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History of the Philippines (900–1521)

This article covers the History of the Philippines from the creation of the Laguna Copperplate Inscription in 900 to the arrival of European conquistador Ferdinand Magellan in 1500,which marks the beginning of the Spanish colonial period.

History of the Philippines
Horizon Philippine History
Geographical range Southeast Asia
Period c.900-1560's
Dates c. Before 900 AD
Major sites Tundun, Seludong, Pangasinan, Limestone tombs, Idjang citadels, Panay, Rajahnate of Cebu, Rajahnate of Butuan, Kota Wato, Kota Sug, Ma-i, Dapitan, Gold artifacts, Singhapala, Ifugao plutocracy
Characteristics Indianized kingdoms, Animist states, Sinified Nations, Islamized sultanates
Preceded by Prehistory of the Philippines
Followed by Colonial era

The Laguna Copperplate Inscription (LCI) is the first written document found in an ancient Philippine language. The inscription itself identifies the date of its creation as the year 900. Prior to its discovery in 1989, the earliest record of the Philippine Islands corresponded with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. The discovery of the LCI thus extended the record of Philippine history back by 600 years.[1][2] After 900, the early history of territories and nation-states prior to being present-day Philippines is known through archeological[3] findings and records of contacts with other civilizations such as Song Dynasty and the Bruneian Empire.


100 BC onwardEdit

Iron age finds in Philippines point to the existence of trade between Tamil Nadu and the Philippine Islands during the ninth and tenth centuries B.C.[4] The Philippines is believed by some historians to be the island of Chryse, the "Golden One," which is the name given by ancient Greek writers in reference to an island rich in gold east of India. Pomponius Mela, Marinos of Tyre and the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea mentioned this island in 100 BC, and it is basically the equivalent to the Indian Suvarnadvipa, the "Island of Gold." Josephus calls it in Latin Aurea, and equates the island with biblical Ophir, from where the ships of Tyre and Solomon brought back gold and other trade items. The Visayan Islands, particularly Cebu had earlier encounter with the Greek traders in 21 AD.[5]

Kamhantik Limestone Tombs (890 AD - 1030 AD)Edit

The Limestone tombs of Kamhantik in the Buenavista Protected Landscape in Quezon province was known to Manila researchers of the National Museum of the Philippines in 2011. The coffins were believed to be at least 1,000 years old, initially.

It is composed of fifteen limestone coffins that can be dated back from the period of 10th to 14th century based on one of National Museum's top archaeologist "a complex archaeological site with both habitation and burial remains from the period of approximately 10th to the 14th century ... the first of its kind in the Philippines having carved limestone tombs."[6] However, after carbon-dating the human bones found on the site, it was known that the age of the site is much older, between 890-1030 AD.[7]

The archaeological site is part of 280 hectares (692 acres) of forest land that was declared a government-protected area in 1998 to keep away treasure hunters and slash-and-burn farmers. However, the site has been looted already prior to proper archaeological research. All of the lids of the coffins have already been stolen, along with most of the remains, jars, and possible jewelries inside the coffins that may have been sarcophagi.[8]

The Laguna Copperplate Inscription and its context (c. 900)Edit

Laguna Copperplate Inscription (c. 900)

In January 1990, the Laguna Copperplate, then just a thin piece of crumpled and blackened metal, was offered for sale to and was acquired by the National Museum of the Philippines after previous efforts to sell it to the world of antiques had been unsuccessful. On examination, it was found to measure about 20 cm square and to be fully covered on one side with an inscription in ten lines of finely written characters. Antoon Postma deciphered the text and discovered that it identified the date of its creation as the "Year of Sakya 822, month of Vaisakha." According to Jyotisha (Hindu astronomy), this corresponded with the year 900. Prior to the deciphering of the LCI, Philippine history was traditionally considered to begin at 1521, with the arrival of Magellan and his chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta. History could not be derived from pre-colonial records because such records typically did not survive: most of the writing was done on perishable bamboo or leaves. Furthermore, zealous Spanish Christian missionaries burnt whole libraries of documents considered pagan. Because the deciphering of the LCI made it out to be the earliest written record of the islands that would later become the Philippines, the LCI reset the traditional boundaries between Philippine history and prehistory, placing the demarcation line at least 600 years earlier.[1][9]

