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Entries in italics represent milestones in world history
BC 10000 to 2000 — Mesolithic era: domestication of plants, flint and slate tools, pottery. Bronze Age: agriculture, animal husbandry, metallurgy.
3000 — Mesopotamian civilisation.
800 — Iron Age: ornaments, tools.
early 6C — The Buddha.
4C — Campaigns of Alexander the Great.
Archeological investigation is a fairly recent science in Thailand and large tracts of the country have still to be explored to gain a clearer picture of human occupation in the prehistorical period. Flake and pebble tools dating from 10000 BC to 2000 BC reveal the presence of prehistoric cultures in various parts of the country. The Spirit Cave, north of Mae Hong Son, provides startling evidence that early agriculturists and hunter-gatherers probably of Melanesian origin roamed the land in the Mesolithic Era. Finds at Ban Kao (Kanchanaburi), Non Nok Tha (Khon Kaen), Ban Chiang (Udon Thani) indicate the domestication of animals and mastery of metallurgy as early as 3500 BC. The site of Ban Chiang provides the most complete picture of human evolution: rice cultivation, copper, tin, bronze and iron smelting, pottery – black and carinated (1000-500 BC) to red-patterned on buff (500-250BC) – and glass ornaments (300BC-2CAD).
First Millennium AD
1C-2C — Early migration of Tai-speaking peoples to upland areas.
c 2C — Mon settlements in the Chao Phraya basin, on the Khorat plateau and in Southeast Burma ruled by the kingdom of Funan.
3C — King Ashoka of India sends missionaries to Suwannaphum to preach Theravada Buddhism.
3C-4C — Partition of the Roman Empire.
The origin of the Tai peoples is shrouded in mystery. There are frequent references in Chinese records to the barbarian peoples south of the Yangtse River who, historians assume, were the forebears of the Tai. Chinese expansion caused the Tai to move south to Nan Chao in Yunnan in the upper valley of the Mekong and to the uplands of northern Vietnam and northeastern Laos. The early migrants split into two distinct groups: those to the north of the Red River valley; and a southern group in the valley of the Black River, northeast Laos and south China. The latter were the ancestors of the Lao, Siamese, Shans, and upland Tai. Groups settled in the valleys of northern Thailand.
Nan Chao in southern China which had a large Tai population became a major power from the mid 8C to 9C and established cultural and economic links with India and China. It became a Buddhist state and contributed to the spread of Buddhism and Indian culture.
Historical records of the period mention other important states which were to shape Tai civilisation: namely the Khmer empire of Angkor, the Mon and Pyu kingdoms of Burma, the kingdom of Champa on the coast of central Vietnam, and another Vietnamese state in northern Vietnam. These rival powers were constantly encroaching on the territory of their neighbours. Champa declined in the 9C-10C while the Khmer Empire expanded to include the southern half of the Khorat plateau, the lower valley of the Chao Phraya, the Mon Kingdom of Haripunchai in the north, the Vientiane Plain in Laos; it had also established a strong presence on the Malay peninsula.
The Mon people, of the same stock as the Khmers, occupied a large area comprising the central plain, the eastern part of Lower Burma and the Khorat plateau. They had a well-organised society and were originally animists. As trade relations with India developed they adopted the principle of kingship, Hinduism and Buddhism, and Hindu languages (Sanskrit and Pali), and gradually created principalities on the Indian model. Chinese chronicles refer to an obscure kingdom, Funan, which held sway over these territories and about which little is known.
The Dvaravati Kingdom (6C-12C)
571-632 — Mohammed.
mid-7C — Evidence of a Dvaravati kingdom in the central plain.
7C-8C — Foundation of Haripunchai.
7C-13C — The Srivijaya Empire rules the southern peninsula.
9C — Coronation of Charlemagne.
