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Pyu city-states

Pyu city-states
ပျူ မြို့ပြ နိုင်ငံများ

c. 2nd century BCE–c. 1050
The Pyu realm in the red zone
Capital Sri Ksetra, Halin, Beikthano, Maingmaw, Binnaka
Languages Pyu
Religion Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, Hinduism
Government Monarchy
Historical era Classical antiquity
 •  Earliest Pyu presence in Upper Burma c. 2nd century BCE
 •  Beikthano founded c. 180 BCE
 •  Pyu converted to Buddhism 4th century
 •  Burmese calendar begins 22 March 638 [1]
 •  2nd Sri Ksetra Dynasty founded 25 March 739
 •  Rise of Pagan Empire c. 1050
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Pyu Ancient Cities
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii, iv
Reference 1444
UNESCO region Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 2014 (38th Session)

The Pyu city states (Burmese: ပျူ မြို့ပြ နိုင်ငံများ) were a group of city-states that existed from c. 2nd century BCE to c. mid-11th century in present-day Upper Burma (Myanmar). The city-states were founded as part of the southward migration by the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Pyu people, the earliest inhabitants of Burma of whom records are extant.[2] The thousand-year period, often referred to as the Pyu millennium, linked the Bronze Age to the beginning of the classical states period when the Pagan Kingdom emerged in the late 9th century.

The city-states—five major walled cities and several smaller towns have been excavated—were all located in the three main irrigated regions of Upper Burma: the Mu River Valley, the Kyaukse plains and Minbu region, around the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers. Part of an overland trade route between China and India, the Pyu realm gradually expanded south. Halin, founded in the 1st century AD at the northern edge of Upper Burma, was the largest and most important city until around the 7th or 8th century when it was superseded by Sri Ksetra (near modern Pyay) at the southern edge. Twice as large as Halin, Sri Ksetra was the largest and most influential Pyu center.[2]

The Pyu culture was heavily influenced by trade with India, importing

  • Aung-Thwin, Michael (1996). "Kingdom of Bagan". In Gillian Cribbs. Myanmar Land of the Spirits. Guernsey: Co & Bear Productions.  
  • Aung-Thwin, Michael (2005). The mists of Rāmañña: The Legend that was Lower Burma (illustrated ed.). Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.  
  • Charney, Michael W. (2006). Powerful Learning: Buddhist Literati and the Throne in Burma's Last Dynasty, 1752–1885. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 
  • Cooler, Richard M. (2002). "The Art and Culture of Burma". Northern Illinois University. 
  • Hall, D.G.E. (1960). Burma (3rd ed.). Hutchinson University Library.  
  • Harvey, G. E. (1925). History of Burma: From the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. 
  • Htin Aung, Maung (1967). A History of Burma. New York and London: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Hudson, Bob (March 2005), "A Pyu Homeland in the Samon Valley: a new theory of the origins of Myanmar's early urban system" (PDF), Myanmar Historical Commission Golden Jubilee International Conference 
  • Moore, Elizabeth H. (2007). Early Landscapes of Myanmar. Bangkok: River Books.  
  • Myint-U, Thant (2006). The River of Lost Footsteps--Histories of Burma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  
  • Stargardt, Janice (1990). The Ancient Pyu of Burma: Early Pyu cities in a man-made landscape (illustrated ed.). PACSEA.  
  • Thein, Cherry (2011-11-14). "Pyu burial site discovered at Sri Ksetra". The Myanmar Times. 


