by Max Barry

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Majapahit | History



The Kingdom of Majapahit was first founded as a small village in the timberland region of Tarik, Eastern Java, by LinkRaden Wijaya, who later was coronated as its first monarch on 10 November 1293. During his coronation he was given the regnal name Kertarajasa Jayawardhana. The village quickly grew in size and became a sizable kingdom with a bustling marketplace, a variety of agricultural and maritime produce, as well as extensive trade networks. The income gained from these factors enabled Majapahit to build a strong Army and a capable Navy comprising thousands of well-trained soldiers and capable ships, rivalling those of much larger polities at the time, to defend its trade routes from pirates and deter potential foreign invaders.

In 1328, Dyah Gitarja was coronated as the queen of Majapahit, becoming the first female monarch in the country's history, bearing the regnal name Tribhuwana Wijayatunggadewi. The queen appointed an ambitious military commander, Gadjah Mada as the Mahapatih (Premier) in 1336. During his inauguration Gajah Mada declared his LinkOath of Palapa, revealing his plan to expand the Majapahiti realm and build an empire to unite the entire Nusantara archipelago. Under the initiative of Gadjah Mada, Majapahit sent its naval armada to conquer the neighbouring island of Bali in 1342. After seven months of battle, Majapahit forces defeated the smaller Balinese kingdoms and captured the Balinese capital of Bedulu in 1343. After the conquest, Bali was put under Majapahit suzerainty as a unified but vassalised kingdom. Tribhuwana ruled Majapahit until the year 1350. She abdicated the throne in favour of her son, Hayam Wuruk.

An illustration of King Hayam Wuruk
(Rajasanagara) and Premier Gadjah Mada.
First Golden Age

Hayam Wuruk, bearing the regnal name Rajasanagara, ruled Majapahit from 1350 to 1389. During this period, Majapahit attained its first Golden Age with the assistance of premier Gadjah Mada. Under Mada's command, Majapahit expanded its territory and influence mainly through hard diplomacy and conquest. Many smaller kingdoms would be forced to bow down to Majapahit, most of them agreed having no other viable option, but some initially resisted, and were later invaded. The Nagarakretagama, an eulogy to Hayam Wuruk written in 1365, mentioned several states in Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara islands, Maluku, New Guinea, Mindanao, Sulu Archipelago, Luzon and some parts of the Visayas islands as under the Majapahit realm or sphere of influence. This expansion marked the greatest extent of Majapahit during the Middle Ages.

(The following is a major historical point of divergence (POD). For more information, visit the Misc. Information page.)

Along with launching naval and military expeditions, the expansion of the Majapahit Empire also involved peaceful diplomacy. Hayam Wuruk decided for political reasons to take Princess Citra Rashmi (Dyah Pitaloka) of neighbouring Kingdom of Sunda as his queen consort. The Sundanese agreed to the political union. In 1357 the wedding went according to plan, and the entire island of Java was then under de facto direct rule of Majapahit. Soon after, Hayam Wuruk declared an Empire of Majapahit, with a vast territory stretching from Sumatra in the west to the tip of Papua in the east. Further conquests in the east were made, courtesy of joint effort between the armies of Majapahit and Sunda, expanding the new Empire's domain even further. By then, Majapahit's territory had extended to include much of the Nusantara archipelago, including the forested interior of Kalimantan and Papua.

Reign of Pitaloka

Hayam Wuruk passed away in 1389, and according to Hayam Wuruk's testament, his wife Queen Pitaloka was coronated as queen regnant. Pitaloka's reign was one of preservation, as the Empire faced numerous internal conflicts. In the colony of Temasek (modern-day LinkBandar Singa), a kingdom was founded in the year 1397 by the local Malay rulers, with the intention to break free from Majapahit. Many officials stationed in Temasek were banished by the rebels, some were even summarily executed. This enraged the Queen and her court; the Imperial Navy was ordered to invade Temasek to suppress the rebellion. The operation succeeded, and as part of the peace agreement with the local Malay rulers, Temasek was to be renamed to Bandar Singa and be granted the status of Free City within the Empire, having autonomy over its domestic affairs but with Majapahit still holding ultimate sovereignty over it and controlling the city's foreign affairs.

15th - 17th Century

The capital city of the shrinking and much weakened Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, Linkhad fallen into the hands of the Ottoman Empire in mid-1453. This event had a profound impact on global trade, as the city was once the primary passageway for Asian goods entering Europe. With the Ottomans now assuming control over the trade route, they put in force heavy taxes on Asian-European trade, capitalising on their successful conquest. Many European nations then decided to seek another route to the Orient in order to bypass the Ottomans and acquire their produce cheaper. Thus, many European maritime explorers set out on daring voyages both eastwards and westwards, circumnavigating the globe.

First European contact

Illustration of the Portuguese maritime
expedition arriving in Majapahit, c.1511.
During the LinkAge of Exploration, Majapahit set its eyes outwards and maintained an open foreign policy. The Empire already had trade connections with many other states in East Asia, and was looking to expand to the west. Several maritime explorers from European nations first arrived in Majapahit in the early 16th century and were welcomed with open arms. Starting with the first exploratory expeditions sent from their trading post in Goa, on the Indian subcontinent, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Majapahit in the year 1510. Under leadership of Diogo Mendes de Vasconcelos, they sought to tap into the sources of valuable spices and to extend the Catholic Church's missionary efforts.