Dvaravati Period (6C-11C to 12C)
As the power of Funan waned the Mon principalities grew, and in the mid-7C the accounts of a Chinese monk on a pilgrimage to India mention To-Lo-P’o-Ti which is consonant with Dvaravati found in a Sanskrit inscription on silver coins discovered in Nakhon Pathom. This is the first written evidence of a Dvaravati kingdom which is assumed to be Suwannaphum (The Land of Gold) where Theravada Buddhism was introduced in the 3C by missionaries sent by King Ashoka of India. The kingdom probably extended from southern Burma across the central plain to eastern Cambodia. Dvaravati sites have been identified along the trade routes but little light has been shed on the culture so far. They are usually on an oval plan and are surrounded by moats. The main centres were at Nakhon Pathom and Ku Bua (Ratchaburi), Phong Tuk (Kanchanaburi), Dong Si Maha Phot (Prachinburi) and Muang Fa Daet Sun Yang (Kalasin). Northern chronicles relate that in the 7C-8C the principality of Haripunchai was founded by Queen Chamatewee, the daughter of the Mon ruler of the Buddhist state of Lavoh (Lopburi), and flourished until its annexation by King Mengrai of Chiang Mai in the 13C. Except for Wat Chamatewee only the bases of buildings made of brick and stucco decorations survive. Fine pieces of sculpture, however, are an eloquent legacy of this mysterious people.
The Srivijaya Empire (7C-13C)
The southern peninsula was ruled by a maritime power based in Java and Sumatra which established settlements in Chaiya (Surat Thani) and Sathing Phra (Songkhla). Archaeological finds indicate influences from both Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism.
The Khmer Empire
9C-10C — Rise of the Khmer empire under Jayavarman II and Yasovarman I. Practice of Brahmanism and institution of cult of the devaraja (god king).
11C-13C — Migration of the Tai from Nan Chao (Yunnan).
11C — First Crusade.
mid-12C — Bas-relief at Angkor Wat depicts Siamese troops – Syam Kuk – allied to the Khmer ruler Suriyavarman II against Champa.
12C — Decline of Dvaravati civilisation as the Khmer empire gains control of large territories.
Jayavarman VII — adopts Mahayana Buddhism as the official religion of the Khmer empire. Angkor reaches the peak of its glory.
From the 9C the Khmer Empire with its capital at Angkor expanded west as far as Kanchanaburi and north to Laos and became the dominant power in Southeast Asia. The Dvaravati civilisation declined and the conquered provinces were ruled by governors; the main centres were That Phanom and Sakhon Nakhon (central Mekong valley), Phimai (Khorat region), Lopburi, Nakhon Pathom, and Phetchaburi (Chao Phraya basin) and Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai, Phitsanulok (upper section of the central plain). Institutions and a road network were established to link the provinces with Angkor. Major temples (Prasat Hin Phimai, Phanom Rung, Muang Tham) celebrated the cult of the devaraja (god king). The Khmer worship of Hindu gods was superseded by Mahayana Buddhism which was adopted as the official religion in the 12C by Jayavarman VII although Brahmanic rituals were retained. Buddha images bore the symbols of kingship. By the mid 12C Lopburi which had tried to retain its independence had become the main centre of Khmer power. In the mid 13C Angkor power waned as Tai states began to assert their identity, and by the end of the century the empire had collapsed.
The Rise of Sukhothai (13C-14C)
13C — Mongol conquests.
13C — Tai leaders form an alliance and depose the Khmer governor of Sukhothai. Sri Intradit declares himself king.
Glorious reign of King Ram Kamhaeng. The Khmers are driven out of the country. Revival of Theravada Buddhism, fostering of national identity and artistic flowering.
Sukhothai extends its power over several dependencies. Alliance with Chiang Mai and Phayao.
Death of Ram Kamhaeng in 1289 followed by fragmentation of the kingdom into petty principalities. Lanna rivalry.
The Sukhothai Kingdom
A second migration of the Tai from Yunnan occurred from the 11C and the influx grew in the early 13C when the Mongols under Kublai Khan overran the kingdom of Nan Chao. The migrants moved down to the Chao Phraya basin and the Mekong valley as well as to the area now known as the Shan states in northeast Burma. They formed small autonomous entities known as muang which later came under the sway of the Khmers. Siamese troops are portrayed on bas-reliefs at Angkor.
