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Aung Zeya

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Aung Zeya

Statue of King Alaungpaya in front of the National Museum of Myanmar in Yangon
King of Burma
Reign 29 February 1752 – 11 May 1760[1][2]
Coronation 17 April 1752
Predecessor Mahadhammaraza Dipadi
Successor Naungdawgyi
Consort Yun San
7 queens in total
Full name
Aung Zeya
House Konbaung
Father Min Nyo San
Mother Saw Nyein Oo
Born 24 September 1714
Friday, 1st waning of Tawthalin 1076 ME[3]
Died 11 May 1760(1760-05-11) (aged 45)
Sunday, 12th waning of Kason 1122[3]
Kinywa, Mottama
Burial May 1760
Religion Theravada Buddhism

Alaungpaya (Burmese: အလောင်းဘုရား, pronounced: [ʔəláʊɴ pʰəjá]; also spelled Alaunghpaya; 24 September 1714 – 11 May 1760) was king of Burma (Myanmar) from 1752 to 1760, and the founder of the Konbaung Dynasty. By his death in 1760, the former chief of a small village in Upper Burma had reunified all of Burma, subdued Manipur, recovered Lan Na, and driven out the French and the English who had given help to the Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom. He also founded Yangon in 1755. He died from illness during his campaign in Siam.

He is considered one of the three greatest kings of Burma, alongside Anawrahta and Bayinnaung, for unifying the country for the third time in Burmese history.

Early life

The future king was born Aung Zeya (, lit. Victorious Victory) at Moksobo, a village of a few hundred households in the Mu river valley located about 60 miles northwest of Ava, on 24 September 1714 to Min Nyo San () and his wife Saw Nyein Oo (). He was the second son, and part of gentry families that had administered the Mu valley for generations. His father Min Nyo San was a hereditary chief of Moksobo, and his uncle, Kyawswa Htin (), better known as Sitha Mingyi (), was the lord of the Mu valley district.[4] He claimed descent from a 15th-century cavalry commander, brother of King Mohnyin Thado and ultimately the Pagan royal line. He came from a large family, and was related by blood and by marriage to many other gentry families throughout the valley.[5] In 1730, he married Yun San (), daughter of chief of a neighboring village, Siboktara (). They went on to have six sons and three daughters. (The fourth daughter died young.)[2]

Chief of Moksobo and deputy chief of Mu valley

Aung Zeya grew up during a period in which the authority of Toungoo Dynasty was in rapid decline. The "palace kings" at Ava had been unable to defend against the Manipuri raids that had been ransacking increasingly deeper parts of Upper Burma since 1724. Ava had failed to recover southern Lan Na (Chiang Mai) that revolted in 1727, and did nothing to prevent the annexation of northern Shan states by China in the 1730s. The Mu valley was directly on the path of the Manipuri raids year after year. Although Burma was far larger than Manipur, Ava had been unable to defeat the raids or organize a punitive expedition to Manipur itself. The people watched helplessly as the raiders torched villages, ransacked pagodas, and taking away captives.[6]

It was during these troubled times in the absence of royal authority that men like Aung Zeya came forward. He assumed his father's responsibilities as chief of his village in his early twenties. A tall man for the times, (five feet eleven inches in height as described by an English envoy),[7] the solidly built, sun-burned Aung Zeya displayed his natural ability to lead men, and viewed as a leader by his gentry peers throughout the valley. They began to take matters into their own hands to defend against the raids.[6]

The sickly regime at Ava was wary of any potential rivals. In 1736, Toungoo Yaza, the commander-in-chief of the army, summoned Aung Zeya to Ava to check if the village headman was a potential threat to the regime. Satisfied that the 22-year-old had no designs on the throne, Toungoo Yaza on behalf of the king bestowed the title Bala Nanda Kyaw to Aung Zeya.[2] Aung Zeya became deputy to his uncle the lord of Mu valley, and the administrative officer kyekaing ( [tɕéɡàɪɴ]), responsible for tax collection and for the preservation of order.[8]