The monarch at the time, Maharaja Girindra Wardhana, ordered the local Governor of Malaka to allow the Portuguese to dock in Malaka and establish a minor trading post there, slightly disappointing the Portuguese by dismissing their request to build a fortified post. Nonetheless, a mutually beneficial trade agreement was soon established between Majapahit and Portugal; the former opened up its ports to Portuguese goods, mainly advanced weaponry and works of European art and literature, while the latter would get a share of the archipelago's spice trade. The ports of Malaka and Medang would then transform to become the busiest in the region.

Over time, the situation in the region escalated when more European nations started competing against each other for dominance of the spice trade. Some were even looking to create monopolies for their own profit. In an effort to keep this issue under control, the leaders of Majapahit during this period began to expand the Imperial Military, specifically the Navy's high seas armada. Thus, through gunboat diplomacy, Majapahit was able to effectively prevent any European nation gaining a predator monopoly on the spice trade, instead establishing specific trade agreements that allowed them to obtain a fair share of the spices.

Majapahit-Portugal mutual agreement

The arrival of the Portuguese to the archipelago was initially only to engage in the lucrative spice trade, but it was soon discovered that they were actively planning to establish religious missions in the archipelago to spread their Roman Catholicism. While the majority Hindu-Buddhist ruling dynasty were obviously uncontent with the Portuguese intent, the young and ambitious Emperor Brawijaya VII listened to his military advisors and acknowledged the need for compromise amidst the shifting geopolitical landscape. A pre-emptive attempt to open bilateral negotiations between Majapahit and Portugal was then made in 1515. The Portuguese delegation agreed to limit their scope of religious missions to the islands of Tenggaranusa.

20th Century

KKM Soejono, a protected cruiser of the
Imperial Navy, pictured in 1913. It was one
of the many modern vessels in service with
Majapahit's High Seas Armada.

Majapahit took active part in World War I (1914-1918) in the Southeast Asian theatre. The Empire initially moved to recover its territories in North Kalimantan and Papua which had been conceded many decades prior to the two warring powers: Britain and Germany, respectively. The "triangular conflict" resulted in Majapahit successfully reclaiming British North Borneo and German New Guinea (albeit with heavy casualties on all sides) while still remaining neutral in the larger war in Europe. It did, however, forge a close relationship with the Kingdom of Siam and the Empire of Japan, due to strong Pan-Asian and anti-European common sentiments. When the war ended in 1918, Majapahit took part in the founding of the League of Nations, the intergovernmental organisation aimed at preserving the hard-earned world peace. This became a stepping stone for Majapahit to increase its presence in international affairs.

During the interwar period (1919-1937), Majapahit, Siam, and Japan maintained their close relations. Foreign media outlets dubbed them as the "Triple Crowns alliance". The three nations never actually signed a formal political alliance, but their governments did confer several times during this period in Majakarta, Bangkok, and Tokyo, establishing preferential trade agreements and industrial-technical cooperation. As a result, while countries of Europe was still recovering from the hardships the war had brought upon them, Majapahit's economy was able to be rapidly industrialised in just one decade, although still heavily relying on agricultural products. The decline of the Triple Crowns began in 1931, when the Japanese invaded the mineral resource-rich Chinese Manchuria to fuel their ever-growing industrial economy. Majapahit and Siam were especially uncontent with Japan's aggression and their relations with the Japanese were severed after the latter left the League of Nations. In the ensuing years leading up to the Second World War, the Siamese and Majapahitis fostered their relations even further, expanding to a formal political alliance and mutual defence pact amidst the rising global tension at that time.

Civil War

The domestic situation during the early 1930s was turbulent, however. In the year 1929, a popular uprising emerged in the city of Malang, sponsored by the radical revolutionary Majapahit Communist Party (MCP). Several Imperial garrisons in the surrounding area managed to defect to the Communist rebels, possibly by orders from their commanding officers with direct ties or sympathies to the Communist cause. In the first few days of the uprising, eight hundred armed soldiers and thousands of civilians make up the strength of the rebellion. The Duke and Mayor of Malang were both captured and the city hall was seized by rebel forces.

It wasn't until one week into the uprising that the Imperial Military started to send reinforcements to the outnumbered Imperial loyalists in Malang. But by then, it was too late, as the uprising had spread to more and more townships along the eastern Java coast. The Imperial Military struggled to repress the rebellion with harsh measures, and numerous skirmishes and battles were fought between them and the rebel forces.

Two years later in 1931, with the surrender of the last remaining Communist stronghold in Banyuwangi, a coastal town on the far eastern end of Java, the uprising was finally quelled. Afterwards, the Empire began a series of imprisonments and executions of former Communists and their sympathisers that took the lives of over 60.000 people to ensure the rebellion was gone for good. By the Act of the Eradication of Communism signed in 1931 by the Imperial Assembly, the civil war period was over, and a period of rebuilding ensued.

Second Great War

East Asia descended once again into total war when Japan launched an invasion of China in 1937, sparking the Second Sino-Japanese War. Majapahit and Siam both condemned the Japanese invasion strongly and developed relations with the Chinese government led by Chiang Kai Shek. Informal military cooperation between Majapahit and China was hastily established, and Maharaja Jayanagara V authorised the deployment of Divisi Singa ("Lion Division"), a 11.000-strong volunteer force consisting of ground troops and air support forces, to the front lines in China. However, the Japanese war machine was difficult to counter, and by 1939 most of eastern China had fallen under Japanese occupation. Divisi Singa had been forced to join the Chinese in retreating into the inland regions and continue waging guerilla warfare against the Japanese occupiers.

Imperial majapahit