The Sultan Iskandar Muda (1 583 1 – December 27 1636 2 , “Alexander the Younger” in Malay , was the 12 th ruler of Aceh in the north of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia It was under his reign that. Kingdom reaches its largest territorial extension and becomes the most powerful and prosperous state in the west of the Indonesian archipelago Under Iskandar Muda, Aceh conquers on conquest and becomes a commercial and religious center of international renown 2 .


Iskandar Muda’s success was based on Aceh’s military might. The sultanat possessed infantry composed of conscripts 3 , fitted Persian cavalry horses, a body mounted on elephants, over 2000 barrels 4 and a marine whose vessels could sail 600 to 800 men each.

When he ascended the throne, Iskandar began by asserting control over northern Sumatra. He conquers the Sultanate of Deli in 1612, and in and principality of Aru and the Sultanate of Johor at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula in 1613. The ruler of Johor Alauddin Riayat Syah II and members of the royal family are taken in captivity in Aceh, as well as merchants from the Dutch East India Company . Johor nevertheless managed to expel the Acehnese garrison the same year. Iskandar Muda will never manage to ensure permanent control of this territory. Johor will make alliance with the kingdoms of Pahangin the north of the peninsula, and Palembang , Jambi , Indragiri , Kampar and Siak in Sumatra, against Aceh 3 .

Iskandar nevertheless pursues his campaigns. He crushed a Portuguese fleet at Bintan in 1614. In 1617, he subdued Pahang and took his sultan, Ahmad Syah , captive to Aceh, thus gaining a foothold on Peninsular 3 . Iskandar conquers Kedah in 1619, in the open in the capital and take the people captive in Aceh 5 . Perak suffered the same fate in 1620, with the capture of 5000 people 4 . He sacks Johor in 1623 and conquers the island of Nias in 1624-1625.

The power of Aceh threatens the Portuguese established in Malacca . In 1629, Iskandar launched a fleet of several hundred boats on the Portuguese stronghold. The expedition is a disaster. According to Portuguese sources, all his boats are destroyed and 19,000 lost. After this debacle, Iskandar will launch only two other naval expeditions, in 1630-1631 and in 1634, in both cases to suppress revolts in Pahang. Aceh retains control of North Sumatra but will never be able to impose its supremacy on the Straits of Malacca . The Sultanate does not happen again to extend its power over the rich pepper-producing region of Lampung in southern Sumatra, which is controlled by the Kingdom of Banten 6 .

Economics and Administration

The basis of the Sultanate’s economy was the cultivation and trade of spices , including pepper . The reason the military conflicts between Aceh, Johor and Malacca, as well as producing numerous principalities port of pepper, were the economic antagonisms 7 . Other Aceh exports were clove and nutmeg , as well as betel nut . These exports made the prosperity of the sultanate. Iskandar Muda also led a strong economic policy to support growth, consisting in particular of low interest rates and the use of gold coins 8. However, like other sultanates in the region, he had difficulty obtaining peasants who lived inland, a food tax sufficient to feed the soldiers and the commercial activities of the capital. In fact, one of the objectives of Iskandar was able to supply the country with agricultural slaves 9 .

The reign of Iskandar Muda was also characterized by violence against dissidents of all kinds. He did not hesitate either to suppress the better-off to seize their wealth. Punishments for failures were terrible. A French visitor in the 1620s, tells “daily, the king was cut nose, enucleated eyes, castrate, cut feet, hands, ears and other mutilations, often for very small business 10 . He had his son killed, and made his son-in-law Iskandar Thani 9 , son of a captured Sultan, his successor.


Under the reign of Iskandar Muda, prominent Muslim scholars came to Aceh and made it a renowned center for Islamic studies. Iskandar Muda encouraged the tradition of mystical Sufi Hamzah Pansuri and Syamsuddin of Pasai , residing both in Aceh court. The works of these two scholars have been translated into different languages ​​of Indonesia and have had considerable influence in the Malay Peninsula . Both were later denounced as ” heretics ” by Nuruddin ar-Raniri , an Arab monk who came to the court of Aceh during the reign of Iskandar Thani, successor of Iskandar Muda..

The Hikayat Aceh or “Chronicle of Aceh” was probably written during the reign of Iskandar Muda, although some attribute to it a later date 12 , 2 . This work tells the story of the sultanate and praises the young Iskandar Muda. She was visibly inspired by the Persian Akbarnama , dedicated to the Mughal Emperor Akbar 12 .


For the Acehnese, Iskandar Muda is a hero and a symbol of the past greatness of Aceh 13 . He posthumously gave him the title of Po Teuh Meureuhom , that is to say, “Our deceased beloved lord” 2 . Many of Aceh’s buildings, structures and institutions bear its name, such as Sanda Iskandarmuda Airport in Banda Aceh , the capital, as well as the province’s regional military command ( Kodam ).

Notes and references

  1. ↑ World Book article  [ archive ] , accessed January 4, 2007
  2. ↑ a , b , c and d Yusra Habib Abdul Gani, Sultan Iskandar Muda  [ archive ] , accessed on January 4, 2007
  3. ↑ a , b and c Ricklefs, 34
  4. ↑ a and b Barwise and White, 115
  5. ↑ Barwise and White, 115. Ricklefs (p. 34) dates this conquest in 1620.
  6. ↑ Ricklefs 34-35
  7. ↑ a and b “Iskandar Muda”, in The New Encyclopedia Britannica , 15th ed., 2002, vol. VI: p. 408-409.
  8. ↑ Barwise and White, 115-116
  9. ↑ a , b , c and d Ricklefs, 35
  10. ↑ a , b and c Barwise and White, 116
  11. ↑ Ricklefs, 51.
  12. ↑ a and b Ricklefs, 52.
  13. ↑ Barwise and White, 117.