The Sultanate of Pasai is the oldest attested Muslim kingdom in the insulindian world . Founded in the late 13th century, it will disappear in 1523 with its conquest by the kingdom of Aceh at the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra .

The importance of Pasai lies in its role as a center for spreading Islam through the Indonesian archipelago and the Malay Peninsula .

Samudra , the capital of Pasai, was located at the mouth of a river now called “Pasai”, and empties into the eastern part of Lhok Seumawe Bay , on the northeastern coast of Sumatra. in the present province of Aceh. The very name of the island, “Sumatra”, comes from elsewhere “Samudra”.

Few vestiges of this kingdom remain, mainly in the form of some 160 tombs. The most notable of these is the tomb of a princess in the village of Minye Tujuh , located about 35 km inland south of the Pasai site. The peculiarity of this tomb is that one of its two steles is written in Malay and in a Devanagari type script of Indian origin, while the other stele is written in Arabic .

Pasai was the exact contemporary of the Hindu-Buddhist Kingdom of Majapahit in East Java.


Arabic and Chinese texts attest to the presence of merchants and even Muslim communities in the city-state of Sriwijaya (now Palembang ) in South Sumatra to th century.

Sumatra was rich in gold (the Ramayana speaks of ” Suvarnadvipa “, “the island of gold”, presumably Sumatra) and products of the much sought-after forest like camphor(from the Arabic kafur , itself derived from kapur Barus , “chalk Barus , name of a port on the western coast of northern Sumatra) and benzoin (Arabic luban Jawi ,” milk of Java “).

In the xiii th century, Sriwijaya, who controlled the Strait of Malacca , is only a shadow of itself. The south of the strait is infested with pirates. Indian traders and Persian Muslims therefore prefer to anchor in the ports of North Sumatra.

Chinese texts note that in 1282 , the king of Samudra sends to China two emissaries bearing Arabic names.

The first Muslim ruler of Samudra is Sultan Malik as-Salih. His tomb is dated from the year 696 of the Hegira , ie 1297 AD. AD It is thanks to the tombs we could identify 32 sovereign Pasai for the 250-year period of the sultanate. The political history of this kingdom is therefore characterized by great instability.

There are also few written sources on Pasai.

The name of Pasai is first known by the Hikayat Raja Pasai or “Chronicle of the Kings of Pasai”, a text written in Malay. Early in the xiv th century, the expansionist kingdom Thai of Ayutthaya led him to attack Pasai. The Hikayat reports that the king of Pasai is taken captive to Ayutthaya.

Other sources attest to the existence of Pasai.

Tomé Pires , a Portuguese apothecary who lives in Malacca , taken in 1511 by the Portuguese, goes to Pasai. There he recounts a story that around 1340 , Muslim merchants established in Pasai elect as king “a Bengali “.

Towards 1340 also, the Javanese attack in their turn Pasai, that they will occupy some time. The king of Pasai must flee with the regalia (insignia of the royal power).

In 1346 , the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta approached Samudra, in the estuary of the river which today bears the name of Pasai and flows into the bay of Lhok Seumawe. For this reason, Samudara is today identified as the capital of the kingdom of Pasai.

The nagarakretagama , an epic poem written in 1365 in the kingdom Javanese of Majapahit , mentions Pasai among the few hundred “dependent countries” of the kingdom. In fact, the territory controlled by Majapahit only extended over part of eastern and central Java. The “tributary lands” were in fact trading counters forming a trading network of which Majapahit was the center. Majapahit sent dignitaries there whose role was to make sure that these counters did not engage in private commerce that would escape the kingdom.

Finally, the Chinese Muslim admiral Zheng He , during one of the 7 expeditions that he will lead from 1405 to 1433 to India and the Middle East, intervenes in the affairs of Pasai by taking the side of one of the princes in the quarrel of succession which opposes the latter to another prince, Iskandar. Zheng He captures Iskandar, brings him back to China where he is tried and executed. During this period of Zheng He’s expeditions, China will play a regulatory role in the region.

The kingdom of Malacca , founded around 1400 on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, proves to be a formidable rival for Pasai as an economic and commercial center in the Straits of Malacca . After the capture of Malacca by the Portuguese in 1511 under the leadership of Afonso de Albuquerque , his successor, the Sultanate of Johor , but also two other principalities of the northeast coast of Sumatra, Aru and Pidie, threaten to their Pasai’s position.

The Portuguese also intervene in Pasai. Around 1520 , Jorge de Albuquerque, Afonso’s nephew, attacked Pasai. One of his soldiers kills Sultan Zainal Abidin. Albuquerque puts on the throne a teenager of the royal family.

Weakened, Pasai is finally conquered by a new regional power: Aceh.


  • Anonymous, History of the Kings of Pasey , translated from Malay by Aristide Marre , 2004
  • Ibn Battuta, Travels , Discovery
  • Lombard, Denys , The Javanese Crossroads
  • Ricklefs, MC, A History of Modern Indonesia since c. 1300
  • Wolters, OW, “Indonesia – Muslim kingdoms of northern Sumatra” in