In the early 13C Tai leaders who resented the rigid social framework, the arbitrary exactions and impersonal rule of Angkor formed an alliance to challenge the Khmer ruler of Sukhothai. One of the leaders declared himself king and took the title of Sri Intradit. This significant event marked the decline of the Khmer world as during the reign of the great King Ram Kamhaeng (1279-98) the Khmers had been driven out of Tai territory. As early as 1282 the new kingdom established diplomatic relations with China and paid tribute to the great power. The country thrived and by the late 13C its dominions were extensive. It had freed itself from its Khmer inheritance and developed its own cultural and political identity. It revived Theravada Buddhism although Brahmanical rituals were retained at court, and sent missionaries round the country. Alliances were forged with Chiang Mai and Phayao although Lopburi, the former Khmer capital, retained a degree of independence. In the south Nakhon Si Thammarat emerged as a regional power which together with its dependencies on the Malay Peninsula came under the aegis of Sukhothai. There arose a benign hierarchical society loosely controlled from the centre and through personal loyalties often fostered by marriage ties between ruling houses. The flowering of a national spirit is evident in Sukhothai’s artistic achievements.
During the reign of Ram Kamhaeng’s successor the northern dependencies fragmented into rival petty principalities, the Lanna kingdom encroached on the Sukhothai sphere of influence, and a new threat arose to the south which led to the foundation of Ayutthaya and its later conquest of Sukhothai.
1259 — Mengrai (d 1317) becomes ruler of Chiang Saen and conquers neighbouring principalities.
1262 — Foundation of Chiang Rai.
1271-95 — Travels of Marco Polo.
1281-89 — Conquest of Haripunchai and alliance with Pegu against the Mongols.
1292 — Foundation of Chiang Mai.
Alliance with Pagan and defeat of Chinese attack. Chiang Mai pays tribute to China after successful diplomacy. Promotion of Singhalese Buddhism and forging of Lanna identity.
The Birth of Lanna
In the north the Dvaravati states conquered by the Khmer faded. Northern chronicles mention rival Tai centres including Chiang Saen in the 13C. Mengrai (b 1239) came to the throne in 1259 and imposed his authority on his neighbours. He founded a new capital at Chiang Rai in 1262 and in 1281 conquered the Mon state of Haripunchai (Lamphun). In his youth he had studied at Lopburi and made friends with other princes who became rulers of neighbouring Sukhothai and Phayao. He subsequently forged alliances with them and was called upon to mediate in a dispute between Ram Kamhaeng and King Ngam Müang of Phayao. He expanded his kingdom further by making an alliance with Pegu in Lower Burma which was in rebellion against Pagan in Upper Burma.
In 1292 he chose Chiang Mai as his new capital and after consultations with his allies Ram Kamhaeng and Ngam Müang building started in 1296. Mengrai also made an alliance with Pagan to counter the threat of Mongol invasion and successfully repulsed a Chinese attack. After diplomatic moves had resolved the conflict Chiang Mai paid tribute and sent missions to China. Mengrai allowed the Mon culture and Buddhism of Haripunchai to survive but promoted a strict form of Sinhalese Buddhism and built up a strong and prosperous nation known as Lanna which wielded power and influence on the Shans to the west, the Lao to the north and northeast and another Tai state to the north. On his death in 1317 his legacy included a just legal tradition. A power struggle broke out among his heirs which weakened the kingdom until 1328, when a degree of stability returned although rivalry over succession remained a great problem over the centuries.
A new city was built in 1328 at Chiang Saen which was governed by several Lanna rulers in succession. In the 14C Chiang Mai under King Ku Na (1355-85) promoted Buddhism which became a major cultural force in the kingdom during the following centuries.
1441-87 — Reign of Tilokaracha. War with Ayutthaya.
1495-1526 — King Muang Kaeo establishes Lanna pre-eminence.
mid 16C — Lanna comes under Burmese supremacy which lasts 200 years.
late 18C-early19C — King Kavila restores the Lanna kingdom.
The great King Tilokaracha (1441-87) repulsed an attack on Lamphun by Ayutthaya, established suzerainty over Nan and led campaigns against powerful northern states. In the mid 15C a lengthy war broke out after Ayutthaya’s conquest of Sukhothai and it remained unresolved as unrest in northern states caused further disruption. The power of Lanna was undimmed at the time of Tilokaracha’s death and his successors continued the war with Ayutthaya. King Muang Kaeo (r 1495-1526) patronised Sinhalese Buddhism and founded many temples thus establishing Lanna’s intellectual pre-eminence. Civil war raged however in a later succession quarrel between Chiang Saen, Luang Prabang (Laos) and the Shan states, from which a Shan king emerged as victor.
