From Indignity to Sovereignty: The Defeat of The Great Mongols Troops in Java and The Establishment of Majapahit Kingdom

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From Indignity to Sovereignty: The Defeat of The Great Mongols Troops in Java and The Establishment of Majapahit Kingdom

The Mongol explosion laid the foundations for more human interactions on a global scale, extending and intensifying the world network that had been establishing the Classic Age. In 1206 AD, Genghis Khan unified the nomadic Mongol tribes and founded the Mongol empire as “Great Khans of the Mongol Empire”, then he proclaimed himself as “Universal Emperor”. Mongol empire started a determining war against Jurchen Jin Dynasty of North China in 1211 resulting the collapse of Jin dynasty in 1234 AD. Under Genghis Khan’s reign, the Mongol empire was the largest contiguous land empire in history.

Under the second great Khan of Mongol empire and third son of Genghis Khan, Ögedei Khan (1229 -1241), the Mongol empire expanded its territories through conquering China of Song dynasty through the long war from 1235 to 1279 AD. The Mongol triumph of the Song dynasty was the definite victory for the Mongols to establish Yuan dynasty in 1279 AD and rule the whole of China led by a grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan (1260–1294 AD). (See fig. 1: Kublai Khan Emperor Image). The conquest of China under Genghis Khan and his successor, Kublai Khan, was the final step for the Mongols to rule from China, Southeast Asia, Japan, Eastern Europe and parts of Central Europe, Persia, to northwards and parts of Siberia. Under Kublai Khan, the “Mandate of Heaven” was passed over to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) that made it the first non-Han-Chinese Dynasty to conquer all of China and subsequently the legitimate to rule its political sovereignty of lands, space, and area divinely appointed to the Emperor (tian xia).1) (See fig. 2: Mongol Empire Territories until 1294 AD).

At the same time, the ports of Java became vantage stopovers for traders to trade merchandises from the East and the West in the late 13th to early 14th centuries. The Hindu-Buddhist Singhasari Kingdom, established by Ken Arok King (1222 – 1227 AD) in Malang region, witnessed the wealth and prosperity of Java kingdom. (See fig. 3: Singhasari Temple, 13th Century) Among the greatest Singhasari kings in history of Java was Kertanegara who reigned from 1268 to 1292 AD. During his reign, Kertanegara king did not only eliminate all his rivals in Java and far away beyond, including Shailendra king of Srivijaya kingdom in Sumatra, but also maintained his supremacy all over insular Southeast Asia. In international commerce, his kingdom dictated terms to other partners to conform since it enjoyed dominance over the two important straits, namely the Malacca in Sumatra island and the Sunda in Western island.2) Under Kertanegara King, Singhasari was the first kingdom to establish a more permanent politic and trade hegemony outside Java with its conquests to Borneo, Jambi-Melayu in 1275 and with its dominance of Madura, Bali and Central Java in 1280s. (See fig. 4: Singhasari Kingdom’s Territories under Kertanegara King)

Since Mongol had improved diversification of merchandises across the Asia continent and provided a catalyst for the Age of Exploration in the thirteenth century, Kublai Khan established new economies and created vassals outside of China. Through effective government leadership and relentless military conquest, Kublai Khan sent emissaries to empires in Southeast Asia countries for submission and tribute. The Mongol invasions of Korea (1231–1259) comprised a series of campaigns between 1231 AD and 1270 AD against the Kingdom of Goryeo (918 – 1392 AD). Kublai Khan’s troops occupied Myanmar Kingdom (849 – 1287 AD) between 1277 and 1287, resulting in the submission and disintegration of the Kingdom of Pagan (849–1297 AD) in modern-day Burma. The Mongols tried to conquer Japan in 1274 and 1281 AD, but they were impeded by an extreme storm. In addition, when the Mongol challenged Vietnam Kingdom, the Mongols failed to win. (see fig. 5: A 14th century CE illustration of Mongol mounted archers in battle. Courtesy of National Library, Berlin).

