Mongol invasion of Java

The Mongol invasion of Java was a military effort made by Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty (one of the fragments of the Mongol Empire), to invade Java, an island in modern Indonesia. In 1293, he sent a large invasion fleet to Java with 20,000[4] to 30,000 soldiers. This was a punitive expedition against King Kertanegara of Singhasari, who had refused to pay tribute to the Yuan and maimed one of its ministers. However, it ended with failure for the Mongols.

Mongol invasion of Java
Part of the Mongol invasions and Kublai Khan's Campaigns
DateDecember 1292 – June 1293 (7 months)
East Java, the city of Daha and Majapahit. Along the river Brantas/Kali Mas.
Result Majapahit victory
Yuan dynasty Kingdom of Singhasari
Kediri Kingdom
Majapahit Empire
Commanders and leaders
Kublai Khan (supreme commander)
Gaoxing (generals)
Ike Mese
Jayakatwang (supreme commander)
Raden Wijaya (general, later ruler – allied to Yuan invaders in earlier phases of the war)
Aria Adikara (naval commander)
20,000–30,000 soldiers
1,000 ships

More than 100,000 soldiers (Mongol claim) 20.000–30.000 soldiers (modern estimates)[1]

Unknown number of ships
Casualties and losses

More than 3,000 elite soldiers killed[2]
60% or 12,000–18,000 total killed[3][1]
Unknown number of soldiers taken prisoner

Unknown number of ships destroyed
More than 5,000 killed and drowned


Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty, the principal khanate of the Mongol Empire, had sent envoys to many states to ask them to put themselves under his protection and pay tribute. Men Shi or Meng-qi (孟琪), one of his ministers who was sent to Java, was not well received there.[5] The king of Singhasari, Kertanagara, was offended by his proposal and branded his face with a hot iron as was done to common thieves, cut his ears, and scornfully sent him on his way.

Kublai Khan was shocked and ordered a punitive expedition against Kertanagara, whom he labeled a barbarian, in 1292. The campaign also has other purpose. According to Kubilai khan himself, if the Mongol forces were able to defeat Java, the other countries around it would submit themselves.[2] That way, the Yuan Mongol Dynasty could control the Asian sea trade routes, because of the strategic geographical position of the archipelago in trading.[1]

According to the Yuan shi, the history of the Yuan dynasty, 20,000–30,000 men were collected from Fujian, Jiangxi and Huguang in Southern China, along with 1,000 ships and enough provisions for a year.[6] The officers were the Mongol Shi-bi, the Uyghur Ike Mese, and the Chinese Gaoxing.

Meanwhile, after defeating Malayu Dharmasraya in Sumatra in 1290, Singhasari became the most powerful kingdom in the region. Kertanegara sent a massive army to Sumatra in this Pamalayu campaign. However, seizing the opportunity of the lack of army guarding the capital, in 1292 Jayakatwang, the duke of Kediri (Gelang-gelang), a vassal state of Singhasari, revolted against Kertanegara. Jayakatwang‘s revolt was assisted by Arya Wiraraja,[7]:199 a regent from Sumenep on the island of Madura, who secretly despised Kertanegara.

The Kediri (Gelang-gelang) army attacked Singhasari simultaneously from both north and south flanks. The king only realised the invasion from the north and sent his son-in-law, Nararya Sanggramawijaya (Raden Wijaya) northward to vanquish the rebellion. The northern attack was quashed, but the southern attack successfully remained undetected until they reached and sacked the unprepared capital city of Kutaraja. Jayakatwang usurped and killed Kertanagara during the Tantra sacred ceremony, thus bringing an end to the Singhasari kingdom.

Having learned of the fall of the Singhasari capital of Kutaraja to Kediri rebellion, Raden Wijaya tried to return and defend Singhasari but failed. He and his three colleagues, Ranggalawe, Sora and Nambi, went to exile to Madura under the protection of the regent Arya Wiraraja, Nambi's father, who then turned to Jayakatwang's side. Kertanegara's son-in-law, Raden Wijaya, submitted to Kediri, brokered by Arya Wiraraja and was pardoned by Jayakatwang. Wijaya was then given permission to establish a new settlement in Tarik timberland. The new settlement was named Majapahit, which was taken from maja fruit that had a bitter taste in that timberland (maja is the fruit name and pahit means bitter).

Military composition

Kublai chose the troops from Southern China because they were more lightly armored. Light armor was deemed more suitable in Java than heavy armor, which is a tropical country, as noted by the Khan himself. The Yuan new army's armor rate was only 20%, and the Northern Chinese army's was slightly more. They had a lot of bows, shields and other ballistic weapons. The heavily armored infantry guards behind these were armed with a spear and a heavy axe. Mongolian soldiers also brought horses. History of Yuan also mentioned the use of gunpowder weapons, in the form of cannon (Chinese: Pao).[2] What kind of ships used for the campaign is not mentioned in the Yuanshi, but Worcester estimates that Yuan junks were 11 m (36 ft) in beam and over 30 m (100 ft) long. By using the ratio between the number of ships and total soldiers, each junk would have been able to carry about 20–30 men.[8]