The inscription forgives the descendants of Namwaran from a debt of 926.4 grams of gold, and is granted by the chief of Tondo (an area in Manila) and the authorities of Paila, Binwangan and Pulilan, which are all locations in Luzon. The words are a mixture of mostly Sanskrit along with some Old Malay, Old Javanese and Old Tagalog. The subject matter proves conclusively that a developed society with traders, rulers and international trading existed in the Philippines prior to the Spanish colonization. The references to the Chief of Medang Kingdom in Indonesia imply that there were cultural and trade links with empires and territories in other parts of Maritime Southeast Asia, particularly Srivijaya. The copperplate indicate the presence of writing and of written records at the time, and the earliest proof of Philippines language.[1]

Barangay city-states and ThalassocraciesEdit

A Tagalog couple of the Maginoo nobility class depicted in the 16th-century Boxer Codex.
A painting of a mother and child belonging to the Maharlika class.

Since at least the 3rd century, the indigenous people were in contact with the other Southeast Asian and East Asian nations. Fragmented ethnic groups established several polities formed by the assimilation of several small political units known as barangay each headed by a Datu, who was then answerable to a Rajah or a Lakan, who headed the city state. Each barangay consisted of about 100 families. Some barangays were big or city-sized, such as Zubu (Cebu), Maktan (Mactan), Butuan, Ogtong (Oton)[10] and Halaud (Araut or Halaur, which is Dumangas at present) in Panay,[11] Mait (Ma-i), Bigan (Vigan) and Selurong (Manila). Each of these big barangays had a population of more than 2,000. The city-statehood system was also used by the freedom-loving Waray people of Samar and eastern Leyte, the head-hunting Ilongots of the Cagayan Valley (now primarily live in Nueva Viscaya and Nueva Ecija after the Ilokano migrations to the Cagayan Valley), and the peacock-dressed Gaddang people of the Cagayan Valley. Unlike other areas in the country like Tondo or Cebu which had royal families, the ancient city-states of the Warays, Ilongots and Gaddangs were headed through an indigenous leadership system. Both civilizations developed their own tools and craftsmanship as proven by archaeological evidences in central Cagayan Valley and southwest Samar. The head of the Ilongot was known as the Benganganat, while the head of the Gaddanf was the Mingal.[12][13][better source needed][14][15]

The Batanes islands also had its own political system, prior to colonization. The archipelagic polity was headed by the Mangpus. The Ivatan of Batanes, due to geography, built the only stone castles known in precolonial Philippines. These castles, called idjang, were not for royalty, but for the people during times of natural calamity and invasions. Gold was also regarded with high social value by the Ivatan, having contact with both Taiwan and northern Luzon, later on with the kingdom of Ryukyu, and then Japan. The British visited the archipelago in 1687, but never subjugated the people. The Spanish, after subjugating most of the Philippines, were only able to subjugate the Ivatan on 1783, where they were confronted by Mangpus Kenan Aman Dangat, the Mangpus of Batanes at the time. Dangat was executed by the Spanish, and the islands were controlled by Spain through Manila.[16][17][better source needed]

The Ilokano people at the northwest side of Luzon, who classically were located in what is now Ilocos Sur, was headed by the Babacnang. The traditional name of the polity of the Ilokano was Samtoy. The polity did not have a royal family, rather, it was headed by its own chieftancy. The polity had trade contacts with both China and Japan.[18][better source needed][19]

The people of the Cordilleras, collectively known by the Spanish as Igorot, were headed by the Apo. These civilizations were highland plutocracies with their very own distinct cultures, where most were headhunters. According to literature, some Igorot people were always at war with the lowlanders from the west, the Ilokanos.[16][20][21][better source needed]

The Subanons of Zamboanga Peninsula also had their own statehood during this period. They were free from colonization, until they were overcame by the Islamic subjugations of the Sultanate of Sulu in the 13th century. They were ruled by the Timuay. The Sama-Bajau peoples of the Sulu Archipelago, who were not Muslims and thus not affiliated with the Sultanate of Sulu, were also a free statehood and was headed by the Nakurah until the Islamic colonization of the archipelago. The Lumad (autochtonous groups of inland Mindanao) were known to have been headed by the Datu.

By the 14th century, these polities were organized in strict social classes: The Datu or ruling class, the Maharlika or noblemen, the Timawa or freemen, and the dependent class which is divided into two, the Aliping Namamahay (Serfs) and Aliping Saguiguilid (Slaves).

In the earliest times, the items which were prized by the people included jars, which were a symbol of wealth throughout South Asia, and later metal, salt and tobacco. In exchange, the people would trade feathers, rhino horn, hornbill beaks, beeswax, birds nests, resin and rattan.

