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The Demak Sultanate was a Javanese Muslim state located on Java's north coast in Indonesia, at the site of the present day city of Demak.[1] A port fief to the Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit kingdom thought to have been founded in the last quarter of the 15th century, it was influenced by Islam brought by Muslim traders from China, Gujarat, Arabia and also from Islamic kingdoms in the region, such as Samudra Pasai, Malacca and Bani (Muslim) Champa. The sultanate was the first Muslim state in Java, and once dominated most of the northern coast of Java and southern Sumatra.[2]

Despite its short period, the sultanate played an important role in the establishment of Islam in Indonesia, especially on Java and neighboring area.


The origin of Demak was the settlement named Glagah Wangi. According to tradition, the first person that Raden Patah encountered in Glagah Wangi was a lady named Nyai Lembah, from Rawa Pening. Nyai Lembah invited Raden Patah to settle in Glagah Wangi, which later was renamed as Demak Bintara. There are several suggestions on the origin of the name "Demak". According to Indonesian historian Poerbatjaraka, the name derived from Javanese term delemak which means "watery soil" or "swamp". According to Hamka the name was derived from Arabic term dimak which means "tears" to imply the hardship endured during the struggle to establish Islam in Java. According to another historian, Sutjipto Wiryosuparto, the name Demak was derived from the Kawi language which means "heirloom" or "gift".[1]:14



During the reign of Wikramawardhana of Majapahit, a series of Ming armada naval expeditions led by Zheng He,[3]:241–242 a Muslim Chinese admiral, arrived in Java several times spanning the period from 1405 to 1433. This Chinese expedition supported the establishment of Muslim state of Malacca in 1400s, subsequently had assisted for the establishment of Muslim Chinese, Arab and Malay communities in northern ports of Java such as Semarang, Demak, Tuban, and Ampel; thus Islam began to gain a foothold on the northern coast of Java.[4]

Demak's origins are uncertain although it was apparently founded in the last quarter of the 15th century by a Muslim, known as Raden Patah (from Arabic name: "Fatah", also called "Pate Rodin" in Portuguese records, or "Jin Bun" in Chinese record). There is evidence that he had Chinese ancestry and perhaps was named Cek Ko-po.[5]

According to tradition, Sunan Ampel ordered Raden Patah to establish an Islamic learning center in the Glagah Wangi village in coastal Central Java. Soon the village grew to become the center for dawah activities among distinguished Islamic proselytizers, traditionally known as Wali Songo or "the nine saints". At that time Glagah Wangi was a small fiefdom belongs to Majapahit. It was the only Majapahit's fiefdom that its ruler was a Muslim.[6] Then the name was changed to Demak, and it grew further by the establishment of madrasa Islamic school and pesantren boarding school.[1]:13

Raden Patah

The foundation of Demak is traditionally attributed to Raden Patah (r. 1475–1518), a Javanese noble related to Majapahit royalty. At least one account stated that he was the son of Kertabhumi, who reigned as king Brawijaya V of Majapahit (1468–1478).

According to tradition, Raden Patah was the son of Majapahit King Kertabhumi with his concubine, a Chinese princess resided in Majapahit palace. Unknowingly, when she was pregnant with the king's child, she was given away to be betrothed with the regent of Palembang, a Majapahit's vassal state. There Raden Patah was born in 1448 with the name Raden Hasan. After coming of age, Raden Hasan went to Ampel Denta in Java (now Surabaya) to learn from Sunan Ampel, a prominent ulama. Sunan Ampel betrothed him with his daughter, Nyai Ageng Malaka. Subsequently, in 1470s Raden Patah was sent by Sunan Ampel to establish a new settlement in Glagah Wangi, Central Java. Through Sunan Ampel's recommendation, Raden Hasan was appointed as the regent of Glagah Wangi by King Kertabhumi of Majapahit, with the title Adipati Bintara.[1]:16 Dates for the end of the Majapahit Empire range from 1478, traditionally described in sinengkalan or chandrasengkala (chronogram) Sirna ilang kertaning bhumi that is correspond to 1400 Saka,[7](pp37 and 100)) to 1517. The year 1478 was the year of Sudarma Wisuta war, when Ranawijaya's (Girindrawardhana) army under general Udara (who later became vice-regent) breached Trowulan defences and killed Kertabumi in his palace,[8][9] but not the actual fall of Majapahit itself as a whole.

