The earliest archaeological evidence suggests that cultures existed in Myanmar in scattered zones in the central dry zone close to the Irrawaddy River.
People in this region were turning copper into bronze, growing rice, and domesticating chickens and pigs; they were among the first people in the world to do so.
Iron working settlements emerged in an area south of present day Mandalay. Bronze-decorated coffins and burial sites filled with earthenware remains have been excavated.
Pyu people migrate into central Myanmar. During this period, Burma was part of an overland trade route from China to India. Trade with India brought Buddhism from South India. By the 4th century, many in the Irrawaddy valley had converted to Buddhism. Eighth-century Chinese records identify 18 Pyu states throughout the Irrawaddy valley, and describe the Pyu as a humane and peaceful people to whom war was virtually unknown and who wore silk cotton instead of actually silk so that they would not have to kill silkworms. The Chinese records also report that the Pyu knew how to make astronomical calculations, and that many Pyu boys entered the monastic life at seven to the age of 20. (1)
Tthe Mon began to enter the present-day Lower Myanmar from the Mon kingdoms of Haribhunjaya and Dvaravati in modern-day Thailand. By the mid 9th century, the Mon had founded at least two small kingdoms (or large city-states) center around Bago and Thaton. The earliest external reference to a Mon kingdom in Lower Burma was in 844–848 by Arab geographers.
The city of Pagan is founded. It is also known as Bagan.
The Nanzhao sacked Halingyi, which had overtaken Prome as the chief Pyu city-state and informal capital. Archaeologists interpret early Chinese texts detailing the plundering of Halingyi in 832 to detail the capturing of 3000 Pyu prisoners, later becoming Nanzhao slaves at Kunming. (1)
Anawrahta becomes the leader of the Bagan (Pagan) Kingdom. He sets up the first Myanmar empire unifying for the first time the regions that would later constitute the modern-day Myanmar. Anawrahta’s successors by the late 12th century had extended their influence farther south into the upper Malay Peninsula, at least to the Salween River in the east, below the current China border in the farther north, and to the west, northern Arakan and the Chin Hills.
This is a map of his empire:
During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas survive today. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2019.
This is a really good video that talks about the Bagan (Pagan) Empire:
The Mongols armies invade Myanmar. After the fall of Bagan, the Mongols left the searing Irrawaddy valley but the Bagan Kingdom was irreparably broken up into several small kingdoms. By the mid-14th century, the country had become organized along four major power centers: Upper Burma, Lower Burma, Shan States and Arakan. Many of the power centers were themselves made up of (often loosely held) minor kingdoms or princely states. This era was marked by a series of wars and switching alliances. Smaller kingdoms played a precarious game of paying allegiance to more powerful states, sometimes simultaneous!
The kingdom of Ava is founded after other smaller kingdoms. In its first years of existence, Ava, which viewed itself as the rightful successor to the Pagan Kingdom, tried to reassemble the former empire. While it was able to pull the Taungoo-ruled kingdom and peripheral Shan states (Kalay, Mohnyin, Mogaung, Hsipaw) into its fold at the peak of its power, it failed to reconquer the rest.
Hanthawaddy Pegu (1287–1539, 1550–52)
The Mon- kingdom was founded as Ramannadesa right after Pagan’s collapse in 1297. In the beginning, the Lower-Burma-based kingdom was a loose federation of regional power centre in the Mottama, the Pegu and the Irrawaddy Delta. The energetic reign of Razadarit (1384–1421) cemented the kingdom’s existence. Razadarit firmly unified the three Mon-speaking regions together, and successfully held off Ava in the Forty Years’ War (1385–1424).
After the war, Hanthawaddy entered its golden age whereas its rival Ava gradually went into decline. From the 1420s to the 1530s, Hanthawaddy was the most powerful and prosperous kingdom of all post-Pagan kingdoms. Under a string of especially gifted monarchs, the kingdom enjoyed a long golden age, profiting from foreign commerce. The kingdom, with a flourishing the Mon language and culture, became a Centre of commerce and Theravada Buddhism.
Due to the inexperience of its last ruler, the powerful kingdom was conquered by the upstart Taungoo dynasty in 1539. The kingdom was briefly revived between 1550 and 1552. It effectively controlled only Pegu and was crushed by Taungoo in 1552. (1)
Shan States (1287–1563)
The Shans, ethnic Tai peoples who came down with the Mongols, stayed and quickly came to dominate much of northern to eastern arc of Burma, from northwestern Sagaing Division to Kachin Hills to the present day Shan Hills.
The most powerful Shan states were Mohnyin and Mogaung in present-day Kachin State, followed by Hsenwi (Theinni) (split up in a northern and a southern state in 1988), Thsipaw (Thibaw) and Momeik in present-day northern Shan State.
