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Historical Background



The original Myanmar inhabitants moved nomadically in groups from Mongolia in the north. These nomads, later known to be Myanmar, mixed with ethnic minorities such as Pyus, Kanyans and Thets, who were then the aboriginal inhabitants of this country. With the passage of time, these mixed races began to live in separate groups following different regions and regional ethnic groups gradually emerged to become the indigenous races such as Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan. Fossils recently excavated in the Pontaung region of Myaing Township, Pakokku District have confirmed strong evidences that the earliest primates lived in Myanmar millions of years ago.

Similarly, Paleolithic and Neolithic cultures flourished in many parts of Myanmar as early as 20,000 years ago, leaving behind much material evidence such as stone weapons, implements and the wall paintings of the Padalin Cave in the Shan foothills near Myittha. Later, a bronze culture developed, as evidenced by the Nyaunggan archaeological site near Monywa.

Early History

The transition to an urban civilization occurred in the 2nd century B.C., when a number of cities flourished. Among them were Wethali (Vaisali) of the Rakhines, Thuwannabhumi (Suvannabhumi: " Land of Gold ") of the Mons, and Beikthano ( Vishnu City ), Hanlin and Thayekhittaya (Sriksetra: "Field of Splendour") of the Pyus, a people whose architectural monuments - the Bawbawgyi, Payagyi and Payama pagodas of Thayekhittaya - remain although their language has become extinct.

The Greatness of Bagan

Myanmar civilization achieved a high level of development at Bagan between the middle of the 11th century and the end of the 13th century. According to the chronicles, Bagan was founded in A.D. 107 by Thamoddarit and ruled by a line of 55 kings, but written evidence is available only from the time of King Anawrahta who reigned from 1044 - 1077. King Anawrahta, the first unifier of Myanmar, established Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar with the help of the Buddhist missionary Shin Arahan he laid the foundation for Bagan's magnificence. A thriving economy and the inspiration of Buddhism resulted in the great monuments of Shwezigon, Ananda, Thatbyinnyu, Gawdawpalin and a host of other pagodas, several of which are decorated with religious-themed mural paintings.

The Period of Division

The decline of Bagan, brought about by a Mongol invasion in 1287, was followed by political confusion and the emergence of two kingdoms: Inwa, founded by Thadominbya in 1365, and Hanthawady (Bago), founded by Banya U in 1369. Nineteen kings ruled in Inwa from 1365 to 1552 and 11 kings ruled in Hanthawaddy from 1369 to 1538. A war broke out between Inwa and Hanthawaddy from 1386 till 1422.

The Hanthawaddy Empire

Myanmar entered a new phase of greatness when the kings of Toungoo moved their capital from Toungoo to Bago and three of its kings ruled there from 1538 to 1599.

King Bayintnaung, who reigned from 1552 - 1581, was also known as Lord of the White Elephants and Conqueror of the Ten Directions. He reunited the kingdom, created the vast Hanthawady Empire and rebuilt Bago on a magnificent scale.

The Inwa Kingdom

Following the breakup of the Hanthawady Empire, King Nyaungyan who reigned from 1598 - 1606, established a new Myanmar kingdom, and ten kings reigned in Inwa between 1598 and 1752. The most famous of the Inwa kings, Thalun reigned from 1629 - 1648, and built the Kaunghmudaw Pagoda near Sagaing. A rebellion which started in Bago led to the downfall of the kingdom in 1752.

The Konbaung Kingdom

In the tradition of Anawrahta and Bayintnaung, King Alaungpaya, who reigned from 1752 - 1760, reunited Myanmar and established the last Myanmar dynasty of 11 kings, who ruled from 1752 to 1885. The kingdom had a number of capitals, including Shwebo, Inwa and Amarapura, with the last capital Mandalay being founded in 1859 by King Mindon who reigned from 1852 - 1878.

The Rakhine kingdom, with the capital at Mrauk-U, was founded by King Minsawmun, who reigned from 1430 - 1433. A line of 49 kings reigned between 1430 and 1785, when the kingdom was annexed to the Konbaung kingdom.

Myanmar fought three wars against the British and lost Rakhine and Taninthayi in 1826, Lower Myanmar in 1852, and its independence on 1 January 1886.