Demak sent reinforcements under Sunan Ngudung, who later died in battle and was replaced by Sunan Kudus, but they came too late to save Kertabumi although they managed to repel the Ranawijaya army. This event is mentioned in Trailokyapuri (Jiwu) and Petak inscription, where Ranawijaya claimed that he already defeated Kertabhumi and reunited Majapahit as one Kingdom.[10] Ranawijaya ruled from 1474 to 1498 with the formal name Girindrawardhana, with Udara as his vice-regent. This event led to the war between Demak and Daha, since Demak rulers were descendants of Kertabhumi.

As the response of the collapse of Kertabhumi of Trowulan and the rise of Girindrawardhana of Daha in 1478, Demak decided no longer obliged to sent tribute to Majapahit central court and declared its independence. At that time Demak was temporary led by Sunan Giri (Prabu Satmoto). Three years later, the Islamic kingdom of Demak was established under the chronogram Geni mati siniram janmi which corresponds to 1403 Saka or 1481 CE.[1]:13 Raden Hasan was crowned by members of Wali Songo under the new regnal name as Sultan Syah Alam Akbar Al-Fattah, thus in Javanese tongue he was more popularly known as Raden Patah.[1]:17

Demak Great Mosque built by Sultan Al-Fattah in late 15th century in traditional Javanese tajug stacked pyramidal roof.

As the sign of his new reign, Raden Patah built a new Grand Mosque as the center of Islamic teaching. He appointed members of Wali Songo as advisors within his new government; Sunan Kudus as qadi (great judge of religious law), Sunan Giri as mufti, Sunan Kalijaga as imam and advisor.[1]:17

A Chinese chronicle in a temple in Semarang states that Raden Patah founded the town of Demak in a marshy area to the north of Semarang. After the collapse of Majapahit, its various dependencies and vassals broke free, including northern Javanese port towns like Demak.[11]

Demak managed to gain hegemony over other Javanese trading ports on the northern coast of Java such as Semarang, Jepara, Tuban, and Gresik.[12]

The supremacy of Raden Patah was illustrated by Tome Pires," ... should de Albuquerque make peace with the Lord of Demak, all of Java will almost be forced to make peace with him... The Lord of Demak stood for all of Java".[13] Apart from Javanese city-states, Raden Patah also gained overlordship of the ports of Jambi and Palembang in eastern Sumatra, which produced commodities such as lignaloes and gold.[13] As most of its power was based on trade and control of coastal cities, Demak can be considered as a thalassocracy.


An early 18th century map of Java. Note that only major trading ports on the northern coast were known to the Europeans. From west to east: * Bantam (Banten) * Xacatara (Jayakarta) * Cherebum (Cirebon) * Taggal (Tegal) * Damo (Demak) * Iapara (Jepara) * Tubam (Tuban) * Sodaio (Sedayu, now near Gresik) * Surubaya (Surabaya)

Raden Patah's son, or possibly his brother, led Demak's brief domination in Java. He was known as Trenggana, and later Javanese traditions say he gave himself the title Sultan. It appears that Trenggana had two reigns—c 1505–1518 and c 1521–1546—between which his brother in law, Yunus of Jepara occupied the throne.[5]

Between 1513 and 1518, Demak waged war against Patih Udara of Daha, the successor state of Majapahit located in today's Kediri city. The main Demak army led by Raden Patah and Sunan Kudus marched overland through Madiun, while Demak navy fleet led by Pati Unus took sea route through Sedayu. Demak managed to consolidate its power to defeat Daha in 1518, because it was more accepted as the legitimate successor of Majapahit, since Raden Patah claimed as a direct descendant of King Kertabhumi who perished during the Girindrawardana invasion of Trowulan back in 1478. Not long after defeating Daha, in 1518 Raden Patah died.[1]:18

Pati Unus

The 1573 map by Egnazio Danti showing Dema on the center north coast of Iava Magiore (Java).

Raden Patah was succeeded by his brother-in-law Pati Unus or Adipati Yunus (r. 1518–1521), king of Jepara.[5] Before ascending to Demak throne, he was a ruler of Jepara, a vassal state to the north of Demak. Pati Unus ruled under the regnal name Sultan Syah Alam Akbar II.[1]:19 He was known for his two attempts in 1511 and 1521 to seize the port of Malacca from the control of Portuguese.