Indianization and the emergence of Baybayin as well as other related scripts (1200 onwards)Edit

The Baybayin

In a book entitled Tubod The Heart of Bohol published and accredited by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts of the Philippines, around the 12th century, a group of people from Northern Mindanao settled in the straight between mainland Bohol and the neighbouring island of Panglao. Those people came from a nation in northern Mindanao called Lutao (probably the animist kingdom of what will soon be the Islamic Lanao). According to the much credited book, those people established the Kingdom of Dapitan in western Bohol because the true indigenous people of Bohol in the Anda peninsula and nearby areas were not open to them, forcing them to establish settlement in the western part of the island. The kingdom was first built with hardwood on the soft seabed. It engaged it trade with nearby areas and some Chinese merchants. The Jesuit Alcina tales about a rich nation he called the 'Venice of the Visayas', pointing to the Kingdom of Dapitan at that time. The Jesuit also tells of a princess named Bugbung Hamusanum, whose beauty caused her suitor to raid parts of southern China to win her hand. By 1563, before the full Spanish colonization agenda came to Bohol, the Kingdom of Dapitan was at war with the Ternateans of the Moluccas (who were also raiding the Rajahnate of Butuan). At the time, Dapitan was ruled by two brothers named Dalisan and Pagbuaya. The Ternateans at the time were allied to the Portuguese. Dapitan was destroyed and King Dalisan was killed in battle. His brother, King Pagbuaya, together with his people fled back to Mindanao and established a new Dapitan in the northern coast of the Zamboanga peninsula. The new Dapitan eventually was subjugated by the Spanish.[22]

The script used in writing down the LCI is Kawi, which originated in Java, and was used across much of Maritime Southeast Asia. But by at least the 13th century or 14th century, its descendant known in Tagalog as Baybayin was in regular use. The term baybayin literally means syllables, and the writing system itself is a member of the Brahmic family.[23] One example of the use of Baybayin from that time period was found on an earthenware burial jar found in Batangas. Though a common perception is that Baybayin replaced Kawi, many historians believe that they were used alongside each other. Baybayin was noted by the Spanish to be known by everyone, and was generally used for personal and trivial writings. Kawi most likely continued to be used for official documents and writings by the ruling class.[24] Baybayin was simpler and easier to learn, but Kawi was more advanced and better suited for concise writing.

Although Kawi came to be replaced by the Latin script, Baybayin continued to be used during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines up until the late 19th Century. Closely related scripts still in use among indigenous peoples today include Hanunóo, Buhid and Tagbanwa.[citation needed]

Chinese trade (982 onwards)Edit

The earliest date suggested for direct Chinese contact with the Philippines was 982. At the time, merchants from "Ma-i" (now thought to be either Bay, Laguna on the shores of Laguna de Bay,[25] or a site on the island of Mindoro[26][27]) brought their wares to Guangzhou and Quanzhou. This was noted by the Sung Shih (History of the Sung) by Ma Tuan-lin who compiled it with other historical records in the Wen-hsien T’ung-K’ao at the time around the transition between the Sung and Yuan dynasties.[26]

Present-day Siquijor also had its fair share of royalties during this period. The island kingdom was called ´Katagusan´, from tugas, the molave trees that cover the hills, which abounded the island along with fireflies. During this time, the people of the kingdom was already in contact with Chinese traders, as seen through archaeological evidences which includes Chinese ceramics and other Chinese objects. The art of traditional healing and traditional witchcraft belief systems also developed within this period.[28] During the arrival of the Spanish, the ruler of the island was King Kihod, as recorded by de Legazpi's chronicles. Out of natural hospitality, the Spaniards were greeted by King Kihod, who presented himself with the words ‘si Kihod’ (I am Kihod). The Spaniards mistakenly thinking that he was talking about the island, adopted the name Sikihod which later changed to Siquijor, as it was easier to pronounce.[29][30]

The growth of Islamic Sultanates (1380 onwards)Edit

In 1380, Makhdum Karim, the first Islamic missionary to the Philippines brought Islam to the Archipelago. Subsequent visits of Arab, Malay and Javanese missionaries helped strengthen the Islamic faith of the Filipinos, most of whom (except for those in the north) would later become Christian under the Spanish colonization. The Sultanate of Sulu, the largest Islamic kingdom in the islands, encompassed parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The royal house of the Sultanate claim descent from Muhammad.

