Mongol invasion of Java

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Mongol invasion of Java
Part of the Mongol invasions and Kublai Khan's Campaigns
DateDecember 1292-June 1293 (7 months)
East Java, the city of Daha and Majapahit. Along the river Brantas/Kali Mas.
Result Majapahit victory
大元 Yuan dynasty Kingdom of Singhasari
Kediri Kingdom
Majapahit Empire
Commanders and leaders
Kublai Khan (supreme commander)
Gaoxing (generals)
Ike Mese
Jayakatwang (supreme commander)
Raden Wijaya (general, later ruler - allied to Yuan invaders in earlier phases of the war)
Aria Adikara (naval commander)
20,000–30,000 soldiers
1,000 ships

More than 100,000 soldiers (Mongol claim) 20.000-30.000 soldiers (modern estimates)[1]

Unkown number of ships
Casualties and losses

More than 3,000 elite soldiers killed[2]
60% or 12,000-18,000 total killed[3][1]
Unkown number of soldiers taken prisoner

Unknown number of ships destroyed
More than 5,000 killed and drowned

The Mongol invasion of Java was a military effort made by Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty (one of the fragments of the Mongol Empire), to invade Java, an island in modern Indonesia. In 1293, he sent a large invasion fleet to Java with 20,000[4] to 30,000 soldiers. This was a punitive expedition against King Kertanegara of Singhasari, who had refused to pay tribute to the Yuan and maimed one of its ministers. However, it ended with failure for the Mongols.


Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty, the principal khanate of the Mongol Empire, had sent envoys to many states to ask them to put themselves under his protection and pay tribute. Men Shi or Meng-qi (孟琪), one of his ministers who was sent to Java, was not well received there.[5] The king of Singhasari, Kertanagara, was offended by his proposal and branded his face with a hot iron as was done to common thieves, cut his ears, and scornfully sent him on his way.

Kublai Khan was shocked and ordered a punitive expedition against Kertanagara, whom he labeled a barbarian, in 1292. According to the Yuan shi, the history of the Yuan dynasty, 20,000-30,000 men were collected from Fujian, Jiangxi and Huguang in Southern China, along with 1,000 ships and enough provisions for a year.[6] The officers were the Mongol Shi-bi, the Uyghur Ike Mese, and the Chinese Gaoxing.

Meanwhile, after defeating Malayu Dharmasraya in Sumatra in 1290, Singhasari became the most powerful kingdom in the region. Kertanegara sent a massive army to Sumatra in this Pamalayu campaign. However, seizing the opportunity of the lack of army guarding the capital, in 1292 Jayakatwang, the duke of Kediri (Gelang-gelang), a vassal state of Singhasari, revolted against Kertanegara. Jayakatwang revolt was assisted by Arya Wiraraja,[7]:199 a regent from Sumenep on the island of Madura, whom secretly despised Kertanegara.

The Kediri (Gelang-gelang) army attacked Singhasari simultaneously from both north and south flanks. The king only realised the invasion from the north and sent his son-in-law, Nararya Sanggramawijaya (Raden Wijaya) northward to vanquish the rebellion. The northern attack was quashed, but the southern attack successfully remained undetected until they reached and sacked the unprepared capital city of Kutaraja. Jayakatwang usurped and killed Kertanagara during the Tantra sacred ceremony, thus bringing an end to the Singhasari kingdom.

Having learned of the fall of the Singhasari capital of Kutaraja to Kadiri rebellion, Raden Wijaya tried to return and defend Singhasari but failed. He and his three colleagues, Ranggalawe, Sora and Nambi, went to exile to Madura under the protection of the regent Arya Wiraraj, Nambi's father, who then turned to Jayakatwang's side. Kertanegara's son-in-law, Raden Wijaya, submitted to Kediri, brokered by Arya Wiraraja and was pardoned by Jayakatwang. Wijaya was then given the permission to establish a new settlement in Tarik timberland. The new settlement was named Majapahit, which was taken from maja fruit that had a bitter taste in that timberland (maja is the fruit name and pahit means bitter).


