Aceh Sultanate

The Sultanate of Aceh, officially the Kingdom of Aceh Darussalam (Acehnese: Keurajeuën Acèh Darussalam; Jawoë: كاورجاون اچيه دارالسلام), was a sultanate centered in the modern-day Indonesian province of Aceh. It was a major regional power in the 16th and 17th centuries, before experiencing a long period of decline. Its capital was Kutaraja, the present-day Banda Aceh.

Kingdom of Aceh Darussalam
Keurajeuën Acèh Darussalam (Acehnese)
كاورجاون اچيه دارالسلام
Alam Peudeung Mirah
Coat of arms
Map of the Aceh Sultanate in 1629
StatusProtectorate of the Ottoman Empire (1569–1903)
CapitalKutaraja, Bandar Aceh Darussalam (modern Banda Aceh)
Common languagesAcehnese, Malay, Arabic
Sunni Islam
Ali Mughayat Syah
Muhammad Daud Syah
 Coronation of the first Sultan
 Aceh War
CurrencyNative gold and silver coins
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Dutch East Indies
Today part ofIndonesia

At its peak it was a formidable enemy of the Sultanate of Johor and Portuguese-controlled Malacca, both on the Malayan Peninsula, as all three attempted to control the trade through the Strait of Malacca and the regional exports of pepper and tin with fluctuating success. In addition to its considerable military strength, the court of Aceh became a noted center of Islamic scholarship and trade.


Foundation and rise

The sultanate was founded by Ali Mughayat Syah, who began campaigns to extend his control over northern Sumatra in 1520.[1] His conquests included Deli, Pedir, and Pasai, and he attacked Aru. His son Alauddin al-Kahar (d. 1571) extended the domains farther south into Sumatra, but was less successful in his attempts to gain a foothold across the strait, though he made several attacks on both Johor and Malacca,[2] with the support along with men and firearms from Suleiman the Magnificent's Ottoman Empire.[3] The Ottoman Empire sent a relief force of 15 Xebecs commanded by Kurtoğlu Hızır Reis.

Aceh formed the northern tip of Sumatra at the southeast corner of the Bay of Bengal. Ships from the Bengal Sultanate transported diplomats from Sumatra and Brunei to Ming China.[4]

Slave market in Aceh during the early modern period

On 21 June 1599 a Dutch captain, Cornelius de Houtman, arrived at "Acheen" aboard the Lioness as the first of three planned voyages to the East Indies. The crew stayed for three months acquiring pepper and other spices. British crew member John Davis claims the party was subsequently attacked by the local warlord with the loss of 68 dead and captured. After they arrived, they were permitted by the sultan to purchase pepper, during the same year as representatives of the English East India Company under the command of James Lancaster arrived. He returned in 1602 bearing a letter from English queen Elizabeth I.[5][6]

The sultan from 1589 to 1604 was Alauddin Riayat Shah ibn Firman Shah. Internal dissension in the sultanate prevented another powerful sultan from appearing until 1607 when Iskandar Muda came to the position. He extended the sultanate's control over most of Sumatra. He also conquered Pahang, a tin-producing region of the Malayan Peninsula, and was able to force the sultans of Johor to recognise his overlordship, if temporarily. During his reign, he created a code of laws known as Adat Meukuta Alam (Adat meaning "customs", or "customary rules"). The strength of his formidable fleet was brought to an end with a disastrous campaign against Malacca in 1629 when the combined Portuguese and Johor forces managed to destroy all his ships and 19,000 troops according to Portuguese account.[7][8][6] Aceh's forces were not destroyed, however, as Aceh was able to conquer Kedah within the same year and taking many of its citizens to Aceh.[8] The sultan's son-in-law, Iskandar Thani, former prince of Pahang later became his successor. During his reign, Aceh focused on internal consolidation and religious unity.

After the reign of Sultan Iskandar Thani, Aceh was ruled by a series of female sultana. Aceh's previous policy of taking hostages from conquered kingdoms' population[8] made them eager to seek independence, the results were Aceh's control weakened while regional rulers gained effective power. The sultan ultimately became a largely symbolic title.[9] By the 1680s, a Persian visitor could describe a northern Sumatra where "every corner shelters a separate king or governor and all the local rulers maintain themselves independently and do not pay tribute to any higher authority."[10]

Later years and conquest by the Dutch

In 1699 Sultan Badr al-alam Syarif Hasyim Jamal ad-din ascended to the throne, the first male to rule in almost 60 years. He was succeeded by several short-lived rulers, and in 1727 a member of the Buginese dynasty, Sultan Ala ad-din Ahmad Shah took power. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Koh Lay Huan – the first Kapitan Cina of Penang, had good contacts with the English-and-French-speaking sultan of Aceh, Jauhar al-Alam.[11] The sultan allowed Koh to gather pepper plants in Aceh to begin pepper cultivation in Penang. Later, about 1819, Koh helped Sultan Jauhar al-Alam put down a rebellion by Acehnese territorial chiefs.[11][12]

