Rattanakosin Kingdom (1782–1932)

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The Rattanakosin Kingdom (Thai: อาณาจักรรัตนโกสินทร์, RTGSAnachak Rattanakosin, pronounced [ʔāːnāːt͡ɕàk ráttāná(ʔ)kōːsǐn] (listen), abbreviated as รัตนโกสินทร์, Thai pronunciation: [ráttāná(ʔ)kōːsǐn]) or Kingdom of Siam were names used to reference the fourth and current Thai kingdom in the history of Thailand (then known as Siam). It was founded in 1782 with the establishment of Rattanakosin (Bangkok), which replaced the city of Thonburi as the capital of Siam. This article covers the period until the Siamese revolution of 1932.

Rattanakosin Kingdom[a]
Anachak Rattanakosin

Kingdom of Siam[b]
Ratcha-anachak Sayam
Coat of arms of Siam.svg
Emblem of Thailand.svg
Top: Coat of arms
Bottom: Emblem
Motto: สพฺเพสํ สงฺฆภูตานํ สามคฺคี วุฑฺฒิ สาธิกา
Unity amongst those uniting brings about success and prosperity[clarification needed]
Anthem: จอมราชจงเจริญ
Chom Rat Chong Charoen
"Long Live the Great King"

Bulan Loi Luean
"The Floating Moon on the Sky"
Sansoen Phra Barami
"Glorify His Prestige"

(de facto)
The sphere of influence of the Rattanakosin Kingdom in the first half of the 19th century (including its principal territories)[clarification needed]
The sphere of influence of the Rattanakosin Kingdom in the first half of the 19th century (including its principal territories)[clarification needed]
The political borders of the Kingdom of Siam prior to the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909[b]
The political borders of the Kingdom of Siam prior to the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909[b]
Common languagesCentral Thai (official)
Northern Thai
Southern Thai
Various Chinese languages[2]
Theravada Buddhism (state religion)
Hinduism, Christianity, Islam
GovernmentFeudal absolute monarchy
(until 1870s)
Absolute monarchy
• 1782–1809
Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok[c] (first)
• 1809–1824
Phra Phutthaloetla Naphalai
• 1824–1851
• 1851–1868
• 1868–1910
• 1910–1925
• 1925–1932
Prajadhipok (last)
• 1851-1855
Prayurawongse (first)
• 1932
Paribatra Sukhumbandhu (last)
• 1782–1803
Maha Sura Singhanat (first)
• 1868–1885
Wichaichan (last)
Historical eraEarly modern period, modern period
• Established
6 April 1782
18 April 1855
• Modernization and nationalism
22 July 1917
24 June 1932
• 1800[3]
• 1929[4]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Thonburi Kingdom
Kingdom of Chiang Mai
Principality of Lampang
Principality of Nan
Principality of Lamphum
Principality of Phrae
Nakhon Si Thammarat Kingdom
Kingdom of Vientiane
Kingdom of Luang Prabang
Kingdom of Champasak
French Indochina
Unfederated Malay States

The maximum zone of influence of Rattanakosin included the vassal states of Cambodia, Laos, Shan States, and the northern Malay states. The kingdom was founded by Rama I of the Chakri Dynasty. The first half of this period was characterized by the consolidation of the kingdom's power and was punctuated by periodic conflicts with Burma, Vietnam and Laos. The second period was one of engagements with the colonial powers of Britain and France in which Siam remained the only Southeast Asian state to maintain its independence.[5]

Internally the kingdom developed into a modern centralized nation state with borders defined by interactions with Western powers. Economic and social progress was made, marked by an increase in foreign trade, the abolition of slavery and the expansion of formal education to the emerging middle class. However, the failure to implement substantial political reforms culminated in the 1932 revolution and the abandonment of absolute monarchy in favor of a constitutional monarchy.


In 1767, after dominating Southeast Asia for almost four centuries, Ayutthaya was brought down by the Burmese Konbaung dynasty.[6] Despite its complete defeat and subsequent occupation, Siam made a rapid recovery. The resistance to Burmese rule was led by a noble of Chinese descent, Taksin, a military leader. Initially based at Chanthaburi in the southeast, within a year, he had defeated the Burmese occupation army and reestablished a Siamese state with its capital at Thonburi on the west bank of the Chao Phraya, 20 km from the sea. In 1768 he was crowned as Taksin. He re-united the central Thai heartlands under his rule, and in 1769 he also occupied western Cambodia.[7] He then marched south and re-established Siamese rule over the Malay Peninsula as far as Penang and Terengganu. Having secured his base in Siam, Taksin attacked the Burmese in the north in 1774 and captured Chiang Mai in 1776, permanently uniting Siam and Lanna. Taksin's leading general in this campaign was Thong Duang, known by the title Chaophraya or Lord Chakri was himself a descendant of Mon people. In 1778, Chakri led a Siamese army which captured Vientiane and Luang Phrabang, a northern Lao kingdom, and eventually established Siamese domination over Laotian kingdoms.

Despite these successes, by 1779 Taksin was in political trouble at home. He seems to have developed a religious mania, alienating the powerful Buddhist monk-hood by claiming to be a sotapanna or divine figure.[citation needed] He was also in troubles with the court officials, Chinese merchants, and missionaries. The foreign observers began to speculate that he would soon be overthrown.[citation needed] In 1782 Taksin sent his armies under Chakri, the future Rama I of Rattanakosin, to invade Cambodia, but while they were away a rebellion broke out in the area around the capital. The rebels, who had popular support, offered the throne to General Chakri, the 'supreme general'. Chakri who was on war duty marched back from Cambodia and deposed Taksin, who was purportedly 'secretly executed' shortly after.[citation needed]


Early Rattanakosin period (1782–1855)Edit

Foundation of BangkokEdit

Chao Phraya Chakri, later King Phutthayotfa Chulalok or Rama I (r. 1782–1809).

Chakri ruled under the name Ramathibodi, but was generally known as King Rama I, moved the royal seat from Thonburi on the West bank of Chao Phraya River to the East bank, the village of Bang Makok, meaning "place of olive plums", for better strategic position in defences against Burmese invasions from the West, protected from attack by the river to the west and by a series of canals to the north, east and south. The East bank was low marshlands inhabited by the Chinese, whom King Rama I ordered to move to Sampheng. The official foundation date of Bangkok was April 21, 1782 when the city pillar was consecrated in a ceremony. King Rama I underwent an abbreviated form of coronation in 1782.[8] He founded the Chakri dynasty and made his younger brother Chao Phraya Surasi the Wangna or Prince Sura Singhanat of the Front Palace. In 1783, Bangkok city walls were constructed with part of the bricks taken from Ayutthaya ruins.[8][9] Lao and Cambodian[9] laborers were assigned to dig the city moat. The Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaew were completed in 1784 and the Emerald Buddha was transferred from Wat Arun to be placed in Wat Phra Kaew. In 1785, King Rama I performed full coronation ceremony and named the new city "Rattanakosin", which meant the "Jewel of Indra" referring to the Emerald Buddha.

Burmese warsEdit

The Burmese continued to pose the major threat to Siamese state of existence. In 1785, King Bodawpaya of the Burmese Konbaung dynasty sent massive armies to invade Siam in five directions in the Nine Armies' War. Decades of continuous warfare had left Siam depopulated and the Siamese court managed to muster only the total of 70,000 men[9] against the 144,000 men of Burmese invaders. The Burmese, however, were over-stretched and unable to converge. Prince Sura Singhanat led his army to defeat the main army of King Bodawpaya in the Battle of Latya in Kanchanaburi in 1785. In the north, the Burmese laid siege on Lanna Lampang. Kawila the ruler of Lampang managed to hold the siege for four months until relief forces from Bangkok came to rescue Lampang. In the south, Lady Chan and Lady Mook were able to fend off Burmese attacks on Thalang (Phuket) in 1786. After the unfruitful campaign, King Bodawpaya of Burma sent his son Uparaja Thado Minsaw to invade Kanchanaburi concentrating only in one direction. King Rama I and his brother Prince Sura Singhanat defeated the Burmese in the Tha Dindaeng Campaign in 1786–1787.

After victories over Burmese invaders, Siam staged the offensives on the Tenasserim Coast,[9][10][11] which was the former territory of Ayutthaya. King Rama I marched Siamese armies to lay siege on Tavoy in 1788[9] but did not succeed. In 1792, the Burmese governors of Tavoy and Mergui defected to Siam.[9][11] Siam came to temporarily occupy the Tenasserim Coast. However, as the court was preparing for the invasions of Lower Burma,[9] King Bodawpaya sent his son Thado Minsaw to reclaim Tenasserim.[10] The Siamese were soundly defeated by the Burmese in the Battle of Tavoy in 1793 and ceded the Tenasserim Coast to Burma[11] for perpetuity, becoming modern Tanintharyi Division.

Lord Kawila was finally able to re-establish Chiang Mai as the centre of Lanna in 1797. King Bodawpaya was eager to regain Burmese control over Lanna.[10] The Burmese invaded Chiang Mai in 1797 and 1802,[8] in both occasions Kawila defended the city and Prince Sura Singhanat marched north to relieve Chiang Mai.[9] The Siamese and Lanna forces then proceeded to capture Chiang Saen, the stronghold of Burmese authority in Lanna, in 1804,[9] eliminating Burmese influence in Lanna.[12] Siamese victories over the Burmese in Lanna allowed Siam to expand domination north towards the northernmost Tai princedoms: Keng Tung and Chianghung. Kawila of Chiang Mai sent forces to raid Keng Tung and Mong Hsat[citation needed] in 1802 and subjugated Mong Yawng, Mueang Luang Phukha, and Chiang Hung in 1805.[8] In 1805, the Prince of Nan invaded the Tai Lue confederacy of Sipsongpanna and Chiang Hung surrendered.[13][clarification needed]

Prince Sura Singhanat of the Front Palace died in 1803. King Rama I appointed his son Prince Itsarasunthon[8] as the succeeding Prince of the Front Palace in 1806. King Rama I died in 1809 and Prince Itsarasunthon ascended to become King Rama II.[8] King Bodawpaya then took the opportunity to initiate the Burmese invasion of Thalang on the Andaman Coast. Bangkok court sent armies to relieve Thalang but faced logistic difficulties before when Thalang fell to the Burmese in 1810.[9][14] The Siamese were able to repel the Burmese from Thalang anyway. The Burmese Invasion of Phuket in 1809-1810 was the last Burmese incursion into Siamese territories in Thai history. Siam remained vigilant of prospective Burmese invasions through the 1810s. Only when Burma ceded Tenasserim to the British in the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826 in aftermath of the First Anglo-Burmese War that Burmese threats effectively ended.[8]

Eastern fronts: Laos, Cambodia, and VietnamEdit

When the Siamese forces took Vientiane in 1779 in the Thonburi period, all three Lao kingdoms of Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak came under Siamese domination. Lao Princes Nanthasen, Inthavong and Anouvong were taken as hostages to Bangkok.[15] In 1782, King Rama I installed Nanthasen as the King of Vientiane. However, Nanthasen was dethroned in 1795[16] due to his alleged diplomatic overtures with the Tây Sơn dynasty in favor of Inthavong. When King Inthavong died in 1804, Anouvong succeeded as King of Vientiane.[17]

Yumreach Baen, a pro-Siamese Cambodian noble, staged a coup in Cambodia to overthrow and kill the pro-Vietnamese Cambodian Prime Minister Tolaha Mu in 1783. Chaos and upheavals that ensued caused Yumreach Baen to take young King Ang Eng to Bangkok. King Rama I appointed Yumreach Baen as Chaophraya Aphaiphubet. Also in 1783, Nguyễn Phúc Ánh arrived in Bangkok to take refuge from the Tây Sơn. In 1784, Siamese forces invaded Saigon to reinstate Nguyễn Phúc Ánh but were defeated in the Battle of Rạch Gầm-Xoài Mút by the Tây Sơn. In 1789, Aphaiphubet Baen took control of Cambodia and became the Regent. Also in the same year Nguyễn Phúc Ánh took Saigon and established himself in Southern Vietnam. In 1794, King Rama I allowed Ang Eng to return to Cambodia to rule as king[8] and carved northwestern part of Cambodia including Battambang and Siemreap for Aphaiphubet Baen to govern as the governor of Battambang under direct Siamese rule.