Heavily armored Chinese axeman in lamellar armour.

Kublai chose the troops from Southern China, because they are more lightly armored. Light armor is deemed more suitable in Java, which is a tropical country, meanwhile heavily armored units are not, as noted by Khan himself. The Yuan new army armor rate is only 20%, and the Northern Chinese army is slightly more. They have a lot of bows and shields, and a lot of shooters, the heavily armored infantry guards behind them are armed with a spear and a heavy axe. Mongolian soldiers also brought horses. History of Yuan also mentioned the use of gunpowder weapons, in the form of cannon (Chinese: Pao).[2] What kind of ships used for the campaign is not mentioned in the Yuanshi, but Worcester estimates that Yuan junks were 11 m (36 ft) in beam and over 30 m (100 ft) long. By using the ratio between number of ships and total soldiers, each junk would be able to carry about 20-30 men.[8]

19th century studio portrait of a native Javanese warrior. Javanese "peasant army" consist of lightly equipped troops like this.

Yuan Shi recorded that the Javanese army had more than 100,000 men. This is an exaggerated number, because the local terrain determine that they cannot be placed on a battlefield at the same time. The army in various parts of the South Sea is mainly dominated by poorly equipped light infantry until the Arabs bring advanced metallurgical forging techniques and weapons. Most of the Javanese army is temporarily mobilized farmers and a few noble warriors. The nobility marched in the front line, and the huge rear army composed of inverted T characters. The Javanese peasant army was half-naked and covered with cotton fabric at the waist (sarung). Most of the weapons are bows and arrows, bamboo spears, and short blades. Aristocrats are deeply influenced by Indian culture, usually armed with swords and spears, dressed in white.[2] The Javanese navy, though, is more advanced than the Chinese. Javanese junks were more than 50 m (164 ft) long, able to carry 500-1000 men, and constructed in multiple thick planks that renders artillery useless.[9]


Painting of a 14th-century Yuan junk. Yuan naval armada consisted of this kind of ships.

The Yuan forces departed from the southern port of Quanzhou,[10] traveled along the coast of Trần dynasty Dai Viet and Champa along the way to their primary target. The small states of Malay and Sumatra submitted and sent envoys to them, and Yuan commanders left darughachis there. It is known that the Yuan forces stopped at Ko-lan (Biliton) to plan their strategy. In February 1293, Ike Mese departed first to bring the Emperor's order to Java. The main fleet then sailed to Karimun Jawa, and from there sailed to Tuban. As noted in Kidung Panji-Wijayakrama, they probably looted the coastal village of Tuban. After that, the commanders decided to split the forces into two.The first will advance inland, the second will follow them using boats. Shi Bi sailed to the estuary of Sedayu, and from there went to small river called Kali Mas (which is a distributary of Brantas river). Land troops under Gao Xing and Ike Mese, which consist of cavalry and infantry, went to Du-Bing-Zu. Three commanders sailed using fast boats from Sedayu to Majapahit's floating bridge and then joined with the main troops on the way to Kali Mas river.

When the Yuan army arrived in Java, Wijaya allied himself with the army to fight against Jayakatwang and gave the Mongols a map of the country Kalang (Gelang-gelang, another name for Kediri). According to the Yuan-shi, Wijaya attacked Jayakatwang without success when he heard of the arrival of the Yuan navy. Then he requested their aid. In return, Yuan generals demanded his submission to their emperor, and he gave it.

In the March 1st, all of the troops have gathered in Kali Mas. In the headwaters of the river is the palace of Tumapel (Singhasari) king. This river is the entryway to Java, and here they decided to battle. A Javanese minister blocked the river using boats. The Yuan commanders then made a crescent-shaped encampment at the bank of the river. They instructed the waterborne troops, cavalry and infantry to move forward together, scaring the Javanese minister. The minister abandon his boats and flee in the night. More than 100 large boats used to block the river seized by Yuan forces.