Around 1405, the year that the war over succession ended in the Majapahit Empire, Muslim traders introduced Islam into the Hindu-Malayan empires and for about the next century the southern half of Luzon and the islands south of it were subject to the various Muslim sultanates of Borneo. During this period, the Japanese established a trading post at Aparri and maintained a loose sway over northern Luzon.

Attack by the Bruneian Empire (1500)Edit

By the 15th century, the Sultanate of Brunei controlled the western shores of the Philippines.

Around the year 1500, the Sultanate of Brunei under Sultan Bolkiah attacked the Kingdom of Tondo and established a city with the Malay name of Selurong (later to become the city of Maynila)[31][32] on the opposite bank of Pasig River. The traditional Rajahs of Tondo, the Lakandula, retained their titles and property but the real political power came to reside in the House of Soliman, the Rajahs of Manila.[33]

Attack of the Spanish Conquistadors (1521–1565)Edit

Filipino historians note an overlap in the history of pre-colonial Philippines and the Spanish colonial period, noting that while Magellan's arrival in 1521 marked the first documented arrival of European colonizers to this country, it was not until the arrival of Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565 that the Europeans had any marked impact on the lifestyle of the residents of the Philippine Archipelago.{[34]

National Historical Institute and National Commission for Culture and the Arts chair Ambeth Ocampo notes:

Contrary to popular belief, the so-called “Spanish period” in Philippine history does not begin with Magellan’s arrival in Cebu and his well-deserved death in the Battle of Mactan in 1521. Magellan may have planted a cross and left the Santo Niño with the wife of Humabon, but that is not a real “conquista” [conquest]. The Spanish dominion over the islands to be known as “Filipinas” began only in 1565, with the arrival of Legazpi. From Cebu, Legazpi moved to other populated and, we presume, important native settlements like Panay and later Maynila (some thought the name was Maynilad because of the presence of Mangrove Trees in the area called nilad).[34]
Historic expeditions reaching the Philippines
When Who Ship(s) Where
1521   /   Ferdinand Magellan Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepcion, Santiago and Victoria Visayas (Eastern Samar, Homonhon, Limasawa, Cebu)
1525   García Jofre de Loaísa Santa María de la Victoria, Espiritu Santo, Anunciada, San Gabriel, Santa María del Parral, San Lesmes and Santiago Surigao, Islands of Visayas and Mindanao
1527   Álvaro de Saavedra Cerón 3 unknown ships Mindanao
1542   Ruy López de Villalobos Santiago, Jorge, San Antonio, San Cristóbal, San Martín, and San Juan Visayas (Eastern Samar, Leyte), Mindanao (Saranggani)
1564   Miguel López de Legazpi San Pedro, San Pablo, San Juan and San Lucas Almost entire Philippines

Primary sources for early Philippine historyEdit

Primary sources for this period in Philippine history are sparse, which explains why so little is known. This is evidenced by the Laguna Copperplate Inscription written in copper metal sheet. Historian William Henry Scott has provided a compilation and analysis of available archival primary source materials, linguistic analyses, archaeological, and other materials and analyzes several purported prehispanic historical accounts that lack any primary source documentation.[35]

The LCI is both the earliest local source on this era and the earliest primary source, with the Calatagan jar being more or less contemporary, although the translation of the text on the jar is in some question. Early contacts with Japan, China, and by Muslim traders produced the next set of primary sources.[36] Genealogical records by Muslim Filipinos who trace their family roots to this era constitute the next set of sources. Another short primary source concerns the attack by Brunei's king Bolkiah on Manila Bay in 1500. Finally, and perhaps with the most detail, Spanish chroniclers in the 17th century collected accounts and histories of that time, putting into writing the remembered history of the later part of this era, and noting the then-extant cultural patterns which at that time had not yet been swept away by the coming tide of hispanization.[31][37][38]


