Aceh Sultanate

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Aceh Sultanate
Keurajeuën Acèh Darussalam
كاورجاون اچيه دارالسلام

Alam Peudeung Minah Coat of arms
Capital Bandar Aceh Darussalam (modern Banda Aceh)
Languages Acehnese, Malay, Arabic
Religion Islam
Government Monarchy
 -  1496–1528 Ali Mughayat Syah
 -  1874–1903 Muhammad Daud Syah
 -  Coronation of the first Sultan 1496
 -  Aceh War 1903
Currency Native gold and silver coins

The Sultanate of Aceh, officially the Kingdom of Aceh Darussalam (Acehnese: Keurajeuën Acèh Darussalam; Jawoë: كاورجاون اچيه دارالسلام), was a Sultanate centered in the modern-day Indonesian province of Aceh. It was a major regional power in the 16th and 17th centuries, before experiencing a long period of decline. Its capital was Kutaraja, the present-day Banda Aceh.

At its peak it was a formidable enemy of the Sultanate of Johor and Portuguese-controlled Malacca, both on the Malayan Peninsula, as all three attempted to control the trade through the Strait of Malacca and the regional exports of pepper and tin with fluctuating success. In addition to its considerable military strength, the court of Aceh became a noted center of Islamic scholarship and trade.

Foundation and rise[edit]

Aceh early history is unclear, but it was likely founded by the Cham people. The Acehnese language is one of the 10 languages of the Aceh-Chamic language group. In 1471, the Champa king Syah Pau Kubah sent his son Syah Pau Ling to rule over Aceh when the capital Vijaya, was sacked by the Vietnamese Le Dynasty.

The ruler of Aceh converted to Islam in the mid-15th century.[1] The Sultanate was founded by Ali Mughayat Syah, who began campaigns to extend his control over northern Sumatra in 1520.[2] His conquests included Deli, Pedir, and Pasai, and he attacked Aru. His son Alauddin al-Kahar (d.1571) extended the domains farther south into Sumatra, but was less successful in his attempts to gain a foothold across the strait, though he made several attacks on both Johor and Malacca,[3] with the support along with men and firearms from Suleiman the Magnificent's Ottoman Empire.[1] The Ottoman Empire sent a relief force of 15 Xebecs commanded by Kurtoğlu Hızır Reis.

On 21 June 1599 a Dutch captain, Cornelius Houtman arrived at "Acheen" aboard the Lioness as the first of three planned voyages to the East Indies. The crew stayed for three months acquiring pepper and other spices. Crew member John Davis claims the party was subsequently attacked by the local warlord with the loss of 68 dead and captured.[4]

Internal dissension in the Sultanate prevented another powerful Sultan from appearing until 1607, when Iskandar Muda came to the position. He extended the Sultanate's control over most of Sumatra. He also conquered Pahang, a tin-producing region of the Malayan Peninsula. The strength of his formidable fleet was brought to an end with a disastrous campaign against Malacca in 1629, when the combined Portuguese and Johor forces managed to destroy all his ships and 19,000 troops according to Portuguese account.[5][6] Aceh forces was not destroyed, however, as Aceh was able to conquer Kedah within the same year and taking many of its citizens to Aceh.[6] The Sultan's son in law, Iskandar Thani, former prince of Pahang later became his successor. During his reign Aceh focused on internal consolidation and religious unity.

After the reign of Sultan Iskandar Thani, Aceh was ruled by a series of female Sultana. Aceh's previous policy of taking hostage from conquered kingdoms' population[6] made them eager to seek independence, the results were Aceh's control weakened while regional rulers gained effective power. The Sultan ultimately became a largely symbolic title.[7] By the 1680s, a Persian visitor could describe a northern Sumatra where "every corner shelters a separate king or governor and all the local rulers maintain themselves independently and do not pay tribute to any higher authority."[8]

Culture and economy[edit]

A ceramic plate made by Chinese Hui Muslims found in the Aceh Sultanate in the 17th century.

Aceh saw itself as heir to Pasai, the first Islamic state in Southeast Asia, and succeeded Islamic missionary work of Malacca after it was conquered by the Roman Catholic Portuguese. It was called the "porch of Mecca," and became a center of Islamic scholarship, where the Qur'an and other Islamic texts were translated into Malay.[1] Its notable scholars included Hamzah Pansuri, Syamsuddin of Pasai, Abdurrauf of Singkil, and the Indian Nuruddin ar-Raniri.[9]

Aceh gained wealth from its export of pepper, nutmeg, cloves, betel nuts,[10] and, once it conquered Pahang in 1617, tin. Low interest rates and the use of gold currency strengthened its economy.[11] It was always somewhat fragile economically, however, because of the difficulty in providing enough surplus food to support the military and commercial adventures of the state.[12] As Aceh lost political cohesion in the 17th century, it saw its trading importance yielded to the Dutch East India Company, who became the dominant military and economic power in the region following the successful siege of Malacca in 1641.[8]

Later years and conquest by the Dutch[edit]

Tuanku Muhammad Daudsyah Johan Berdaulat, the last Sultan of Aceh.