King Ang Eng of Cambodia died in 1796 and was succeeded by his son Ang Chan who became pro-Vietnamese.[8] Pro-Siamese Prince Ang Sngoun, younger brother of Ang Chan, decided to rebel against his brother in 1811. The Siamese forces marched from Battambang to Oudong. The panicked King Ang Chan fled to take refuge at Saigon[18] under the protection of Vietnam. Siamese forces sacked Oudong and returned.[8] Lê Văn Duyệt brought Ang Chan back to Phnom Penh to rule under Vietnamese influence.[19]

King Anouvong of Vientiane rebelled against Siam in 1827. He led the Lao armies to capture Nakhon Ratchasima and Saraburi,[8] while his son King Raxabut Nyô of Champasak invaded Southern Isan. Phraya Palat and his wife Lady Mo[20] led the Siamese captives to rise against their Laos overseers in the Battle of Samrit Fields. King Rama III sent Prince Sakdipolsep of the Front Palace to defeat Anouvong at Nong Bua Lamphu and Phraya Ratchasuphawadi[8] (later Chaophraya Bodindecha) to capture Raxabut Nyô. Anouvong and his family fled to Nghệ An Province of Vietnam under protection of Emperor Ming Mạng.[21] Ming Mạng sent Anouvong back to Vientiane to negotiate with Siam. However, Anouvong retook control of Vientiane only to be pushed back by Phraya Ratchasuphawadi in 1828. Anouvong was eventually captured and sent to Bangkok where he was imprisoned and died in 1829.[8]

Anouvong's rebellion worsened Siamese-Vietnamese relations. Lê Văn Duyệt died in 1832 and his posthumous punishments by Ming Mạng spurred the Lê Văn Khôi rebellion at Saigon in 1833. King Rama III took the opportunity to eliminate Vietnamese influence in the region. He assigned Chaophraya Bodindecha to lead armies to invade Cambodia and Saigon,[22] while Chaophraya Phrakhlang led the fleet. However, the Siamese forces were defeated in the naval Battle of Vàm Nao and retreated. The Siamese defeat confirmed Vietnamese domination over Cambodia. Ming Mạng annexed Cambodia into the Trấn Tây Province with Trương Minh Giảng as the governor. After the death of Ang Chan, Minh Mạng also installed Ang Mey as puppet queen regnant of Cambodia.[23] In 1840, the Cambodians arose in general rebellion against Vietnamese domination. Bodindecha marched Siamese armies to attack Pursat and Kampong Svay in 1841. The new Vietnamese Emperor Thiệu Trị ordered the Vietnamese to retreat and the Siamese took over Cambodia. The war resumed in 1845 when Emperor Thiệu Trị sent Nguyễn Tri Phương to successfully take Phnom Penh and lay siege on Siamese-held Oudong. After months of siege, Siam and Vietnam negotiated for peace with Prince Ang Duong, who would recognize both Siamese and Vietnamese suzerainty, installed as the new King of Cambodia in 1848.[8]

Early Modern Siam (1855–1905)Edit

Enlightenment (1853–1868)Edit

A white elephant, facing the hoist, centred on a red field. National ensign decreed by King Mongkut (Rama IV)
Photograph of King Mongkut (Rama IV) (r. 1853–1868) in western style uniform

Mongkut came to the throne as Rama IV in 1853, determined to prevent Siam from falling under colonial domination by forcing modernization on his reluctant subjects. But although he was in theory an absolute monarch, his power was limited. Having been a monk for 27 years, he lacked a base among the powerful royal princes, and did not have a modern state apparatus to carry out his wishes. His first attempts at reform, to establish a modern system of administration and to improve the status of debt slaves and women, were frustrated.

Rama IV came to welcome Western intrusion in Siam. The king himself and his entourages were actively pro-British. This became evident in 1855 when a mission led by the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring, arrived in Bangkok with demands for immediate changes, backed by the threat of force. The king readily agreed to demands for a new treaty, called the Bowring Treaty, which restricted import duties to three percent, abolished royal trade monopolies, and granted extraterritoriality to British subjects. Other Western powers soon demanded and got similar concessions.

The king came to believe that the real threat to Siam came from the French, not the British. The British were interested in commercial advantage, the French in building a colonial empire. They occupied Saigon in 1859, and 1867 established a protectorate over southern Vietnam and eastern Cambodia. Rama IV hoped that the British would defend Siam if he gave them the economic concessions they demanded. In the next reign this would prove to be an illusion, but it is true that the British saw Siam as a useful buffer state between British Burma and French Indochina.

Reformer (1868–1910)Edit

King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) (r. 1868–1910) with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in Saint Petersburg 1897.
Siamese influence and territorial claims before the RS112 (1893) Incident

Rama IV died in 1868, and was succeeded by his 15-year-old son Chulalongkorn, who reigned as Rama V and is now known as Rama the Great.[citation needed] Rama V was the first Siamese king to have a full Western education, having been taught by a British governess, Anna Leonowens – whose place in Siamese history has been fictionalized as The King and I. At first Rama V's reign was dominated by the conservative regent, Chaophraya Si Suriyawongse, but when the king came of age in 1873 he soon took control. He created a Privy Council and a Council of State, a formal court system and budget office. He announced that slavery would be gradually abolished and debt-bondage restricted.

At first the princes and conservatives successfully resisted the king's reform agenda, but as the older generation was replaced by younger, Western-educated princes, resistance faded. He found powerful allies in his brothers Prince Chakkraphat, whom he made finance minister, Prince Damrong, who organized interior government and education, and his brother-in-law Prince Devrawongse, foreign minister for 38 years. In 1887 Devrawonge visited Europe to study governmental systems. On his recommendation the king established cabinet government, an audit office, and an education department. The semi-autonomous status of Chiang Mai was ended and the army was reorganized and modernized.

In 1893 French authorities in Indochina used a minor border dispute to provoke a crisis. French gunboats appeared at Bangkok and demanded the cession of Lao territories east of the Mekong. The king appealed to the British, but the British minister told the king to settle on whatever terms he could get. The king had no choice but to comply. Britain's only gesture was an agreement with France guaranteeing the integrity of the rest of Siam. In exchange, Siam had to give up its claim to the Tai-speaking Shan region of northeastern Burma to the British.

The French, however, continued to pressure Siam, and in 1906–1907 they manufactured another crisis. This time Siam had to concede French control of territory on the west bank of the Mekong opposite Luang Prabang and around Champasak in southern Laos, as well as western Cambodia. The British interceded to prevent more French pressure on Siam, but their price, in 1909 was the acceptance of British sovereignty over of Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, and Terengganu under Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909. All of these "lost territories" were on the fringes of the Siamese sphere of influence and had never been securely under their control, but being compelled to abandon all claim to them was a substantial humiliation to both king and country. Historian David K. Wyatt describes Chulalongkorn as "broken in spirit and health" following the 1893 crisis. It became the basis for the country's name change: with the loss of these territories Great Siam was no more; the king now ruled only the core "Thai lands".

Meanwhile, reform continued unabated, transforming an absolute monarchy based on traditional relationships of power into a modern, centralized nation state. The process was increasingly under the control of Rama V's European-educated sons. Railways and telegraph lines united previously remote and semi-autonomous provinces. The currency was tied to the gold standard and a modern system of taxation replaced the arbitrary levies and corvee labor of the past. The biggest problem was the shortage of trained civil servants, and many foreigners had to be employed until new schools could be built and Siamese graduates produced. By 1910, when the king died, Siam had become a semi-modern country and continued to escape colonial rule.

Modern Siam (1905–1932)Edit

From kingdom to modern nation (1910–1925)Edit

Territorial claims abandoned by Siam in the late-18th through early-20th centuries
King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) (r. 1910–1925), supported nationalism and modernization

One of Rama V's reforms was to introduce a Western-style law of royal succession, so in 1910 he was peacefully succeeded by his son Vajiravudh, who reigned as Rama VI. He had been educated at Sandhurst military academy and at Oxford, and was an anglicized Edwardian gentleman. Indeed, one of Siam's problems was the widening gap between the Westernized royal family and upper aristocracy and the rest of the country. It took another 20 years for Western education to permeate the bureaucracy and the army.

There had been some political reform under Rama V, but the king was still an absolute monarch, who acted as the head of the cabinet and staffed all the agencies of the state with his own relatives. Vajiravudh knew that the rest of the "new" nation could not be excluded from government forever, but he had no faith in Western-style democracy. He applied his observations of the success of the British monarchy ruling India, appearing more in public and instituting more royal ceremonies. However, Rama VI also carried on his father's modernization plan.

Bangkok became more and more the capital of the new nation of Siam. Rama VI's government began several nationwide development projects, despite financial hardship. New roads, bridges, railways, hospitals and schools mushroomed throughout the country with funds from Bangkok. Newly created "viceroys" were appointed to the newly restructured "regions", or monthon (circles), as king's agents supervising administrative affairs in the provinces.

The king established the Wild Tiger Corps, or Kong Suea Pa (กองเสือป่า), a paramilitary organization of Siamese of "good character" united to further the nation's cause. He also created a junior branch which continues today as the National Scout Organization of Thailand. The king spent much time on the development of the movements as he saw it as an opportunity to create a bond between himself and loyal citizens. It was also a way to single out and honor his favourites. At first the Wild Tigers were drawn from the king's personal entourage, but an enthusiasm among the population arose later. Of the adult movement, a German observer wrote in September 1911: "This is a troop of volunteers in black uniform, drilled in a more or less military fashion, but without weapons. The British Scouts are apparently the paradigm for the Tiger Corps. In the whole country, at the most far-away places, units of this corps are being set up. One would hardly recognize the quiet and phlegmatic Siamese." The paramilitary movement largely disappeared by 1927, but was revived and evolved into the Volunteer Defense Corps, also called the Village Scouts. (Thai: ลูกเสือบ้าน)[24]

Vajiravudh's style of government differed from that of his father. In the beginning, the king continued to use his father's team and there was no sudden break in the daily routine of government. Much of the running of daily affairs was therefore in the hands of experienced and competent men. To them and their staff Siam owed many progressive steps, such as the development of a national plan for the education of the whole populace, the setting up of clinics where free vaccination was given against smallpox, and the continuing expansion of railways. However, senior posts were gradually filled with members of the king's coterie when a vacancy occurred through death, retirement, or resignation. By 1915, half the cabinet consisted of new faces. Most notable was Chao Phraya Yomarat's presence and Prince Damrong's absence. He resigned from his post as Minister of the Interior officially because of ill health, but in actuality because of friction between himself and the king.

World War IEdit

The Siamese Expeditionary Force during World War I in Paris, 1919.
During WWI, King Rama VI decreed two changes to the Siamese national flag in 1916-1917, first to a red background to a five-stripe design of red and white for civil usage and then to the red, white, and blue national ensign in use today, taking inspiration from Allied flags.

In 1917 Siam declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, mainly to be favor with the British and the French. Siam's taken participation in World War I secured it a seat at the Versailles Peace Conference, and Foreign Minister Devawongse used this opportunity to argue for the repeal of 19th century treaties and the restoration of full Siamese sovereignty. The United States obliged in 1920, while France and Britain delayed until 1925. This victory gained the king some popularity, but it was soon undercut by discontent over other issues, such as his extravagance, which became more noticeable when a sharp postwar recession hit Siam in 1919. There was also concern that the king had no son, which undermined the stability of the monarchy due to the absence of heirs[citation needed]. Thus when Rama VI died suddenly in 1925, aged only 44, the monarchy was in a weakened state. He was succeeded by his younger brother Prajadhipok.