Mohnyin constantly raided Ava’s territory in the early 16th century. The Monhyin-led Confederation of Shan States, in alliance with Prome Kingdom, captured Ava itself in 1527. The Confederation defeated its erstwhile ally Prome in 1532, and ruled all of Upper Burma except Taungoo. But the Confederation was marred by internal bickering, and could not stop Taungoo, which conquered Ava in 1555 and all of the Shan States by 1563.
Although Arakan had been de facto independent since the late Pagan period, the Laungkyet dynasty of Arakan was ineffectual. Until the founding of the Mrauk-U Kingdom in 1429, Arakan was often caught between bigger neighbours, and found itself a battlefield during the Forty Years’ War between Ava and Pegu. Mrauk-U went on to be a powerful kingdom in its own right between 15th and 17th centuries, including East Bengal between 1459 and 1666. Arakan was the only post-Pagan kingdom not to be annexed by the Taungoo Dynasty. (1)
Toungoo Dynasty (1510–1752)
The kingdom of Ava is toppled by Toungoo forces.
First Toungoo Empire (1510–99)
Beginning in the 1480s, Ava faced constant internal rebellions and external attacks from the Shan States, and began to disintegrate. In 1510, Taungoo, located in the remote southeastern corner of the Ava kingdom, also declared independence. When the Confederation of Shan States conquered Ava in 1527, many refugees fled southeast to Taungoo, the only kingdom in peace, and one surrounded by larger hostile kingdoms.
Taungoo, led by its ambitious king Tabinshwehti and his deputy general Bayinnaung, would go on to reunify the petty kingdoms that had existed since the fall of the Pagan Empire, and found the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia. First, the upstart kingdom defeated a more powerful Hanthawaddy in the Taungoo–Hanthawaddy War (1534–41). Tabinshwehti moved the capital to newly captured Bago in 1539.
Restored Taungoo Kingdom (Nyaungyan Restoration) (1599–1752)
While the interregnum that followed the fall of Pagan Empire lasted over 250 years (1287–1555), that following the fall of First Taungoo was relatively short-lived. One of Bayinnaung’s sons, Nyaungyan Min, immediately began the reunification effort, successfully restoring central authority over Upper Myanmar and nearer Shan states by 1606.
The kingdom entered a gradual decline, and the authority of the “palace kings” deteriorated rapidly in the 1720s. From 1724 onwards, the Meitei people began raiding the upper Chindwin River. In 1727, southern Lan Na (Chiang Mai) successfully revolted, leaving just northern Lan Na (Chiang Saen) under an increasingly nominal Myanmar rule. Meitei raids intensified in the 1730s, reaching increasingly deeper parts of central Myanmar.
In 1740, the Mon in Lower Myanmar began a rebellion, and founded the Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom, and by 1745 controlled much of Lower Myanmar. The Siamese also moved their authority up the Tanintharyi coast by 1752. Hanthawaddy invaded Upper Myanmar in November 1751, and captured Ava on 23 March 1752, ending the 266-year-old Taungoo dynasty. (1)
Konbaung dynasty (1752–1885)
Soon after the fall of Ava, a new dynasty rose in Shwebo to challenge the authority of Hanthawaddy. Over the next 70 years, the highly militaristic Konbaung dynasty went on to create the largest Myanmar empire, second only to the empire of Bayinnaung. By 1759, King Alaungpaya’s Konbaung forces had reunited all of Myanmar (and Manipur), extinguished the Mon-led Hanthawaddy dynasty once and for all, and driven out the European powers who provided arms to Hanthawaddy—the French from Thanlyin and the English from Cape Negrais.
Wars with Siam and China
The kingdom then went to war with the Ayutthaya Kingdom, which had occupied up the Tanintharyi coast to Mottama during the Burmese civil war (1740–1757), and had provided shelter to the Mon refugees. By 1767, the Konbaung armies had subdued much of Laos and defeated Siam. But they could not finish off the remaining Siamese resistance as they were forced to defend against four invasions by Qing China (1765–1769). While the Myanmar defenses held in “the most disastrous frontier war the Qing dynasty had ever waged”, the Myanmar were preoccupied with another impending invasion by the world’s largest empire for years. The Qing kept a heavy military line-up in the border areas for about one decade in an attempt to wage another war while imposing a ban on inter-border trade for two decades.
Westward expansion and Anglo-Myanmar Wars (Anglo-Burmese Wars)
These wars had their origin in British economic and political interest in Myanmar.
The First Anglo-Myanmar War. This war arose from friction between Arakan in western Burma and British-held Chittagong to the north. The treaty of Yansabo is signed. The British win Rakhine and Tanintharyi with an Indian army that fought through two rainy seasons and lost an estimated of 15,000 Indian soldiers. (2)
The Second Anglo-Myanmar War war, the British take control of Lower Myanmar. They wanted to close the gap between Calcutta and Singapore, and they turned Myanmar into a province of British India.
