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History of Thailand Page 2

The Sukhothai Era

By the 13th century, the Thais had begun to emerge as a dominant force in the region, slowly absorbing the weakened empires of the Mons and Khmer's. By 1238, the first Thai kingdom, Sukhothai - called by its ruler "the dawn of happiness" - has been established. It is often considered the golden era of Thai history, an ideal Thai state in a land of plenty governed by paternal and benevolent kings, the most famous of whom was King Ramkamhaeng the Great.

Ramkamhaeng was noted as an administrator, legislator and statesman. He is credited with the invention of the Thai script. The Sukhothai period saw the Thais, for the first time, developing a distinctive civilisation with their own administrative institutions, art and architecture.

Sukhothai Buddha images, characterised by refined facial features, lineal fluidity, and harmony of form, are considered to be the most beautiful and the most original of Thai artistic expression.

In 1350, the mightier state of Ayutthaya exerted its influence over gentile Sukhothai, and from a former vassal state, it usurped all administrative power, leaving Sukhothai a deserted kingdom.

The Ayutthaya Era

The Ayutthaya kings adopted Khmer cultural influences from the very beginning. No longer the paternal and accessible rulers that the kings of Sukhothai had been, Ayutthaya's sovereigns were absolute monarchs whose position was enhanced by trappings of royalty reflective of a Khmer devaraja (god-king). Brahmins officiated side by side with Buddhist monks at state ceremonies - a legacy which remains in modern Bangkok.

The 16th century was marked by the first arrival of Europeans and by continual conflict with the Burmese.

In 1569, Ayutthaya fell to Burmese forces that thoroughly sacked and plundered the city, and forcibly removed much of Ayutthaya's population to Burma. The Siamese kingdom, however, was reconsolidated by King Naresuan the Great. Under this great king, Ayutthaya prospered and became the thriving metropolis as described by 17th Century European visitors.

Europeans were primarily attracted to Siam as a door to the China trade.

Ayutthaya and her ports became entreports for goods travelling between Europe, India and the East Indies, and China and Japan. The height of European presence in Ayutthaya, especially the French, was undoubtedly during the reign of King Narai, who ruled 1656 to 1688.

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