  1. ^ Aung-Thwin (2005), p. 24
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Hall 1960: 8–10
  3. ^ a b c Myint-U 2006: 51–52
  4. ^
  5. ^ Cooler 2002: Chapter I: Prehistoric and Animist Periods
  6. ^ Myint-U 2006: 45
  7. ^ Hudson 2005: 1
  8. ^ a b Moore 2007: 236
  9. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 16
  10. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 327
  11. ^ a b c d e Aung-Thwin 2005: 18–19
  12. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 25–26
  13. ^ a b Aung-Thwin 1996: 77
  14. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 328
  15. ^ a b c Aung-Thwin 2005: 21–23
  16. ^ a b Htin Aung 1967: 8
  17. ^ a b Thein, Myanmar Times
  18. ^ a b c d  
  19. ^ a b c d e f Aung-Thwin 2005: 24–26
  20. ^ Htin Aung 1967: 10–11
  21. ^ Htin Aung 1967: 20–21
  22. ^ Htin Aung 1967: 7, 16
  23. ^ Harvey 1925: 24–25
  24. ^ a b Aung-Thwin 2005: 26–27
  25. ^ Htin Aung 1967: 7
  26. ^ a b Aung-Thwin 2005: 29–30
  27. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 18
  28. ^ Htin Aung 1967: 13
  29. ^ a b c d Cooler 2002: Chapter II The Pre-Pagan Period: The Urban Age of the Mon and the Pyu
  30. ^ a b c Aung-Thwin 2005: 31–34
  31. ^ a b Htin Aung 1967: 15–17
  32. ^ Harvey 1925: 55–56
  33. ^ Lieberman 2003: 116–117
  34. ^ Stargardt 1990: 200
  35. ^ Htin Aung 1967: 12
  36. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 35–36
  37. ^ Harvey 1925: 4
  38. ^ Htin Aung 1967: 18–19
  39. ^ a b c Aung-Thwin 2005: pp. 30–31
  40. ^ Harvey 1925: 3
  41. ^ Hall 1960: 11
  42. ^ Htin Aung 1967: 15–16
  43. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 40
  44. ^ Hudson, B.; Nyein, L.; Maung, W. (2001). "The origins of Bagan: new dates and old inhabitants". Asian Perspectives 40 (1): 48–74.  
  45. ^ Harvey 1925: 13–15
  46. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 36–37
  47. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 38
  48. ^ Hall 1960: 7


See also

Aside from Sri Ksetra and Beikthano, the rest of the Pyu sites have not been extensively excavated. The care of the sites falls under the purview of the Ministry of Culture's Department of Archaeology. In November 2011, the Department reportedly was planning a museum at Sri Ksetra, and working with the UNESCO to gain recognition for Sri Ksetra, Beikthano and Halin as World Heritage sites and the three old cities were recognised as World Heritage sites in 2014.[17]

Current status of the finds

At any rate, the Burmans had overtaken the leadership of the Pyu realm by the late 10th century, and went on to found the Pagan Empire in the middle of the 11th century, unifying the Irrawaddy valley and its periphery for the first time. Nonetheless, the Pyu had left an indelible mark on Pagan whose Burman rulers would incorporate the histories and legends of the Pyu as their own. The Burman kings of Pagan claimed descent from the kings of Sri Ksetra and Tagaung as far back as 850 BCE—a claim dismissed by most modern scholars.[29][48] Pyu settlements remained in Upper Burma for the next three centuries but the Pyu gradually were absorbed and assimilated into the expanding Pagan Empire. The Pyu language still existed until the late 12th century but by the 13th century, the Pyu had assumed the Burman ethnicity and disappeared into history.[3]

To be sure, the Pyu and their culture did not disappear just because 3000 of them were taken away. The size of the Pyu realm and its many walled cities throughout the land indicates a population many times over. Indeed, no firm indications at Sri Ksetra or at any other Pyu site exist to suggest a violent overthrow. It is more likely that these raids significantly weakened the Pyu states, enabling the Burmans to move into Pyu territories.[29] At any rate, evidence shows that the actual pace of Burman migration into the Pyu realm was gradual. Radiocarbon dating shows that human activity existed until c. 870 at Halin, the subject of the 832 Nanzhao raid.[46] The Burmese chronicles claim the Burmans founded the fortified city of Pagan (Bagan) in 849 but the oldest radiocarbon dated evidence at Pagan (old walls) points to 980 CE while the main walls point to circa 1020 CE, just 24 years earlier than the beginning of the reign of Anawrahta, the founder of Pagan Empire.[47]

