Sumatra and the Malay peninsula, 16th century


The polities of 16th century Sumatra varied greatly in form. Aceh and Melaka, with their monarchs, armies, aristocracies and vassals corresponded most closely to 16th-century European ideas of the state. The Batak and Minangkabau peoples of the interior, on the other hand, appear to not have had well-developed state forms. In both societies, village communities were the most important unit of government and supra-village political organization took the form of federations and alliances. These associations were often headed by military and spiritual leaders who were seen by Europeans as kings in the Western style, but who lacked significant executive authority.

Further reading

Hageman, J., ‘Geschiedenis der verovering van Malakka en der oorlogen tusschen de Portugeezen en Maleijers’, Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen 24 (1852), pp. 1-52.

Hall, D.G.E., A History of South-East Asia. New York: St. Martin's Press, 4th ed., 1981.

Loeb, Edwin M., Sumatra: its history and people. [Vienna], Institut für Volkerkunde der Universität Wien, 1935.

Marsden, William, The history of Sumatra: containing an account of the government, laws, customs and manners of the native inhabitants with a description of the natural productions and a relation of the ancient political state of that island.  London: The Author, 1810-1811.

Reid, Anthony, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450-1680, volume two: expansion and crisis. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Map number from Cribb, Historical Atlas of Indonesia (2000)


Year span

1500 - 1600