Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sukhothai Economy of Ramkhamhaeng

King Ramkhamhaeng (Credit: Ananda)
Thailand, an oriental country in the heart of Southeast Asia. Its lands are gifted with numerous rivers that provided fertile plains for farming. Its culture is heavily influenced by the Indians from the west. During the 13th century no Thai kingdom existed until the Kingdom of Sukhothai rose from the lands conquered by the Khmers. One of the most economically prosperous period of this kingdom was under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng. His reign saw great flow of harvest and wealth. Trade flourish without barriers. An economy that flowered during the golden age of a Thai Kingdom.

The Sukhothai Kingdom that Ramkhamhaeng inherited was young. His father, Sri Indrapatindraditya liberated the lands and established the Kingdom of Sukhothai or Dawn of Happines. Ramkhamhaeng showed bravery in service of his father. When his father died and his older brother, Ban Muang, became King, he continued to serve faithfully. When his brother died shortly after his enthronement, Ramkhamhaeng saw himself presiding over fertile lands.

During the start of the reign of King Rama Khamhaeng, the kingdoms territory expanded. In the north, it grew to some parts of modern day Laos; in the south, it expanded until it reached the Isthmus of Kra. He then established close relation with his neighboring countries of Chiangrai, Phayao, and Pegu. He also established close contact with Sri Lanka and China. He sent monks to Sri Lanka to learn more about Buddhism. And he sent envoys to Yuan China to avoid any invasion and also to cement his sovereignty. Because of his envoys, China became one of the biggest partner of Sukhothai Kingdom, their exchange of gifts led to the transfer of knowledge of ceramics making to the Thais, which would be explained later.

With a new lands annexed and close relations with powerful neighbors, his reign saw the golden age of the Sukhothai economy. The vast fertile lands of the kingdom offered bountiful harvests of all types of agricultural products, especially rice. Because of its numerous rivers, fish and other seafood were also abundant. With large amounts of agricultural products, trade became increasingly strong and profitable. Besides agricultural products, the Thai kingdom also exported manufacturing goods. When King Ramakhamhaeng brought the ceramic making technology from China, the Kingdom began to produce a glazed ceramic known as sangkhalok or sawankhalok, named after the town of Sawankhalok where it was made. This ceramics served as an export product to neighboring countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines. Another reason for the good condition of the economy and trade was the policy of free trade. The government of the king didn't imposed any taxes on income or imports, thus it became an incentive to become a merchant and for the people to become productive.

With its vibrant economy, the Sukhothai Kingdom became one of the most powerful kingdom in Southeast Asia. Its high agricultural production allowed the Sukhothai Kingdom to muster a large army with soldiers and war elephants. But because of lacking records, it is hard to know if the prosperous economy of Sukhothai lasted even after the death of King Ramkhamhaeng.

Coedes, G. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1968.

Mishra, P. The History of Thailand. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2010.