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Early history of Singapore

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Title: Early history of Singapore  
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Subject: History of Singapore, History of the Republic of Singapore, Languages of Singapore, Founding of modern Singapore, List of riots in Singapore
Collection: History of Singapore
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Early history of Singapore

Part of a series on the
Early history of Singapore (pre-1819)
Founding of modern Singapore (1819–26)
Straits Settlements (1826–67)
Crown colony (1867–1942)
Battle of Singapore (1942)
Japanese Occupation (1942–45)
Post-war period (1945–55)
Internal self-government (1955–62)
Merger with Malaysia (1962–65)
Republic of Singapore (1965–present)
Singapore portal

The early history of Singapore refers to the history of Singapore before 1819, when the British established a trading settlement on the island and set in motion the history of 'modern Singapore'. Prior to 1819, Singapore was known by several names in written records dating back as early as the 2nd century, which identified the island as a trade port of some importance.

The island was controlled by different kingdoms in Southeast Asia including the Siamese, Javanese, and Sultanate of Malacca from the 14th century and the Sultanate of Johor from the 16th century.


  • Second century 1
  • Indian culture 2
  • Middle Ages 3
  • European contact 4
  • Notes 5

Second century

The first written records of Singapore date to the second century, when the island was identified as a trading post in several cartographic references. The Greco-Roman astronomer Ptolemy (90–168) identified a place called Sabana in the area where Singapore lies and identified it as a nominon emporion or designated foreign trading port, as part of a chain of similar trading centres that linked Southeast Asia with India and the Mediterranean.[1]

A 3rd century Chinese written record described the island of Pu Luo Zhong (蒲羅中), probably a transliteration of the Malay Pulau Ujong, "island at the end" (of the Malay peninsula).[2]

Indian culture

As part of the Sri Vijaya Empire, Singapore was invaded by the south Indian Emperor Rajendra Chola I of the Chola Empire in the 11th century.[3]

The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) contains a tale of a prince of Srivijaya, Sri Tri Buana (also known as Sang Nila Utama), who landed on the island after surviving a shipwreck in the 13th century. On the island, the prince saw a strange creature, which he was told was a lion. Believing this to be an auspicious sign, he decided to found a settlement called Singapura, which means "Lion City" in Sanskrit. However, it is unlikely there ever were lions in Singapore, though tigers continued to roam the island until the early 20th century. However there is another opinion that the name is due to the resemblance of the map or the aerial view of Singapore Island to a face of a lion with a Mane.[4][5]

There is record that in 1320, the Mongol sent a mission to obtain elephants from a place called Long Ya Men (龍牙門 or Dragon's Tooth Strait), which is believed to be Keppel Harbour.[6] The Chinese traveller Wang Dayuan, visiting the island around 1330, described a small Malay settlement called Dan Ma Xi (淡馬錫, from Malay Tamasek) containing a number of Chinese residents. The island was apparently a haven for pirates preying on passing ships. The Nagarakretagama, a Javanese epic poem written in 1689, also referred to a settlement on the island, which it called Temasek (Sea Town or Sea Port).

Middle Ages

Recent excavations in Fort Canning provide evidence that Singapore was a port of some importance in the 14th century,[7] used for transactions between the Malays and Chinese.

Following the decline of Srivijaya power, Temasek was alternately claimed by the Majapahit and the Siamese. Its fortifications apparently allowed it to withstand at least one attempted Siamese invasion. Historians believe that during the 1330s, Parameswara, the last Srivijayan prince, fled to Temasek from Palembang after being deposed by the Majapahit Empire. While these are parallels between the mythical Sang Nila Utama and historical Parameswara, these should be seen as distinct.[4]

Notwithstanding Sejarah Melayu legend, the "Singapura" name possibly dates to this period. Parameswara held the island for a number of years, until further attacks from either the Majapahit or the Ayutthaya kingdom in Siam forced him to move on to Melaka where he founded the Sultanate of Malacca.[4] Singapore became part of the Malacca empire, and once served as the fiefdom of the legendary laksamana (or admiral) Hang Tuah.[8]

European contact

During the 16th and early 17th century, it briefly regained some importance as a trading centre of the Sultanate of Johor. In 1613, Portuguese raiders burnt down the settlement at the mouth of Singapore River and the island sank into obscurity.[5] It was not until 1819, when the Englishmen Sir Raffles established a British trading post on the island, that modern Singapore was founded.


  1. ^ Hack, Karl. "Records of Ancient Links between India and Singapore". National Institute of Education, Singapore. Retrieved 2006-08-04. 
  2. ^ "Singapore: History, Singapore". Asian Studies @ University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 2006-07-07. 
  3. ^ The Population of Singapore by Swee-Hock Saw p.2
  4. ^ a b c "Singapore - History". U.S.(ang mo) Library of Congress. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  5. ^ a b "Singapore - Precolonial Era". U.S. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  6. ^ "Singapore: Relations with Malaysia". Community Television Foundation of South Florida. 2006-01-10. 
  7. ^ "Archaeology in Singapore - Fort Canning Site". Southeast-Asian Archaeology. Retrieved 2006-07-18. 
  8. ^ "Singapore: History, Singapore 1994". Asian Studies @ University of Texas at Austin. Archived from the original on 23 March 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2006. 
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