In the mid 16C Lanna was captured by King Bayinnaung of Burma and remained under Burmese sovereignty for the next two hundred years. Lanna proved a strategic position from which the Burmese pursued their war against Ayutthaya.
In 1774 King Taksin succeeded in driving out the Burmese. Chiang Mai was abandoned and King Kavila settled in Lampang (1775-81) where he ruled the north as a tributary state of Bangkok. The Burmese later made further attacks which were successfully repelled. In 1776 Kavila reoccupied Chiang Mai where he ruled until 1813 and revived the Lanna world. His heirs remained on the throne although their powers were curtailed in 1874 as Bangkok took over the responsibilty for granting logging concessions to foreign companies. On the death of the last ruler in 1939 the kingdom became fully integrated in the state of Thailand.
The Ayutthaya Kingdom (Late 13c-late 18c)
Late 13C — Suphan Buri claims independence from Sukhothai.
1325 — Aztec Empire in Mexico.
1351-69 — Ramathibodi I (U-Thong) founds Ayutthaya. Prince Ramesuan appointed as ruler of Lopburi. He accedes to the throne in 1369 but abdicates in favour of his uncle.
The Rise of Ayutthaya
In the late 13C Suphan Buri, which was dependent on Lopburi and was allied to Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south, dominated the west of the Chao Phraya plain under the suzerainty of Sukhothai. On the death of Ram Kamhaeng, Suphan Buri claimed independence but lacked political leadership until the mid-14C when U-Thong, the Chinese son-in-law of the ruler, was raised to power. An outbreak of smallpox led him to move the population from the area of present-day U-Thong to an island site, where he founded the kingdom of Ayutthaya in 1351 and took the name Ramathibodi I (1351-69). After he had appointed his wife’s brother to govern Suphan Buri and his son Ramesuan as the ruler of Lopburi, the kingdom grew rapidly as he used the manpower to develop international trade, although relations were uneasy between the powerful Chinese merchants who dominated trade and Lopburi functionaries trained by the Khmers. He drew up legislation based on Indian law to regulate the new kingdom and built on his political and personal ties with neighbouring principalities and in particular made a pact with Sukhothai.
On his death, Prince Ramesuan came to the throne but following a challenge by his uncle he abdicated after a brief period.
1370-88 — Borommaracha I wages war with Lanna and Sukhothai.
1388-95 — Second reign of Ramesuan. Invasion of Cambodia. Rivalry between Ayutthaya and Sukhothai for primacy.
King Borommaracha I (1370-88) kept the kingdom unified and challenged the power of Sukhothai; after the death of the ruler, King Mahathammaracha (Lithai), he captured Nakhon Sawan, Phitsanulok and Kamphaeng Phet. He claimed suzerainty over Sukhothai, declared war on Lanna and later with Lanna’s support waged further war on Sukhothai.
On his death in 1388 Ramesuan reclaimed his throne and in 1390 forced Chiang Mai into submission. Large numbers of captives were resettled in the southern peninsula. Ramesuan invaded Cambodia to counter raids by Angkor on the territory (present-day Chonburi and Chanthaburi) on the east coast. During later reigns Ayutthaya and Sukhothai vied for dominance as Nan, Phrae and other states changed sides according to the fortunes of war.
1409-24 — Intaracha conquers Sukhothai.
1424-48 — Borommaracha II launches a campaign and captures Angkor. War with Chiang Mai.
1448-88 — Borommatrailokanat institutes administrative and social reforms.
1486-98 — Voyages of Bartholomew Diaz and Vasco da Gama.
1492 — Christopher Columbus discovers America.
In the early 15C King Intaracha (1409-24) reduced Sukhothai to a vassal state. On the death of the vassal ruler Mahathammaracha III he placed his preferred candidate, Mahathammaracha IV, on the throne. The latter ruled from Phitsanulok and his death was followed by the annexation of Sukhothai.
Borommaracha II (1424-48) named his son Ramesuan as viceroy of Phitsanulok and in 1431-32 sent an expedition against the weakened Angkor. After his troops had captured and looted the city, Angkor was reduced to a tributary state. The capital was soon abandoned as the Khmers moved farther south to Phnom Penh.