Founding of Konbaung Dynasty

The authority of Ava continued to decline in the following years. In 1740, the Mon of Lower Burma broke away, and founded the Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom with the capital at Pegu (Bago). Ava's enfeebled attempts to recover the south failed to make a dent. The low grade warfare between Ava and Pegu went on until late 1751, when Pegu launched its final assault, invading Upper Burma in full force. By early 1752, Peguan forces, aided by French-supplied firearms and Dutch and Portuguese mercenaries, had reached the gates of Ava. The heir apparent of Hanthawaddy Upayaza summoned all administrative officers in Upper Burma to submit.[8] Some chose to cooperate but others like Aung Zeya chose to resist.

Aung Zeya persuaded 46 villages in the Mu valley to join him in resistance. He found a ready audience in "an exceptionally proud group of men and women" of Upper Burma who longed to redress the numerous humiliations that their once proud kingdom had suffered.[6] On 29 February 1752 (full moon of Tabaung 1113), as the Hanthawaddy forces were about to breach the outer walls of Ava, Aung Zeya proclaimed himself king with the royal style of Alaungpaya (the Embryo Buddha), and founded the Konbaung Dynasty.[1] His full royal style was Thiri Pawara Wizaya Nanda Zahta Maha Dharma Yazadiyaza Alaung Mintayagyi.[2]

Not everyone was convinced, however. After Ava fell to Peguan forces on 23 March 1752, Alaungpaya's own father urged him to submit. The father pointed out that although Alaungpaya had scores of enthusiastic men, they only had a few muskets, and that their little stockade did not stand a chance against a well-equipped Peguan army that had just sacked a heavily fortified Ava. Alaungpaya was undeterred, saying: "When fighting for your country, it matters little whether there are few or many. What does matter is that your comrades have true hearts and strong arms". He prepared the defenses by stockading his village, now renamed Shwebo, and building a moat around it. He had the jungle outside the stockade cleared, the ponds destroyed and the wells filled.[9]

Reunification of Burma (1752–1759)

Main article: Konbaung-Hanthawaddy War

Upper Burma (1752–1754)

Konbaung was only one among many other resistance forces that had independently sprung up across a panicked Upper Burma. Fortunately for the resistance forces, the Hanthawaddy command mistakenly equated their capture of Ava with the victory over Upper Burma, and withdrew two-thirds of the invasion force back to Pegu, leaving just a third (less than 10,000 men)[10] for what they considered a mop-up operation. At first, the strategy seemed to work. The Hanthawaddy forces established outposts as far north as present day northern Sagaing Region, and found allies in the Gwe Shans of Madaya in present-day northern Mandalay Region.

Nonetheless, Alaungpaya's forces wiped out the first two Hanthawaddy detachments sent to secure allegiance. Next, they survived the month-long siege by the Hanthawaddy army of several thousand led by Gen. Talaban himself, and drove out the invaders in a rout.[10] The news spread. Soon, Alaungpaya was mustering a proper army from across the Mu valley and beyond, using his family connections and appointing his fellow gentry leaders as his key lieutenants. Success drew fresh recruits everyday from many regions across Upper Burma. Most other resistance forces as well as officers from the disbanded Palace Guards had joined him with such arms as they retained. By October 1752, he had emerged the primary challenger to Hanthawaddy, and driven out all Hanthawaddy outposts north of Ava, and their allies Gwe Shans from Madaya. A dozen legends gathered around his name. Men felt that when he led them they could not fail.[9]

Despite repeated setbacks, Pegu incredibly still did not send in reinforcements even as Alaungpaya consolidated his gains throughout Upper Burma. On 3 January 1754, Konbaung forces retook Ava. Alaungpaya now received homage from the nearer Shan states, as far north as Momeik. In March 1754, Hanthawaddy finally sent the entire army, laying siege to Ava and advancing up to Kyaukmyaung a few miles from Shwebo. But Alaungpaya personally led the Konbaung counterattack, and drove out the southern armies by May.[11]