Transition to 1932 revolutionEdit

Unlike other states of Southeast Asia, Thailand was never formally colonised by colonial powers, although significant territory had been ceded under duress to Britain and France. Conventional perspectives attribute this to the efforts made by the monarchs of the Chakri Dynasty, particularly Rama IV and Rama V, to "modernise" the Siamese polity, and also to the relative cultural and ethnic homogeneity of the Thai nation. Rama IV (King Mongkut) opened Siam to European trade and began the process of modernisation. His son, Rama V (King Chulalongkorn), consolidated control over Thai vassal states, creating an absolute monarchy and a centralised state. The success of the Chakri monarchs would sow the seeds of the 1932 revolution and the end of the absolute monarchy. "Modernisation" mandated from above had, by the early 20th century, created a class of Western-educated Thais in the commoner and lower nobility classes, who staffed the middle and lower ranks of the nascent Siamese bureaucracy. They were influenced by the ideals of the French and Russian Revolutions.[25] This new faction would eventually form the People's Party, the nucleus of the 1932 revolution.

Recent scholarship offers alternative perspectives that challenge conventional views of the creation of the nation. Thongchai Winichakul's hypothesis on the emergence of the "geo-body" of Siam is widely accepted by scholars in Thai and Southeast Asian studies. Thongchai argues that the traditional Hindu-Buddhist paradigms of culture, space, governance, and power were challenged by a significantly different civilisation, arising mainly from Latin Christianity tempered by the humanism of the Enlightenment. The East became increasingly described as "barbaric", "ignorant", or "inferior". The mission to "civilise" the "barbaric Asiatics" became the raison d'être for colonialism and imperialism. The siwilai ('civilise') programme in 19th century Siam was part of a strategy the Chakri monarchy adopted to justify their country's continued existence as a legitimate independent state to fend off colonial intervention. Other components involved the spatial and political reorganisation of the Siamese polity along Western lines to strengthen the state and gain recognition from the Western powers. Thongchai argues that the tactics adopted by the Siamese state were similar to those adopted by Western colonial powers in administering their colonies. Space and power were essentially redefined by the Siamese state. Autonomous and semi-autonomous mueangs were brought under the direct control of the state by the beginning of the 20th century. Cartography was employed to define national borders, replacing the vague frontiers of the Mandala kingdoms. People were assigned to ethnic groups. To promote the new Western-inspired definitions of siwilai, the educated Siamese of the 19th century, mainly the aristocracy, began writing ethnographies and creating their own versions of the "other" to strengthen the identity of the Siamese nation by emphasising its superiority, in contrast to the barbarity of upland tribal peoples such as the Lue and the Lahu.[26]

These new perspectives created a politically dominant Siamese aristocracy that became increasingly powerful from the "modernisation/self-colonisation" process it initiated and directed. This seems to contradict conventional perspectives, which are based on the assumption that the Chakri absolute monarchy by the early 1930s was a relatively passive actor, due to the political weakness of Rama VI (King Vajiravudh) and Rama VII (King Prajadhipok) and crises such as the Great Depression. No longer in control of events and political developments in Siam, they were swept aside by adherents of democracy and nationalism.[27] Revisionists[who?] counter by noting that the weaknesses of an individual monarch do not necessarily mean that the resolve and power of the traditional landed aristocracy or the so-called Sakdina aristocracy in maintaining its preeminence through upholding the political prerogatives of the absolute monarchy was in any way lessened. In their view, attributing the outbreak of the 1932 revolution largely to the beliefs and ambitions of the Western-educated promoters of the People's Party obscures the role played by the Siamese monarchy and aristocracy.[28]

The end of absolute rule (1925–1932)Edit

King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) (r. 1925–1935) was the last absolute monarch of Siam.

Unprepared for his new responsibilities, all Prajadhipok had in his favor was a lively intelligence, a charming diplomacy in his dealings with others, modesty and industrious willingness to learn, and the somewhat tarnished, but still potent, allure of the crown.

Unlike his predecessor, the king diligently read virtually all state papers that came his way, from ministerial submissions to petitions by citizens. Within half a year, only three of Vajiravudh's twelve ministers stayed put, the rest having been replaced by members of the royal family. On the one hand, these appointments brought back men of talent and experience; on the other, it signaled a return to royal oligarchy. The king obviously wanted to demonstrate a clear break with the discredited sixth reign, and the choice of men to fill the top positions appeared to be guided largely by a wish to restore a Chulalongkorn-type government.

The legacy that Prajadhipok received from his elder brother were problems of the sort that had become chronic in the Sixth Reign. The most urgent of these was the economy: the finances of the state were in chaos, the budget heavily in deficit, and the royal accounts a nightmare of debts and questionable transactions. That the rest of the world was deep in the Great Depression following World War I did not help the situation either.

Virtually the first act of Prajadipok as king entailed an institutional innovation intended to restore confidence in the monarchy and government, the creation of the Supreme Council of the State. This privy council was made up of a number of experienced and extremely competent members of the royal family, including the longtime Minister of the Interior (and Chulalongkorn's right-hand man) Prince Damrong. Gradually these princes arrogated increasing power by monopolizing all the main ministerial positions. Many of them felt it their duty to make amends for the mistakes of the previous reign, but it was not generally appreciated.

With the help of this council, the king managed to restore stability to the economy, although at a price of making a significant number of the civil servants redundant and cutting the salary of those that remained. This was obviously unpopular among the officials, and was one of the trigger events for the coup of 1932. Prajadhipok then turned his attention to the question of future politics in Siam. Inspired by the British example, the king wanted to allow the common people to have a say in the country's affairs by the creation of a parliament. A proposed constitution was ordered to be drafted, but the king's wishes were rejected by his advisers, who felt that the population was not yet ready for democracy.


Group of soldiers standing on Royal Plaza waiting for orders during the Revolution, 24 June 1932

In 1932, with the country deep in depression, the Supreme Council opted to introduce cuts in spending, including the military budget. The king foresaw that these policies might create discontent, especially in the army, and he therefore convened a special meeting of officials to explain why the cuts were necessary. In his address he stated the following, "I myself know nothing at all about finances, and all I can do is listen to the opinions of others and choose the best... If I have made a mistake, I really deserve to be excused by the people of Siam."

No previous monarch of Siam had ever spoken in such terms. Many interpreted the speech not as Prajadhipok apparently intended, namely as a frank appeal for understanding and cooperation. They saw it as a sign of his weakness and evidence that a system which perpetuated the rule of fallible autocrats should be abolished. Serious political disturbances were threatened in the capital, and in April the king agreed to introduce a constitution under which he would share power with a prime minister. This was not enough for the radical elements in the army, however. On 24 June 1932, while the king was at the seaside, the Bangkok garrison mutinied and seized power, led by a group of 49 officers known as "Khana Ratsadon". Thus ended 800 years of absolute monarchy.

Thai political history was little researched by Western Southeast Asian scholars in the 1950s and 1960s. Thailand, as the only nominally "native" Southeast Asian polity to escape colonial conquest, was deemed to be relatively more stable as compared with other newly independent states in Southeast Asia.[29] It was perceived to have retained enough continuity from its "traditions", such as the institution of the monarchy, to have escaped from the chaos and troubles caused by decolonisation and to resist the encroachment of revolutionary communism.[29] By implication, this line of argument suggests the 1932 revolution was nothing more than a coup that simply replaced the absolute monarchy and its aristocracy with a commoner elite class made up of Western-educated generals and civilian bureaucrats and essentially that there was little that was revolutionary about this event. David K. Wyatt, for instance, described the period of Thai history from 1910 to 1941 as "essentially the political working out of the social consequences of the reforms of Chulalongkorn's reign".[30] The 1932 revolution was generally characterised as the inevitable outcome of "natural consequences of forces set in motion by Rama IV and Rama V".[31]

Government and bureaucracyEdit

View of the city of Bangkok in 1822

Early Rattanakosin period (1782–1855)Edit

Royal coat of arms and emblem of the Kingdom of Siam from 1878 to 1910

Central governmentEdit

Rajasiha Seal, the Seal of the Mahatthai Office of Samuha Nayok the Prime Minister of Northern Siam, later becomes the Seal of modern Thai Ministry of Interior.

In the early period, Rattanakosin inherited most of the bureaucratic apparatus from the late Ayutthaya. The Siamese royal court bureaucracy centred on the six ministries.[8] The two top prime ministers of the court were Samuha Nayok (สมุหนายก), the Prime Minister of Northern Siam who oversaw the Mahatthai or Ministry of Interior, and Samuha Kalahom (สมุหกลาโหม), the Prime Minister of Southern Siam who oversaw the Kalahom or Ministry of Military. Below them were the Four Ministries or Chatusadom (จตุสดมภ์);

  • Krom Vieng (กรมเวียง) or Krom Phra Nakhonban (กรมพระนครบาล), the Police Bureau, was headed by Chao Phraya Yommaraj (เจ้าพระยายมราช)
  • Kromma Wang (กรมวัง), the Ministry of Palatial Affairs, was headed by Chao Phraya Thamma
  • Krom Khlang (กรมคลัง), the Ministry of Trade and Treasury, was headed by Chao Phraya Phrakhlang (เจ้าพระยาพระคลัง)
    • Kromma Tha (กรมท่า), the 'Department of Piers', dealt with foreign trade and affairs
    • Phra Khlang Sinkha (พระคลังสินค้า), the Royal Warehouse, responsible for the tariff collection from foreign trade
  • Krom Na (กรมนา), the Ministry of Agriculture, was headed by Chao Phraya Pollathep (เจ้าพระยาพลเทพ)

Additionally there were other subsidiary departments, for example;

  • Krom Suratsawadi (กรมสุรัสวดี), the Department of Conscription
  • Phra Khlang Maha Sombat (พระคลังมหาสมบัติ), the Royal Treasury
  • Krom Sankhakari (กรมสังฆการี), the Department of Monastic Affairs

Government officials were ranked by Bandasak[32] (บรรดาศักดิ์) levels and the Sakdina (ศักดินา). The Bandasak levels determined the official's position in the bureaucratic hierarchy (see Thai nobility). The Bandasak levels were, in descending order; Chaophraya, Phraya, Phra, Luang, Khun, Meun, Phan and Nai. The two top ministers, Samuha Nayok and Samuha Kalahom, were always ranked Chaophraya in the Bangkok period. The Four Ministers of Chatusadom were initially ranked Phraya in the reign of King Rama I, with some exceptions. They were later elevated to Chaophraya in subsequent reigns.[citation needed]

Sakdina is the theoretical amount of land and numerical rank accorded to an official for his position in bureaucracy, which determined the amount of production received and the severity of punishment for crime.[33] The Sakdina of each every single government position was described in the Three Seals Law. For example, the Sakdina of Samuha Nayok, Samuha Kalahom and the Four Ministers of Chatusadom were 10,000 rai each.

Regional governmentEdit

Nakhon Si Thammarat, the political and cultural centre of Southern Siam, was one of the Mueang Eks or first level cities that held authorities over surrounding satellite towns.

Cities and towns in 'Siam proper', which correspond roughly to modern Central and Southern Thailand, were organized into the 'Hierarchy of Cities', in which small towns were under the jurisdiction of larger cities. There were four levels of cities, in descending order;[34] the Mueang Ek (เมืองเอก), Mueang Tho (เมืองโท), Mueang Tri (เมืองตรี) and Mueang Chattawa (เมืองจัตวา). Mueang Ek was the highest level of city representing regional centre. The Mueang Eks in the Rattanakosin period were Nakhon Si Thammarat,[35] which was the centre of Southern Siam, and Nakhon Ratchasima, which was the centre of the northeast. Phitsanulok, which had been the centre of Northern Siam, used to be Mueang Ek in the Ayutthaya period. However, Phitsanulok was largely depopulated in the early Rattanakosin due to the wars in the Thonburi period and its role as an outpost against northern Burmese invasions diminished in favor of Lanna kingdom. The cities and towns in Northern Siam were under jurisdiction of Samuha Nayok and Southern Siam under Samuha Kalahom.

The governors of cities were ranked according to the level and importance of their cities. The governors of Mueang Eks were usually ranked Chaophraya.[35] The local bureaucracy in each city was headed by the governor. Below the governor was the vice-governor called either Palat[34] (ปลัด) or Tukkarat (ทุกขราษฏร์), Below the vice-governor was the deputy vice-governor called Yokkrabat[34] (ยกกระบัตร). The governorship of large cities were usually passed down through generations of the same family due to that family's important role and connections in the area.