It was a long-lasting civilization that lasted nearly a millennium to the early 9th century until a new group of "swift horsemen" from the north, the (Mranma) (Burmans) of the Nanzhao Kingdom entered the upper Irrawaddy valley through a series of raids. According to the Tang Dynasty chronicles, the Nanzhao began their raids of Upper Burma starting as early as 754[45] or 760.[2] By 763, the Nanzhao king Ko-lo-feng had conquered the upper Irrawaddy Valley.[18]:95 Nanzhao raids intensified in the 9th century, with the Nanzhao raiding in 800-802, and again in 808-809. Finally, according to the Chinese, in 832, the Nanzhao warriors overran the Pyu country, and took away 3000 Pyu prisoners from Halin.[18]:105 (In 835, the Chinese records say the Nanzhao also raided a state, generally identified by some but not universally accepted to be a Pyu state.)

Decline of Pyu city-states

The large size of the Pyu cities (660 to 1400 hectares) vis-a-vis Pagan (only 140 hectares) suggests that much of the population resided within the walls, as corroborated by the Chinese records.[43] Archaeology in Pagan produced Pyu artifacts across a number of the settlements in the enclosed complex dating to the first millennium, until approximately 1100 C.E. when a shift to a monument-rich state and diffusion beyond walled boundaries is evident.[44]

The Pyu settlements were ruled by independent chiefs. The chiefs at larger city-states later styled themselves as kings, and established courts largely modeled after the Indian (Hindu) concepts of monarchy. Not all Hindu concepts such as divine kingship were fully adopted due to the presence of Theravada Buddhism. It is not clear if a vassalage-overlord relationship existed between the larger city-states and smaller towns. The Burmese chronicles mention alliances between the states such as one between Beikthano and Sri Ksetra. By and large, each Pyu city-state appeared to have controlled just the city itself.[42]


The size of population of the Pyu realm was probably a few hundred thousand, given that the 17th and 18th century Burma (about the size of present-day Myanmar) only had about 2 million people.

The city-states were mainly populated by the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Pyu people, who like their cousins Burmans are believed to have migrated from present-day north central China, reconstructed as modern Qinghai and Gansu provinces via Yunnan.[8][40][41] Extensive external trade attracted sizable communities of Indians and the Mon, especially in the south. In the north, trickles of Burmans may have entered the Pyu realm from Yunnan as early as the 7th century. (Modern scholarship however holds that Burmans did not arrive in large numbers until the mid-to-late 9th century, and perhaps as late as the 10th century, according to radiocarbon dating of Pagan's walls.)


The Pyu architecture greatly influenced later Burmese Buddhist temple designs. For example, temples at Sri Ksetra such as the Bebe and Lemyethna were prototypes for the later hollow (gu) temples of Pagan. The floor plan of the 13th century Somingyi Monastery at Pagan was largely identical to that of a 4th-century monastery at Beikthano. The solid stupas of Sri Ksetra were in turn prototypes for Pagan's such as the Shwezigon, Shwehsandaw, and Mingalazedi, and ultimately, the Shwedagon in modern Yangon.[39]

From the 4th century onward, the Pyu built many Buddhist stupas and other religious buildings. The styles, ground plans, even the brick size and construction techniques of these buildings point to the Andhra region, particularly Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda in present-day southeastern India. Some evidence of Ceylonese contact is seen by the presence of Anuradhapura style "moonstones" discovered at Beikthano and Halin. By perhaps the 7th century, tall cylindrical stupas such as the Bawbawgyi, Payagyi and Payama had emerged at Sri Ksetra.[39]

Shwezigon Pagoda (built in the 11th century) at Pagan, based on earlier Pyu design