In 1885, Myanmar tried to make contact with the outside world, especially France, during the reign of its last king, Thibaw (he reigned from 1881-1885). The British, who feared French interference and wanted monopoly in teak (forest) used a dispute between Myanmar and a British timber firm accused of illegal logging as an excuse to invade Myanmar’s capital then Mandalay.
Britain made the capital at Yangon. Traditional Myanmar society was drastically altered by the demise of the monarchy and the separation of religion and state. The British introduced the classic divide and rule principle, giving the minority states permission to be ruled by their own leaders. They did not recruit ethnic Myanmar for their army. (3)
After the opening of the Suez Canal, the demand for Myanmar rice grew and vast tracts of land were opened up for cultivation. However, to prepare the new land for cultivation, farmers were forced to borrow money from Indian moneylenders called ‘”chettiars” at high interest rates and were often foreclosed on and evicted losing land and livestock. Most of the jobs also went to indentured Indian laborers, and whole villages became outlawed as they resorted to ‘dacoity’ (armed robbery). While the Myanmar economy grew, most of the power and wealth remained in the hands of several British firms, Anglo-Myanmar people, and migrants from India. The civil service was largely staffed by the Anglo-Myanmar community and Indians, and Bamars were largely excluded almost entirely from military service. (1)
Myanmar is separated from India and becomes a crown colony of Britain. They created their won capital at Rangoon.
World War I & II / Japan Invasion
In the early 20th century, the nationalist movement, under the leadership of the Young Men’s Buddhist University leaders, grew in strength. During World War II, Genera Aung San initially collaborated with the Japanese, who made him promises of independence if he would help them defeat the British. In 1941, General San and the Japanese were succesful and the British retreated losing thousands of men.
Following World War II, the allies fought to take Myanmar. The surrender of the Japanese brought a military administration to Myanmar and demands to try Aung San for his involvement in a murder during military operations in 1942. Lord Mountbatten realized that this was an impossibility considering Aung San’s popular appeal.
After the war ended, the British Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith returned. The restored government established a political program that focused on physical reconstruction of the country and delayed discussion of independence.
After the war, General Aung San continued to negotiate for Myanmar’s independence which was finally granted by the British on January 4, 1948. Sadly he did not live to see an independent Myanmar. He was assassinated on July 19, 1947 with six cabinet members. The assassins were never caught and nobody was ever charged for his murder. Even Aung San’s English lawyer, Frederick Henry was murdered in his house, and F. Collins, a private detective who was investigating Aung San’s assassination. A ccording to General Kyaw Zaw, these murders were evidence that somebody was trying to cover up their involvement in the assassination. General Aung San is Myanmar’s national hero.
The unsettled early years, 1948–62
U Nu became the first prime minister of independent Myanmar. After independence the country remained unsettled , with rebellions from the minorities who demanded their own states and the communists who chose to remain hidden.
The anti-Fascist People’s League wins the election. Development plans were implemented without much success. Export earnings fell because of the decline of rice exports.
Members of the armed forces take over the government that had split into a “Clean” and “Stable” side and had caused many armed clashes in villages.
The “Clean” side wins renamed the Puudaungsu party, but the insurrections only increase.
On 2 March 1962, Ne Win, with sixteen other senior military officers, staged a coup d’état, arrested U Nu, Sao Shwe Thaik and several others, and declared a socialist state to be run by their Union Revoluti onary Council. Sao Shwe Thaik’s son, Sao Mye Thaik, was shot dead in what was generally described as a “bloodless” coup. Thibaw Sawbwa Sao Kya Seng also disappeared mysteriously after being stopped at a checkpoint near Taunggyi. The army declares its socialist claims abolishing democracy. Widespread nationalization of trade organizations, banks, industries, schools and hospitals take place. Many foreigners leave Myanmar.
A new constitution is adopted after a national referendum. The country became known as the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma and the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) was the only political party allowed. The government of Myanmar administered its policies through bullying, intimidation and violence. The Myanmar people showed their dissatisfaction with student demonstrations and street protests.
One of the most horrific examples of this came in the uprising 8888 that got its name because it happened on 8/8/88. It was a student led uprising looking to have a more open and democratic society, free religion and against the repression of human rights. The demonstrations got so big they intimidated the government and Saw Maung in the most brutal manner moved to end the demonstrations. By the end of 1988, it was estimated that 10,000 people, including protesters and soldiers, had been killed. (3)
Aung San Suu Kyi (daughter of the national hero general Aung San) rose to prominence in the 8888 Uprising of 8 August 1988 and became the General Secretary of the NLD, which she had newly formed with the help of several retired army officials who criticized the military junta.
