BANTEN, THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOMOn 23 June 1596, four battered ships of the first Dutch trading fleet under Cornelis de Houtman anchored off the sprawling capital of Bantam (Banten). Avoiding Portuguese strongholds and patrols and having lost more than half of the crew to disease and privations, they had journeyed 14 months before the vessels arrived at the legendary kingdom of pepper and rice. 17th-century Banten was the master of West Java, Sunda Strait and Lampung, southern Sumatra. It was an emporium to the archipelago and beyond, supplying rice to Portuguese-occupied Melaka and its famed pepper to the courts of India and China. The wealthy sultanate was also a nexus of religious learning, attracting Islamic scholars from the boundaries of the Indian Ocean.
At its height, the kingdom was one of the largest settlements within insular Southeast Asia. Its cosmopolitan population included Japanese mercenaries, Portuguese man-of-arms, and Gujarati trader-sailors. Merchandise from Europe, China, Japan, Indian Ocean and the archipelago were found throughout Banten’s many markets. It was at Banten where the English established their first East India Company factory in the Far East. However, within a century of the arrival of the Dutch, the sultanate devolved into a client state of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company), eventually dissolving and becoming extinct in 1830. Today, only ruins such as Fort Speelwijk and Surosowan Palace remain, attesting to the city’s once noble and neglected past.
Join archaeologist Lim Chen Sian as he explores the rise and fall of the forgotten kingdom of Banten in this fascinating talk.