Tributary kingdoms of Siam were required to periodically send the ceremonial golden and silver trees as tributes to the Bangkok court.

The tributary kingdoms were called Prathetsarat (ประเทศราช), each of which were political entities in its own rights and bound to Siam through the Southeast Asian political ideology of mandala system.[36] Native culture and traditions were largely retained. The Siamese court required the periodic presentation of ceremonial golden and silver trees[36] and the provision of other resources. In wartime, tributary kingdoms were requested to send troops or to join the war on behalf of Siam. Tributary kingdoms of the Rattanakosin included;

The governors of large cities, in practice, were also in charge of the affairs of its adjacent tributary kingdoms. The governor of Nakhon Ratchasima was responsible for the affairs in Lao kingdoms of Vientiane and Champasak. The governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat (Ligor) was responsible for the affairs in Kedah and Kelantan. The governor of Songkhla was responsible for the affairs in Pattani and Terengganu.

Law and judiciaryEdit

Majority of the Siamese legal corpus were lost in the Fall of Ayutthaya in 1767.[37] Siamese authorities then relied on scattered legal manuscripts to operate. In 1804, a woman who was in relationship with another man successfully sued for divorce from her husband. The husband complained that the court ruling was unjustified and appealed the case to King Rama I. King Rama I then opinioned that the existing laws of Siam were corrupted[37] and ordered the recompilation of Ayutthaya laws to rectify and cleanse or chamra the laws of any distortions. The physical copies were imprinted with the three seals of Mahatthai (north), Kalahom (south) and Phrakhlang (treasury), signifying that the laws affected kingdom-wide[37] and became known as the Three Seals Law that served the Siamese kingdom for the next century.[8] The Siamese laws had taken the Indic Mānu-Dharmaśāstra as its model.

A physical copy of Palace Law, which was a part of the Three Seals Law, imprinted with the three seals of Mahatthai, Kalahom and Phrakhlang, displayed at the House of Representatives of Thailand.

The king was the sole legislator of the kingdom. His words were recorded and inscribed to become laws. There was no single unified judiciary department as cases were distributed among the judging courts of each ministries according to the concerning matter.[37] For example, foreign trade disputes belonged to the Kromma Tha or Trade Ministry and land disputes belonged to Krom Na or Ministry of Agriculture. The Mahatthai maintained the appeal court that settled cases from the primary courts. Unsettled cases from outlying cities were also appealed to Bangkok. When the appeal court failed to settle the case, it would be forwarded to the king himself. Presiding over the Supreme Royal Court was a part of royal daily routines.

Siamese law court involved two sets of legal personnel: the Lukkhun[37] (ลูกขุน ณ ศาลหลวง) or council of twelve Bramanistic jurors who possessed legal knowledge and acted only as the advisory body of consultants but held no power to judge the cases and Tralakarn[37] (ตระลาการ) or layman judges who carried out actual judgements under suggestions from the Lukkhun. The Nakhonban or Police Bureau dealt specifically with criminal cases including murder, robbery and adultery. The Nakhonban employed the trial by ordeal or judiciary tortures including compression of skull, hammering of nails and entering a large rattan ball to be kicked by an elephant. These torture methods were known as the Nakhonban creed (จารีตนครบาล) and were used only in certain circumstances[37] in criminal cases. Sometimes when the issues were not settled, defendants were made to dive into water or walk into fire to prove their guilty or innocence. Westerners were particularly horrified by these methods of judiciary tortures and sought to dissociate themselves from traditional Siamese inquisition, resulting in the granting of extraterritoriality to Western nations in the Bowring Treaty of 1855 and other subsequent treaties.


Qing ChinaEdit

Siam had entered the Chinese tributary relationship system, in which the Chinese imperial court recognized the rulers of Siam to maintain relations, since Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods. Siamese missions to the Chinese imperial court were called Chim Kong[38] (進貢 POJ: chìn-kòng จิ้มก้อง "to offer gifts"). The Chinese Emperors conferred the Hong investitures (封 Peng'im: hong1 หอง) on Siamese monarchs as Siamlo Kok Ong[38] (暹羅國王). Siamese kings did not consider themselves as submitted tributary rulers but rather as amicable gift exchangers, while the Chinese court would construe this as vassal homage from Siam.[38] Entering the tributary relationship with China permitted the Siamese royal court to conduct lucrative commercial activities there. The Siamese court presented commodities ascribed by the imperial court as tributes to the Chinese Emperor who, in return, granted luxurious goods, which were more valuable than Siamese presented goods, in exchange. The Siamese mission to China was a profitable expenditure in itself in the view of Siamese royal court. The tributary relation with China did not have political implications in Siam as the Beijing court wielded little to no influence over Siam.

Kings of the Chakri dynasty of the early Rattanakosin period continued the tradition of Chim Kong. The Siamese court of Bangkok was officially recognized and invested title by the Qing court in 1787.[39] Siam sent tributes to China once every three years. The Chakri kings used the family name "Zheng" (鄭),[38] which was the family name of King Taksin, in diplomatic letters to China. Chinese imperial court granted the Lokto Seal (駱駝 โลโต) to the Siamese king in recognition. The jaded Lokto Seal bore Chinese letters Siamlo Kok Ong with the handle sculpted in the shape of camel. On each mission, the Siamese envoys presented three letters to the Chinese court;

  • The royal letter to the Chinese Emperor inscribed on a golden plate
  • The Khamhap (勘合 คำหับ) letter bearing the Lokto Seal and Siamese Royal Seal
  • The letter from Phrakhlang the Minister of Trade with the Lotus Seal of Ministry of Trade and the Royal Seal

The Lokto Seal served as confirmation of validity of the Siamese mission. Siamese envoys to China were hailed from the Kromma Tha Sai (กรมท่าซ้าย 'Department of the Left Pier') that dealt with Chinese affairs and were usually Chinese-speakers themselves. The mission consisted of three dignitaries; the First Envoy Rachathut, the Second Envoy Upathut, the Third Envoy Trithut and two translators; Thongsue and Pansue. The Siamese mission took maritime journey to Guangzhou, where Chinese officials verified the Lokto. The Siamese mission then proceeded by land to Beijing.

By the 1830s, the Chinese junk trades declined.[38] In 1839, Emperor Daoguang ordered Siam to send tributes once every four years instead of three years.[38] The Treaty of Nanking of 1842, in the aftermath of First Opium War, abolished the Canton system and the British took over maritime trade in Asia. The Sino-Siamese trades shifted from junk trades based on the Chim Kong to the free trades using British cargoes.[38] Upon his ascension, King Mongkut dispatched a Chim Kong mission to China in 1851. The mission was rejected at Guangzhou on the grounds that Emperor Xienfeng was in mourning for his father Emperor Daoguang. Another mission was re-dispatched in 1852. However, the mission was robbed by local Chinese bandits and the Pansue translator was killed. King Mongkut then asserted that the Chim Kong tradition might give misguided impression that Siam had been under political suzerainty of China and was inappropriate for an independent sovereign kingdom to conduct.[38] King Mongkut then ordered the Chim Kong to be discontinued in 1863. The Chim Kong of 1852 was the last Siamese tribute mission to China in history.

Kandyan KingdomEdit

Sacred Tooth Temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan Kingdom of Kandy or Kandyan Kingdom, which also followed Theravada Buddhism as state religion, established diplomatic religious relation with Siam in 1753[40] in Ayutthaya period when Singhalese envoys arrived requesting for Siamese Buddhist monks to revitalize Buddhism in Sri Lanka. In 1815, King Rama II dispatched the religious mission to Sri Lanka.[41] The mission to Lanka was under the responsibility of Siamese monkhood. Venerable and learned monks were selected to embark on the mission. Phraya Nakhon Noi arranged for the monks to board an Indian ship from Nakhon Si Thammarat to Sri Lanka. By that time, Sri Lanka had no king as the Singhalese Radala nobility had agreed to the British rule in the Kandyan Convention. The Siamese religious envoys reached Kandy, which was called "Singkhan" (สิงขัณฑ์) in Thai language, in 1815. They were received by the native Singhalese Radala and monkhood and worshipped the Temple of the Tooth at Kandy and other religious sites. Siamese monks were also taken to visit Robert Brownrigg the British governor of Ceylon in Colombo. The envoys left Sri Lanka in 1816 and returned to Siam.

King Mongkut sent another religious mission to Sri Lanka in 1852. The mission reached Galle, where they were received by the native Singhalese. Siamese monks delivered sermons to the Singhalese people. However, the Siamese monks failed to obtain the permission of British colonial government in time to travel to Kandy to worship the Temple of the Tooth and returned.[clarification needed]


Holy Rosary Church or Calvário church in modern Samphanthawong District in Bangkok, established in 1822, had been the centre of Portuguese community on the Eastern Bank of Chao Phraya River.

After the Fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, the surviving Portuguese community moved to settle on the West bank of Chao Phraya River in Thonburi in the Kudi Chin district around the Santa Cruz church. In 1786, a Portuguese envoy named Antonio de Veesent from Macau arrived in Bangkok, bearing the royal letter of Queen Maria I of Portugal from Lisbon.[32] King Rama I offered permission to open a trading post in Bangkok in exchange for firearms supply.

In 1820, Carlos Manuel de Silviera arrived from the Portuguese Macau. A treaty was signed in which King Rama II granted a piece of land on the East bank of Chao Phraya river that used to be the residence of Nguyễn Phúc Ánh to be a feitoria or Portuguese trading post, which later became the Portuguese Consulate in Bangkok and modern Portuguese Embassy. Carlos Manuel de Silviera was appointed as the Portuguese Consul General to Siam in 1820. This was the first official contact between Siam and a Western nation in the Rattanakosin period. The Portuguese Consulate was the first Western Consulate in Bangkok and the only one before the reign of King Mongkut. The new Portuguese community centreed on the Holy Rosary church or Calvário church. De Silviera was granted the title Luang Aphaiwanit by the Siamese king. The Portuguese filled in Siamese court functionaries as shipmasters, translators and harbour master of Paknam.

However, further development of Portuguese trades with Siam did not succeed as no other official Portuguese missions visited Bangkok.[32] De Silviera left Bangkok in 1829 and the consulate was demoted to mere agency until it was restored in 1832.[32] Several vacancy periods were filled by Portuguese local merchants serving as honorary consuls.

British EmpireEdit

John Crawfurd, a Scottish diplomat, was the leader of British mission to Siam in 1822, which was the first official contact between Siam and British Empire in Rattanakosin period.

In 1821, Marquess of Hastings the Governor-General of India sent John Crawfurd to Siam.[42] Also in 1821, Phraya Nakhon Noi the "Raja of Ligor" invaded and occupied the sultanate of Kedah resulting in Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Halim Shah taking refuge in the British-held Penang. The British at Penang were concerning about Siamese presence in Kedah when Crawfurd arrived on the island in 1822. Crawfurd arrived in Bangkok in 1822.[42] There was no English translators in Siamese court so the British messages were translated into Portuguese then into Malay and into Thai. Crawfurd proposed tariff reduction. Phraya Phrakhlang asked to acquire firearms for Siam. Crawfurd, however, said that the British would sell firearms on conditions that Siam "were at peace with the friends and neighbours of the British nation", indirectly referring to Burma. Siamese court, whose main concern in dealings with Western powers was to purchase firearms to be used in Burmese Wars,[16] were dissatisfied. The final straw came when Crawfurd delivered the personal letter of the Kedah sultan to King Rama II, complaining Nakhon Noi as the source of his discontents. The negotiations were effectively soured.[16] Crawfurd eventually departed for Saigon later that year.[43]

Despite the events during his mission in 1822, Crawfurd remained in contact with the Siamese court as the Resident of Singapore. In the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824, Crawfurd informed Siam that the British Empire was at war with Burma and requested Siamese aid. King Rama III then assigned Siamese troops led by the Mon commander Chao Phraya Mahayotha[16] to assist the British in Tenasserim Region. However, the 'Mergui Incident' in 1825, in which Siamese and British commanders argued over the deportation of people of Mergui, prompted King Rama III to withdraw all troops from Burma. Lord Amherst then sent Henry Burney to Bangkok in 1825.[44] Henry Burney arrived at Ligor where he was escorted by Nakhon Noi to Bangkok in 1826. Agreements were reached and the Burney Treaty was signed in June 1826.[45] Burney Treaty ended traditional Siamese royal court monopoly[44] by allowing the British to trade freely and privately, in which the British accepted of Siamese domination over Kedah.[46]

The Burney Treaty also offered the British some disadvantages. The British in Siam, who were horrified by the Nakhonban methods of judiciary tortures, were still subjected to Siamese laws and court. The infamous Phasi Pak Reua or the measurement duties were still intact. After the First Opium War in 1842, the British came to dominate maritime trade in Asia and the British pushed for more free trades. James Brooke the governor of Labuan arrived in 1850[34] to amend the commercial and political agreements for the British. However, King Rama III had been ill and negotiations were not conducted as Brooke left empty-handed. It was not until the Bowring Treaty of 1855 that the British rhetorical demands were achieved.