Ayutthaya then declared war on Chiang Mai which lasted over a hundred years. King Borommatrailokanat (1448-88) reorganised the legislation and military and civilian administration of the kingdom. He instituted the sakdi naa system of land holdings which defined social status in a rigid hierarchy. Trade under royal control increased dramatically during the following centuries and contributed hugely to the economic development of the state.
early-mid 16C — The Portuguese win trading rights. Ayutthaya is in conflict with Chiang Mai, Burma and Cambodia.
1519-21 — Magellan circumnavigates the globe.
1545-63 — Council of Trent.
1569-late 16C — Ayutthaya falls to King Bayinnaung of Burma who also captures Vientiane (Laos).
1590-1605 — Naresuan the Great frees Ayutthaya from Burmese rule. Trading posts established by France, Holland, England and Japan. Ayutthaya is referred to as the Kingdom of Siam.
A Turbulent Time (16C-18C)
In the early 16C the Portuguese established trade relations with Ayutthaya and maritime trade prospered from posts set up in the southern peninsula. Ramathibodi II and his successor pursued the war with Chiang Mai and clashed with Burma. In the mid-16C the latter were soon to take advantage of internal dissensions over succession and vast armies marched through the Three Pagodas Pass to the west. King Chakkraphat of Ayutthaya boosted his army and naval forces to withstand further threats from Cambodia to the east. Burmese forces under King Bayinnaung captured Lanna and shortly after invaded from the north and took the northern cities of the kingdom. Ayutthaya fell in 1569 after which the Burmese swept north to Laos and captured Vientiane. By the late 16C the Burmese reigned supreme over all the Tai kingdoms. The next renowned ruler was Naresuan the Great (r 1590-1605), the son of the vassal king installed by the Burmese, who was declared king in 1590. He made a determined bid for independence and successfully withstood several Burmese expeditions. In 1593 he won a decisive victory at Nong Sarai. Ayutthaya grew in power, prospered from trade and kept the Burmese and other threats at bay. In the reign of his successor, his brother King Ekhatotsarot (1605-11), trade with China, Japan and the Philippines flourished.
17C — Growth of the population. Golden Age of the kingdom.
Foundation of English East India Company (1600) and of Dutch East India Company (1602).
Glorious reign of King Narai the Great (1656-88). Exchange of ambassadors with the French court of Louis XIV. Missionaries introduce Christianity. Constantine Phaulkon gains great influence as royal adviser but is executed by a clique of nationalist courtiers who take power. Expulsion of all foreigners after the demise of Narai. Ayutthaya remains in isolation for a hundred years.
18C — Borommakot (1733-58) restores Ayutthaya as a great power. Siamese monks are sent to Ceylon to restore Sinhalese Buddhism.
1760-67 — Renewed conflicts with Burma. After the fall of the kingdom in 1767 the capital is razed.
In the 17C, relations with Europe (Holland, France, England), China, Japan and Muslim states grew. Bloody struggles for succession remained a constant factor. Under King Narai (1656-88) trade under royal monopoly flourished and treaties were signed. French missionaries were allowed to practise their religion and diplomatic missions were exchanged with the court of the French King Louis XIV. Constantine Phaulkon, a royal adviser who acquired great power and wealth, was executed after being implicated in a plot with the French to convert the king to Christianity. This met with strong opposition from the Buddhist royal officials and the king’s demise marked a century of isolation as the kingdom closed its doors to Western influences although French missionaries and Dutch traders continued to reside in Ayutthaya in the 18C. Trade with China boomed.
In the reign of King Borommakot (1733-58), a devout Buddhist, Ayutthaya sent monks to Ceylon to re-establish the Sinhalese monkhood and again assumed the role of a great kingdom. Later, however, further succession quarrels weakened the state and war with the Burmese became inevitable. In 1760 Ayutthaya came under siege and after years of warfare the city fell in 1767. The Burmese laid the city to waste and took a huge number of captives and vast treasures.
The Bangkok Period (late 18C-early 20C)
18C — The Age of Enlightenment.