Large portion of the army is tasked to guard the estuary of Kali Mas, meanwhile the main troops advances. Raden Wijaya's messenger said that the king of Kediri had chased him to Majapahit and begged the Yuan army to protect him. Because the position of Kediri's army couldn't be determined, Yuan army returned to Kali Mas. Upon hearing information from Ike Mese that the enemy's army will arrive that night, the Yuan army departed to Majapahit.

In 7th of March, Kediri's army arrived from 3 directions to attack Wijaya. In the morning of 8th, Ike Mese led his troops to attack the enemy in southwest, but couldn't find them. Gao Xing battled the enemy in southeast direction, eventually forcing them to flee into the mountains. Near midday, enemy troops came from southeast. Gao Xing attacked again and managed to beat them in the afternoon.

In March 15th, the troops split into 3 to attack Kediri, and it is agreed that in the 19th they will meet up in Daha to begin the attack after listening to cannon fire. First troops sailed through the river, second troops led by Ike Mese marched in the eastern riverbank while the third troops led by Gao Xing marched in western riverbank. Raden Wijaya and his troops marched in the rear.

21st century view of Brantas river in Kediri.

The army arrived at Daha on 19th March. The prince of Kediri defends the city with his troops. The battle lasted from 6.00 to 14.00. After attacking 3 times, Kediri forces is defeated and fled. In the meantime when Mongol and Kediri forces clashed, Majapahit forces attacked the city from another direction and quickly defeat the guards. Jayakatwang's palace is looted and burned.[11] Few thousands Kediri troops tried to cross the river and drowned, while 5,000 is killed in the battle. King Jayakatwang retreated to his fortress, only to find out that his palace has been burned. The Yuan army then rounded up Daha and called the king to surrender. In the afternoon Jayakatwang declared submission to the Mongols.

Once Jayakatwang was captured by the Mongols, Raden Wijaya returned to Majapahit, ostensibly to prepare his tribute settlement, leaving his allies to celebrate their victory. Shi-bi and Ike Mese allowed Raden Wijaya to go back to his country to prepare his tribute and a new letter of submission, but Gaoxing disliked the idea and he warned other two. Wijaya asked the Yuan forces to come to his country unarmed.

Depiction of a Javanese jong from 1500s. Jong was the main naval ships of Javanese kingdoms.

Two hundred unarmed Yuan soldiers led by two officers were sent to Raden Wijaya's country, but in the 19th of April Raden Wijaya quickly mobilized his forces again and ambushed the Yuan convoy. After that Raden Wijaya marched his forces to the main Yuan camp and launched a surprise attack, killing many and sending the rest running back to their ships. Upon reaching a temple, the Yuan army is ambushed by Javanese army. They are managed to make a breakthrough in the middle, continuing their 123 km rout eastward. Raden Wijaya doesn't engage the Mongol head on, instead he used all possible tactics to harass and reduce the enemy army bit by bit. During the rout, the Yuan army lost all of the spoils captured beforehand.

Numbers of Mongol ships were attacked and destroyed by Javanese fleet commanded by rakryan mantri Aria Adikara.[12][13] The Yuan forces had to withdraw in confusion, as the monsoon winds to carry them home would soon end, leaving them to wait on a hostile island for six months. After all of the troops had boarded the ship on the coast, they battled the Javanese fleet. After repelling it, they sailed back in April 24th to Quanzhou for 68 days.[2] The Yuan army lost more than 3,000 of its elite soldiers with total losses of 12,000-18,000 soldiers,[1][3] with unknown number of soldiers taken prisoner and unknown number of ships destroyed.[10][12][2] June 1293, the army arrived in China. They brought Jayakatwang's children and some of his officers, numbered more than 100. They also acquired the nation's map, population registration and a letter with golden writings from the king.[2]