Temple design

The Pyu city plans, consisted of square/rectangles and circles, were a mix of indigenous and Indian designs. It is believed that circular patterns inside the cities were Pyu while the rectangle or square shape of the outer walls and the use of 12 gates were Indian in origin. According to historian Cooler, "the adoption of Indian concepts of city planning incorporated a belief in the efficacy of the world axis that connects the centermost point in a properly constructed Mandala city with the city of the Gods above (Tavatimsa heaven) in order to assure prosperity throughout the kingdom below".[29] Pyu-era city practices were the forefathers of the latter-day Burmese city and palace designs down to the 19th century Mandalay.[39]

City planning

The Pyu-era architectural practices greatly influenced later Pagan and Burmese architecture. The techniques of building dams, canals and weirs found in pre-colonial Upper Burma trace their origins to the Pyu era and the Pagan era. (Burmans likely introduced new water management methods, especially the canal building techniques which became the prevailing method of irrigation in the Pagan era.)[24]

Irrigation structures


In addition to religion, the Pyu also imported science and astronomical expertise from India. The Chinese records also report that the Pyu knew how to make astronomical calculations.[2] The Pyu calendar was based on the Buddhist calendar. There were two eras in use. The first was the Sakra Era, which was adopted in the Pyu realm in 80 CE, just two years after the new era had come into use in India. A second calendar was adopted at Sri Ksetra in 638, superseding the Sakra Era. The calendar, the first day of which was 22 March 638, later became the Burmese calendar, and is still in use in present-day Myanmar. (The existence of two Pyu calendars has been cause for dispute among scholars trying interpret the dates on the finds.)[38]


The Pyu language was a Tibeto-Burman language, related to Old Burmese. But it apparently co-existed with Sanskrit and Pali as the court language. The Chinese records state that the 35 musicians that accompanied the Pyu embassy to the Tang court in 800–802 played music and sang in the Fan (Sanskrit) language. Many of the important inscriptions were written in Sanskrit and/or Pali, alongside the Pyu script. The Pyu sites have yielded a wide variety of Indian scripts from King Ashoka's edicts written in north Indian Brahmi and Tamil Brahmi, both dated to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, to the Gupta script and Kannada script dated to the 4th to 6th centuries CE.[36][37]

The Myazedi inscription c. 1112–1113 in Pyu

Language and script

Though their religious beliefs was a syncretic mix of many backgrounds, probably like in the early Pagan period, the outlook of the Pyu reportedly was largely peaceful. Tang Chinese records describe the Pyu as a humane and peaceful people to whom war was virtually unknown and who wore silk cotton instead of actually silk so that they would not have to kill silk worms, and that many Pyu boys entered the monastic life at seven to the age of 20.[2][35] To be sure, this peaceful description by the Chinese was a snapshot of the Pyu realm, and may not represent the life in the city-states in general.

Non-Theravada practices such as ceremonial cattle sacrifice and alcohol consumption were main stays of the Pyu life. Likewise, the greater prominence of nuns and female students than in the later eras may point to pre-Buddhist notions of female autonomy.[33] In melding of their pre-Buddhist practices to Buddhist ones, they placed the remains of their cremated dead in pottery and stone urns and buried them in or near isolated stupas, a practice consistent with early Buddhist practices of interring the remains of holy personages in stupas.[34]

The archaeological finds also indicate a widespread presence of Tantric Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism. Avalokiteśvara (Lokanatha) (called Lawkanat in Burmese; လောကနတ် ), Tara, Manusi Buddhas, Vaiśravaṇa, and Hayagriva, all prominent in Mahayana Buddhism, were very much part of Pyu (and later the Pagan) iconography scene. Various Hindu Brahman iconography ranging from the Hindu trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, to Garuda and Lakshmi have been found, especially in Lower Burma.[30]

By the 4th century, most of the Pyu had become predominantly Buddhist, though archaeological finds prove that their pre-Buddhist practices remained firmly entrenched in the following centuries. According to the excavated texts, as well as the Chinese records, the predominant religion of the Pyu was Theravada Buddhism. The Theravada school prevalent in the Pyu realm was probably derived from the Andhra region in southeast India, associated with the famous Theravada Buddhist scholar, Buddhagosa.[30][31] It was the predominant Theravada school in Burma until the late 12th century when Shin Uttarajiva led the realignment with Ceylon's Mahavihara school.[32]

