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Sukhothai Kingdom

The Sukhothai kingdom (Thai: ?????????????????? (Pronunciation)) was an early kingdom in the area around the city Sukhothai, in north central Thailand. The Kingdom existed from 1238 till 1438. The old capital, now 12 km outside of New Sukhothai in Tambon Mueang Kao, is in ruins and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage historical park.

The Sukhothai kingdom (Thai: ?????????????????? (Pronunciation)) was an early kingdom in the area around the city Sukhothai, in north central Thailand. The Kingdom existed from 1238 till 1438. The old capital, now 12 km outside of New Sukhothai in Tambon Mueang Kao, is in ruins and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage historical park.

Liberation from Lavo

Wat Si Sawai, Sukhothai Historical ParkPrior to the 13th century, Tai kingdoms had existed on the northern highlands including the Ngoen Yang (centered on Chiang Saen; predecessor of Lanna) kingdom and the Heokam (centered on Chiang Hung, modern Jinghong in China) kingdom of Tai Lue people. Sukhothai had been a trade center and part of Lavo, which was under the domination of the Khmer Empire. The migration of Tai people into upper Chao Phraya valley was somewhat gradual.

Modern historians stated that the secession of Sukhothai from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180 during the reign of Po Khun Sri Naw Namthom who was the ruler of Sukhothai and the peripheral city of Sri Satchanalai (now a part of Sukhothai Province as Amphoe). Sukhothai had enjoyed a substantial autonomy until it was re-conquered around 1180 by the Mons of Lavo under Khomsabad Khlonlampong.

Two brothers, Po Khun Bangklanghao and Po Khun Phameung (Po Khun was a Siamese title of high nobility) took Sukhothai from Mon hands in 1239. Bangklanghao ruled Sukhothai as Sri Inthraditaya ? and began the Phra Ruang dynasty - he expanded his primordial kingdom to the bordering cities. At the end of his reign in 1257, the Sukhothai kingdom covered the entire Upper Chao Phraya valley.

Traditional Thai historians considered the foundation of the Sukhothai kingdom as the beginning of their nation because little was known about the kingdoms prior to Sukhothai. Modern historical studies demonstrate that Thai history began before Sukhothai. Yet the foundation of Sukhothai is still a celebrated event.

Wat Saphan Hin, Sukhothai Historical ParkExpansions under Ramkamhaeng

Po Khun Banmeaung and his brother Ramkhamhaeng expanded the Sukhothai kingdom at the expense of neighboring civilizations. For the first time a Tai state became a dominant power in Southeast Asia. To the south, Ramkamhaeng subjugated the kingdom of Supannabhum and Sri Thamnakorn (Tambralinga) and, through Tambralinga, adopted Theravada as state religion. Traditional history described the extension of Sukhothai in a great fashion and the accuracy of these claims is disputed. To the north Ramkamhaeng put Phrae, and Mueng Sua (Luang Prabang) under tribute.

To the west Ramkhamhaeng helped the Mons under Wareru (who is said to have eloped with Ramkamhaeng?s daughter) to free themselves from Pagan control and established a kingdom at Martaban (they later moved to Pegu). So, Thai historians considered the Kingdom of Martaban a Sukhothai tributary. However, in practice, such Sukhothai domination may not have extended that far.

On culture, Ramkhamhaeng requested the monks from Sri Thamnakorn to propagate the Theravada religion in Sukhothai. In 1283, the Thai script was invented by Ramkamhaeng, formulating into controversial Ramkamhaeng Stele discovered by Mongkut 600 years later. From the Stele is almost what we know about Sukhothai.

Ramkhamhaeng?s government characterized the governance of Sukhothai kingdom ? the patrocracy ? in which the king is considered ?father? and people ?children?. He also encouraged the free trade, stating those who wish to trade elephants, trade them then. Those who wish to trade horses, trade them then.

It was also his time that the first relation with Yuan dynasty was formulated and Sukhothai began sending trade missions to China. The well-known exported good of Sukhothai was the Sangkalok (i.e. Song dynasty pottery) ? the only period that Siam produced Chinese-styled ceramics and fell out of use by the 14th century. 

Decline and Domination of Ayutthaya

The Sukhothai domination was, however, short. After the death of Ramkhamhaeng, the Sukhothai tributaries broke away. Ramkhamhaeng was succeeded by his son Loethai. The vassal kingdoms, first Uttaradit in the north, then soon after the Laotian kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Vientiane (Wiangchan), liberated themselves from their overlord. In 1319 the Mon state to the west broke away, and in 1321 Lanna placed Tak, one of the oldest towns under the control of Sukhothai, under its control. To the south the powerful city of Suphanburi also broke free early in the reign of Loethai. Thus the kingdom was quickly reduced to its former local importance only. Meanwhile, Ayutthaya rose in strength, and finally in 1378 King Thammaracha II had to submit to this new power.