The three generals, demoralized by the considerable loss of their elite soldiers due to the ambush, went back to their empire with the surviving soldiers. Upon their arrival, Shi-bi was condemned to receive 70 lashes and have a third of his property confiscated for allowing the catastrophe. Ike Mese also was reprimanded and a third of his property taken away. But Gaoxing was awarded 50 taels of gold for protecting the soldiers from a total disaster. Later, Shi-bi and Ike Mese were shown mercy, and the emperor restored their reputation and property.[14]

This failure was the last expedition in Kublai Khan's reign. Majapahit, in contrast, became the most powerful state of its era in the region.[15] Kublai khan planned another invasion of Java with 100,000 men strong army, but this plan was cancelled after the death of Kublai Khan.[2] Travellers passing the region, that is Ibn Battuta and Odoric of Pordenone, however noted that Java has been attacked by Mongol several times, but all always end up in failure.[16][17] Gunung Butak inscription from 1294 A.D mentions of Aria Adikara intercepting further Mongol invasion, successfully defeating it before landing in Java.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Nugroho, Irawan Djoko (2011). Majapahit Peradaban Maritim. Jakarta: Suluh Nuswantara Bakti.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Song Lian. History of Yuan.
  3. ^ a b W.P Groeneveldt (1880). Notes on the Malay Archipelago and Malacca Compiled from Chinese Sources. Batavia.
  4. ^ Weatherford, Jack (2004), Genghis khan and the making of the modern world, New York: Random House, p. 239, ISBN 0-609-80964-4
  5. ^ Grousset, Rene (1988), Empire of steppes, Wars in Japan, Indochina and Java, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, p. 288, ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
  6. ^ Weatherford (2004), and also Man (2007).
  7. ^ Cœdès, George (1968). The Indianized states of Southeast Asia. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824803681.
  8. ^ Worcester, G. R. G. (1971). The Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0870213350.
  9. ^ Nugroho, Irawan Djoko (2011). Majapahit Peradaban Maritim. Suluh Nuswantara Bakti. ISBN 9786029346008.
  10. ^ a b Sen, Tan Ta; Dasheng Chen (2009), Cheng Ho and Islam in Southeast Asia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 186, ISBN 9789812308375
  11. ^ Berg, C.C. (1931). Kidung Harsa-Wijaya. S-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.
  12. ^ a b Berg, C.C. (1930). Rangga Lawe, Middeljavaansche Historische Roman, BJ 1. Weltevreden: Albert & Co.
  13. ^ a b Nugroho, Irawan Djoko (2009). Meluruskan Sejarah Majapahit. Ragam Media. ISBN 9793840161.
  14. ^ Man 2007, p. 281.
  15. ^ Saunders, J. J. (2001), The history of Mongol conquests, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-1766-7.
  16. ^ da Pordenone, Odoric (2002). The Travels of Friar Odoric. W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
  17. ^ "Ibn Battuta's Trip: Chapter 9 Through the Straits of Malacca to China 1345–1346". The Travels of Ibn Battuta A Virtual Tour with the 14th Century Traveler. Archived from the original on 17 March 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bade, David W. (2002), Khubilai Khan and the Beautiful Princess of Tumapel: the Mongols Between History and Literature in Java, Ulaanbaatar: A. Chuluunbat
  • Man, John (2007), Kublai Khan: The Mongol king who remade China, London: Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-81718-3
  • Levathes, Louise (1994), When China Ruled the Seas, New York: Simon & Schuster, p. 54, ISBN 0-671-70158-4, The ambitious khan [Kublai Khan] also sent fleets into the South China Seas to attack Annam and Java, whose leaders both briefly acknowledged the suzerainty of the dragon throne
  • d'Ohsson, Constantin Mouradgea (2002), "Chapitre 3 Kublai Khan, Tome III", Histoire des Mongols, depuis Tchinguiz-Khan jusqu'à Timour Bey ou Tamerlan, Boston: Adamant Media, ISBN 978-0-543-94729-1