The culture of Pyu city states was heavily influenced by India. Indian culture was most visible in the southern Pyu realm through which most trade with India was conducted by sea. The names of southernmost cities were in Pali or Sanskrit derived like Sri Ksetra (Thaye Khittaya) and Vishnu (Beikthano). The kings at Sri Ksetra titled themselves as Varmans and Varma. It was not just a southern phenomenon. To varying degrees, northern Pyu cities and towns also became under the sway of Indian culture. The Burmese chronicles claim that the founding kings of Tagaung were descended from no less than the Sakya clan of the Buddha himself.[30][31]

Avalokiteśvara holding a lotus flower. Bihar, 9th century, CE. The Pyu followed a mix of religious traditions.



A notable feature of the Pyu states is the minting and use of silver coinage. Originated in the Pegu area, these coins date from the 5th century and were the model for most first millennium coinage in mainland Southeast Asia. The earliest type of these coins is not inscribed and depicts a conch on one side and a Srivatsa on the other. Many of the coins had a small hole along the perimeter, and may have also been used as amulets. Remarkably, after the use of coins ceased at the end of Pyu period in the late 9th century, coins did not reappear in the Burmese kingdoms until the 19th century.[29]


The trading area of the Pyu states spanned across the present-day Southeast Asia, South Asia and China. Artifacts from the 2nd century northwest India to Java and the Philippines have been found at Beikthano.[26] Likewise, Pyu artifacts have been found along the coasts of Arakan, Lower Burma, and as far east as Óc Eo (in present-day southern Vietnam).[27] The Pyu also conducted trade and diplomatic relations with China. In 800 and 801–802, Sri Ksetra sent a formal embassy, along with 35 musicians to the Tang court. According to the Chinese, the Pyu used gold and silver coinage. But only silver coins have survived.[28]

The Pyu realm was an important trading center between China and India in the first millennium CE. Two main trading routes passed through the Pyu states. As early as 128 BCE, an overland trade route between China and India existed across the northern Burma. An embassy from the Roman Empire to China passed through this route in 97 CE and again in 120 CE.[25] But the majority of the trade was conducted by sea through the southern Pyu states, which at the time were located not far from the sea as much of the Irrawaddy delta had not yet been formed, and as far south as upper Tenasserim coast towns such as Winga, Hsindat-Myindat, Sanpannagon and Mudon where Pyu artifacts have been found. (It is insufficient to conclude however that the Pyu had administrative and military control over these upper Tenasserim coastal towns.)[26] The ports connected the overland trade route to China via present-day Yunnan.


The economy of the Pyu city states was based on agriculture and trade. All important Pyu settlements were located in the three main irrigated regions of Upper Burma, centered on the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers: Halin in the Mu valley, Maingmaw and Binnaka in the Kyaukse plains, finally Beikthano and Sri Ksetra at or near the Minbu district.[15] (The irrigation projects of the Pyu were later picked up by the Burmans. King Anawrahta of Pagan would build irrigation projects in these three regions in the 1050s to turn them into the main rice granaries of Upper Burma. They would give Upper Burma an enduring economic base from which to dominate the Irrawaddy valley and its periphery in the following centuries.[23]) The Pyu grew rice, perhaps of the Japonica variety.[24]



The New History of the Tang states the kingdom of Mi-ch'en sent an embassy to China in 805, and was attacked by Nanchao in 835.[18]:106

Many Pyu settlements have been found across Upper Burma. They include Wati (an urban area west of Maingmaw), Ayadawkye Ywa in the Mu valley, west of Halin and south of a recently discovered Bronze Age site called Nyaunggan, and several others in Myinmu township, which controls the mouth of the Mu river.[19] A small but politically significant Pyu site is Tagaung (တကောင်း ) in northern Burma (about 200-km north of Mandalay) where Pyu artifacts including funerary urns have been excavated. The significance is due to the fact that the Burmese chronicles identify Tagaung as the home of the first Burmese kingdom.[22] Aside from Beikthano and Sri Ksetra, most Pyu sites have not seen extensive or any excavation.[19]