Lower Burma (1755–1757)

The conflict increasingly turned into an ethnic conflict between the Burman north and the Mon south. The Hanthawaddy leadership escalated "self-defeating" policies of persecuting southern Burmans. They also executed the captive king of Toungoo in October 1754. Alaungpaya was only happy to exploit the situation, encouraging remaining Burman troops to come over to him. Many did.[12]

Swelled by levies from throughout Upper Burma, including Shan, Kachin and Chin contingents, he launched a massive invasion of Lower Burma in a blitz in January 1755. By May, his armies had conquered the entire Irrawaddy delta, and captured Dagon (which he renamed Yangon).[13] But the advance came to a sudden halt at the French-defended main port city of Syriam (Thanlyin), which repelled several Konbaung charges. Alaungpaya sought an alliance with the English, and sought arms. But no alliance or arms materialized. Konbaung forces finally took the city after a 14-month siege in July 1756, ending the French intervention in the Burmese civil war.[14] The Konbaung forces then overcame determined but vastly outnumbered Hanthawaddy defenses, and sacked the Hanthawaddy capital Pegu in May 1757. The 17-year-old kingdom was finished.

Afterwards, Chiang Mai and other states in present-day northwest Thailand, which had been in revolt since 1727, promptly sent in tribute. In the south too, the governors of Martaban (Mottama), and Tavoy (Dawei) also sent tribute.[15]

Farther Shan States (1758–1759)

In 1758, Alaungpaya dispatched an expedition to the northern Shan States (present-day northern and eastern Kachin State, northern Shan State, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan) which had been annexed by the Qing Dynasty of China in the mid-1730s. By early 1759, the Burmese had successfully reestablished their authority.[16] (The Chinese attempt to reconquer the region would lead to the Sino-Burmese War (1765–1769).)

Negrais (1759)

Alaungpaya then turned his attention to the English colony at Negrais at the southwestern tip of the Irrawaddy delta. The English, concerned with the success of French-backed Hanthawaddy, had seized the island back in 1753. During the war with Hanthawaddy, Alaungpaya offered to cede the island to England in return for military help. He even ignored the fact that the English Company's ship, the Arcot, had opportunistically sold arms to the Hanthawaddy forces, and fired on his troops in 1755 during the battle of Syriam. But no military help materialized. The English claimed they could not spare any arms because they too were engaged in their own bitter Seven Years' War against the French.[17] In 1758, Alaungpaya got the news that the English East India Company's agents sold ammunition and arms (500 muskets) to Mon rebels. (British historian GE Harvey claims that the news was a fabrication of Alaungpaya's Armenian advisers, and that the arms provided were five muskets, not 500.)[18] On 6 October 1759, a 2000-strong Konbaung battalion overran the English fort, ending the first English colonial establishment in Burma for the time being.[18][19]

External wars

Manipur (1756, 1758)

Alaungpaya, who grew up watching Manipuri raids ransacking his home region year after year, was determined to return the favor as soon as he was able. While most of his forces were laying siege to Syriam, he sent an expedition to Manipur to "instill respect". In early 1756, the Burmese army defeated the Manipuri army, and ransacked the entire country, which the Manipuris call the First Devastation.[20][21] After Lower Burma was defeated, Alaungpaya himself led another expedition in November 1758, this time to place the Burmese nominee to the Manipuri throne. His armies invaded by the Khumbat route in the Mainpur valley, and overcame fierce Manipuri resistance at Palel, on their march to Imphal, the Manipuri capital. After Palel, the Burmese entered Imphal without firing a shot. The Konbaung armies, according to the Manipuris, committed "unspeakably cruel" crimes against the populace, inflicting "one of the worst disasters in its history".[22] But historian GE Harvey writes: Alaungpaya "was only doing unto them as they had done unto his people".[23] Alaungpaya raised his nominee to the Manipuri throne, and returned with his army. He also brought back many Manipuri cavalry, who became elite cavalry corps (known as Cassay Horse) in the Burmese army. (This was the start of Konbaung dynasty's long, draining involvement in Manipur. The small kingdom would prove a troublesome tributary, regularly putting up rebellions in 1764, 1768–1770, and 1775–1782. The Burmese involvement ceased after 1782 until they came back in 1814.)