United StatesEdit

Edmund Roberts, the American diplomat, arrived in Bangkok in March 1833 with the USS Peacock (shown in the image).

Edmund Roberts was appointed by President Andrew Jackson as the American envoy to the Far East in 1831.[47] After visiting Canton and Danang, Roberts arrived in Bangkok in 1833 on the US Sloop-of-war Peacock.[48] Roberts met and negotiated with Chao Phraya Phrakhlang. The draft of Treaty of Amity and Commerce,[47][48] which became known as the 'Roberts Treaty', was presented to King Rama III in 1833. The Roberts Treaty was the first treaty between United States and an Asian nation and Siam became the first Asian nation to come into official relations with United States. The content of the treaty was largely in the same manner as the British Burney Treaty, in which the Americans were granted the rights of free trade but were still subjected to Phra Khlang Sinkha measurement duties collection. The difference between the American Roberts Treaty and British Burney Treaty was that the United States required to be granted the same prospective benefits as other Western nations. If Siam reduced the tariffs of any other Western nations, the United States would be eligible for the same rights. If Siam allowed any other Western nations but the Portuguese to establish a consulate, the Americans would also be allowed. The treaty also stipulated that if an American failed to pay Siamese debts or bankrupted, the Siamese would not punish or hold the American debtor as slave.

Like the British, the Americans later demanded the amendments of the initial treaty. Joseph Balestier, a Frenchman who became American diplomat, arrived in Bangkok in 1850 to propose the amendments.[48] Phrakhlang, the usual receiver of Western envoys, had been away conducting the Sak Lek in Southern Siam. Phrakhlang's younger brother Phraya Siphiphat took over the task of receiving Joseph Balestier. However, according to Thai chronicles, Balestier behaved unceremoniously by demanding to meet the king directly. Siphiphat asserted that himself was a delegate of the king and agreements should be reached before presentation to the king. Balestier reportedly picked the presidential letter out of his pocket and handed it directly to Siphiphat. After strong verbal exchanges, Balestier stormed out of Siphiphat's residence. When Phrakhlang returned to Bangkok, Balestier complained to Phrakhlang that his brother had offended him as an envoy of the United States. Eventually, Balestier left Bangkok empty-handed.


The Burmese Wars and the Fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 prompted the Siamese to adopt new tactics. Less defensive strategies and effective manpower control contributed to Siamese military successes against her traditional enemies. Acquisition of Western flintlock firearms through diplomatic and private purchases was crucial.

In wartime, all court officials and ministers, civilian or military, were expected to lead armies in battle. The bureaucratic apparatus would turn into war command hierarchy with the king as supreme commander and ministers becoming war generals. There was a specific martial law regulating the war conducts. A general defeated by the enemy in battlefield would be, in theory, subjected to death penalty. In the offensives, auspicious date and time were set to begin marching. Brahmanistic ceremony of cutting trees with similar names to the enemy was performed, while the army marched through a gate with Brahmins blessing with sacred water.

Siamese armies in the early Bangkok period consisted mostly of conscripted militias, who might or might not go through military training. There was also professional standing army – the Krom Asa (กรมอาสา) – but its role in warfare was largely diminished in comparison to the Ayutthaya period due to the manpower shortage. The Phrai militia infantry, who were armed with melee weapons such as swords, spears or javelin or matchlock firearms formed the backbone of Siamese armies. Regiments also indicated social hierarchy, with nobility on horseback and the king on an elephant, while commoners were on foot. Krom Phra Asawarat (กรมพระอัศวราช) was responsible for horse-keeping for royal elite troops, while Krom Khotchaban (กรมคชบาล) was responsible for taking care of royal elephants.

There were ethnic regiments that were assigned with special tasks. For example, the Krom Asa Cham (กรมอาสาจาม), the Muslim Cham-Malay regiment that took responsibilities in naval warfare and the Mon regiment that served as Burmese-Siamese border patrol. The Mon regiment played crucial role in surveillance of the borders with Burma due to their familiarity with the area and would provide timely alerts of imminent Burmese incursion to the Bangkok court. The members of the Mon regiment were usually Mon immigrants who had been escaping the Burmese rule into Siam since the Thonburi period.

Weapons and artilleryEdit

Phaya Tani, taken from Pattani in 1786 to Bangkok, an example of a native bronze cannon now placed in front of Thai Ministry of Defence.

The Portuguese introduced matchlock arquebus to Siam in the sixteenth century. The Portuguese and other Europeans filled in positions in the arquebusier regiment known as Krom Farang Maen Peun (กรมฝรั่งแม่นปืน). Though the Siamese were unable to produce firearms, European traders provided unrelenting sources of firearms. Captured enemy ammunition was another source of supply. Firearms usage later spread to native Siamese soldiers who received training from European arquebusiers.

The Siamese were exposed to flintlock muskets from French soldiers visiting Siam in the seventeenth century during the reign of King Narai. Flintlock muskets produced twice firing frequency in comparison to matchlock arquebus.[49] However, like other kingdoms in the Far East, flintlock firearms remained rare commodity and were acquired through purchases from Westerners. Francis Light the British merchant, who had been residing in Thalang or Phuket Island from 1765 to 1786 when he moved to Penang, had been a major supplier of firearms to the Siamese court. During the Nine Armies' War in 1785, Light provided the defenders of Thalang with muskets. Light also gave 1,400 muskets to the Siamese court, earning him the title Phraya Ratcha Kapitan. In 1792, the Samuha Kalahom asked to buy muskets and gunpowder from Francis Light.[50] Flintlock muskets were usually reserved for the elite troops and those who could afford. Krom Phra Saengpuen (กรมพระแสงปืน), was responsible for the keeping and training of firearms. Royal court strictly controlled the firearm trade in Siam.[51] Firearms could only be purchased by the royal court and unpurchased firearms should be taken back.

The Siamese had been able to cast their own cannons since the Ayutthaya period.[49] Native Siamese large muzzleloader cannons were called Charong (จ่ารงค์), which were made of bronze and usually 4-5 inches in calibre. Charong cannons were put on city walls or on warships. Bariam cannons (บาเรียม from Malay meriam) were European-produced cast-iron cannons with relatively larger calibre and shorter barrel. Barium cannons inflicted high damages on the battlefields and were sought after to purchase from Westerners by the court. Small breechloader cannons were also used. In the reign of King Rama III, the Siamese learned to produce small cast-iron cannons from the Chinese. In 1834, Christian Vietnamese from Cochinchina immigrated to settle in Bangkok and formed the Vietnamese firearm regiment that specialized in cannons and muskets.

In the early Rattanakosin period, Siam accumulated cannons and firearms. In 1807, there were total 2,500[51] functioning cannons in Siam, with 1,200 of them stationed in Bangkok, 1,100 distributed to provinces and the last 200 installed on 16 royal warships. The total number of firearms in Siam in 1827 were over 57,000.[51]


Before 1852, Siam did not have a standing navy. Most of the Continental Southeast Asian warfare was land-based or riverine. When a naval warfare was initiated, the authority would gather native Siamese riverine barges and, if possible, Western galleons or Chinese junks. The Siamese relied on either Chinese or Malay junks for seafaring activities. Commercial and war vessels were used interchangeably. The navy was manned by the Krom Asa Cham or the Cham-Malay regiment who possessed naval knowledge. The naval commander would be either Phraya Ratchawangsan, the leader of Krom Asa Cham, or Phrakhlang, the Minister of Trade.

Growing powers of the British and the Vietnamese in the 1820s urged Siam to engage in naval preparations against possible incursions from sea. Siamese temporary fleets composed of sampans, which were for riverine and coastal campaigns and either constructed or levied. Siamese warships were essentially Chinese junks armed with Charong cannons. In the 1820s, Chao Phraya Nakhon Noi maintained his dock at Trang and became an important Siamese shipbuilder. In 1828, Nakhon Noi constructed augmented Chinese junks rigged with Western masts. These Chinese-Western fusion war junks were used during the Battle of Vàm Nao in 1833 where they faced large Vietnamese 'mobile fort' Định Quốc war junks armed with heavy cannons. King Rama III then ordered the construction of Vietnamese-style mobile-fort junks in 1834. Prince Isaret (later known as Pinklao) and Chuang Bunnag pioneered the construction of western-style seafaring ships. In 1835, Chuang Bunnag successfully constructed Ariel (Thai name Klaew Klang Samutr) as the first native brig, while Prince Isaret constructed Fairy (Thai name Phuttha Amnat) as a barque in 1836. However, the barques and brigantines were already outdated by the mid-nineteenth century in favor of steamships. Robert Hunter, a British merchant in Bangkok, brought a steamboat to Bangkok for the royal court to see in 1844 but King Rama III refused to buy the ship due to overpricing.


Early Rattanakosin period (1782–1855)Edit

The Siamese effective manpower had been in decline since the late Ayutthaya period. The Fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 was the final blow as most Siamese were either deported to Burma or perished in war. The manpower shortage of Siam was exemplified during the Nine Armies' War in 1785, in which Burma sent the total number of 144,000 men to invade Siam who managed to only gather 70,000 men for defenses.[9] D.E. Malloch, who accompanied Henry Burney to Bangkok in 1826, noted that Siam was thinly populated and the Siamese lands could support about twice the size of its population.[52]

Manpower managementEdit

Manpower had been a scarce resource during the early Bangkok period. The Department of Conscription or Registers, the Krom Suratsawadi (กรมสุรัสวดี), was responsible for the record-keeping of able-bodied men eligible for corvée and wars. Krom Suratsawadi recorded the Hangwow registers[53] (บัญชีหางว่าว) – a list of available Phrai commoners and That slaves to be drafted into services. However, pre-modern Siam did not maintain an accurate census of its population. The survey by the court focused on the recruitment of capable manpower not for statistical intelligence.[54] Only able-bodied men were counted on that purpose, excluding women and children and those who had escaped from authority to live in the wilderness of jungles.

The authority of Siamese government extended only to the towns and riverine agricultural lands. Most of the pre-modern Siamese lands were dense tropical jungles roamed by wild animals. Leaving the town for jungles was the most effective way to avoid the corvée obligations for Siamese men. The Siamese court devised the method of Sak Lek (สักเลก) to strictly control the available manpower. The man would be branded with the heated iron cast to create an imprinting tattoo on the back of his hand in the symbol of his responsible department. The Sak Lek enabled prompt identification and prevented the Phrai from escaping government duties. The Sak Lek was traditionally conducted within Central Siam. King Rama III ordered the Sak Lek of Laos in 1824,[16] which became one of the preceding events of the Anouvong's Lao Rebellion in 1827. Chao Phraya Phrakhlang initiated the Sak Lek of Southern Siamese people on the Malay Peninsula in 1849. Effective manpower control was one of major policies of the Siamese court in order to maintain stability and security.