In Suma Oriental, Tomé Pires refer to him as "Pate Onus" or "Pate Unus", brother in-law of "Pate Rodim" (Raden Patah), the ruler of Demak. During the invasions he managed to mobilize vessels from Javanese coastal cities to Malay Peninsula. Javanese ports turned against Portuguese for a number of reason, the main one being opposition to Portuguese insistence on a monopoly of the spices trade. The invasion fleet consisted of around 100 vessels (1st expedition - 1513) and 375 vessels (2nd expedition - 1521), but both of the invasion were repelled by the Portuguese. The destruction of this navy proved devastating to the Javanese ports, the trading activity in these ports became lethargic.[13]

This campaign attempt ended with failures and loss of the King's life in 1521. He was later remembered as Pangeran Sabrang Lor or "the Prince who crossed (the Java Sea) to North (Malay peninsula)".

Sultan Trenggana

Pati Unus was childless when he died, thus led to crisis of Demak succession. After the death of Pati Unus, the throne was contested between his brothers; the older Raden Kikin and Raden Trenggana the youngest. According to tradition, Prince Prawata also known as Raden Mukmin, the eldest son of Prince Trenggana, stole Keris Setan Kober, a powerful magical kris from Sunan Kudus, and used it to assassinate his uncle Raden Kikin by the river, since then Raden Kikin also referred to as Sekar Seda Lepen (flower that fell by the river). With the help from his son, Raden Trenggana rise as Sultan. The Pati Unus' brother-in-law, Trenggana (r. 1522–1546), crowned by Sunan Gunungjati (one of the Wali Songo), became the third and the greatest ruler of Demak. He conquered the Hindu-based resistance in Central Java. Trenggana oversaw the spread of Demak's influence to the east and west.[5]

During Trenggana's reign, a young man came to his court to offer his service for the sultan. He came back from Mecca after several years spending times studying Islam there, and learned that his hometown in Pasai was captured by the Portuguese infidels. His name was Fatahillah, who soon rose to become Demak's renowned military general. Tradition mentioned that the Sultan was very much impressed by Fatahillah's imposing figure and charisma also his knowledge in Islam, the Sultan betrothed him with his daughter, also the widow of deceased Pati Unus.[1]:21

Following the disclosure of a news of Portuguese-Sunda alliance in 1522, the Sultan ordered Fatahillah to capture Banten and Sunda Kelapa ports of Lingdom of Sunda in 1527. Sunda Kelapa was later renamed Jayakarta. From this, he created the Sultanate of Banten as vassal-state under Hasanudin, son of Gunungjati. Sunan Gunungjati crowned Hasanudin king of Banten with authority bestowed by the Sultan of Demak who, in turn, offered Hasanudin his sister's hand in marriage. Thus, a new dynasty was born at the same time as a new vassal-state was created.[14]:18

Trenggana spread Demak's influence eastward and during his second campaign, he conquered the last Javanese Hindu-Buddhist state, the remnants of Majapahit. Majapahit had been in decline since the late 15th century and was in an advanced state of collapse at the time of the Demak's conquest.[5] Demak was able to subdue other major ports and its reach extended into some inland areas of East Java that are not thought to have been Islamised at the time. Although evidence is limited, it is known that Demak's conquests covered much of Java: Tuban, an old Majapahit port mentioned in Chinese sources from the 11th century, was conquered c. 1527.

He appointed his daughter, Ratna Kencana (popularly known as Ratu Kalinyamat), and her husband Sultan Hadlirin, as the ruler of Kalinyamat and Jepara. He also appointed Jaka Tingkir as the duke of Pajang and gave his daughter in the hand of marriage to Jaka Tingkir.

After his success on conquering Western Java north coast by establishing the Banten Sultanate, and also captured some coastal ports in East Java that previously belonged to Majapahit, his attention shifted further east to the Hindu principality of Pasuruan. His campaign ended when he was killed in Pasuruan, East Java in 1546. According to tradition, Sultan Trenggana was assassinated by a ten-year-old Adipati of Surabaya, stabbed with a kris during the boy serving him betel nut.[1]:22


Sunan Mukmin

The death of the strong and able Trenggana in 1546 caused the former familial grudge to be resurvaced and triggered a blood vendetta. Arya Penangsang, the son of the assassinated Sekar Seda Lepen (Raden Kikin) sought revenge for the murder of his father, and argued that he deserved to be the next sultan of Demak, since his late father was more deserving than his uncle, Sultan Trenggana. Of course, he held grudge against Prince Mukmin or Sunan Prawata, the murderer who now was next in line for throne succession.