Meanwhile, in Java, Kertanegara’s assertiveness involved him into parlous conflict with the new Mongol ruler of China. Kublai Khan sent emissaries to Singhasari in several times, in 1280. 1281, and 1286 AD, to demand Kertanegara’s formal submission, but Kertanegara resolutely repelled them. In 1289, when the last Mongol’s envoy, led by General Meng-Ch’I, demanded submission to Kertanegara, the King responded by hurting Meng-Ch’I’s face by a keris weapon and asked the Mongol’s envoy back to China. Kertanegara’s behavior toward to Mongol’s envoys was deemed an insult. It made Kublai Khan furious. Kublai Khan then sent a maritime combat expedition to Singhasari kingdom of Java, which he called it as a “Beast of the South Sea Zone”. Besides of gaining a conquest, the expedition was aimed at taking retaliatory assault to King Kertanegara of Singhasari Kingdom who had insulted the Emperor’s envoy, Meng-chi. In 1292 A.D, Kublai Khan sent the Mongol’s sea fleet consisting of 1000 warships and 20,000 – 30,000 navies departed from China to Singhasari. Some of them arrived at Tuping-tsuh port (Red: Tuban sea coast in East Java) and the others docked at Sungalu port (Red: Sedayu sea coast near Lamongan region of East Java) in 1293 A.D. Two Mongol Generals, Shih-pi, Kau-Hsing and Ike Mese led this combat expedition.3)

However, Kublai Khan and his troops did not know that Kertanegara King had been assassinated in the rebellion in Singhasari led by Jayakatwang, who had moved and led the new kingdom from Singhasari to Kediri kingdom. Prince Wijaya, Kertanegara’s son-in-law, utilized the situation to strategically attack against Jayakatwang King as a revenge for his parent-in-law “King of Kertanegara”. Prince Wijaya persuaded the Mongols that King of Singhasari insulting their envoy must be punished. The strong wills of Kublai Khan’s troops to punish King of Java and to seize trading and politic strips was inextinguishable. Prince Wijaya bolstered by Aria Wiraraja’s troops, a Duke of Sumenep from Madura island, allied with the Mongols troops to fight against Jayakatwang King of Java and made simultaneous attack to Kediri Kingdom. In the combat, Kediri Kingdom could be easily defeated and Jayakatwang was captured by the Mongol troops and then was taken to their fortress at Ujung Galuh (Red: Modern Surabaya). Jayakatwang was assassinated by Mongolian troops.4)

Kediri Kingdom, which had been revived by Jayakatwang King, was finally destroyed by the alliance of Mongol, Prince Wijaya and Wiraraja troops. (see fig. 6: Monument of Wijaya’s Troops Repelled Mongols, built in Eastern Java Sea Coast). After the great battle to destroy Kediri Kingdom, Prince Wijaya’s troops surprisingly assaulted the Mongolian troops in the Mongols’ camps. Prince Wijaya was worried if the influence of Mongol would disturb trading and revenue of Javanese Kingdom. In that strike, Raden Wijaya’s royal forces killed more than 3,000 Mongols elite with total losses of 12,000 to 18,000 troops. The Mongolian survivors directly returned to China by their remaining ships. (see fig. 7: Illustration of The Mongols Troops as Battle Victims)

Having defeated Mongolian troops in 1293 A.D, Prince Wijaya and his troops returned to the palace of Kediri and proclaimed the establishment of Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit Kingdom and he got the title Kertarajasa Jayawardhana regining from 1293 to 1309 AD. His followers and troops were given opportunity to be officers in the palace. Wiraraja, Duke of Sumenep region allying with Wijaya King, was given the eastern territory of Majapahit, including areas from Lumajang to Blambangan (all are in Eastern Java). Ports of Majapahit Kingdom grew rapidly and controlled all sailing stripes and trading in all over Java, Sumatra and other island inherited by the last King of Singhasari and Kediri Kingdom of Java. In later reigns, Majapahit kingdom’s territories covered all archipelago islands, extending from New Guinea and the Malay Peninsula. Located at Trowulan village in Kediri region as its capital, Majapahit became the most powerful of all the early Javanese kingdoms. There are much of Majapahit Temples found in several regions outside Trowulan in Kediri region. One of its temples is Sumberjati Temple, located in Sumberjati Village, Blitar region of East Java. In 1867, a stone “Harihara” (Shiva and Wushnu) sculpture was found in the temple. The sculpture was made for a reincarnation of Kertarajasa Jayawardana or Wijaya King (1293 – 1309 AD), the first founder of Majapait Kingdom. (See fig. 8: Harihara Sculpture, circa 13th – 14th century. Courtesy of National Museum of Indonesia).

In the later essay, the author will give a detailed insight into life of a great Majapahit kingdom (1293 – 1500 AD).


  1. Tan Koon San, Dynastic China: An Elementary History, an Elementary History, Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia, 2014, p. 312.

  2. B.V. Rao, History of Asia: From Early Times to The Present, New Dawn Press INC, India, 2005, p. 213.

  3. Sartono Kartodirdjo, Marwati Djoened Poesponegoro and Nugroho Notosusanto Sejarah Nasional Indonesia, Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan, Jakarta, 1975, p. 259.

  4. Ibid., p. 260.


From Indignity to Sovereignty: The Defeat of The Great Mongols Troops in Java and The Establishment of Majapahit Kingdom