In 1990, the military junta called a general election, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) received 59% of the votes, guaranteeing NLD 80% of the parliament seats. Some claim that Aung San Suu Kyi would have assumed the office of Prime Minister. Instead, the results were nullified and the military refused to hand over power, resulting in an international outcry. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest at her home in Rangoon, during which time she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990, and the Nobel Peace Prize one year later. (1)
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis caused extensive damage in the densely populated rice-farming delta of the Irrawaddy Division. It was the worst natural disaster in Burmese history with reports of an estimated 200,000 people dead or missing, damages totalled to 10 billion US dollars, and as many as 1 million were left homeless. (1)
In the critical days following this disaster, Myanmar’s isolationist government was accused of hindering United Nations recovery efforts.Humanitarian aid was requested, but concerns about foreign military or intelligence presence in the country delayed the entry of United States military planes delivering medicine, food, and other supplies.
A general election in 2010 – the first for twenty years – was boycotted by the NLD. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party declared victory, stating that it had been favored by 80 per cent of the votes; fraud, however, was alleged.A nominally civilian government was then formed, with retired general Thein Sein as President. (1)
A series of liberalizing political and economic actions – or reforms – then took place. By the end of 2011 these included the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission, the granting of general amnesties for more than 200 political prisoners, new labour laws that permitted labour unions and strikes, a relaxation of press censorship, and the regulation of currency practices.In response, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar in December 2011 – the first visit by a US Secretary of State in more than fifty years – meeting both President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In a general election, the NLD party wins an absolute majority of parliament seats. Despite Aung San Suu Kyi landslide victory in 2015, the Myanmar constitution forbade her from becoming president because she has children who are foreign nationals.
Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are criticized internationally for blocking investigations into the military operations against Myanmar’s Rohingya (Muslim) population, drawing accusations of ethnic cleansing. (2)
There were allegations that widespread human rights violations were being committed by Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya, including rape, beatings, and killings. In early 2018 it was estimated that more than 800,000 Rohingya had fled the country since the first crackdown had begun in 2016. The actions of the security forces drew international condemnation, and the government’s weak response to the crisis garnered significant amounts of criticism from the international community for falling far short of what was needed.
Particularly harsh criticism was leveled specifically at Aung San Suu Kyi, whose long history as a human rights and pro-democracy activist was in sharp contrast to her tepid response to the plight of the Rohingya people as well as her failure to denounce the military, with whom she precariously shared power, for their actions, and whom she later defended in 2019 when the country was brought before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for allegedly having committed acts that constituted genocide against the Rohingya. At an ICJ hearing in December 2019, she testified in defense of Myanmar’s actions and said that if any war crimes had been committed by members of the military, they would be prosecuted in Myanmar’s military justice system. (4)
In Myanmar’s 2020 parliamentary election, the ostensibly ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, competed with various other smaller parties – particularly the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
Suu Kyi’s NLD won the 2020 Myanmar general election on 8 November in a landslide, again winning supermajorities in both houses—winning 396 out of 476 elected seats in parliament.
The USDP, regarded as a proxy for the military, suffered a “humiliating” defeat – even worse than in 2015 – capturing only 33 of the 476 elected seats.
Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) claims that the election was fraudulent but an investigation finds these claims have not merit as any irregularities were too few and too minor to affect the outcome of the election.
In the early morning of 1 February 2021, the day parliament was set to convene, the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the ruling party. The military handed power to military chief Min Aung Hlaing and declared a state of emergency for one year and began closing the borders, restricting travel and electronic communications nationwide. (1)
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were placed under house arrest, and the military began filing various charges against them. The military expelled NLD party Members of Parliament from the capital city By 15 March 2021 the military leadership continued to extend martial law into more parts of Yangon, while security forces killed 38 people in a single day of violence. (1)
The coup was immediately condemned by the United Nations Secretary General, and leaders of democratic nations – including the United States President Joe Biden, western European political leaders, Southeast Asian democracies, and others around the world, who demanded or urged release of the captive leaders, and an immediate return to democratic rule in Myanmar. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Russia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and China refrained from criticizing the military coup.
International development and aid partners – business, non-governmental, and governmental – hinted at suspension of partnerships with Myanmar. Banks were closed and Social media communications platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, removed Tatmadaw postings. Protesters appeared at Myanmar embassies in foreign countries. (10
The terrible history of this country continues… there is news that schools and children being used as shields by rebellious groups and the military on the side of the government… HERE. Children used as shields… can it get worse than this?
(2) Book: Cultures of the World: Myanmar by Cavendish Square Press. Fourth Edition 2022
(3) Book: Enchantment of the World: Myanmar by Scholastic 2016
(4) Encyclopedia Brittanica