Siam (1759–1760)

Main article: Burmese–Siamese War (1759–1760)

After the rainy season of 1759, Alaungpaya and his armies returned to the south to deal with the still-unstable Lower Burma. One year back, a major Mon rebellion broke out, temporarily driving out the Konbaung governor of Pegu. Although the rebellion was put down, Mon resistance was still operating in the upper Tenasserim coast (present-day Mon State), where Konbaung control was still largely nominal.[24] The Siamese provided shelter to the rebel leaders and their resistance troops. Alaungpaya sought assurances from the Siamese king that they not intervene in the Burmese affairs, and to surrender the rebel leaders. But the Siamese refused Burmese demands, and prepared for war.[25]

In December 1759, Alaungpaya's 40,000-strong Burmese army left Martaban to invade Siam via Tennasserim. His second son, Hsinbyushin was his deputy. The Burmese occupied the town of Tenasserim, moved eastward over the Tenasserim Hills to the shore of the Gulf of Siam, turned north and captured the coastal towns, Kuwi, Pranburi and Phetchaburi. The Siamese resistance stiffened as the Burmese approached the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya but nonetheless were driven back, with heavy losses in men, guns and ammunition.[15][24] The Burmese armies reached Ayutthaya in April 1760. Only five days into the siege, however, the Burmese king suddenly fell ill.[24] (The Siamese sources say he was wounded by a cannon shell explosion while he was inspecting the cannon corps at the front.)[26] But Burmese sources state clearly that he fell ill. There was no reason for the Burmese chronicles to hide the truth since it is more glorious for a Burmese king to die of wounds received on the battlefield than to die of a common ailment.[25] His ailment has been stated as "dysentery" or "scrofula"[27]

The Burmese forces began their retreat on 17 April 1760 (3rd waxing of Kason 1122 ME).[28] Only Gen. Minkhaung Nawrahta's 6000 men and 500 Cassay Horsemen remained as the rearguard, and successfully fended off Siamese attacks along the route of retreat.[15]

Although the Burmese did not achieve the ultimate objective of toppling Ayutthaya, they formally annexed the upper Tenasserim coast, and shifted the border down the coast at least to the Tavoy-Mergui corridor. (The Siamese retook the lower coast up to Mergui in 1761.)[29]


Alaungpaya died on Sunday, 11 May 1760 (12th waning of Kason 1122 ME) at the dawn, at Kinywa, near Martaban, after being rushed back from the Siamese front by the advance guard. He had longed for the sights and sounds of home, Shwebo for one last time but it was not to be. His death was made public at Yangon, and his body was taken up stream on a state barge. At Kyaukmyaung landing stage near Shwebo, the whole court came out to meet it, and bore it solemnly through the Hlaingtha Gate of Shwebo. He was buried with the ritual of the kings in the palace city, which once had been his lowly village, amid the mourning of an entire people. He had reigned only eight years, and was not yet 46 when he died. Historian Harvey writes that "men are remembered by the years they use, not by the years they last".[15]

Alaungpaya was succeeded by his eldest son, Naungdawgyi, despite his second son Hsinbyushin's attempt to take over the throne.



