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The Amorphous Nature of Coastal Polities in Insular Southeast Asia: Restricted Centres, Extended Peripheries

Abstract : This article surveys epigraphy, Malay literary texts, and the archaeological data to better understand the socio-spatial structuration process of western Southeast Asia’s ancient political systems, more specifically, Sriwijaya (7th-13th cent.) and its successor, the Melaka Sultanate (15th-17th cent.). Representations of their polities, as offered by the Malays themselves in a variety of literary genres, all allude to the centre and peripheries of their city-states, as well as to the movements of their fleets, construed as metaphors of the whole social group, which provide a graphic illustration of the centripetal forces that structure them both politically and economically. The central places of these harbour-based city-states are entities loaded with symbolic values, with no marked or spatially extended territorial base. The peripheral space of such political systems, however, forms a social space extending, in concentric circles, much farther than the limits of insular Southeast Asia. These vast peripheries comprise places of exchange and international trade—each of which often commands its own periphery—and also religious places. This model once more confirms the intimate relationship between political power, trade relations, and religion in Southeast Asia.
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Pierre-Yves Manguin. The Amorphous Nature of Coastal Polities in Insular Southeast Asia: Restricted Centres, Extended Peripheries. Moussons : recherches en sciences humaines sur l'Asie du Sud-Est, Presses universitaires de Provence, 2014, Recherche en sciences humaines sur l'Asie du Sud-Est, pp.73-99. ⟨10.4000/moussons.2699⟩. ⟨halshs-02516998⟩

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