Surviving sources on the accurate population of pre-modern Siam does not exist. Only through the estimated projections that the demographic information of pre-modern Siam was revealed. In the first century of the Rattanakosin period, the population of what would become modern Thailand remained relatively static at around 4 million people.[55] Fertility rate was high but life expectancy was averaged to be less than 40 years with infant mortality rate as high as 200 per 1,000 babies.[55] Wars and diseases were major causes of deaths. Men were periodically drafted into warfare. Siamese children died from smallpox yearly[56] and the Cholera epidemics of 1820 and 1849 had claimed 30,000[57] and 40,000 deaths, respectively.

Bangkok was founded in 1782 as the royal seat and became the primate city of Siam. Bangkok inherited the founding population from Thonburi, which had already been enhanced by the influx of Lao and Cambodian war captives and Chinese and Mon immigrants. Through the early Rattanakosin period, the population of Bangkok was estimated to be around 50,000 people.[58] Chinese immigration was the greatest contributor to the population of Bangkok and Central Siam. By the 1820s, Bangkok had surpassed all other cities in Siam in population size.[58] Others estimated population of major town centres in Central Siam in 1827 included[56] Ayutthaya at 41,350, Chanthaburi at 36,900, Saraburi at 14,320 and Phitsanulok at 5,000 people. Within the Siamese sphere of influence, Chiang Mai was the second most populated city in Rattanakosin Kingdom after Bangkok.[58]

Much of the western provinces of Siam were depopulated for several decades until the early 19th century due to the near-constant state of fighting with Burma.[59] Succeeding Ayutthaya, the major Siamese city of Phitsanulok (another principal city of the former Ayutthaya Kingdom) was razed by the Burmese during the Burmese–Siamese War (1775–1776) in 1775. The Burmese–Siamese War (1809–1812), the last invasion into Siam by Burma, caused the depopulation of Phuket Island for several decades, and the destruction of Thalang, Phuket's then-main town, eventually to be overtaken by the new settlement[clarification needed] of Phuket, as the island's resurgence as a tin mine settlement.

Ethnic immigrationEdit

Wat Bang Sai Kai (วัดบางไส้ไก่) in modern Thonburi District of Bangkok was constructed under the sponsorship of Prince Nanthasen of Vientiane during his exile. The temple itself had been a centre of a Lao community in Bangkok.

Since the Thonburi period, Siam had acquired ethnic population through many campaigns against the neighbouring kingdoms. Ethnic war captives were forcibly relocated. In 1779, when the Siamese forces took Vientiane during the Thonburi period, ten thousands[32] of Lao people from Vientiane were deported to settle in Central Siam in Saraburi and Ratchaburi where they were known as the Lao Vieng (ลาวเวียง). The Lao elite class, including the princes who were the sons of the Lao king, were settled in Bangkok.[32] In 1804, the Siamese-Lanna forces captured the Burmese-held Chiang Saen. Northern Thai inhabitants of Chiang Saen, which were by that time known as "Lao Phung Dam" (ลาวพุงดำ, the black bellied Lao), were relocated down south to settle in Saraburi and Ratchaburi. The greatest influx of Lao people came in 1828 after the total destruction of Vientiane, which was estimated to be more than 100,000[16][32] people. Through the early nineteenth century, there was a gradual Lao population shift[8] from the Mekong region to the Chi-Mun Basin of Isan, leading to the foundation of numerous towns in Isan. In 1833, during the Siamese-Vietnamese War, the Siamese forces took control of Muang Phuan and its whole Phuan population were deported to Siam in order to curb Vietnamese influence. The Lao Phuan people were settled in Central Siam.

During one of the civil wars in Cambodia in 1782, King Ang Eng and his Cambodian retinue were settled in Bangkok. In 1783, Nguyễn Phúc Ánh took refuge and settled in Bangkok along with his Vietnamese followers. Cambodians were deported to Siam in Siamese-Vietnamese conflict events of 1812 and 1833. They were settled in Bangkok and the Prachinburi area. In 1833, during the Siamese expedition to Cochinchina, Christian Vietnamese and Cambodians from Cochinchina were taken to settle in Bangkok in Samsen.

Due to the insurgencies of Malay tributary states against Siam, Malays were deported as war captives to Bangkok on several occasions.[32] In 1786, when Pattani was sacked, the Pattani Malays[60] were deported to settle in Bangkok at Bang Lamphu.[32] In the 1830s, Pattani and Kedah rebellions prompted deportations of 4,000 to 5,000[32] Malays from the south to settle on the eastern suburbs of Bangkok known as Saensaep and at Nakhon Si Thammarat in the aftermath.

Wat Yannawa was patronised by Nangklao, who ordered the temple enlarged and constructed many new structures within. The temple is shaped like a Chinese junk to signify the importance of Chinese commerce within Siam during Nangklao's reign.

After the Fall of Hanthawaddy Kingdom in 1757, the Mon people of Lower Burma suffered from genocide by the Burmese and had taken refuge in Siam since the late Ayutthaya period. Another failed Mon rebellion caused an influx of Mon people in 1774 in Thonburi period. In 1814, Mon people of Martaban rose up against an oppressive Burmese governor and the 40,000 of Mon people migrated through the Three Pagodas Pass to Siam. King Rama II sent his young son Prince Mongkut to welcome the Mons at Kanchanaburi on that occasion.

Chinese immigration was the greatest contributor to the population growth of Central Siam. They were increasingly integrated into Siamese society over time. Crawfurd mentioned 31,500[52] male registered Chinese taxpayers in Bangkok in his visit in 1822. Malloch stated that, during his stay in 1826, 12,000[52] Chinese people arrived in Siam annually from Guangdong and Fujian Provinces. The Chinese settlers were adorned with special treatment by the royal court. Unlike other ethnicities, the Chinese were spared from corvée obligations and wartime drafts on the condition that they paid a certain amount of tax[52] known as Phuk Pee (ผูกปี้). Once the tax was paid, they were given an amulet to be tied around their wrists as the symbol. The first Phuk Pee was conducted in the reign of King Rama II. The Chinese settlers played a very important role in the development of Siamese economy in the early Bangkok period. The unrestricted Chinese were free to move around the kingdom, serving as commercial middlemen and became the first ‘bourgeoisie’ class of Siam.

Social structureEdit

Despite important political changes, the traditional Siamese society in the early Rattanakosin period remained largely unchanged from the Ayutthaya period. Theravada Buddhism served as the main ideology on which the societal principles were based. The king and the royal dynasty stood atop of the social pyramid. Below him was the common populace who were either the Nai[61] (นาย), who were the leader of their subordinates and held official posts, or Phrai commoners and That slaves, though there were substantial degree of social mobility. Ethnic immigrants became Phrai and That also, with the exception of the Chinese who had paid the Phuk Pee tax.

Aerial night photo of Wat Phichai Yat, a Buddhist temple on the Thonburi side of Bangkok, commissioned by Chao Phraya Phichaiyat (That Bunnag). Large temple projects patronized and built by the nobility was also typical of the early Rattanakosin period.[62]

Sakdina was the theoretical and numerical rank accorded to every men of all classes in the kingdom, except the king himself, as described in the Three Seals Law. Sakdina determined each man's exact level in the social hierarchy. For example, the Sakdina of the nobility ranged from 400 rai to 10,000 rai each. The Sakdina of a basic Buddhist monk was 400 rai. The Sakdina of a slave was 5 rai.[33] The traditional Siamese society was roughly stratified into four distinct social classes;[63]

  • The royalty, Chao; including the king and the royal family
  • The nobility, Khunnang (ขุนนาง); The nobility referred to any men who held a government position with the Sakdina of 400 rai[63] or more and his family. Siamese bureaucratic positions were not hereditary, though some positions were conserved among prominent lineages due to familial and personal connections. The nobility were the Nai who controlled Phrai subordinates. A noble and his family were exempted from the corvée. The distinction between the Lower Nobility and the commoners were indecisive. Commoners, at times, were appointed to the nobility by volunteering himself as a leader of a group.[61] The Siamese court recruited officials through personal connections. Any noblemen who wished to start his bureaucratic career should give himself into the service of one of the existing superiors to win the favor and support. Through the recommendations and connections of that superior, the novice official would find his place the bureaucracy. The system of connections maintained the noble status among the connected individuals, though the nobility class itself was not inclusive. Nobles received Biawat (เบี้ยหวัด) stipends as income. When a noble died, his belongings and estates were organized and reported to the royal court who would take a part of the wealth as inheritance tax.

The royalty and the nobility, who had authority over and commanded the commoners, were collectively called Munnai (มูลนาย).

  • Commoners, Phrai (ไพร่); Phrai commoners constituted the majority of the population[63] and were under the control of Munnai. They were mostly agricultural producers. All able-bodied male Phrai, excluding the people of tributary kingdoms, were required to periodically serve the royal court in corvée labors and wars – a form of universal conscription. Due to manpower shortage, King Rama I ordered all available male Phrai to be registered.[8] The Sak Lek or the consciption tattooing was imposed on the registered Phrai to assign their duties. Boys whose height reached two sok and one khuep were eligible for the Sak Lek. Unregistered men were denied legal existence and would not be protected by any laws. While men were subjected to periodic government services, women were not recruited. There were three types of Phrai;[61]
    • Direct royal servants, Phrai luang (ไพร่หลวง); Phrai luang were under the services of various functional departments of the royal court. In Ayutthaya, Phrai luang served alternating months, the Khao Duean[34] (เข้าเดือน), for the royal court, six months per year in total, and were allowed freetime to return to their farmlands. In the reign of King Rama I, Phrai luang served alternating two months and became alternating three months in subsequent reigns. Royal services included garrison maintenance and drills, palace and temple constructions, participation in royal ceremonies and warfare.
    • Distributed servants, Phrai som (ไพร่สม); Phrai som were granted by the king to the princes according to the ranks and honors of the princes. The Phrai som served under services of their princes. However, due to the manpower shortage, King Rama I ordered the Phrai som to serve additional one-month per year in direct royal service.
    • Taxpayer servants, Phrai suai (ไพร่ส่วย); Those Phrai who resided in distant regions and whose journey to periodically serve was impractical can pay the tax called Suai (ส่วย) instead of physical service. The Suai were usually local commodities and valuables, which the royal court would collect and sell to the foreigners as a source of revenue.
  • Slaves, That (ทาส); The That slaves were, by law, considered properties of their masters that can be traded, inherited and given to other people without That's consent. In contrast to Phrai who were allowed freetime, That slaves were always in the service of the masters and usually lived in the same quarters. Both men and women can be slaves. The majority of the That rooted in the economic cause. Those commoners who faced financial problems could "sell" themselves to become slaves to earn money. Those who defaulted the debts would become slaves of their lenders. Parents and husbands could also sell their children or wives to become slaves. When a slave managed to repay the debts, the slave would be freed (Thai ไท, to be free). Only two types of slaves that were lifelong and irredeemable. They were That Nai Ruean Bia (ทาสในเรือนเบี้ย) who were born from slave parents in their services, and That Chaleoi (ทาสเชลย) or the war captive slaves. If a slave woman became a wife of the master or his son, she would be freed. If a slave was captured by the enemy troops and managed to break free and return, the slave would be freed.

Outside the social pyramid were the Buddhist monks, who were revered and respected by the Siamese of all classes including the king. The Buddhist monks were exempted from corvée and any forms of taxation as, according to the vinaya, monks could not produce or earn wealth on his own.


Maintenance of orthodox Theravadin Sangha monkhood was one of the main policies of Siamese royal court in the early Rattanakosin period.[8] King Rama I ordered the high-ranking monks to convene the Buddhist council to recompile the Tripitaka Pāli canon in 1788, which was regarded as the ninth Buddhist council according to Thai narrative. King Rama I renovated many local existing temples of Bangkok into fine temples. Important monastic temples of Bangkok included Wat Mahathat, Wat Chetuphon, Wat Arun and Wat Rakhang. In the reign of King Rama III, massive number of nearly seventy Buddhist temples were either constructed or renovated in Bangkok, including both royal and demotic temples. In Early Bangkok, there were two Theravadin denominations: the mainstream Siamese Theravada and the Mon tradition. Influx of Mon people from Burma brought, along with them, the Mon Buddhist traditions and Mon monks themselves.

