An Age of Empires – Sriwijaya and the Po-ssu Trade

The kingdom of Sriwijaya left behind no magnificent temples or monuments because it was a thalassic (maritime)

Kingdom that relied for its existence not on agriculture, but on control of the trade. Most of its citizens were therefore sailors who lived on boats, as do many of coastal Malay orang laut (sea people) now. Knowledge of Sriwijaya is consequently very sketchy, and the kingdom was not even identified by scholars until 1918. Four stone inscriptions in Old Malay, several in Sanskrit and a handful of statues and bronze icons are all that remain of one of the most powerful maritime empires in history.

Prof O.W. Wolters has speculated that Sriwijaya rose to prominence as a result of a substitution of some Sumatran aromatics for expensive Middle Eastern frankincense and myrrh – the so – colled P’o-ssu (Persian) goods then being shipped to China in great quantities.Be that as it may, Sriwijaya was also located in extremely strategic position and is said to have developed large ships of between 400 and 600 tons. These were by far the largest ships in the world at this time, and they appear to have achieved regular direct sailings to India and China by at least the late 8th Century.

It is significant that the P’o-ssu trade consisted mainly of incense and other rare substances used by Buddhist in China. Sriwijaya’s rulers were also Buddhist,and a passing Chinese monk by the name of I-Ching stopped here for several months to study and copy Buddhist texts. There he found a thousand Buddhist monks and noted that it was a meeting place for traders from all over the world.

Through Sriwijaya, controlled all coastal ports on either side of the Malacca and Sunda straits (eastern Sumatra, western Java and the Malay peninsula), none of these areas was suitable for wet-rice agriculture. The nearest such area was in central Java, and from the early 8th Century onward, great Indianized kingdoms established them-selved here. They first supplied Sriwijaya with rice and later began to compete with her for a share of the maritime trade.

–> Read Also : An Age of Empires – The Sailendras and the Sanjaya’s

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