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Tabinshwehti ( ; ; 1516 – May 1550; also spelt Tabinshweti) was a king who unified Burmamarker (now Myanmarmarker) in 1539 and known as the founder of the Second Burmese Empire.

Tabinshwehti succeeded his father Mingyinyo as ruler of the Toungoo dynasty in 1531. He moved the capital from Toungoo to the important trading centre of Pegumarker (1539).

To rebuild a Burmese state, he engaged in a long series of military campaigns that ended only with his assassination in 1550. His brother-in-law Kyaw Htin Nawrahta re-established his kingdom after his death and ruled as King Bayinnaung expanding the Burmese kingdom through expansionary warfare.

Pegu (1535-38)

Between 1535 and 1538 Tabinshwehti marched south from Toungoo in a series of four military expeditions against the Mon kingdom of Pegu on the Bay of Bengalmarker. A succession of Mon kings had ruled over a united Lower Burma at least since the time of King Rajadhirat (r. 1385-1421). In 1538 after first taking the western delta region around Bassein and augmenting his forces with military manpower and armaments, Tabinshwehti overcame the defences of Pegu and occupied the capital of the Mon kingdom.

Several factors explain why Toungoo started attacking Pegu shortly after Tabinshwehti became king of Toungoo in 1531. Trade wealth and maritime markets made coastal Pegu an attractive military target . Toungoo relied on Pegu for important commodities such as cloth and salt . This trade contact brought knowledge of Pegu's wealth.

Another factor was the threat posed by the Shan confederation that had ruled over Ava to the north after conquering it in 1527. The Shans conquered Promemarker to the west of Toungoo in 1532, the year after Tabinshwehti became king of Toungoo. This left Toungoo, the only remaining Burmese stronghold, as the next logical target for Shan-controlled Ava to attack and subjugate. Conquering Pegu first would also augment Toungoo's supply of military man and animal power and weapons, strengthening Toungoo to better face the Shan threat from the north .

Prome (1540)

Tabinshwehti sent his top general and brother-in-law, the future King Bayinnaung, north to Prome in pursuit of Takayutpi the Mon king of Pegu (r. 1526-1538) who had fled north to seek refuge at Prome.

In the famous Battle of Naungyo, Bayinnaung faced a superior force on the other side of a river. After crossing the river on a pontoon bridge (rafts in another version) Bayinnaung ordered the bridge to be destroyed. This action was taken to spur his troops forward in battle and provide a clear signal that there would be no retreat. Before the battle began Bayinnaung also disregarded a message from Tabinshwehti ordering him to wait for the main body of troops to arrive. Bayinnaung replied that he had already met the enemy and defeated them. To those who criticized this action, Bayinnaung replied that if they lost, they would all be dead anyway and it would not matter whether they were alive or not .

Tabinshwehti could not take Prome because it was well-defended with strong walls and supported militarily by Shan Ava. When Takayupti died, many of his loyal followers came over to Tabinshwehti's side. Tabinshwehti increased his military strength by employing mercenaries of many nationalities including Portuguese and Muslims. The number of Portuguese in his employ is said to have numbered as many as 700 men .

Martaban (1541-42)

The thriving port of Martabanmarker proved difficult to subdue because it was supported by Portuguese soldiers and arms. On the land side of the town strong fortifications backed by earthwork and on the water side seven Portuguese ships commanded by Paulo Seixas provided a strong defence. When under siege supplies ran out, Martaban tried to negotiate terms, but Tabinshwehti would only accept a complete surrender. Martaban tried to lure away the Portuguese mercenary Joano Cayeyro who was helping Tabinshwehti, but these efforts failed. Finally, Tabinshwehti used fire rafts to burn and drive away the ships guarding the water side of the fortifications. A high fortress raft armed with guns and cannons was manoeuvred to a position in front of the river side fortifications. The walls were cleared of defenders and a final assault was made on the town . The Portuguese writer Fernão Mendes Pinto records in great detail the pillaging and executions that supposedly took place in the wake of the defeat after seven months of siege .

Prome and Upper Burma (1542-45)

After a coronation ceremony and religious donations at the Shwedagon Pagodamarker in 1541, Tabinshwehti led an expedition to the north to subjugate Prome. The first assaults against the walls of Prome failed . Prome requested aid from Shan Ava and Arakan. Tai forces arrived first, but Bayinnaung met them in advance before they could reach Prome and defeated them.

The siege of Prome dragged on and when the rainy season arrived Tabinshwehti ordered his troops to plant rice and gather manpower and provisions from Lower Burma . The overland contingent of forces sent by Arakan was ambushed by Bayinnaung. This defeat caused both the land and river forces of Arakan to return to Arakan. After five months of siege, starvation led to defections and the weakened defences of Prome were easily overcome. The sack of Prome and the punishments that were supposedly meted out to the inhabitants are described in great detail by Fernão Mendes Pinto .

In 1544, Shan forces led a counter-attack but were again defeated by Tabinshwehti's forces. In 1545 Tabinshwehti marched north and took Pagan and Salin, leaving a garrison in Salin .Instead of driving northwards and re-establishing a Burmese state at Ava, Tabinshwehti turned his attention to the coastal polities to his west and east, Arakan and Ayutthaya.