A Siamese man, regardless of social class, was expected to be ordained as a monk at some parts of his life.[64] Usually, a young man at the age of twenty temporarily became a monk as a part of coming-of-age customs. Women could not become monks, though she can shave her hair and wear white robes but would not officially be regarded as a monk. There were two monastic paths: the doctrinal 'city-dwelling' Khamavasi[64] (คามวาสี) that focused on Theravada philosophy and Pāli learning and the meditational 'forest-dwelling' Aranyavasi[64] (อรัญวาสี) that focused on mental exercise and meditation practices. Phra Yanasangvorn Suk was an influential monk in the 1810s who specialized in meditational Vipatsana practices, which was interpreted by some modern scholars as the Tantric Theravada.[65]

Monastic governance was organized into a hierarchical ecclesiastic bureaucracy. Sangharaja or Buddhist hierophant or Supreme Patriarch, appointed by the king, was the head of Siamese monkhood.[64] Sangharaja was treated as a prince with rachasap used on him. Below Sangharaja was the ecclesiastic hierarchy with ranks and positions nominated by the king. The Sangharaja would be entitled Somdet Phra Ariyawongsa Katayan and took official residence at Wat Mahathat. Royal court controlled the Buddhist Sangha to regulate and preserve traditions that were considered orthodox through the Krom Sankhakari (กรมสังฆการี) or Department of Monastic Affairs that had authorities to investigate Vinaya violations and to defrock monks.


Old Dhammayuttika seal
King Mongkut observing Buddhist precepts (1867)

Upon ordination, the Buddhist monk would take the vow of 227 precepts as the Vinaya or law regulating daily life conducts.[64] Valid ordination required presentation of existing genuine monks to transmit the monkhood onto the new monk. Buddhist monks traced their lineage of ordinations back to Buddha himself. In the early Bangkok period, the Siamese authority faced dilemma in which Buddhist laws declined as the violations of Vinaya were widespread including accumulation of personal wealth and having children. Many attempts by the royal court were made to purify the monkhood and purged any of 'non-conformist' monks. In 1824, the young Prince Mongkut was ordained as a monk. However, his father King Rama II died fifteen days later and his elder half-brother Prince Chetsadabodin took the throne as King Rama III. Prince Mongkut stayed in monkhood to avoid political intrigues[66][67] and pursued religious and intellectual life. Prince Mongkut soon found that the mainstream Siamese monkhood was then generally laxed in Vinaya. He then met Phra Sumethmuni a Mon monk in 1830[67] and discovered that Mon traditions was more strict and closer to the supposed original Buddha's Vinaya and, therefore, the authentic lineage traceable to Buddha. In 1830, Prince Mongkut moved from Wat Mahathat to Wat Samorai and officially began the Thammayut or Dhammayuttika (ธรรมยุต 'adhering to the dharma') movement. He studied and followed Mon traditions. Prince Mongkut re-ordained as a monk in Mon tradition at Wat Samorai,[66] where the Thammayut accumulated followers. The mainstream Siamese monks then became known as the Mahanikai (มหานิกาย). Robes of Thammayut monks were brownish-red in colour and worn over both shoulders in Mon style,[67] while the robe colour of Mahanikai monks was bright-orange. Thammayut forbid the monks to touch money. New Pāli pronunciation and the routine of daily Buddhist chanting were also introduced.[67] Prince Mongkut was appointed as the abbot of Wat Baworn Nivet, which became the headquarter of Thammayut, in 1836.

Wat Bowon Nivet, where Prince Mongkut was the abbot from 1836 to 1851, became the administrative headquarter of modern Thammayut order.

The royal court had mixed reactions with the Thammayut. King Rama III tolerated Thammayut but commented on the Mon-style robes. Prince Rakronnaret, who oversaw the Krom Sankhakari, was the main opponent of Thammayut. Prince Mongkut acquainted himself with Westerners in Bangkok, including Bishop Pallegoix, and learnt Western sciences and philosophy that would later influence Mongkut's rational rethinking and Buddhist realism in his Thammayut ideals.[67][68] Thammayut emphasized the importance of Pāli learning as the sole doctrinal source and considered meditations, magical practices and folklore syncretism as mythical.[66][67] In 1851, Prince Mongkut decided to order Thammayut monks to abandon Mon-style robes due to pressures. Prince Mongkut went to become the king in 1851 and the Mon-style monk robes were reinstated. The leadership of Thammayut passed to Prince Pavares Variyalongkorn.


The Giant Swing in Bangkok, a Hindu structure formerly used for the annual Triyamphway Ceremony, still performed today, although the swing's function was discontinued for safety reasons in 1935

Hindu court brahmins continued to play an important role in Siamese royal ceremonies during the Rattanakosin Kingdom into the present. In 1784, King Rama I built a Hindu temple as the home for the Siamese court brahmins, the Devasathan, which still serves as the home of Hinduism in Thailand to the present day. In that same year, the famous Giant Swing was constructed in front of the Devasathan, nearby to Wat Suthat, which was used in the annual Hindu Triyamphway Ceremony, whose function discontinued in 1935 due to safety reasons.


Jean-Baptist Pallegoix was the vicar apostolic of Eastern Siam from 1841 to 1862. He was known for his works Description du Royaume Thai and Dictionarium linguae and also for his close companionship with King Mongkut.

In 1779, King Taksin of Thonburi ordered the expulsion of three French Catholic priests:[69] Olivier-Simon Le Bon the vicar apostolic of Siam, Joseph-Louis Coudé and Arnaud-Antoine Garnault from Siam for their refusals to drink the sacred water to swear fealty to the king. Le Bon retired to Goa where he died in 1780.[69] Coudé left for Kedah and he was appointed the new vicar apostolic of Siam in 1782.[70] Coudé returned to Bangkok in 1783. Coudé was pardoned by King Rama I and was allowed to skip the lustral water drinking ceremony. Coudé took the vicarate seat at Santa Cruz church in Kudi Chin district. However, as French bishops continued to monopolize vicarate position in Siam, Coudé faced oppositions from the Portuguese who formed the majority of Catholics in Bangkok. Coudé left Bangkok for Kedah where he died in 1785[70] and was succeeded by Garnault in 1787. Vicars apostolic of Siam in the early Bangkok period usually spent most of tenure in Kedah, Penang, and Mergui due to resistance from the Portuguese in Bangkok who always requested for Portuguese bishops from either Goa or Macau. Chantaburi arose as the centre of immigrated Vietnamese Catholics. Kedah, Malacca, Singapore and Tenasserim were added to the territory of apostolic vicarate of Siam in 1840.[71]

Jean-Paul Courvezy, the vicar apostolic of Siam, chose Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix as his coadjutor in 1838.[71][72] Courvezy moved to stay permanently in Singapore,[71] leaving Pallegoix in Bangkok. In 1841, in accordance with the papal brief Univerci Dominici,[71] the apostolic vicarate of Siam was divided into apostolic vicarates of Eastern Siam, corresponding to Siam proper, and Western Siam corresponding to Malay peninsula. Courvezy remained as the vicar apostolic of Western Siam at Singapore,[71] while Pallegoix was appointed the vicar apostolic of Eastern Siam in Bangkok.[72] Pallegoix was the first vicar apostolic to spend most of his time in Bangkok. In 1841, there were total of 4,300 recorded Catholics in Siam with 1,700 Vietnamese Catholics in St. Francis Xavier Church in Bangkok, 700 Portuguese-Cambodian Catholics in Immaculate Conception Church, 500 Portuguese-Siamese Catholics in the Santa Cruz Church and another 500 at Holy Rosary Calvário Church and 800 Vietnamese Catholics in Chanthaburi.[72] In 1849, during the Cholera epidemic, King Rama III ordered the Christian churches to release domesticated animals and feed them[72] to make merits to appease the diseases according to Buddhist beliefs. Missionaries did not comply and incurred the anger of the king. Pallegoix then decided to release the animals per royal orders. King Rama III was satisfied but ordered the expulsions of eight priests who refused to comply. In 1852, King Mongkut personally wrote to the expelled eight missionaries urging them to return and promising not to impose Buddhist beliefs on missionaries in the future. Pope Pius IX issued thanks to King Mongkut by papal briefs Pergrata Nobis (1852) and Summa quidem (1861).[72]

In 1828 saw the arrival of first two Protestant missionaries in Bangkok: British Jacob Tomlin from London Missionary Society and German Lutheran Karl Gützlaff.[34][73] Tomlin stayed only for nine months and Gützlaff stayed until 1833. Protestant missions in Siam was then very nascent. American Presbyterian missionaries from ABCFM and Baptist missionaries arrived in this period. American missionaries were called 'physicians' by the Siamese because they usually practiced Western medicine. Though their missionary works were largely unclimactic, they contributed to Thai history by the introduction of Western sciences and technologies. These included Presbyterian Dan Beach Bradley[34] (หมอบรัดเล, arrived in 1835), who introduced surgery, printing and vaccination to Siam, Presbyterian Jesse Caswell[74] (arrived in 1839 together with Asa Hemenway), who closely associated with Prince Mongkut, Baptist John Taylor Jones[75] (arrived in 1833) and Baptist J.H. Chandley[75] (หมอจันดเล, arrived in 1843).


Bangluang Mosque in Kudi Chin, built by a Muslim named Toh Yi around 1784, was renovated into distinct Thai style in the reign of King Rama III.

After the fall of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and failed attempts to reacquire the portage route long by the Chakri rulers, Persian and Muslim influence in Siam declined as Chinese influence within the kingdom grew. Despite this, however, the Muslim community remained a sizable minority in Bangkok, particularly in the first hundred years or so.

After the Fall of Ayutthaya, Shiite Muslims of Persian descent from Ayutthaya settled in the Kudi Chin district. ‘Kudi’ (กุฎี) was the Siamese term for Shiite Imambarah, though it could also refer to a mosque. Muslim communities in Siam were led by Phraya Chula Ratchamontri (พระยาจุฬาราชมนตรี), the position that had been held by a single lineage of Shiite Persian descendant of Sheikh Ahmad since 1656 and until 1939.[76] Phraya Chula Ratchamontri was also the Lord of the Right Pier who headed the Kromma Tha Khwa (กรมท่าขวา) or the Department of the Right Pier that dealt with trade and affairs with Muslim Indians and Middle Easterners. Shiite Persians were elite Muslims who served as officials in Kromma Tha Khwa. Shiites in Siam were characterized by their ritual of the Mourning of Muharram or Chao Sen ceremony (Imam Hussein was called Chao Sen[76] เจ้าเซ็น in Siamese). King Rama II ordered the Muharram rituals to be performed before him in the royal palace in 1815 and 1816. Kudi Mosques were established and concentrated on the West bank of Chao Phraya River in Thonburi. Important Kudis in Thonburi included Tonson Mosque (Kudi Yai or the Great Kudi, oldest mosque in Bangkok), Kudi Charoenphat (Kudi Lang, the Lower Kudi) and Bangluang Mosque (Kudi Khao or the White Kudi).

The Siamese used the term Khaek[76] (แขก) for the Islamic peoples in general. In traditional Siam, religion was closely tied with ethnicity. Muslims in Siam included the Sunni Khaek Cham and Khaek Malayu (Malays) and Shiite Khaek Ma-ngon or Khaek Chao Sen, referring to Persians.


Pre-Burney: 1782–1826Edit

Phraya Siphiphat, personal name That Bunnag, was the head of Phra Khlang Sinkha or the Royal Warehouse from the 1820s to 1857. He later became Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Phichaiyat.