Replica of Silajaruek Pokhun RamkhamhaengIn 1378, the armies from Ayutthaya kingdom invaded and put Sukhothai under her tributary. Suffering the urban decline, Luethai moved the capital to Pitsanulok.

In 1424, after the death of Sailuethai, Paya Ram and Paya Banmeung the two brothers fought for the throne. Nagarindrathirat of Ayutthaya intervened and further divided the kingdom between the two. Their sister had married to Borommaracha II of Ayutthaya and produced a son, Prince Ramesuan. When Boromban died in 1446 without any heirs, the throne passed to Ramesuan or Trailokanat. Ramesuan was also crowned as the King of Ayutthaya in 1448, thus began the personal union between the Kingdom of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya.

The Silajaruek Sukhothai are hundreds of stone inscriptions that form a historical record of the period. Among the most important inscriptions are Silajaruek Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng (Stone Inscription of King Ramkhamhaeng), Silajaruek Wat Srichum (an account on history of the region itself and of Srilanka), and Silajaruek Wat Pamamuang (a Politico-Religious record of King Loethai). 

The Kings of Sukhothai

Phra Ruang Dynasty (1238-1368-1438) 



Reign From

Reign Until


Relationship with Predecessor(s)

Pho Khun Sri Indraditya
(Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao)



1279 (30 years)

 ? First King of Sukhothai

Pho Khun Ban Muang


1279 (1 year)

 ? Son of Sri Indraditya

Pho Khun Ram Khamhaeng the Great
(Pho Khun Ram Racha)

circa 1237-1247


1298 (19 years)

 ? Younger brother of Ban Muang
 ? Son of Sri Indraditya

Phaya Lerthai



1323 (25 years)

 ? Son of Ram Khamhaeng

Phaya Nguanamthom



1347 (24 years)

 ? Cousin of Lerthai
 ? Son of Ban Muang

Phaya Lithai
(Phra Maha Thammaracha I)



1368 (21 years)

 ? Cousin of Nguanamthom
 ? Son of Lerthai

Under the suzerain of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya

Phaya Leuthai
(Phra Maha Thammaracha II)



1399 (31 years)

 ? Son of Lithai

Phaya Saileuthai
(Phra Maha Thammaracha III)



1419 (19 years)

 ? Son of Leuthai

Phaya Borommapan
(Phra Maha Thammaracha IV)



1438 (19 years)

 ? Son of Saileuthai

Comments: Sukhothai in Thai Historiography

Sukhothai royal temple, replica in Muang Boran

Sukhothai story was narrated into Thailand's "national history" in late nineteenth century by King Mongkut, Rama IV, as a historical work presented to the British diplomatic mission. King Mongkut is considered as the champion of Sukhothai narrative history, based on his found of the Number One Stone Inscription, the 'first evidence' telling the history of Sukhothai.

From then on, as a part of modern nation building process, modern national Siamese or Thai history comprises the history of Sukhothai. Sukhothai was said to be the 'first national capital', followed by Ayutthaya, Thonburi until Rattanakosin or today Bangkok. Sukhothai history was crucial among Siam/ Thailand's 'modernists', both 'conservative' and 'revolutionary'. Rama IV or King Mongkut, was said he found 'the first Stone Inscription' in Sukhothai, telling story of Sukhothai's origin, heroic kings such as Ramkhamhaeng, administrative system and other developments, considered as the 'prosperous time' of the kingdom.

Sukhothai history became important even after the Revolution of 1932. Researches and writings on Sukhothai history were abundant. Details derived from the inscription were studied and 'theorized'. One of the most well-known topics was Sukhothai's 'democracy' rule. Story of the close relationship between king and his people, vividly described as 'father-son' relationship, the 'seed' of Thai Democracy. However the change in ruling style took place when later society embraced 'foreign' tradition, Khmer's Angkor tradition, influenced by Hinduism and 'mystic' Mahayana Buddhism. The story of Sukhothai became the model of 'freedom'. Jit Bhumisak, a 'revolutionary' scholar, also saw Sukhothai period as the beginning of Thai people's liberation movement from foreign ruler, Angkor.

During military rule, from 1950s, Sukhothai was placed in Thai national curriculum. Sukhothai became model of 'father-son' rule, described as 'Thai Democracy', free from 'foreign ideology'; Angkorian tradition compared to communism. Other Sukhothai aspects were investigated seriously, such as commoner and slave status, and economic situation. These topics, said, were on stage of ideological thoughts fighting during the Cold war and civil insurgency times in 1960-1970s.


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