1767-82 — Taksin raises an army and expels the Burmese. He founds a new capital at Thonburi and declares himself king. Taksin regains Siamese territory and claims sovereignty over Chiang Mai and Lampang. King Kavila (1775-1813) of Lanna rules over the north as a tributary state of Thonburi.
1782-1809 — Rama I, founder of the Chakri dynasty, rebuilds the nation and founds Bangkok.
1776-83 — American War of Independence.
1789 — The French Revolution.
The Early Bangkok Period (late 18C-early 20C)
After the Burmese victory Taksin a former provincial governor, fled to Chanthaburi in the southeast with a small band of soldiers. He assembled an army and within six months had expelled Burmese forces remaining in the country. He declared himself ruler and after founding a capital at Thonburi, he set about asserting his authority over the territory. He captured Lampang and Chiang Mai and with the help of General Chakri he established suzerainty over the Lao states to the north. Taksin (1767-82) proved a wise leader of men but sadly he became mentally disturbed and was executed because of his erratic behaviour.
Rama I (1782-1809), the next ruler who founded the Chakri dynasty, re-established the Buddhist monkhood, devised a code of law and advocated sound government. He also built a grand new capital using statues and bricks from the old city and recreated court ceremonial to recall the glory of Ayutthaya. He repulsed several Burmese attacks, imposed sovereignty on the states of the Malay Peninsula and created a strong, cosmopolitan nation. His great achievements include the promotion of literature: he was one of the authors of the Ramakien, a Thai adaptation of the Hindu epic The Ramayana. Among other important works of the period are translations of Chinese historical novels, chronicles and tales from Java, Ceylon and Persia. Trade with China flourished and the new state prospered.
1809-24 — Trade with European nations is resumed under Rama II.
1824-51 — Rama III captures Lan Xang (Laos) principalities and resettles the Lao on the Khorat plateau. Treaty signed in 1826 with the British who held Burma and exerted great influence in the Malay Peninsula. Cambodia becomes a tributary state of Siam. American envoys and missionaries arrive in Bangkok and conclude a trade treaty in 1833.
The reign of Rama II (1809-24) was characterised by weak leadership as factions of nobles manoeuvred to exert influence. Relations with European trading companies were resumed although the threat posed by them was recognised. Unreasonable concessions demanded by an official British mission led by John Crawfurd were refused. The rivalry between Dutch, Portuguese, British and French interests increased in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. Rama II who was a great poet was also famous for his patronage of the arts.
Rama III (1824-51) ascended the throne at the expense of his brother Mongkut who had joined the monkhood on his father’s advice to defuse a succession crisis. In 1826 he signed a treaty with the British who had annexed Burma and had strong interests in the Malay Peninsula. Thai influence increased in the northeast as he captured Vientiane and the Lao provinces to the east and resettled large sections of the Lao population on the Khorat plateau. Rebellion of the Muslim states to the south was put down. Clashes with Cambodia and Vietnam also occurred, after which Cambodia paid tribute to the Thai king. Rama III preserved the nation’s cultural heritage but also promoted art and science to educate the people and enable them to face the changing world.
1851-68 — Rama IV (King Mongkut) starts the modernisation of the state and concludes new trade treaties to avert conflicts with Britain, France and the United States.
1868-1910 — Rama V (King Chulalongkorn) continues the reforms and keeps the country free from foreign interference through diplomacy. Siam becomes a buffer state between British Burma and Malaysia and French Indo-China.
1869 — Opening of the Suez Canal.
Before Mongkut succeeded his brother, the time he spent as a monk studying the Pali Buddhist scriptures led him to question local Buddhist practices and to found a strict order, Dhammayutika. He was a brilliant scholar and his wide-ranging interests included science, mathematics, astronomy and languages which he studied with Western missionaries. His enlightened reign as King Rama IV (1851-68) is marked by pragmatism which preserved the independence of the kingdom in the face of encroachments by the French in Indo-China and by the British on the Malay Penisula. He modernised the army and navy, built roads, introduced Western medicine and many other reforms. He signed trade treaties with the British envoy Sir John Bowring, as well as with France, the United States and other countries to avert confrontation but this move placed the economy under foreign control.