Yuan Shi recorded that the Javanese army had more than 100,000 men. This is now believed to be an exaggerated or mistaken number. Modern estimates place the Javanese forces at around the same size as the Mongol army, of around 20,000 to 30,000 men.[1] Military forces in various parts of Southeast Asia were lightly armored. As is common in Southeast Asia, most of the Javanese forces were composed of temporarily conscripted commoners led by the warrior and noble castes.[2] The Javanese navy, however, was more advanced than the Chinese. Javanese junks were more than 50 m (164 ft) long, able to carry 500–1000 men, and constructed in multiple thick planks that rendered artillery useless.[9]


The Yuan forces departed from the southern port of Quanzhou,[10] traveled along the coast of Trần dynasty Dai Viet and Champa along the way to their primary target. The small states of Malay and Sumatra submitted and sent envoys to them, and Yuan commanders left darughachis there. It is known that the Yuan forces stopped at Ko-lan (Biliton) to plan their strategy. In February 1293, Ike Mese departed first to bring the Emperor's order to Java. The main fleet then sailed to Karimun Jawa, and from there sailed to Tuban. As noted in Kidung Panji-Wijayakrama, they probably looted the coastal village of Tuban. After that, the commanders decided to split the forces into two. The first will advance inland, the second will follow them using boats. Shi Bi sailed to the estuary of Sedayu, and from there went to a small river called Kali Mas (which is a distributary of Brantas river). Land troops under Gao Xing and Ike Mese, which consist of cavalry and infantry, went to Du-Bing-Zu. Three commanders sailed using fast boats from Sedayu to Majapahit's floating bridge and then joined with the main troops on the way to Kali Mas river.[9]:112[3]:22

When the Yuan army arrived in Java, Wijaya allied himself with the army to fight against Jayakatwang and gave the Mongols a map of the country Kalang (Gelang-gelang, another name for Kediri). According to the Yuan-shi, Wijaya attacked Jayakatwang without success when he heard of the arrival of the Yuan navy. Then he requested their aid. In return, Yuan generals demanded his submission to their emperor, and he gave it.[9]:113[3]:23

On the 1 March, all of the troops gathered in Kali Mas. At the headwaters of the river was the palace of Tumapel (Singhasari) king. This river was the entryway to Java, and here they decided to battle. A Javanese minister blocked the river using boats. The Yuan commanders then made a crescent-shaped encampment at the bank of the river. They instructed the waterborne troops, cavalry and infantry to move forward together, scaring the Javanese minister. The minister abandoned his boats and fled in the night. More than 100 large boats used to block the river were seized by Yuan forces.[9]:114[3]:23

A large portion of the army was tasked to guard the estuary of Kali Mas, meanwhile, the main troops advanced. Raden Wijaya's messenger said that the king of Kediri had chased him to Majapahit and begged the Yuan army to protect him. Because the position of Kediri's army couldn't be determined, the Yuan army returned to Kali Mas. Upon hearing information from Ike Mese that the enemy's army would arrive that night, the Yuan army departed to Majapahit.[9]:114[3]:24

On 7 March, Kediri's army arrived from 3 directions to attack Wijaya. In the morning of 8th, Ike Mese led his troops to attack the enemy in the southwest, but couldn't find them. Gao Xing battled the enemy in the southeast direction, eventually forcing them to flee into the mountains. Near midday, enemy troops came from the southeast. Gao Xing attacked again and managed to defeat them in the evening.[9]:114[3]:24

On 15 March, the troops split into 3 to attack Kediri, and it was agreed that on the 19th they would meet up in Daha to begin the attack after hearing cannon fire. The first troops sailed along the river. The second troops led by Ike Mese marched along the eastern riverbank while the third troops led by Gao Xing marched along the western riverbank. Raden Wijaya and his troops marched in the rear.[9]:115[3]:24

The army arrived at Daha on 19 March. The prince of Kediri defended the city with his troops. The battle lasted from 6.00 to 14.00. After attacking 3 times, Kediri forces were defeated and fled. At the same time that the Mongol and Kediri forces clashed, Majapahit forces attacked the city from another direction and quickly defeat the guards. Jayakatwang's palace was looted and burned.[11] A few thousands Kediri troops tried to cross the river but drowned, while 5,000 were killed in the battle. King Jayakatwang retreated to his fortress only to find out that his palace has been burned. The Yuan army then rounded up Daha and called the king to surrender. In the afternoon Jayakatwang declared his submission to the Mongols.[9]:115[3]:24

Once Jayakatwang was captured by the Mongols, Raden Wijaya returned to Majapahit, ostensibly to prepare his tribute settlement, leaving his allies to celebrate their victory. Shi-bi and Ike Mese allowed Raden Wijaya to go back to his country to prepare his tribute and a new letter of submission, but Gaoxing disliked the idea and he warned the other two. Wijaya asked the Yuan forces to come to his country unarmed.[9]:115[3]:24 Two hundred unarmed Yuan soldiers led by two officers were sent to Raden Wijaya's country, but on 19 April Raden Wijaya quickly mobilized his forces again and ambushed the Yuan convoy. After that Raden Wijaya marched his forces to the main Yuan camp and launched a surprise attack, killing many and sending the rest running back to their ships. Upon reaching a temple, the Yuan army was ambushed by the Javanese army. They managed to make a breakthrough in the middle, continuing their 123 km rout eastward. Raden Wijaya did not engage the Mongols head on, instead, he used all possible tactics to harass and reduce the enemy army bit by bit. During the rout, the Yuan army lost all of the spoils that had been captured beforehand.[9]:115[3]:25