Alaungpaya spent most of his reign in the military campaigns. For the administration of his newly acquired territories, he largely continued the polices of the Restored Toungoo kings—the most important aspect of which was to reduce the number of hereditary viceroyships. Aware that hereditary viceroyships were a constant cause of instability, the king appointed governors in most of his newly conquered territories throughout the Irrawaddy valley. By and large, he reappointed existing governors if they submitted to him without a fight. In fact, most ethnic Mon governors of the south retained their position. He appointed only three viceroys: one at the Seven Hill Districts (present-day Magwe Region centered around Mindon), another at Toungoo and the other at Pegu, and none of them was hereditary. He made the viceroyships only because of his special personal relationships with those men. (The viceroy of Toungoo was his younger brother, for example. After the death of the incumbents, the offices automatically became governorships.)[30] In accordance with the Toungoo policy, he allowed hereditary viceroyships only in the peripheral regions like the Shan States and Lan Na. (Later Konbaung kings would gradually reduce the number of hereditary viceroyships even in the Shan States.)[31]

One key policy change that Alaungpaya initiated, and followed by latter Konbaung kings, was the establishment of military colonies and civilian settlement in Lower Burma. This policy would prove instrumental in eclipsing the Mon civilization by the early 19th century.[32]


Most of the non-military work he commissioned came during a few brief hiatuses between campaigns. In 1752, he designated Shwebo as the capital of his kingdom, and enlarged what once was a mid-size village into a sizable city. He built a palace on the model of those erected by the ancient kings. In 1758, he built the Mahananda Lake to supply Shwebo with water. He also built canals by damming the Mu river for agriculture but the work decayed after his death.[23]

His most significant and enduring work was the founding of Yangon. After he conquered a pagoda village of Dagon in 1755, he added settlements with people from his home region. (The Mu-valley place names like Ahlon and Kyaukmyaung still endure to this date in Yangon.) By the eve of the First Anglo-Burmese War, Yangon had replaced Syriam (Thanlyin) as the chief port city of the kingdom.


For the land of the law, in 1755 he commissioned the Manu Kye dhammathat (lit. Manu Kye Law Book), a compilation of existing laws and customs, and of the rulings preserved in previous law books. Although the law book was poorly arranged and offered little explanations on contradictory passages, it attained enormous popularity, owing to its encyclopedic nature and to its being written in simple Burmese with little Pali.[23]

Leadership style

Alaungpaya was a charismatic military "leader of the first quality" who deeply inspired his people to do greater things. He was lavish in his praise and rewards but also merciless failure. According to GE Harvey, "men felt that when he led them they could not fail", and "to be named at one of his investitures was the ambition of men's lives."[33]


Rise of Konbaung Dynasty

The most important legacy of Alaungpaya was the restoration of central rule in Burma for the first time in four decades, and the rise of the Konbaung Dynasty. Alaungpaya, according to the Burmese historian Htin Aung, led a people "divided and broken, humiliated and ashamed" and "left to his successors a people united and confident, holding up their heads again in pride and in glory". But Htin Aung also cautions that Alaungpaya "had led his people in waging war but his leadership was still sorely needed to wage a peace. He had roused his people to the fever heat of nationalism but he was denied the time and the opportunity to calm them down to tolerance and restraint". Indeed, overconfident Konbaung kings that followed him would go to war with all the neighbors in the next seven decades on their way to founding the second largest Burmese empire, until they ran into the British in present-day northeastern India.

Charges of Burman nationalism

Alaungpaya has also been named as the first Burman king to consciously manipulate ethnic identity as a means to military and political domination. To date, Mon nationalists hold him accountable for the utter destruction of the Mon country, and the end of centuries-long Mon dominance of Lower Burma. According to the Mon nationalist historian Nai Tun Thein, "the racial oppression practiced by Alaungpaya was worse than that of previous kings. He ended the cultural autonomy adopted by the Burmese rulers of the Pagan era, and by kings Tabinshwehti and Bayinnaung, and colonized the Mon state".[34]