Modernisation proceeded apace under Rama V (Chulalongkorn, 1868-1910) although with some resistance from the traditionalists. He created ministries with foreign advisers, built roads, railways, schools and hospitals to accelerate the process of economic development. The colonial powers were kept at bay by skilful diplomacy but compromises were reached in the face of strong pressure. Laos was ceded to France in 1893; they also occupied provinces (Chanthaburi, Trat) on the Cambodian border. To maintain the balance of power the British laid claim to territory on the Malay Peninsula and were also given logging concessions in the north. In the early 20C the present borders of Thailand were settled as the British and French reached agreement on their spheres of influence. The vision of Rama V, the first Thai ruler to travel abroad, is evident in his efforts to reconcile traditional values with modern influences.
1914-18 — First World War.
1917 — The Russian Revolution.
1910-35 — Rise of nationalism under Rama VI. Troops are sent to fight in First World War.
End of absolute monarchy in 1932 after the abdication of Rama VII. Regency period until the coronation of Rama VIII in 1946.
1932-50s — Power oscillates between the socialist Pridi Panomyong and the militarist Phibun Songkhram.
1939-45 — Second World War.
1939 — The country adopts the official name of Thailand.
During the Second World War Thailand entered into a military alliance with Japan although war was not officially declared on the Allies.
The period until the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932 was marked by the reign of two of Rama V’s sons. Rama VI (Vajivarudh, 1910-25) continued the modernisation process with the help of Western advisers but squandered the nation’s wealth. He wrote plays, founded newspapers and introduced compulsory education. He also fostered nationalist feelings by advocating the freeing of the economy from foreign control and reducing Chinese economic power. He revised the treaties with Western nations; he also sent troops to fight against Germany during the First World War and participated in the Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919.
The Great Depression of the 1930s had a profound effect on the reign of Rama VII (Prajadhipok, 1925-35) as an economic crisis ravaged the country. In 1932 a coup staged by a group of soldiers and civilians brought about the king’s abdication in 1935 in favour of his young nephew Ananda Mahidol whose reign was a short one. During the Regency period a civilian government was dominated by two key figures. The socialist programme of Prime Minister Pridi Panomyong was rejected and he was forced into exile. Under Phibun Songkhram a wave of nationalism and militarism swept the country, which became officially known as Thailand – the Land of the Free – in 1939. During the Second World War Thailand, although officially neutral, gave its support to Japan in order to regain its lost territories in Laos and Cambodia. In 1941 they were forced into a military alliance with Japan and to declare war on the Allies. No formal declaration was issued, however, as the Thai ambassador in the United States refused to deliver the letter. Pridi who had returned to act as regent, supported the Free Thai Movement. Phibun went into exile in Japan as the Japanese faced defeat by the Allies.
1946 — Accession of Rama IX (King Bhumibol). Thailand joins the United Nations.
1949 — Communist victory in China.
1955 — The South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) comes into force.
1957 — Treaty of Rome: formation of the Common Market.
1957-92 — Thailand is ruled by a succession of military dictatorships with only a short period of civilian government (1973-76). Communist insurrection rages as the Vietnam War escalates. Territory on the Cambodian border placed under martial law (1985-87).
1967 — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is founded for economic, cultural, industrial and technological co-operation.
The next Prime Minister was Seni Pramoj, the wise former ambassador to the US. He was followed by Pridi who had regained his popularity. In 1945 King Ananda was crowned as Rama VIII but a few months later he died in suspicious circumstances. The confusion over the king’s death led to the resignation of Pridi and the reinstatement of Phibun whose anti-communist views won the support of America; he remained in power until 1957. In 1946 Rama IX was declared king and Thailand joined the United Nations.
From 1957 onwards, coups and counter-coups occurred in succession and the military gained the upper hand. American bases were allowed in the country as the Vietnam War escalated. Martial law was declared as elections were cancelled and students rioted. The Prime Minister resigned in 1973 after violent student demonstrations.
1975 — End of the Vietnam War.
1982 — Bicentenary of Bangkok and of the Chakri dynasty.
1989 — Foundation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group (APEC) to deal with regional matters including security.
1992 — State of emergency declared after student riots and mass demonstrations.
Free elections bring a coalition government to power.
1993 — Thailand becomes a member of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA).
1996 — King Bhumibol celebrates the Golden Jubilee of his accession to the throne.
