Bruneian Empire

The Bruneian Empire or Empire of Brunei (/brˈn/ broo-NY), also known as Sultanate of Brunei, was a Malay sultanate, centred in Brunei on the northern coast of Borneo island in Southeast Asia. Bruneian rulers converted to Islam around the 15th century, when it grew substantially since the fall of Malacca to the Portuguese,[3][4] extending throughout coastal areas of Borneo and the Philippines, before it declined in the 17th and 18th centuries.[5]

Empire of Brunei
Bruneian Sultanate

Empayar Brunei
Vassal of Majapahit Empire (1368-1425)

Sovereign state (1425-1888)
CapitalKota Batu
Kampong Ayer
Brunei Town[1]
Common languagesBrunei Malay, Old Malay, Old Tagalog, Arabic and Bornean languages
Sunni Islam
GovernmentIslamic Absolute monarchy
Sultan (until last empire) 
Sultan Muhammad Shah
Sharif Ali
Muhammad Hassan
Omar Ali Saifuddin II
Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin
 Sultanate established
 Became protectorate of British
CurrencyBarter, Cowrie, Piloncitos, and later Brunei pitis
Preceded by
Succeeded by
History of Brunei#Before the Sultanate
Sultanate of Sulu
Sultanate of Sarawak
Spanish East Indies
Dutch East Indies
Raj of Sarawak
Crown Colony of Labuan
North Borneo
Today part of Brunei


Understanding the history of the Bruneian Empire is quite difficult since it is hardly mentioned in contemporary sources of its time, as well as there being a scarcity of evidence of its nature. No local or indigenous sources exist to provide evidence for any of this. As a result, Chinese texts have been relied on to construct the history of early Brunei.[6] Boni in Chinese sources most likely refers to Western Borneo, while Poli 婆利, probably located in Sumatra, is claimed by local authorities to refer to Brunei as well.


Pre-empire history

In the 14th century, Brunei seems to be subjected to Java. The Javanese manuscript Nagarakretagama, written by Prapanca in 1365, mentioned Barune as the vassal state of Majapahit,[7] which had to make an annual tribute of 40 katis of camphor.


Following the presence of Portuguese after the fall of Malacca, Portuguese merchants traded regularly with Brunei from 1530 and described the capital of Brunei as surrounded by a stone wall.[3][8]

During the rule of Bolkiah, the fifth Sultan, the empire held control over coastal areas of northwest Borneo (present-day Brunei, Sarawak and Sabah) and reached Seludong (present-day Manila), Sulu Archipelago including parts of the island of Mindanao.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] In the 16th century, the Brunei empire's influence extended as far as Kapuas River delta in West Kalimantan. The Malay Sultanate of Sambas in West Kalimantan and Sultanate of Sulu in Southern Philippines in particular developed dynastic relations with the royal house of Brunei. Other Malay sultans of Pontianak, Samarinda as far as Banjarmasin, treated the Sultan of Brunei as their leader. The true nature of Brunei's relations to other Malay Sultanates of coastal Borneo and Sulu archipelago is still a subject of study, as to whether it was a vassal state, an alliance, or just a ceremonial relationship. Other regional polities also exercised their influence upon these sultanates. The Sultanate of Banjar (present-day Banjarmasin) for example, was also under the influence of Demak in Java.


Bruneian territorial losses from 1400 to 1890.

By the end of 17th century, Brunei entered a period of decline brought on by internal strife over royal succession, colonial expansion of the European powers, and piracy.[5] The empire lost much of its territory due to the arrival of the western powers such as the Spanish in the Philippines, the Dutch in southern Borneo and the British in Labuan, Sarawak and North Borneo. By 1725, Brunei had many of its supply routes had been taken over by the Sulu Sultanate.[17]

In 1888, Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin later appealed to the British to stop further encroachment.[18] In the same year British signed a "Treaty of Protection" and made Brunei a British protectorate[5] until 1984 when it gained independence.[19][20]


The empire was divided into three traditional land systems known as Kerajaan (Crown Property), Kuripan (official property) and Tulin (hereditary private property).[21]



  1. Hussainmiya 2010, pp. 67.
  2. Yunos 2008.
  3. Holt, Lambton & Lewis 1977, pp. 129.
  4. Andaya & Andaya 2015, pp. 159.
  5. CIA Factbook 2017.
  6. Jamil Al-Sufri 2000.
  7. Suyatno 2008.
  8. Lach 1994, pp. 580.
  9. Saunders 2013, pp. 60.
  10. Herbert & Milner 1989, pp. 99.
  11. Lea & Milward 2001, pp. 16.
  12. Hicks 2007, pp. 34.
  13. Church 2012, pp. 16.
  14. Eur 2002, pp. 203.
  15. Abdul Majid 2007, pp. 2.
  16. Welman 2013, pp. 8.
  17. de Vienne, Marie-Sybille (2015). Brunei: From the Age of Commerce to the 21st Century. National University of Singapore Press. pp. 39–74. ISBN 9789971698188.
  18. World Atlas 2017.
  19. Abdul Majid 2007, pp. 4.
  20. Sidhu 2009, pp. 92.
  21. McArthur & Horton 1987, p. 102.


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  • Brunei Museum Journal (1986). The Brunei Museum Journal. The Museum of Brunei Darussalam.
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  • Lach, Donald F. (1994). Asia in the Making of Europe, Volume I: The Century of Discovery. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-46732-0.
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  • Oxford Business Group (2011). The Report: Sabah. Oxford Business Group. ISBN 978-1-907065-36-1.
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Further reading

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