  1. ^ a b c Laguna Copperplate Inscription - Article in English Archived 2008-02-05 at the Wayback Machine.[unreliable source?]
  2. ^ The Laguna Copperplate Inscription Archived 2014-11-21 at the Wayback Machine.. Accessed September 04, 2008.
  3. ^ "Tomb raiders spoil Philippine archeological find - FRANCE 24". 
  4. ^ "Tamil Cultural Association - Tamil Language". Archived from the original on 2008-01-02. 
  5. ^ Cebu, a Port City in Prehistoric and in Present Times. Retrieved September 05, 2008, citing Felix Regalado; Quentin B. Franco (1973). Eliza B. Grimo, ed. History of Panay. Ilo-ilo City: Central Philippines University. 
  6. ^ "1,000-year-old village found in Philippines". Retrieved May 20, 2015. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Postma, Antoon (June 27, 2008). "The Laguna Copper-Plate Inscription: Text and Commentary". Philippine Studies. Ateneo de Manila University. 40 (2): 182–203. 
  10. ^ Victor Estella, The Death of Gold in Early Visayan Societies: Ethnohistoric Accounts and Archaeological Evidences.
  11. ^ "También fundó convento el Padre Fray Martin de Rada en Araut – que ahora se llama el convento de Dumangas – con la advocación de nuestro Padre San Agustín...Está fundado este pueblo casi a los fines del río de Halaur, que naciendo en unos altos montes en el centro de esta isla (Panay)...Es el pueblo muy hermoso, ameno y muy lleno de palmares de cocos. Antiguamente era el emporio y corte de la más lucida nobleza de toda aquella isla."de SAN AGUSTIN OSA (1650–1724), Fr Gaspár; DIAZ OSA, Fr Casimiro (1698). Conquistas de las Islas Philipinas. Parte primera : la temporal, por las armas del señor don Phelipe Segundo el Prudente, y la espiritual, por los religiosos del Orden de Nuestro Padre San Augustin; fundacion y progreso de su Provincia del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus (in Spanish). Madrid: Imprenta de Manuel Ruiz de Murga. ISBN 978-8400040727. OCLC 79696350. "The second part of the work, compiled by Casimiro Díaz Toledano from the manuscript left by Gaspár de San Agustín, was not published until 1890 under the title: Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas, Parte segunda", pp. 374-376.
  12. ^ "The Islands of Leyte and Samar - National Commission for Culture and the Arts". 
  13. ^ Samar (province)#History
  14. ^ "ILONGOT - National Commission for Culture and the Arts". 
  15. ^ "GLIMPSES: Peoples of the Philippines". 
  16. ^ a b "Politico-Diplomatic History of the Philippines - National Commission for Culture and the Arts". 
  17. ^ Batanes#History
  18. ^ Ilocos Sur#Precolonial era
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  20. ^ "Biag ni Lam-ang: Summary / Buod ng Biag ni Lam-ang". 28 August 2017. 
  21. ^ Biag ni Lam-ang
  22. ^ "Publications - National Commission for Culture and the Arts". 
  23. ^ Baybayin, the Ancient Philippine script Archived 2010-08-08 at WebCite. Accessed September 04, 2008.
  24. ^ Hector Santos. Kavi, a borrowed Philippine script. Accessed April 35, 2010.
  25. ^ Go, Bon Juan (2005). "Ma'l in Chinese Records - Mindoro or Bai? An Examination of a Historical Puzzle". Philippine Studies. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University. 53 (1): 119–138. Retrieved 2012-10-16. 
  26. ^ a b Patanne, E. P. (1996). The Philippines in the 6th to 16th Centuries. San Juan: LSA Press. ISBN 971-91666-0-6. 
  27. ^ Scott, William Henry. (1984). "Societies in Prehispanic Philippines". Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History. Quezon City: New Day Publishers. p. 70. ISBN 971-10-0226-4. 
  28. ^ "Siquijor History". 5 October 2014. 
  29. ^ "History of Siquijor". 
  30. ^ "The Mystical Island of Siquijor - Philippines Tour Guide". 
  31. ^ a b *Scott, William Henry (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 971-550-135-4. 
  32. ^ del Mundo, Clodualdo (September 20, 1999). "Ako'y Si Ragam (I am Ragam)". Diwang Kayumanggi. Archived from the original on October 25, 2009. Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  33. ^ Santiago, Luciano P.R., The Houses of Lakandula, Matanda, and Soliman [1571-1898]: Genealogy and Group Identity, Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 18 [1990]
  34. ^ a b Ocampo, Ambeth (January 22, 2009). "Legaspi's wish list". Looking Back: Legaspi’s wish list. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved February 5, 2009. 
  35. ^ Scott, William Henry. (1984). Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History (Revised Edition). New Day Publishers, Quezon City. 196pp. ISBN 9711002264.
  36. ^ South East Asia Pottery - Philippines Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  37. ^ "Philippines | The Ancient Web". Retrieved 2016-03-04. 
  38. ^ Scott, William Henry (1992), Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino. New Day Publishers, Quezon City. 172pp. ISBN 9711005247.