Smaller settlements

Sri Ksetra was an important entrepôt between China and India. It was located on the Irrawaddy, not far from the sea as the Irrawaddy delta had not yet been formed. Ships from the Indian ocean could come up to Prome to trade with the Pyu realm and China.[16] Trade with India brought deep cultural contacts. Sri Ksetra has yielded the most extensive remains of Theravada Buddhism. Religious art suggests several distinct occupations with earlier influences stemming from Southeast India and later influences from Southwest India while 9th century influences include those from the Nanzhao Kingdom.[19] Much of the Chinese account of the Pyu states was through Sri Ksetra. Chinese pilgrims Xuanzang in 648 and Yijing in 675 mentioned Sri Ksetra in their accounts of Buddhist kingdoms of Southeast Asia. The Tang histories mention the arrival at the court of an embassy from the Pyu capital in 801.[21]

It also has curving gateways, such as those found at Halin and Beikthano. In the center of the city was what most scholars think represented the rectangular palace site, 518 meters by 343 meters, symbolizing both a mandala and a zata (horoscope), like in Maingmaw.[19] Only the southern half of the city was taken up by the palace, monasteries and houses; the entire northern half consisted of rice fields. Together with the moats and walls, this arrangement ensured that the city could withstand a long siege by enemies.[20]

Sri Ksetra is the largest Pyu site discovered thus far. (Only Beikthano and Sri Ksetra have been extensively excavated. Other important Pyu cities as Maingmaw and Binnaka could yield more artifacts with more extensive excavations.) It occupied a larger area than that of the 11th century Pagan or 19th century Mandalay. Circular in design, Sri Ksetra was more than 13 km in circumference and three to four km across, or about 1400 hectares of occupied area. The city's brick walls were 4.5 meters high, and had 12 gates with huge devas (deities) guarding the entrances and a pagoda at each of the four corners.[19]

Sri Ksetra or Thaye Khittaya (သရေခေတ္တရာ ; lit., "Field of Fortune"[16] or "Field of Glory"[13]), located 8 km southeast of Prome (Pyay) at present-day Hmawza village,[17] was the last and southernmost Pyu capital. The city was founded between the 5th and 7th centuries,[18]:62–63,77 and likely overtook Halin as the premier Pyu city by the 7th or 8th century, and retained that status until the Mranma arrived in the 9th century. The city was home to at least two dynasties, and maybe three. The first dynasty, called the Vikrama Dynasty, is believed to have launched the Pyu calendar, which later became the Burmese calendar, on 22 March 638.[2] The second dynasty was founded by King Duttabaung on 25 March 739 (11th waxing of Tagu 101 ME).[19]

Bawbawgyi Pagoda at Sri Ksetra, prototype of Pagan-era pagodas

Sri Ksetra

Known for the production of salt, a highly prized commodity in the first millennium, Halin was superseded by Sri Ksetra as the premier Pyu city-state circa 7th century. By the Chinese accounts, Halin remained an important Pyu center until the 9th century when the Pyu realm came under repeated attacks from the Nanzhao Kingdom. The Chinese records state that the city was destroyed by the Nanzhao warriors in 832 CE, with 3000 of its inhabitants taken away. However, radiocarbon dating reveals human activity to about 870 CE, nearly four decades after the reported sack of the city.[15]

This design of the city influenced the city planning of later Burmese cities and the Siamese city of Sukhothai. For example, the number of gates and configuration was also found in subsequent major Burmese capitals such as the 11th century Pagan and 19th century Mandalay. The city's configuration was also found at other contemporary cities such as Maingmaw and Beikthano in the Pyu realm and Danyawaddy and Wethali in Arakan as well as later cities such as Sukhothai, which emerged over a millennium later. Structural remains of temples at Halin show that the design of city's temples influenced the 11th to 13th century temples at Pagan. Excavated artifacts point to Halin's Pyu script to be the earliest writing in the Pyu realm (and in Burma). It was based on an earlier version of the Brahmi script (Mauryan and Guptan). Inscriptions at Sri Ksetra show a later version of the same script.[15]