Arakan (1546-7)

The ruler of Sandowaymarker in southern Arakan had pledged loyalty to Tabinshwehti in exchange for the throne of Arakan. The fortifications at Mrauk Umarker, the capital of Arakan had been built with the assistance of the Portuguese. The normal strategies of frontal assault or siege were ineffective against these fortifications. Arakan with the intercession of monks finally convinced Tabinshwehti to abandon the siege and return to Pegu .

Ayutthaya (1548)

While Tabinshwehti was campaigning in Arakan, Ayutthaya had sent raiding parties against Tavoymarker in Tenasserimmarker. Tabinshwehti ordered the lord of Martaban to regain Tenasserim and in 1548 Tabinshwehti himself led a large invasion force westwards over the Three Pagodas Passmarker Route to attack Ayutthaya.

The famous Queen Sri Suriyothai participated in the battle between Ayutthaya and Tabinshwehti's forces. Facing strong fortifications and Portuguese mercenaries at Ayutthaya, Tabinshwehti decided to move north and attack the weaker towns to the north, Kamphaengphet, Sukhothai, and Phitsanulok .

While Tabinshwehti had been campaigning in the east, a Mon revival had been gathering momentum in Lower Burma. Upon his return Tabinshwehti was assassinated by Mon members of his own court in 1550 (although some sources say 1551), decapitated by his chamberlains whilst searching for a fictitious white elephant. He is one of four Burmese kings who died an elephant-related death. A short period of Mon rule ensued while Bayinnnaung fought to restore the kingdom that Tabinshwehti had built .

Tabinshwehti Nat

The Tabinshwehti Nat is one of the 37 nats (spirits) worshipped in Myanmar in addition to Buddhism.

Historical Fiction

One of the first modern novels published in the Burmese language in the early 20th century was a fictional recreation of Tabinshweihti's reign named Tabinshwehti Wuttu Daw Gyi.

The Legend of Suriyothai (Thai epic film)

Tabinshwehti's invasion of Ayutthaya was an important part of the plot in the 2001 Thai- produced epic film The Legend of Suriyothai. Thai historian Sunait Chutintaranond wrote the story for the film.

Modern Military Operations

The campaign against communist insurgents in 1962 was named Operation Tabinshwehti.


  1. (Harvey, 1925, 153; Lieberman, 1980, 209; Surakiat, 2006, 17; 2005, 87)
  2. (Lieberman 1984, 209, citing UK III, p. 111)
  3. (Fernquest, 2005, 106)
  4. (Harvey, 1925, 154-155; U Kala II p. 173, ch. 168)
  5. (Lieberman, 1980, 209-210)
  6. (Harvey, 1925, 155-157; Lieberman, 1980, 212-213)
  7. (Pinto, 1989, 314-325)
  8. (UKII:177-178)
  9. (UKII:179)
  10. (1989, 328-333)
  11. (Harvey, 1925, 157-158; Shorto, n.d., 46; UKII:179- 181)
  12. (Harvey, 1925, 158; Lieberman, 1980, 213; Charney, 1998, 15; Leider, 1998, 144-159)
  13. (Surakiat, 2005, 79-80; Harvey, 1925, 158-160; Lieberman, 1980, 213)
  14. Burmese Kings and Elephants don’t Mix
  15. (Shorto, 50-60; Pinto, U Kala, Harvey, 1925, 160-162)

External sources

  • Charney, Michael Walter (1998). "Rise of a Mainland Trading State: Rahkaing Under the Early Mrauk-U Kings, c. 1430-1603." Journal of Burma Studies 3: 1-34.
  • Fernquest, Jon (2005b) "Min-gyi-nyo, the Shan Invasions of Ava(1524-27), and the *Beginnings of Expansionary Warfare in Toungoo Burma: 1486-1539." SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research 3.2 Autumn.
  • Harvey, G.E. (1925) History of Burma from the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824, The Beginning of the English Conquest, London: Longmans, Green and Co.
  • Kala, U. 1959-1961. Mahayazawinkyi [The great chronicles]. 3 vols. Burma Research Society,Burmese text series no. 5. vol. 1 (1959) and vol. 2 (1960), edited by Saya Pwa, vol. 3 (1961), edited by Saya U Khine Soe. Rangoon: Hanthawaddy Press. (Kala I, 1959; Kala II, 1960; Kala III, 1961)
  • Leider, Jacques Pierre. (1998) "Le Royaume D'Arakan (Birmanie): Son Histoire Politique Entre le Debut du XV et la Fin du XVII Siecle," PhD dissertation, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris.
  • Lieberman, Victor B. (1980) "Europeans, Trade, and the Unification of Burma, c. 1540-1620," Oriens Extremus 27 (1980):203-226.
  • Pinto, Fernão Mendes. 1989. The travels of Mendes Pinto. Translated and edited by Rebecca. D. Catz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Shorto (tr.) (no date) Unpublished typescript translation of pp. 34-44, 61-264 of Phra Candakanto (ed.) Nidana Ramadhipati-katha (or as on binding Rajawamsa Dhammaceti Mahapitakadhara), authorship attributed to Bannyadala (c. 1518-1572), Pak Lat, Siam, 1912.
  • Surakiat, Pamaree (2005) "Thai-Burmese Warfare during the Sixteenth Century and the Growth of the First Toungoo Empire." Journal of the Siam Society 93: 69-100.
  • Surakiat, Pamaree (2006) " The Changing Nature of Conflict between Burma and Siam as seen from the growth and development of Burmese states from the 16th to the 19th centuries." ARI Working Paper, No. 64, March 2006,

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