Webinar on “Reviewing The Sultanate of Melaka: Archaeology, History and Culture”

In the sixth webinar of the series, Dr Nasha bin Rodziadi Khaw reviews the archaeological and historical sources on Melaka, based on which its culture, economic and political system.


Wednesday, 15 September 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar titled “Reviewing The Sultanate of Melaka: Archaeology, History and Culture” by Dr Nasha bin Rodziadi Khaw, a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Global Archaeological Research at Universiti Sains Malaysia. 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 Helene Njoto.

Dr Nasha bin Rodziadi Khaw
Dr Nasha bin Rodziadi Khaw outlined our knowledge of Malacca from various historical sources, such as the Chinese Ming Dynasty histories. Dr Helene Njoto moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The Sultanate of Malacca’s emergence as a confederation of coastal polities in the 15th century marked a new phase of maritime dominance in the region. Prior to Malacca, Dr Khaw pointed out the existence of other polities in maritime Southeast Asia, such as ancient Kedah and Langkasuka on the west and east coast of Peninsular Malaysia respectively.

The Sultanate of Malacca, with its centre at the mouth of the Malacca River along the Straits of Malacca, is held as the benchmark for Malay cultural, economic and political achievement. Despite its cultural significance, Dr Khaw explained that physical remains from the Sultanate period are scarce due to its short period of development, continuous subsequent occupation, and the perishable nature of the city’s infrastructure.

Dr Khaw outlined our knowledge of Malacca from various historical sources, such as the Chinese Ming Dynasty histories, accounts from Portuguese such as the Suma Oriental by Tome Pires and later Malay writings such as the Salalatus Salatin or the Genealogy of Kings. Collectively, they paint a picture of a thalassocratic power which relied on the control of movement and distribution of goods, ultimately through the main port of Malacca.

Dividing the sultanate’s 111-year history into five phases, Dr Khaw outlined the history of Malacca starting with Parameswara, a Majapahit noble who at the end of the 14th century CE was expelled from Palembang and Singapura before moving northwards in the Malay Peninsula to Muar and Bertam. Dr Khaw explained the strategic decisions that led to these movements. Facing incursions from Majapahit and Siam, Parameswara established his court at Bertam and eventually Malacca.

The second phase, during the reign of Megat Iskandar Shah (1414-1424), saw more assertive action towards the establishment of Malacca as a trading centre by securing recognition from China and breaking the monopoly held by the Pasai Sultanate in northern Sumatra by attracting Muslim traders. During the third and fourth phase spanning some 60 years and five rulers, Malacca increased its dominance over neighbouring regions, while at the same time establishing an administrative system and adopting Islam. By the middle of the 15th century, Malacca controlled the Straits of Malacca, and territories at the eastern coast of Sumatra and most of the Malay Peninsula. It was powerful enough to cease giving tributes to Siam.

Malacca’s decline at the beginning of the 16th century was marked by infighting and mismanagement by the noble class and the rise of rival ports in Java and Aceh which culminated in conquest by the Portuguese who came to take over the polity. Territories that were once under Malacca came under the control of Siam, Aceh and the Johor-Riau Empire.

Despite its short period of existence, Dr Khaw explained that Malacca’s significance in Malay historiography and consciousness can be attributed to the wealth of historical evidence available, which also provide details such as the geographic layout of the city and its administration of the state by the Sultan and Bendahara as well as its taxation policies that ensured the Malacca became an attractive port of trade to both the east and west.

Various questions were fielded by Dr Khaw for the rest of the webinar, including questions about the nature of Malacca’s control over its sphere of influence, the lack of industry and dependence on trade as a primary cause of Malacca’s fall, as well as questions about archaeological remains located in and around Malacca. The webinar was attended by 220 participants, largely from Singapore and Malaysia.

220 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)