A number of Mongol ships were attacked and destroyed by Javanese fleet commanded by rakryan mantri Aria Adikara.[12][13] The Yuan forces had to withdraw in confusion, as the monsoon winds to carry them home would soon end, leaving them to wait in a hostile island for six months. After all of the troops had boarded the ships on the coast, they battled the Javanese fleet. After repelling it, they sailed back on 24 April to Quanzhou in 68 days.[2] The Yuan army lost more than 3,000 of its elite soldiers with total losses of 12,000–18,000 soldiers,[1][3] with an unknown number of soldiers taken prisoner and unknown number of ships destroyed.[10][12][2] June 1293, the army arrived in China. They brought Jayakatwang's children and some of his officers, numbering more than 100. They also acquired the nation's map, population registration and a letter with golden writings from the king.[2]


The three generals, demoralized by the considerable loss of their elite soldiers due to the ambush, went back to their empire with the surviving soldiers. Upon their arrival, Shi-bi was condemned to receive 70 lashes and have a third of his property confiscated for allowing the catastrophe. Ike Mese also was reprimanded and a third of his property taken away. But Gaoxing was awarded 50 taels of gold for protecting the soldiers from a total disaster. Later, Shi-bi and Ike Mese were shown mercy, and the emperor restored their reputation and property.[14]

This failure was the last expedition in Kublai Khan's reign. Majapahit, in contrast, became the most powerful state of its era in the region.[15] Kublai Khan planned another invasion of Java with 100,000 men strong army, but this plan was cancelled after his death.[2] Travellers passing the region, such as Ibn Battuta and Odoric of Pordenone, however noted that Java had been attacked by the Mongols several times, always ending in failure.[16][17] Gunung Butak inscription from 1294 mentions Aria Adikara intercepting a further Mongol invasion and successfully defeating it before landing in Java.[13]


  1. Nugroho, Irawan Djoko (2011). Majapahit Peradaban Maritim. Jakarta: Suluh Nuswantara Bakti.
  2. Song Lian. History of Yuan.
  3. W.P Groeneveldt (1880). Notes on the Malay Archipelago and Malacca Compiled from Chinese Sources. Batavia.
  4. Weatherford, Jack (2004), Genghis khan and the making of the modern world, New York: Random House, p. 239, ISBN 0-609-80964-4
  5. Grousset, Rene (1988), Empire of steppes, Wars in Japan, Indochina and Java, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, p. 288, ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
  6. Weatherford (2004), and also Man (2007).
  7. Cœdès, George (1968). The Indianized states of Southeast Asia. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824803681.
  8. Worcester, G. R. G. (1971). The Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0870213350.
  9. Nugroho, Irawan Djoko (2011). Majapahit Peradaban Maritim. Suluh Nuswantara Bakti. ISBN 9786029346008.
  10. Sen, Tan Ta; Dasheng Chen (2009), Cheng Ho and Islam in Southeast Asia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 186, ISBN 9789812308375
  11. Berg, C.C. (1931). Kidung Harsa-Wijaya. S-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.
  12. Berg, C.C. (1930). Rangga Lawe, Middeljavaansche Historische Roman, BJ 1. Weltevreden: Albert & Co.
  13. Nugroho, Irawan Djoko (2009). Meluruskan Sejarah Majapahit. Ragam Media. ISBN 9793840161.
  14. Man 2007, p. 281.
  15. Saunders, J. J. (2001), The history of Mongol conquests, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-1766-7.
  16. da Pordenone, Odoric (2002). The Travels of Friar Odoric. W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
  17. "Ibn Battuta's Trip: Chapter 9 Through the Straits of Malacca to China 1345–1346". The Travels of Ibn Battuta A Virtual Tour with the 14th Century Traveler. Archived from the original on 17 March 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013.

Further reading

  • Bade, David W. (2002), Khubilai Khan and the Beautiful Princess of Tumapel: the Mongols Between History and Literature in Java, Ulaanbaatar: A. Chuluunbat
  • Man, John (2007), Kublai Khan: The Mongol king who remade China, London: Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-81718-3
  • Levathes, Louise (1994), When China Ruled the Seas, New York: Simon & Schuster, p. 54, ISBN 0-671-70158-4, The ambitious khan [Kublai Khan] also sent fleets into the South China Seas to attack Annam and Java, whose leaders both briefly acknowledged the suzerainty of the dragon throne
  • d'Ohsson, Constantin Mouradgea (2002), "Chapitre 3 Kublai Khan, Tome III", Histoire des Mongols, depuis Tchinguiz-Khan jusqu'à Timour Bey ou Tamerlan, Boston: Adamant Media, ISBN 978-0-543-94729-1
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