In the 1820s, as Aceh produced over half the world's supply of pepper, a new leader, Tuanku Ibrahim, was able to restore some authority to the sultanate and gain control over the "pepper rajas" who were nominal vassals of the sultan by playing them off against each other. He rose to power during the sultanate of his brother, Muhammad Syah, and was able to dominate the reign of his successor Sulaiman Syah (r. 1838–1857), before taking the sultanate himself, under the title Sultan Ali Alauddin Mansur Syah (1857–1870). He extended Aceh's effective control southward at just the time when the Dutch were consolidating their holdings northward.[13]

Alauddin Muhammad Da'ud Syah II, the last Sultan of Aceh who was active in the late-19th century

Britain, heretofore guarding the independence of Aceh to keep it out of Dutch hands, re-evaluated its policy and concluded the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of Sumatra, which allowed for Dutch control throughout Sumatra in exchange for concessions in the Gold Coast and equal trading rights in northern Aceh. The treaty was tantamount to a declaration of war on Aceh, and the Aceh War followed soon after in 1873, with the Dutch making the unfounded excuses that Aceh was sponsoring piracy and preparing to conclude a treaty with the United States. As the Dutch prepared for war, Mahmud Syah (1870–1874) appealed for international help, but no one was willing or able to assist.[14]

In early 1874 the sultan abandoned the capital after the palace was captured on 31 January, withdrawing to the hills, while the Dutch announced the annexation of Aceh. He would die of cholera, as did many combatants on both sides, but the Acehnese proclaimed a grandson of Tuanku Ibrahim sultan. The local rulers of Acehnese ports nominally submitted to Dutch authority to avoid a blockade, but they used their income to support the resistance.[15]

During this time, many Acehan politicians sought aid from the Ottoman Empire. Their efforts were futile, but they did serve to inspire resistance movements across south-east Asia. Local resistance in northern Sumatra then passed to the local lords and potentates, and then to the religious leaders. However, an adviser of the sultan, Abd al-Rahman al-Zahir, soon returned to take command of the independence movement, fell out with the revolutionary leaders, and promptly agreed to surrender himself to the Dutch in exchange for a lifetime pension in Mecca.

The Dutch, now hounded by locals and cholera alike, fortified their coastal positions and began a slow siege of the entire country, conducted by General van Pel. The capital, in particular, was surrounded by forts connected by railways. The Dutch made another serious attempt to finally pacify the country in 1884, but it quickly slowed and suffered from popular criticism. Dutch armies were finally able to make progress between 1898 and 1903, with each local potentate in occupied territories being forced to sign "The Short Declaration", a pledge of allegiance to the Dutch colonial overlords. Because of their co-operation, the Dutch were able to establish a fairly stable government in Aceh and get the sultan to surrender in 1903. After his exile in 1907, no successor was named, but the resistance continued to fight for some time, until 1912.[16][12]

Political administration

During the reign of Iskandar Muda (c.1538–1636), state centralization was carried out. This was done by removing or exterminating the present nobility and creating new ones that were friendly to the state. Besides this, the policy carried out the division of plots of land within the sultanate by mukim (similar to Christian parishes subdivisions), each of these mukims would be headed by an uleebalang (leader) who was responsible for security. Some regions of Aceh, especially of the western-producing pepper regions, were controlled by appointed panglima (governors) whose duty was to report on events and were rotated every three years.[17]


A ceramic plate made by Chinese Hui Muslims found in the Aceh Sultanate in the 17th century.

Aceh saw itself as heir to Pasai, the first Islamic state in Southeast Asia, and succeeded the role of Islamic missionary work of Malacca after it was conquered by the Catholic Portuguese. It was called the "porch of Mecca", and became a center of Islamic scholarship, where the Qur'an and other Islamic texts were translated into Malay.[3] Its notable scholars included Hamzah Fansuri, Syamsuddin of Pasai, Abdurrauf of Singkil, and the Indian Nuruddin ar-Raniri.[18]


Aceh gained wealth from its export of pepper, nutmeg, cloves, betel nuts,[19] and also tin once it conquered Pahang in 1617. Low-interest rates and the use of gold currency strengthened its economy.[20] It was always somewhat fragile economically, however, because of the difficulty in providing enough surplus food to support the military and commercial adventures of the state.[21] As Aceh lost political cohesion in the 17th century, it saw its trading importance yielded to the Dutch East India Company, who became the dominant military and economic power in the region following the successful siege of Malacca in 1641.[10]