Halin or Halingyi (ဟန်လင်းကြီး ), located in the Mu valley, one of the largest irrigated regions of precolonial Burma, is the northernmost Pyu city so far discovered. The earliest artifacts of Halin—city's wooden gates—are radiocarbon dated to 70 CE. The city was rectangular but with curved corners, and brick-walled. Excavated walls are approximately 3.2 km long on the north-south axis and 1.6 km on the east-west. At 664 hectares, the city was nearly twice the size of Beikthano. It has four main gates at the cardinal points, and a total of 12 gates, based on the zodiac. A river or canal ran through the city. Traces of a moat exist on all sides except the south, where it was probably not needed, as land was dammed there to create reservoirs.


Both Maingmaw and Binnaka may have been contemporary of Beikthano. The chronicles, which do not mention Beikthano at all, do mention the two, though not specifically as Pyu cities. The chronicles state that the ruler of Binnaka was responsible for the fall of Tagaung, the city identified by the chronicles as the original home of Burmese speakers.[14] Binnaka was inhabited until about the 19th century, according to a Konbaung era palm-leaf sittan (record) discovered there.[11]

Binnaka (ဘိန္နက ) too was located in the Kyaukse region, and virtually identical to its neighbor Maingmaw in numerous ways. Its brick structures shared the same floor plan as those found at Beikthano and other Pyu sites. Excavations have recovered pre-Buddhist artifacts, gold necklaces, precious stone images of elephants, turtles and lions, distinctive Pyu pottery, terracotta tablets with writing that strongly resembled the Pyu script, and various kinds of acid-etched onyx beads along with others made of amber and jade. Also excavated are distinctive silver coins identical to those found at Beikthano and Binnaka, stone molds for casting silver and gold ornamental flowers, a gold armlet in association with a silver bowl that has Pyu writing on it, and funerary urns virtually identical to those found Beikthano and Binnaka.[11]


Pyu city-states circa 8th century; Pagan shown for comparison only, not contemporary to the Pyu cities.

Maingmaw (မိုင်းမော ; also Mong Mao), located in the Kyaukse region, was circular in shape, and has tentatively been dated to the first millennium BCE. At 2.5 km in diameter and 222 hectares, Maingmaw is one of the largest ancient cities on the entire Kyaukse plains. It has two inner enclosure walls, the outer of which is square while the inner one is circular. The plan of a circle within a square suggest a zodiac sign which represents a view of the heavens from the perspective of the sun, the manner in which 19th century Mandalay was also conceptualized. At almost dead center, a 19th-century temple called Nandawya Paya, which was probably built upon the ruins of an ancient one. The city is bisected by a canal, thought to be contemporary to the city, though no scientific dating has confirmed it. Excavations—the first of which was carried out in 1979—have unearthed many artifacts, including jewelry, silver coins, and funerary urns. Many of the artifacts such as the coins and funerary urns are virtually identical to those found Beikthano and Binnaka.[11]


Beikthano (Burmese: ဗိဿနိုး ) situated in the irrigated Minbu region (near present-day Taungdwingyi) with direct land access to the well-watered Kyaukse plains to its northeast, is the oldest urban site so far discovered and scientifically excavated site. Its remains—the structures, pottery, artifacts, and human skeletons—date from 200 BCE to 100 CE. Named after the Hindu god Vishnu, the city may be the first capital of a culturally and perhaps even politically uniform state in the history of Burma. It was a large fortified settlement, measuring approximately 300 hectares inside the rectangular (3 km by 1 km) walls. The walls and fortifications along it measured six meters thick, and are radiocarbon dated to a period between 180 BCE and 610 CE. Like most subsequent cities, the main entrance of the walls led to the palace, which faced east. Stupas and monastic buildings have also been excavated within the city walls.[11][13]


Of the 12 walled cities excavated thus far, five are the remains of largest Pyu states: Beikthano, Maingmaw, Binnaka, Halin and Sri Ksetra.