In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, Koh Lay Huan – the first Kapitan Cina of Penang, had good contacts with the English-and-French-speaking Sultan of Aceh, Jauhar al-Alam.[13] The Sultan allowed Koh to gather pepper plants in Aceh to begin pepper cultivation in Penang. Later, about 1819, Koh helped Sultan Jauhar al-Alam put down a rebellion by Acehnese territorial chiefs.[13][14]

In the 1820s, as Aceh produced over half the world's supply of pepper, a new leader, Tuanku Ibrahim, was able to restore some authority to the Sultanate and gain control over the "pepper rajas" who were nominal vassals of the Sultan by playing them off against each other. He rose to power during the Sultanate of his brother, Muhammad Syah, and was able to dominate the reign of his successor Sulaiman Syah (r. 1838–1857), before taking the Sultanate himself, under the title Sultan Ali Alauddin Mansur Syah (1857–1870). He extended Aceh's effective control southward at just the time when the Dutch were consolidating their holdings northward.[15]

Britain, heretofore guarding the independence of Aceh in order to keep it out of Dutch hands, re-evaluated its policy and concluded the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of Sumatra, which allowed for Dutch control throughout Sumatra in exchange for concessions in the Gold Coast and equal trading rights in northern Aceh. The treaty was tantamount to a declaration of war on Aceh, and the Aceh War followed soon after in 1873. As the Dutch prepared for war, Mahmud Syah (1870–1874) appealed for international help, but no one was willing or able to assist.[16]

In 1874 the Sultan abandoned the capital, withdrawing to the hills, while the Dutch announced the annexation of Aceh. He eventually died of cholera, as did many combatants on both sides, but the Acehnese proclaimed a grandson of Tuanku Ibrahim Sultan. The local rulers of Acehnese ports nominally submitted to Dutch authority in order to avoid a blockade, but they used their income to support the resistance.[17]

However, eventually many of them compromised with the Dutch, and the Dutch were able establish a fairly stable government in Aceh with their cooperation, and get the Sultan to surrender in 1903. After his death in 1907, no successor was named, but the resistance continued to fight for some time.[18]


Sultan Ali Mughayat Syah's tomb in Banda Aceh
Sultan tomb complex from era before Iskandar Muda in Banda Aceh
Sultan Iskandar Muda's tomb in Banda Aceh
A complex of tomb of Acehnese sultan from Bugis descendant in Banda Aceh
Sultan of Aceh Reign
Ali Mughayat Syah 1496–1528
Salahuddin 1528–1537
Alauddin al-Kahar 1537–1568
Husain Ali I Riayat Syah 1568–1575
Muda 1575
Sri Alam 1575–1576
Zainal Abidin 1576–1577
Alauddin II Mansur I Syah 1577–1589
Buyong 1589–1596
Alauddin III Riayat Syah Sayyid al-Mukammil 1596–1604
Ali II Riayat Syah 1604–1607
Iskandar Muda 1607–1636
Iskandar Thani 1636–1641
Ratu Safiatuddin Tajul Alam 1641–1675
Ratu Naqiatuddin Nurul Alam 1675–1678
Ratu Zaqiatuddin Inayat Syah 1678–1688
Ratu Kamalat Syah Zinatuddin 1688–1699
Badrul Alam Syarif Hashim Jamaluddin 1699–1702
Perkasa Alam Syarif Lamtui Syah Johan Berdaulat 1702–1703
Jamal ul Alam Badrul Munir 1703–1726
Jauhar ul Alam Aminuddin 1726
Syamsul Alam 1726–1727
Alauddin IV Ahmad Syah 1727–1735
Alauddin V Johan Syah 1735–1760
Mahmud I Syah 1760–1781
Badruddin Syah 1764–1785
Sulaiman I Syah 1775–1781
Alauddin VI Muhammad I Daud Syah 1781–1795
Alauddin VII Jauhar ul Alam 1795–1815
Syarif Saif ul Alam 1815–1818
Alauddin VII Jauhar ul Alam (second time) 1818–1824
Muhammad II Syah 1824–1838
Sulaiman II Syah 1838–1857
Mansur II Syah 1857–1870
Mahmud II Syah 1870–1874
Muhammad III Daud Syah Johan Berdaulat 1874–1903

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Barwise and White, 114
  2. ^ Ricklefs, 32
  3. ^ Ricklefs, 33
  4. ^ Michael Hicks, ‘Davis , John (c.1550–1605)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008
  5. ^ Ricklefs, 34
  6. ^ a b c *D. G. E. Hall, A History of South-east Asia. London: Macmillan, 1955.
  7. ^ Ricklefs, 36
  8. ^ a b Barwise and White, 117
  9. ^ Ricklefs, 51
  10. ^ Barwise and White, 115–116
  11. ^ Barwise and White, 116
  12. ^ Ricklefs, 35
  13. ^ a b Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society By Malaysian Branch, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Malaysian Branch, Singapore Published by , 1996; p. 119
  14. ^ The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia By Nicholas Tarling Published by Cambridge University Press, 1999 ISBN 0-521-66370-9, ISBN 978-0-521-66370-0; pg. 260
  15. ^ Ricklefs, 143
  16. ^ Ricklefs, 144
  17. ^ Ricklefs, 145
  18. ^ Ricklefs, 146


  • J.M. Barwise and N.J. White. A Traveller’s History of Southeast Asia. New York: Interlink Books, 2002.
  • M.C. Ricklefs. A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1300, 2nd ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994.

External links[edit]