Sultan Ali Mughayat Syah's tomb in Banda Aceh
Sultan tomb complex from the period before Iskandar Muda in Banda Aceh
Sultan Iskandar Muda's tomb in Banda Aceh
A complex of tomb of Acehnese sultan from Bugis descendant in Banda Aceh
Sultan of AcehReign
Ali Mughayat Syahc. 1514–1530
Salahuddin1530–c. 1537/39
Alauddin al-Kaharc. 1537/39–1571
Ali Ri'ayat Syah I1571–1579
Sultan Muda1579
Sri Alam1579
Zainul Abidin1579
Alauddin Mansur Syah1579–1585/86
Ali Ri'ayat Syah II, Raja Buyung1585/86–1589
Alauddin Ri'ayat Syah Sayyid al-Mukammal1589–1604
Ali Ri'ayat Syah III1604–1607
Iskandar Muda1607–1636
Iskandar Thani1636–1641
Ratu Safiatuddin Tajul Alam1641–1675
Ratu Nurul Alam Naqiatuddin Syah1675–1678
Ratu Inayat Zaqiatuddin Syah1678–1688
Ratu Kamalat Syah1688–1699
Badr ul-Alam Syarif Hasyim Jamaluddin1699–1702
Perkasa Alam Syarif Lamtui Syah Johan Berdaulat1702–1703
Jamal ul-Alam Badr ul-Munir1703–1726
Jauhar ul-Alam1726
Syamsul Alam1726–1727
Alauddin Ahmad Syah1727–1735
Alauddin Johan Syah1735–1760
Alauddin Mahmud Syah I1760–1781
Badr ul-Alam Syah1764–1765
Sulaiman Syah1773
Alauddin Muhammad Syah1781–1795
Alauddin Jauhar ul-Alam Syah (first reign)1795–1815
Syarif Saiful Alam Syah1815–1819
Alauddin Jauhar ul-Alam Syah (second reign)1819–1823
Alauddin Muhammad Da'ud Syah I1823–1838
Alauddin Sulaiman Ali Iskandar Syah1838–1857
Alauddin Ibrahim Mansur Syah1857–1870
Alauddin Mahmud Syah II1870–1874
Alauddin Muhammad Da'ud Syah II Johan Berdaulat1874–1903

Family tree of Acehnese monarchs

Sultans and Sultanas of the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam
Makota Alam
Ali Mughayat

r. 1514-1530
r. 1530-1537/9
Riayat Syah

r. 1537/9-1579
Darul Kamal
House of
Ali Riayat
Syah I

r. 1571-1579
Sri Alam
r. 1579
♀ Raja DewiAli Riayat
Syah II

r. 1585-1589
AbdullahAbdul JalilAlauddin
Riayat Syah

r. 1589-1605
Mansur Syah

r. 1579-1585
Sultan Muda
r. 1579

r. 1579
Mansur Syah♀ Putri Raja
Ali Riayat
Syah III

r. 1604-1607

r. 1607-1636
House of
Syarif Ibrahim
♀ Nurul Alam

r. 1675-1678
♀ Inayat

r. 1678-1688
♀ Zainatuddin
Kamalat Syah

r. 1688-1699
Iskandar Thani
Mughayat Syah

r. 1636-1641
♀ Tajul Alam

r. 1641-1675
Badrul Alam
Syarif Hasyim

r. 1699-1702
Perkasa Alam
Syarif Lamtui

r. 1702-1703
Jauharul Alam

r. 1726
Jamalul Alam
Badrul Munir

r. 1703-1726
Child of
Bugis Dynasty
of Aceh
Ahmad Syah

r. 1727-1735
Syamsul Alam
r. 1726-1727
Johan Syah

r. 1735-1760
Syah I

r. 1760-1781
Johan Syah

r. 1764-1765

r. 1773

r. 1781-1795
Alam Syah

r. 1795-1815,
Syarif Saiful
Alam Syah

r. 1815-1819
Daud Syah I

r. 1823-1838
Mansur Syah

r. 1857-1870
Sulaiman Ali
Iskandar Syah

r. 1838-1857
Zainal Abidin
Syah II

r. 1870-1874
Daud Syah II

r. 1875-1903

See also


  1. Ricklefs, 32
  2. Ricklefs, 33
  3. Barwise and White, 114
  4. Tapan Raychaudhuri; Irfan Habib, eds. (1982). The Cambridge Economic History of India. Volume I, c.1200-c.1750. Cambridge University Press. p. 130. ISBN 978-0-521-22692-9.
  5. Michael Hicks, ‘Davis, John (c.1550–1605)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008
  6. Ooi Keat Gin, ed. (2004). Southeast Asia. Santa Barbara, Calif. [u.a.]: ABC Clio. p. 120. ISBN 1-57607-770-5.
  7. Ricklefs, 34
    • D. G. E. Hall, A History of South-east Asia. London: Macmillan, 1955.
  8. Ricklefs, 36
  9. Barwise and White, 117
  10. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society By Malaysian Branch, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Malaysian Branch, Singapore Published by, 1996; p. 119
  11. The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia By Nicholas Tarling Published by Cambridge University Press, 1999 ISBN 978-0-521-66370-0; pg. 260
  12. Ricklefs, 143
  13. Ricklefs, 144
  14. Ricklefs, 145
  15. Ricklefs, 146
  16. Reid, Anthony (1993). Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450-1680. Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA: Yale University Press. p. 257.
  17. Ricklefs, 51
  18. Barwise and White, 115–116
  19. Barwise and White, 116
  20. Ricklefs, 35


  • J.M. Barwise and N.J. White. A Traveller’s History of Southeast Asia. New York: Interlink Books, 2002.
  • M.C. Ricklefs. A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1300, 2nd ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994.
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