritime Diasporas, and Networks of Trade and Cultural Integration in the Bay of Bengal Region of the Indian Ocean: c. 1300-1500”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 53 (2010), 109-145, graphic on 111.

13Geoff Wade, “The Zheng He Voyages: A Reassessment,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 78, no. 1 Vol. 288 (2005), 37-58, 45.

14Geoff Wade, “Southeast Asia in the Fifteenth Century,” in Geoff Wade and Sun Laichen, eds., Southeast Asia in the Fifteenth Century: The China Factor (Singapore and Hong Kong: NUS Press and Hong Kong University Press, 2010), 3-43.

15Brown, “The Malay Annals,” 157.

16Jos Gommans, “Burma at the Frontier of South, East and Southeast Asia: A Geographic Perspective,” in Jos Gommans and Jacques P. Leider, eds., The Maritime Frontier of Burma: Exploring Political, Cultural and Commercial Interaction in the Indian Ocean World, 1200–1800 (Amsterdam: KITLV Press, 2002), 17; Stephen Van Galen, Ph.D Thesis, “Arakan and Bengal: The rise and decline of the Mrauk U kingdom (Burma) from the fifteenth to seventeenth century” (Leiden: CNWS, Faculty of Arts, Leiden University, 2008).

17Genevieve Bouchon and Luis Filipe F.R. Thomaz, eds., Voyage dans les Deltas du Gange et de l’ Irraouaddy 1521 (Paris: Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian, 1998), 332-333.

18Armand Cortesao, tr. and ed., The Suma Oriental of Tome Pires (London: Hakluyt Society, 1944).

19John Winter Jones and George Percy Badger, tr. and ed., The Travels of Ludovico di Varthema AD 1503-1508 (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1863), 223-224.

20Borschberg, “When was Melaka founded and was it known earlier by another name?” 122.

21Luis Filipe F.R. Thomaz, “The image of the Archipelago in Portuguese cartography of the 16th and early 17th centuries,” Archipel, Vol. 49, no. 1 (1995), 79-124: plates I and II.

22 Thomaz, “The image of the Archipelago,” 79-124: plates IV-VI and XI; M.L. Dames, ed., The Book of Duarte Barbosa: 2 Vols.( New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1989), II: 180.

23Henry E.J. Stanley, ed., Duarte Barbosa, Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar In the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: University Press, 1866/2009), 190-191, 193.

24Cortesao, The Suma Oriental, I, 142.

25Thomaz, “The image of the Archipelago,” 79-124: plates VII and XII.

26Leonard Y. Andaya, “The Gujarati Legacy in Southeast Asia,” in Lotika Varadarajan, ed., Gujarat and the Sea (Vadodara: Darshak Itihas Nidhi, 2011), 387-388; Paul Wormser and Claude Guillot, “Gujarat and the Malay World, 15th-17th Centuries: Trade and Influence,” in Lotika Varadarajan, ed., Gujarat and the Sea (Vadodara: Darshak Itihas Nidhi, 2011), 409410; Kenneth R. Hall, “The 15-th Century Gujarat Cloth Trade with Southeast Asia’s Indonesian Archipelago,” in Lotika Varadarajan, ed., Gujarat and the Sea (Vadodara: Darshak Itihas Nidhi, 2011), 447-448; Roderich Ptak, “China and the Trade in Cloves, Circa 960-1435,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 113, no. 1 (1993), 12; Luis Filipe F.R. Thomaz, A questao da pimenta em Meados do Seculo XVI: Um Debate Politico do Governo de D. Joao de Castro (Lisbon: CEPCEP, 1998), 108, 142, 145.

27 Hall, “Local and International Trade, 253.

28Sanjay Subrahmanyam, “Notes on the sixteenth century Bengal trade,” Indian Economic Social History Review, Vol. 24 (1987), 280-281.

29Claude Guillot, “Banten in 1678,” Indonesia, Vol. 57 (1993), 103.

30Perret, “From Slave to King,” 159-199.

31Guillot, “Banten in 1678,” 103, 107; Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680: Vol. 1, 116; Cortesao, The Suma Oriental, I: 93, 142; Denys Lombard, Le Sultanat d’Atjeh au temps d’Iskandar Muda 1607–1636 (Paris: EFEO: Vol. LXI, 1967), 47; Denys Lombard, “The Indian World as seen from Acheh in the Seventeenth Century,” in Om Prakash and Denys Lombard, eds., Commerce and Culture in the Bay of Bengal, 1500–1800 (Delhi: Manohar/ICHR, 1999), 186-189.

32Luis Filipe F.R. Thomaz, “Portuguese Control over the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal: A Comparative Study,” in Om Prakash and Denys Lombard, eds. Commerce and Culture in the Bay of Bengal, 1500-1800 (Delhi: Manohar/ICHR, 1999), 162; George D. Winius, “The “shadow-empire” of Goa in the Bay of Bengal,” Itinerario, Vol. 7, no. 2 (1983), 83-101; Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500–1700: A Political and Economic History, Second Edition (US: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

33 Sanjay Subrahmanyam, “Persianization and ‘Mercantilism’ in Bay of Bengal History”, in Om Prakash and Denys Lombard, eds., Commerce and Culture in the Bay of Bengal 1500–1800 (Delhi: Manohar/ICHR, 1999), 47–85; Subrahmanyam, “Notes on the sixteenth century Bengal trade,” 286-287.