This blood feud sparked the civil war of succession between Prince Mukmin, son of Trenggana, and Prince Arya Penangsang, the adipati (duke) of Jipang (Duchy of Jipang), a vassal of state of Demak. According to Babad Demak chronicle, several influential figures of Wali Songo, each proposed and supported their own preferred successor. Sunan Giri insisted for the rise of Prince Mukmin (Sunan Prawata) as the next sultan, while Sunan Kudus supported Arya Penangsang instead. Sunan Kudus argued that Arya Penangsang was more deserving since he belonged to the line of the eldest male son of the Demak dynasty. On the other hand, Sunan Kalijaga proposed Hadiwijaya, the adipati of Pajang and also the son in-law of Trenggana, popularly known as Joko Tingkir, as the next sultan.[1]:23

Mukmin (r. 1546–1549), the son of Trenggana, ascended to throne as the new and fourth Sultan of Demak. However, Arya Penangsang of Jipang, with the help of his teacher, Sunan Kudus, took revenge by sending an assassin to kill Prawata and his wife, using the same kris that killed his father.[1]:24

Arya Penangsang

In 1549, Arya Penangsang (r. 1549–1568), the duke of Jipang ascended to the throne of Demak after assassinating his cousin Sunan Prawata. Arya Penangsang was a valiant yet vicious and fierce character, never hesitate to use brutal force to achieve his goals. Feeling threatened, Prawata's son Arya Pengiri, sought refuge in his aunt's realm in Kalinyamat, Jepara, trying to get away from the menace of Penangsang's men. Prawata's younger sister Ratu Kalinyamat sought justice from Sunan Kudus, the teacher of Penangsang. Sunan Kudus however, declined her request, since previously Prawata had committed the crime of assassinating Penangsang's father, Raden Kikin (Sekar Seda ing Lepen), thus rendering Penangsang's revenge justified. Disappointed, Ratu Kalinyamat went home with her husband, Sultan Hadlirin, from Kudus to Kalinyamat only to be attacked by Penangsang's men on their way back. Hadlirin was killed in the attack while Ratu Kalinyamat barely survived. Ratu Kalinyamat seeked revenge on Penangsang, for the death of her husband, Sultan Hadlirin. She urged her brother in-law, Hadiwijaya (popularly known as Jaka Tingkir), Duke of Pajang (now Boyolali), to kill Arya Penangsang.

Arya Penangsang soon faced heavy opposition from his vassals due to his unlikeable character, and soon was dethroned by a coalition of vassals led by Hadiwijaya, Duke of Pajang, who had kinship with the King Trenggana. In 1568, Hadiwijaya sent his adopted son and also his son in-law Sutawijaya, who would later become the first ruler of the Mataram dynasty, to kill Penangsang.

In 1568, Hadiwijaya assumed the role as the sovereign after Penangsang was killed. However, instead of ruling from Demak, he moved all of Demak's regalias, heirlooms and sacred artifacts to Pajang. He appointed Prawata's son Sunan Pangiri, as the adipati of Demak. This time however, it was the other way around; it was Pajang that rose to become the suzerain kingdom, while Demak reduced to become a vassal of Pajang. Thus he ended Demak history when he founded his new kingdom: the short-lived Kingdom of Pajang.[1]:24


Demak and nearby ports. With approximate coastline when Muria and Java still separated.

Demak derived its income by trade: importing spices and exporting rice to Malacca and the Maluku Islands. Demak was a busy harbor with trade connection to Malacca and the Spices islands. It was located at the end of a channel that separated Java and Muria Island (the channel is now filled and Muria joined with Java). From the 15th century until the 18th century, the channel was wide enough and important waterway for ships traveling along northern Javanese coast to the Spices islands. In the channel also located Serang river, which enabled access to rice producing interior of Java. This strategic location enabled Demak to rise as a leading trading center in Java.[15]

According to Tome Pires, Demak had more inhabitants than any port in Sunda or Java. Demak was the main exporter of rice to Malacca.[16] And with the rise of Malacca, so did Demak rise into prominence. Its supremacy also enhanced with claim of direct descent of Raden Patah to Majapahit royalty and his marriages ties with neighboring city-states.[15]


The interior of the Grand Mosque of Demak showing saka guru or four main wooden columns. The mosque was built in vernacular Javanese architecture.