Pyu realm circa 800 CE, before the advent of the Mranma


Archaeological surveys have actually so far unearthed 12 walled cities, including five large walled cities, and several smaller non-fortified settlements, located at or near the three most important irrigated regions of precolonial Burma: the Mu River Valley in the north, the Kyaukse plains in center, and the Minbu region in the south and west of the former two.[11] The city-states were contemporaries of the Kingdom of Funan (Cambodia) and (perhaps) Champa (southern Vietnam), Dvaravati (Thailand), Tambralinga and Takuapa near the Kra Isthmus, and Srivijaya (southeast Sumatra). All these statelets foreshadowed the rise of the "classical kingdoms" of Southeast Asia in the second millennium CE.[12]

Circa 2nd century BCE, the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Pyu people began to enter the Irrawaddy River Valley from present-day Yunnan using the Tapain and Shweli Rivers. The original home of the Pyu is reconstructed to be Qinghai Lake, which is located in the present-day provinces of Qinghai and Gansu.[8] The Pyu, the earliest inhabitants of Burma of whom records are extant, went on to found settlements throughout the plains region centered on the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers that has been inhabited since the Paleolithic.[2][9] The Pyu realm was longer than wide, stretching from Sri Ksetra in the south to Halin in the north, Binnaka and Maingmaw to the east and probably Ayadawkye to the west. The Tang dynasty's records report 18 Pyu states, nine of which were walled cities, covering 298 districts.[10]

About 1500 BCE, people in the region were turning copper into bronze, growing rice, and domesticating chickens and pigs; they were among the first people in the world to do so. By 500 BCE, iron-working settlements emerged in an area south of present-day Mandalay. Bronze-decorated coffins and burial sites filled with earthenware remains have been excavated.[6] Archaeological evidence at Samon River Valley south of Mandalay suggests rice-growing settlements that traded with China between 500 BCE and 200 CE.[7]

Based on limited archaeological evidence, it is inferred that the earliest cultures existed in Burma as early as 11,000 BCE, mainly in the central dry zone close to the Irrawaddy. The Anyathian, Burma's Stone Age, existed around the same time as the lower and middle Paleolithic eras in Europe. Three caves located near Taunggyi at the foothills of the Shan Hills have yielded Neolithic artifacts dated 10-6000 BCE.[5]



  • Background 1
  • City-states 2
    • Beikthano 2.1
    • Maingmaw 2.2
    • Binnaka 2.3
    • Halin 2.4
    • Sri Ksetra 2.5
    • Smaller settlements 2.6
  • Economy 3
    • Agriculture 3.1
    • Trade 3.2
    • Currency 3.3
  • Culture 4
    • Religion 4.1
    • Language and script 4.2
    • Calendar 4.3
  • Architecture 5
    • Irrigation structures 5.1
    • City planning 5.2
    • Temple design 5.3
  • Demography 6
  • Administration 7
  • Decline of Pyu city-states 8
  • Current status of the finds 9
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12

Only the city-states of Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, where the other sites can be added in the future for an extension nomination.[4]

The millennium-old civilization came crashing down in the 9th century when the city-states were destroyed by repeated invasions from the Kingdom of Nanzhao. The Bamar people, who came from Nanzhao, set up a garrison town at Bagan at the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers. Pyu settlements remained in Upper Burma for the next three centuries but the Pyu gradually were absorbed into the expanding Pagan Kingdom. The Pyu language still existed until the late 12th century. By the 13th century, the Pyu had assumed the Burman ethnicity. The histories and legends of the Pyu were also incorporated to those of the Bamar.[3]

. Burmese language used to write the Burmese script, may have been the source of the Brahmi script, based on the Indian Pyu script. Latest scholarship, though yet not settled, suggests that the Burmese calendar, later became the Buddhist calendar The Pyu calendar, based on the [3]

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