Pagan Empire war mural from the 15th century CE.

The area today known as Myanmar, formerly Burma, has been a land of contention and conquest since the beginning.

The earliest known settlers in Myanmar were the Mon and Pyu people, originating from central Asia and parts of the Himalayas, respectively. In 302 BCE, the Mon established their first kingdom in southern coastal Myanmar while, in the 1st century BCE, the Pyu settled in northern Myanmar. The Mon were the first people in Myanmar to practice Buddhism, which was adopted from Sri Lanka.

The Bamar people were next and created the nation we know as Myanmar. The Pagan (Bagan) Empire first absorbed the Pyu in 850 CE and gained enough power to overthrow the Mon in 1057 CE. King Anawrahta united all of Myanmar for the first time in history and established Theravada Buddhism as the official religion. This remains the main religion practiced in Myanmar today.

Myanmar circa 1530 (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Mongols captured the Pagan capital temporarily from 1289 until the Mongol's collapse in the late 14th century.  The Bamar rose to power once again as the Ava Kingdom, this time less absolute. They met defiance in every direction - Mon to the south, Arakan to the west, but mostly the Confederation of Shan States to the north and east. The Shan overpowered Ava in 1527, leading many Bamars to flee to tiny Toungoo in the southeast. This became the new hub for Burmese rule. The Toungoo Dynasty became the first to reunite Myanmar to its historic limits plus much more. By the end of the century, Toungoo was the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia. It extended from western India through modern day Laos and Thailand. While its reach did not last, the Toungoo maintained power until 1752.

The next big concern for the Burmese was the West. Traders from Europe, such as Marco Polo, started trickling their way into Asia in search of spices and other riches. Naturally, they came in contact with Myanmar and were awestruck by the countless Buddhist temples encrusted with gold and gemstones. The Portuguese were the first to set up trade posts along the coast in the 16th century. Next, they invaded northern Myanmar via India. Until the fall of the Toungoo Dynasty in 1752, there were endless clashes between the local Burmese and troops of Portuguese, Brits, French, and Dutch -- all in the name of trade.

The British Era

By the middle of the 18th century, the British Empire had expanded into Asia. They wanted to control the wealth of natural resources - precious gems and metals, hardwoods, and abundant rice - found here. Unfortunately for Myanmar, it sat in between the two British colonies of India and Singapore.

Depiction of the First Anglo-Burmese War in the 1820s (Image courtesy of

The British initiated a series of three Anglo-Burmese wars, all of which ended with British victories. The first one resulted in the loss of western and southern peninsular Myanmar. The second was provoked as a way for the British to secure a land route from India to the port of Singapore. In 1885, the third war ended with the British claiming the entire country and making it a province of India.


Additional information to come soon.