34Thomaz, “The image of the Archipelago”, 79-124: plates XIV-XVI, XXI-XXII.

35Libermann,Southeast Asia in Global context: Vol. 2, 849.

36Craig A. Lockard, “"The Sea Common to All": Maritime Frontiers, Port Cities, and Chinese Traders in the Southeast Asian Age of Commerce, ca. 1400–1750,” Journal of World History, Vol. 21, no. 2 (2010), 233; Craig A. Lockard, Southeast Asia in World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 85.

37Bouchon and Thomaz, eds., Voyage dans les Deltas du Gange at de l’ Irraouaddy 1521; Claude Guillot, “Banten and the Bay of Bengal in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” in Om Prakash and Denys Lombard, eds., Commerce and Culture in the Bay of Bengal, 1500–1800 (Delhi: Manohar/ICHR, 1999) 163-182: 166, 169.

38Subrahmanyam, “Notes on the sixteenth century Bengal trade,” 268, 282.

39Michael A. Aung-Thwin, Myanmar in the fifteenth century: A Tale of Two Kingdoms (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2017).

40Cesare Federici, “A Voyage to the East Indies, and Beyond the Indies, &c,” SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 2, no. 2 (2004), 144.

41 Subrahmanyam, “Notes on the sixteenth century Bengal trade,” 270.

42Ibid., 267, 271, 288.

43Ibid., 273, 275-278.

44Jadunath Sarkar, The History of Bengal, Muslim Period 1200-1757 (Patna: Academica Asi atica, 1973), 358-359.

45Ibid., 359-360.

46 Subrahmanyam, “Notes on the sixteenth century Bengal trade,” 279.

47Thomaz, A questao da pimenta em Meados do Seculo XVI, 47, 84, 88.

48Luis Filipe F.R. Thomaz, “Les Portugais dans les mers de l'Archipel au XVIe siècle,” Archipel, Vol. 18 (1979), 118.

49 Subrahmanyam, “Notes on the sixteenth century Bengal trade,” 265-289.

50 Victor B. Lieberman, “Local Integration and Eurasian Analogies: Structuring Southeast Asian History, c. 1350–c.1830,” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 27, no. 3 (1993), 475-572.

51See Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680, Vol. 2.

52 Rila Mukherjee, “Mobility in the Bay of Bengal World: Medieval Raiders, Traders, States and the Slaves,” Indian Historical Review, Vol. 36 (1) (2009), 117.

53H. Blochmann, tr., Shihabuddin Talish, “Fathiyya-i-Ibriyya,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. 41 (1) (1872), 49-101.

54Maurice Collis, The Land of the Great Image, Being Experiences of Friar Manrique in Arakan (London: Readers Union and Faber and Faber, 1946).

55R.C. Temple, ed., Thomas Bowrey, A Geographical Account of the Countries Around The Bay of Bengal 1669–1679 (Cambridge: The Hakluyt Society, 1905).

56 Golap Chandra Barua, tr., Ahom Buranji: From the Earliest Time to the End of Ahom Rule (Guwahati: Spectrum Publications, 1930/1985); Saroj Nalini Arambam Parratt, tr., The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur: The Cheitharon Kumpapa: 2 Vols. (Oxford: Routlege, 2005), I; N.C. Nath, tr., Sri Rajmala, Vol. 1-4 (Agartala: Tribal Research Institute, 1999) (in Bengali).

57 Nath, tr., Sri Rajmala.

58Barua, tr.,Ahom Buranji.

59Parrat, tr., The Cheitharon Kumpapa, vol. I.

60 Glanius, A Relation of an Unfortunate Voyage to the Kingdom of Bengala (London: Henry Bonwick, 1682).

61Barua, tr., Ahom Buranji, 192; Blochmann, tr., “Fathiyya-i-Ibriyya”.

62Sanjay Subrahmanyam, “Commerce and Conflict: Two Views of Portuguese Melaka in the 1620s,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 19, no. 1 (1988), 62-79.

63Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 162.

64Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Improvising Empire: Portuguese Trade and Settlement in the Bay of Bengal 1500- 1700 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990), 261.

65 John S. Deyell, “Cowries and Coins: The Dual Monetary System of the Bengal Sultanate,” Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol. 47, no. 1 (2010), 63-106.

66H.S. Jarett, tr., and J. N. Sarkar, Ain-i-Akbari, 2 Vols. (New Delhi: Crown Publications, 1988); H.M. Elliot and John Dowson, eds., History of India as Told By Its Own Historians, 8 Vols. (London, 1867-77, New Delhi: Low Price Publications, 1990), vol. 7.

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