The charges need to be balanced with the fact that Alaungpaya was merely reacting to, what historian Victor Lieberman calls "dismally self-defeating" policy of ethnic polarization of Restored Hanthawaddy. It was the self-professed Mon kingdom that first attacked his homeland in 1752, and had begun persecutions and pogroms against ethnic Burmans in the south since 1740. (The upstart southern kingdom had portrayed itself "as a quintessentially Mon kingdom, ordained by prophecy, wherein Mon language and cultural symbols would enjoy pride of place, and the Burman north would become a tributary". About 8000 Burmans were massacred in 1740 alone. After executing scores of Avan captives in 1754, the Hanthawaddy leadership obliged all Burmans to wear an earring with the stamp of the Pegu heir-apparent and to cut their hair in Mon fashion as a sign of loyalty to the southern kingdom".)[35] Moreover, while Alaungpaya was merciless in his sacks of Syriam and Pegu where the moats "ran red with gore",[34] he reappointed Mon governors elsewhere who submitted.

In all, Alaungpaya's rule of Lower Burma lasted less than two years, most of which he spent elsewhere fighting. Indeed, it was the latter kings of Konbaung that increasingly suppressed the Mon culture with each Mon rebellion in 1762, 1774, 1783, 1792, and 1824–1826.[12]


Alaungpaya, as the founder of the Third Burmese Empire,[36] is considered one of the three greatest Burmese kings, alongside Anawrahta and Bayinnaung, the founders of the First and Second Burmese Empires, respectively.

  • Team Alaungpaya, one of the five student teams in Burmese schools
  • Statue of Alaungpaya is one of three statues of kings that towers over the Naypyidaw square. The other two are the statues of Anawrahta and Bayinnaung.
  • Statue of Alaungpaya is one of three statues of kings in front of the Defence Services Academy. The other two are the statues of Anawrahta and Bayinnaung.
  • UMS Alaungpaya, Myanmar Navy Corvette
  • Aung Zeya Bridge, a suspension bridge in Yangon
  • Aung Zeya Road, a road in Yangon



  1. Me Yun San, Chief Queen
  2. Shin Pyei
  3. Shin Min Du
  4. Thida Mahay
  5. Shin Kla
  6. Shin Shwe Kho Gyi
  7. Shin Shwe Kho Gale


  1. Naungdawgyi, 1734–1763
  2. Hsinbyushin, 1736–1776
  3. Amyint Mintha, 1743–1777
  4. Bodawpaya, 1745–1819
  5. Pakhan Mintha, 1749–1802
  6. Sitha Mintha, 1753–1782
  7. Pindale Mintha, 1754–1785
  8. Myingun Mintha, d. 1804
  9. Kodaw-gyi, died young
  10. Myawaddy Mintha, d. 1792


  1. Khin Myat Hla, died young
  2. Me Tha, Sri Maha Mangala Devi, Princess of Kanni, b. 1738
  3. Me Myat Hla, 1745–1788
  4. Me Sin, Princess of Pegu, 1747–1767
  5. Me Minkhaung, Princess of Pandaung
  6. Min Shwe Hmya, Princess of Zindaw, b. 1754
  7. Me Nyo Mya, Princess of Pin



  • Lieberman, Victor B. “ Political Consolidation in Burma Under the Early Konbaung Dynasty, 1752-c. 1820.” Journal of Asia History 30.2 (1996): 152–168.

External links

  • Capt. George Baker, Observations at Persaim and in the Journey to Ava and Back in 1755 SOAS
  • Treaty between Alaung-hpaya and the British East India Company in 1757 SOAS
  • Robert Lester, Proceedings of an Embassy to the King of Ava, Pegu, &C. in 1757 SOAS
  • Capt. Walter Alves, Diary of the Proceedings of an Embassy to Burma in 1760 SOAS
  • Michael Symes, An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava, sent by the Governor-General of India, in the year 1795, detailed descriptions of Alaungpaya's military campaigns in the south during the 1750s.
  • The Golden Letter of King Alaungphaya to King Georg II., 7 May 1756, description by the Lower Saxony State Library, owner of the letter (German)
Born: 24 September 1714 Died: 11 May 1760
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Mahadhammaraza Dipadi
King of Burma
29 February 1752 – 11 May 1760
Succeeded by

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