Webinar on “Ayutthaya: Urban Networks and Global Connections”

In this webinar, Dr Pacharaphorn Phanomvan introduces the audience to the rise of Ayutthaya, from a small city-state to its expansionist heights, decline in the late 18th century, and eventual transition and its roles in shaping contemporary Chao Phaya Delta identity. 


Wednesday, 20 October 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar titled “Ayutthaya: Urban Networks and Global Connections” by Dr Pacharaphorn Phanomvan, an economic historian and heritage scholar who works on development projects in Thailand and Myanmar. The webinar was part of the Temasek History Research Centre’s Archaeology and Art History Programme of Southeast Asia and was moderated by one of the programme’s conveners, Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan.

Dr Pacharaphorn Phanomvan outlines the rise of Ayutthaya. Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Moving away from the usual discussions of Ayutthaya as a UNESCO world heritage site and ancient Siamese capital, Phacharaphorn presented the kingdom as cosmopolitan conglomeration and how its presence is still felt today in contemporary Thai society. She explained the formation and rise of Ayutthaya as a merging of existing urban power centres around the Tha Chin River, Lower Chao Phraya, Isthmian Peninsular and the Yom-Wang, and Kok River during the 14th century.

By the 15th century, the Ayutthaya governance system, “hua-muang”, consisted of inner, outer and tributary cities, and after annexation of Sukhothai in 1463 a bureaucratic reform was necessary to more efficiently rule over territories over wide spaces. Even with contending and shifting power centres, the kingdom lasted under the reign of 33 kings over five dynasties.

A second aspect of Ayutthaya highlighted by Phacharaphorn was the cosmopolitan nature of the kingdom, such that by the 17th century the kingdom already had permanent settlements for foreigners such as the French, Chinese and the Persians. From the 15-16th centuries, the Persians and South Asians brought to the kingdom new forms of craftsmanship, clothing and Islam and their influences can be seen in architecture and art. From nearer in the region, the Mons, who had always lived around the Chao Phraya region, moved to Ayutthaya especially after the fall of Hanthawaddy.

Even after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 by Burmese conquest, Ayutthayan culture persisted through migrants and refugees. Phacharaphorn showed how Ayutthaya is still very much alive today in architectural remnants found in the outer cities of Ayutthaya – present-day Petchaburi, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkram, Chonburi, old Phrapadaeng (present day Klong Teoi harbour) and Nakhon Sawan province. Ayutthaya’s influence today can also be felt in its role in establishing Thai literature and textbooks, the performing arts, food, and laws.

A lively Question and Answer session followed, with many questions related to the cosmopolitanism of Ayutthaya such as the interactions of different foreigners and the languages spoken in Ayutthaya.  The webinar was attended by 149 participants, mainly from Singapore, the rest of Southeast Asia and the United States.

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)