1997 — Thailand devalues its currency marking the onset of the Asian financial crisis.
1998 — A new constitution strengthens Thailand’s fledgeling democracy.
2000 — A populist government takes office.
Until 1976 civilian governments led by Seni and Kukrit Pramoj were in power and dealt with the student, worker and peasant grievances. To counter the rise of the Communist Party of Thailand, the army again took power and repression and censorship were enforced. In 1977 a more liberal leader was installed and during the next decade he attempted to stem the support given to the Communists and to deal with the influx of refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia as well as the worsening economic situation due to the oil crisis of 1979.
During the 1980s with the collaboration of the army and political parties the economic situation improved as support for the Communists dwindled and a period of stability ensued. Coalition governments followed until a military coup in 1991 which formed a Committee for National Salvation. In 1992 following a state of emergency a decree was passed by Parliament stipulating that the head of government must be an elected member of parliament. The next Prime Minister had a successful term of office and later elections resulted in coalition governments. In 1998 a sharp downturn of the economy and major divisions within the government caused a major crisis. Stringent measures to reform the economic sector have caused hardship but have brought about some improvement. At the start of the third millennium a new government of a different political persuasion is in office and there is cause for cautious optimism.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) has presided over these troubled years. As a constitutional monarch he has few powers but his wise counsel and deep concern for the welfare of his people command the immense respect and admiration of the nation. Over the years his prestige has helped to defuse many difficult situations and to smooth over political problems. Royal encouragement and economic prosperity have proved powerful incentives in maintaining democratic institutions. The sovereign celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his accession to the throne in 1996 amid great popular rejoicing.
2001 — There are allegations of buying votes in the country’s Elections that saw Thaksin Shinawatra of a new party, the Thai Love Thai, win. He forms a coalition government following a partial re-run of the poll.
2001 — Two months after taking office, the plane Prime Minister Thaksin was scheduled to board explodes as a result of a bomb.
2001 — The Mae Sai-Tachilek border crossing, which was closed because of clashes between warring Thai and Burmese military, was opened within months as a result of negiotations by Thaksin.
2002 — Unease between the Thai and Burmese military escalutates, with the result that Burma closes its border with Thailand following claims that Thai soldiers fired shells at the Burmese army. The border reopens five months later.
2003 — Cambodia is criticised over its claims that a Thai actress reportedly said Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple, one of the continent’s finest temple complexes, was stolen from Thailand. The Thai embassy in Cambodia’s capital is the scene of angry demonstrations. The result is a major diplomatic issue, with nearly 600 Thai nationals evacuated.
2003 — News of a major crackdown on drug use and trafficking results in several thousand suspects being killed. Rights groups put the blame on the government for the killings, while the authorities cite criminal activity.
2004 — Martial law is imposed in south Thailand, an area that is largely muslim. It followed a wave of attacks and killings. Islamic militants are blamed for the unease. Within months, more than 100 suspected Islamic insurgents are killed after attacks on police bases.
2004 — The world is stunned at news of a devasting tsunami that has claimed the lives of thousands of people when it hit communities living on or near the Indian Ocean shores on Boxing Day. Phuket is one of the tourist resorts hardest hit, along with many outlying islands along the west coast. Thousands of residents and visitors are reported dead or missing, and the country’s tourism and fishing industries are hit hard. The Thai government earmarks around $1bn in aid, while volunteers from around the world travel to help Thailand begin to rebuild its infrastructure in the months that followed.
2005 — Thaksin Shinawatra wins the February elections by a landside vote and commences his second term in office.
2005 — Prime Minister Thaksin is given new powers in a bid to thwart suspected Muslim militants activities in the south.
2005 — Celebrations are held throughout the country to mark the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol’s ascension to the throne.
2006 — An unscheduled election in April is held on the orders of Prime Minister Thaksin amid mass demonstrations against him. It is boycotted by the opposition, resulting in politcal instability. Accusations of plots to kill Thaksin gain momentum. A military coup ousts Thaksin from office in September. Retired General Surayud Chulanont is appointed as interim Prime Minister in October.
2007 — Authorities have found a way to produce artifical rain through the use of chemicals in a bid to save crops affected by drought.