Due to the raging wars and population dearth, the overall productivity of Siam in the early decades of Rattanakosin remained relatively low. The Siamese economy in the early Bangkok period was based on subsistence agrarian economy. Commoners lived on the production of their lands and the central authority levied taxes as income. Land was abundant, while manpower was in shortage. Taxation and Royal Junk expenditures were the main revenues of the royal court. Traditionally, as in Ayutthaya, the royal court levied four kinds of taxes;

  • Tariffs, Changkob (จังกอบ); The royal court collected tariffs from both internal and external checkpoints called Khanon (ขนอน), both land and riverine, where officials inspected the commodity goods. One out of ten goods was collected by the Khanon. The Khanon also measured the width of the incoming ships to determine the size of the ship. Tariff was collected in accordance with the size of the ship, known as Phasi Pak Reua (ภาษีปากเรือ), or the measurement duties. Large ships paid more tariff. Arriving foreign traders were charged with tariffs. Phra Khlang Sinkha or the Royal Warehouse was responsible for the levy of Phasi Pak Reua on foreign merchant ships, which had been the major revenue for the royal court.
  • Akon[51] (อากร); the production tax imposed on a specific kind of commodity such as rice, fruits and beverages. Rice producers were charged with two thangs of rice per one rai of agricultural land. The rice fields belonging to the nobility were exempted until the reign of King Rama III. Other specific kinds of products were levied included sugarcane, indigo, green beans, soybeans, sesame, tobacco, lemon basil, onions, turmeric, jutes, tamarinds, bananas, mangoes, betel nuts, coconuts, durians, oranges, etc. The largest Akon revenue were from the alcoholic spirit tax, fishery tax, market tax, gambling den tax, fruit orchard tax and the boat tax.[51]
  • Suai (ส่วย); levied from the Phrai suai who paid the tax in form of local valuables instead of serving corvee labors. Gold, lacquer, saltpeter, teak and beeswax were extracted from the hinterland regions of Khorat Plateau and the Upper Chao Phraya Basin for Bangkok.[51] These forests products were usually sold to foreign merchants to benefit the royal court.
  • Reucha (ฤชา); collected as fees from government procedures such as court hearings and other document procedures.
Rise of sugar industry in early nineteenth century Siam led to the increased number of Chinese-owned sugarcane plantations in the lowlands of Central Siam.

Taxes were collected in forms of commodities or currency money. Main spending of the royal court went to the Biawat or the stipends of all administrative officials and the construction of palaces and temples and firearm purchases. In the early decades of Rattanakosin, the financial situation of the royal court was in strain. In 1796, Prince Maha Sura Singahanat of the Front Palace, who received 1,000 chang annually, informed King Rama I that his share was inadequate to be distributed as Biawat to his officials.[9] King Rama I replied that the prince should invest more in the Royal Junks to earn money.[8] King Rama I conducted his personal trade with Qing China through the Samphao Luang (สำเภาหลวง) or Royal Junks,[77] in joint venture with Chinese merchants who provided the crew.[77] Export demands on Siam had been mainly forest products such as agarwood and sappanwood. The royal court acquired valuable products from the hinterland and loaded them on the junks to be traded. Chinese merchants enhanced this process by taking the role as middlemen and shippers.

Qing China had been the main trading partner of Siam since the late Ayutthaya period. In the early nineteenth century, Qing China requested to buy rice from Siam. Traditionally, rice was the forbidden commodity due to the fact that it was the main staple and crucial to stability of the kingdom. King Rama II allowed rice to be exported to China in some rice-surplus years. Chinese settler merchants played very important roles in the development of Siamese economy in the early Rattanakosin period. In the 1810s, the Chinese introduced the technology of sugar production leading to the establishment of numerous Chinese-owned sugarcane plantations in Central Siam.[52] Crawfurd mentioned the Chinese sugarcane plantations in ฺBang Pla Soi, Nakhon Chaisi, Bangkok and Petriu.[52][78] In 1822, Siam exported more than 8 million pounds of sugar.[52] For the first time, the export-oriented marketization took over native trade of forest products. However, the profits of the these growing agro-industries were limited to the Chinese bourgeoisie and native elite class.[78] The sugar industry remained as the major Siamese export well into the late nineteenth century.

Burney Treaty and consequences: 1826–1855Edit

Thai duplicate of the Burney Treaty ratified in June 1826. The Burney Treaty ended three centuries of royal court monopoly on foreign trades by allowing the British to trade freely.

By the reign of King Rama II, however, the Samphao Luang or Royal Junks became less profitable due to competition with growing private sectors.[77] Since the Ayutthaya period in the sixteenth century, the Siamese royal court had monopolized foreign trades through the Phra Khlang Sinkha or Royal Warehouse. All incoming foreign ships including European merchants should go through inspection by the Phra Khlang Sinkha who collected the Phasi Pak Reua or measurement duties and bought goods. Foreign merchants could only trade through the Phra Khlang Sinkha and could not trade directly with the private Siamese. The measurement duties had been a major source of revenue to royal court. When the British arrived in the 1820s, they saw traditional royal monopoly as a hindrance and implied that free trade should be the better agreement. This culminated in the arrival of Henry Burney and the promulgation of the Burney Treaty in June 1826, which ended three centuries of royal monopoly by granting the rights to the British to trade privately. However, some trade restrictions remained. Rice and ammunition were not permitted to be traded freely and British merchandise ships were still required to go through the Phra Khlang Sinkha for the measurement duties imposition. It took about another thirty years for the Siamese economy to be fully liberalized in the Bowring Treaty of 1855.

King Rama III, who ascended the throne in 1824, faced major financial problems. The Burney Treaty of 1826, which terminated royal trade monopoly, took drastic effect on the royal court revenue. King Rama III then realized that, instead of relying on the Royal Junks, the royal court should rather invest in tax farming.[77] In his reign, thirty-eight new taxes were enacted to compensate the revenue loss. New taxes required experienced collectors and the Chinese eagerly filled in these roles, leading to the creation of 'Chinese tax collector system'. When a new tax was announced, the Chinese merchants would compete for the rights to collect the tax on behalf of royal court. Those who promised highest amount of income would win this 'tax auction'.


Photduang (lit. curled worm) the silver bullet money of Siam with the Chakra Seal of the kingdom imprinted on one side and the regal seal of the reign imprinted on the other side.

Rattanakosin Kingdom used the silver bullet money known as Photduang (พดด้วง) as currency until it was officially replaced with flat coins in 1904.[79] Photduang originated in the Sukhothai period and had been in use through the Ayutthaya period. A silver bar was cut into discrete units of weight, which were melted and cast into strips that were bent to curve in the form of curled worms – hence the name Photduang meaning 'curled worm'.[80] Photduang bullet coins were imprinted with the Chakra Seal, which was the kingdom seal, on one side and the regal seal of each reign on other side. King Rama I had the Unalom Lotus Seal imprinted on the Photduang of his reign. King Rama II used the garuda seal. The seal of King Rama III was in the shape of a palace. The weight units of Photduang were Tamleung (ตำลึง, 60 g of silver), Baht (บาท, 15 g), Salueng (สลึง, quarter of Baht), Fueang (เฟื้อง, half of Saleung) and Phai (ไพ, quarter of Fueang).

Different currencies were used in Lanna and Lao Kingdoms. In Laos, the Lat silver bars were used. Photduang were also accepted in those regions.

Though Photduang currency existed, the barter exchange remained prevalent. In the reign of King Rama II, the royal court distributed Biawat stipends to government officials in the form of white clothes. Some taxes were collected in form of commodity products.



Photograph of Wat Arun in 1862. A principal temple of the Thonburi and Rattanakosin periods; the temple's iconic central prang was later rebuilt to its present appearance during the reign of Rama III.

There was no official institutions for education such as universities in pre-modern Siam. Siamese traditional education was closely tied to the Buddhist religion. Boys went to temples or became novice monks to learn Thai and Pāli languages from monks, who offered tutorships for free as a part of religious works. Princes and young nobles received tuition from high-ranking monks in fine temples. Girls were not expected to be literate and were usually taught domestic arts such as culinary and embroidery. However, education for women was not restricted and upper-class women had more opportunities for literacy. There were some prominent female authors in the early Rattanakosin period. Craftsmanships and artisanships were taught internally in the same family or community.

The only higher education available in pre-modern Siam was the Buddhist Pāli doctrinal learning – the Pariyattham (ปริยัติธรรม). Monks took exams to be qualified to rise up in the ecclesiastic bureaucracy. There were three levels of Pariyattham exams inherited from Ayutthaya with each level called Parian[81] (เปรียญ). In the 1810s, the three Parian levels were re-organized into nine Parian levels. Pariyattham exams were organized by the royal court, who encouraged Pāli learning in order to uphold Buddhism, and were usually held in the Emerald Buddha temple. Examinations involved translation and oral recitation of Pāli doctrines[81] in front of examiner monks. Pariyattham exam was the vehicle both for intellectual pursuits and for advancement in monastic hierarchy for a monk.

King Rama III ordered traditional Thai religious and secular arts, including Buddhist doctrines, traditional medicine, literature and geopolitics to be inscribed on stone steles at Wat Pho from 1831 to 1841. The Epigraphic Archives of Wat Pho was recognized by UNESCO as a Memory of the World and were examples of materials with closer resemblance to modern education. The Epigraphical Archives of Wat Pho (external link)

Educational reformEdit

Rama VI was the first king of Siam to set up a model of the constitution at Dusit Palace. He wanted first to see how things could be managed under this Western system. He saw advantages in the system, and thought that Siam could move slowly towards it, but could not be adopted right away as the majority of the Siamese people did not have enough education to understand such a change just yet. In 1916 higher education came to Siam. Rama VI set up Vajiravudh College, modeled after the British Eton College, as well as the first Thai university, Chulalongkorn University,[82] modeled after Oxbridge.

Art and literatureEdit

Hanuman on his chariot, a mural scene from the Ramakien in Wat Phra Kaew.

Rama II was a lover of the arts and in particular the literary arts. He was an accomplished poet and anyone with the ability to write a refined piece of poetry would gain the favor of the king. This led to his being dubbed the "poet king". Due to his patronage, the poet Sunthon Phu was able to raise his noble title from "phrai" to "khun" and later "phra". Sunthon – also known as the drunken writer – wrote numerous works, including the epic poem Phra Aphai Mani.[citation needed]

Rama II rewrote much of the great literature from the reign of Rama I in a modern style. He is credited with writing a popular version of the Thai folk tale Ramakien and wrote a number of dance dramas such as Sang Thong. The king was an accomplished musician, playing and composing for the fiddle and introducing new instrumental techniques. He was also a sculptor and is said to have sculpted the face of the Niramitr Buddha in Wat Arun. Because of his artistic achievements, Rama II's birthday is now celebrated as National Artists' Day (Wan Sinlapin Haeng Chat), held in honor of artists who have contributed to the cultural heritage of the kingdom[citation needed]


Portrait of King Chulalongkorn wearing the raj pattern costume

As same as Ayutthaya period, both Thai males and females dressed themselves with a loincloth wrap called chong kraben. Men wore their chong kraben to cover the waist to halfway down the thigh, while women covered the waist to well below the knee.[83] Bare chests and bare feet were accepted as part of the Thai formal dress code, and is observed in murals, illustrated manuscripts, and early photographs up to the middle of the 1800s.[83] However, after the Second Fall of Ayutthaya, central Thai women began cutting their hair in a crew-cut short style, which remained the national hairstyle until the 1900s.[84] Prior to the 20th century, the primary markers that distinguished class in Thai clothing were the use of cotton and silk cloths with printed or woven motifs, but both commoners and royals alike wore wrapped, not stitched clothing.[85]

From the 1860s onward, Thai royals "selectively adopted Victorian corporeal and sartorial etiquette to fashion modern personas that were publicized domestically and internationally by means of mechanically reproduced images."[85] Stitched clothing, including court attire and ceremonial uniforms, were invented during the reign of King Chulalongkorn.[85] Western forms of dress became popular among urbanites in Bangkok during this time period.[85]

During the early 1900s, King Vajiravudh launched a campaign to encourage Thai women to wear long hair instead of traditional short hair, and to wear pha sinh (ผ้าซิ่น), a tubular skirt, instead of the chong kraben (โจงกระเบน), a cloth wrap.[86]

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  2. ^ a b Beginning with the Bowring Treaty of 1855, the country was referred to as the "Kingdom of Siam" in diplomatic treaties.[1]
  3. ^ Full title – Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok Maharaj
  4. ^ From 1925 to 1932, it has a non-parliamentary legislative council called Supreme Council of State of Siam, although it has no legislative powers.


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  • Greene, Stephen Lyon Wakeman. Absolute Dreams. Thai Government Under Rama VI, 1910–1925. Bangkok: White Lotus, 1999