Before emergence of Demak, northern coast of Java was seat of many Muslim communities, both foreign merchants and local Javanese. The Islamisation process gained momentum from decline of Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit authority. Following fall of Majapahit capital to usurper from Kediri, Raden Patah declared Demak's independence from Majapahit overlordship, so did later nearly all northern Javanese ports.[17]

As the first Islamic polity in Java, Demak enjoys a venerated status among Indonesian Muslims. Demak is traditionally linked with the legendary revered Wali Songo, the nine Muslim ulama; preacher that proselytize Islamic faith among then strongly Hindu-Buddhist population of Java. Up until today, Islamic sites such as Demak Great Mosque and maqam (tombs) of Wali saints and Demak sultans continues to draw ziyarat pilgrimage among Muslims in the region.

Javanese legends of Demak

Later Javanese Babads chronicles provide varying accounts of Demak origin and conquest, but they all describe Demak as the legitimate direct successor of Majapahit although they do not mention the possibility that by the time of its final conquest, Majapahit was no longer ruled the area. The first 'Sultan' of Demak, Raden Patah, is portrayed as the son of Majapahit's last king by a Chinese princess who was exiled from the court before Patah's birth.[5] Tradition mentioned that the Chinese princess was first served as Kertabhumi's (Brawijaya V) concubine in Trowulan, and later was sent away as a gift to be betrothed to the regent of Palembang. Unknowingly, that she was already pregnant with Majapahit king's son.[1]:16

Although these legends explain little about the actual events, they do suggest that the dynastic continuity survived Islamisation of Java. Or more likely, as Demak's attempt to reinforce their rule on Java, by claiming the link to Majapahit dynasty as the source of political legitimation, i.e. tracing back and providing the "right ancestor" for their first king to buttress his claim. Demak was more likely a coastal settlement established owed to Zheng He's Chinese expedition back in the first half of 15th century, ruled by non-Javanese foreigners; Chinese Muslims, possibly also attract Arabs and Malays Muslim traders, that politically grew substantially and manage to supplant the old kingdom.

See also

  • The spread of Islam in Indonesia (1200 to 1600)


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Abu Amar, Imron (1996) (in Indonesian). Sejarah Ringkas Kerajaan Islam Demak. Kudus, Central Java: Menara Kudus. 
  2. Fisher, Charles Alfred (1964). South-East Asia: A Social, Economic and Political Geography. Taylor & Francis. pp. 119. 
  3. Cœdès, George (1968). The Indianized states of Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824803681. 
  4. Sanjeev Sanyal (6 August 2016). "History of Indian Ocean shows how old rivalries can trigger rise of new forces". Times of India. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Ricklefs, M.C. (2008). A History of Modern Indonesia Since C.1200. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9781137052018. 
  6. "Hasil Proyek Penelitian Bahan-bahan Sejarah Islam di Jawa Tengah bagian Utara" (in id). 1974. 
  7. Ricklefs, Merle Calvin (1993). A history of modern Indonesia since c. 1300 (2nd ed.). Stanford University Press / Macmillans. ISBN 9780804721950. 
  8. Pararaton, p. 40, " .... bhre Kertabhumi ..... bhre prabhu sang mokta ring kadaton i saka sunyanora-yuganing-wong, 1400".
  9. See also: Hasan Djafar, Girindrawardhana, 1978, p. 50.
  10. Poesponegoro & Notosusanto (1990), pp. 448–451.
  11. Muljana, Slamet (2005). Runtuhnya kerajaan Hindu-Jawa dan timbulnya negara-negara Islam di Nusantara. Yogyakarta, Indonesia: LKiS. ISBN 979-8451-16-3. 
  12. van Naerssen, Frits Herman (1977). The economic and administrative history of early Indonesia. Leiden, Netherlands. ISBN 90-04-04918-5. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Pires, Tomé (1990). The Suma oriental of Tome Pires: an account of the East. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0535-7. 
  14. Guillot, Claude (1990) (in en). The Sultanate of Banten. Gramedia Book Publishing Division. ISBN 9789794039229. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Wink, André (1990). Al-Hind: Indo-Islamic society, 14th-15th centuries. Leiden, Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill. ISBN 90-04-13561-8. 
  16. Meilink-Roelofsz, Marie Antoinette Petronella (1962). Asian trade and European influence in the Indonesian Archipelago between 1500 and about 1630. Nijhoff. 
  17. Ooi, Keat Gin, ed (2004). Southeast Asia: a historical encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor (3 vols). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1576077702. OCLC 646857823. 

External links

Coordinates: 6°53′S 110°38′E / 6.883°S 110.633°E / -6.883; 110.633

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