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The Palace Law of Ayutthaya and the Thammasat: Law and Kingship in Siam

Palace Law of Ayutthaya and the Thammasat: Law and Kingship in Siam; Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications
Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit, translators and editors
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This book contains the first academic translations of key legal texts from the Ayutthaya era (1351–1767), along with an essay on the role of law in Thai history.

The legal history of Southeast Asia has languished because few texts are accessible in translation. The Three Seals Code is a collection of Thai legal manuscripts surviving from the Ayutthaya era. The Palace Law, probably dating to the late fifteenth century, was the principal law on kingship and government. The Thammasat, a descendant of India's dharmasastra, stood at the head of the Code and gave it authority. Here these two key laws are presented in English translation for the first time along with detailed annotations and analyses of their content.

The coverage of family arrangements, court protocol, warfare, royal women, and ceremonial conduct in the Palace Law presents a detailed portrayal of Siamese kingship, reaching beyond terms such as devaraja, thammaraja, and cakravartin. Close analysis of the Thammasat questions the assumption that this text has a long-standing and fundamental role in Thai legal practice. Royal lawmaking had a large and hitherto unappreciated role in the premodern Thai state. This book is an important contribution to Thai history, Southeast Asian history, and comparative legal studies.

Translators and editors

Chris Baker formerly taught Asian history at Cambridge University and has lived in Thailand for more than thirty years. Pasuk Phongpaichit is Professor of Economics at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. Baker’s and Phongpaichit’s publications include Thailand, A History of Thailand, and The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen.


Baker and Pasuk's illuminating and learned translation and study of the Thammasat (phra thammasat) and Palace Law (kot monthianban) finally redresses a substantial lacuna in research on Thai and Southeast Asian law, Buddhism, and history. These texts comprise major sections of the Three Seals Code (kotmai tra sam duang), a monumental recension of historical Siamese legislation, some of which may date to the early Ayutthaya era, collected and edited in 1805 on the order of King Rama I. In addition to providing the first critical translation of these laws based on a judicious comparison of manuscript and printed witnesses, Baker and Pasuk examine their textual history, jurisprudence, and function as varieties of royal lawmaking at the dawn of the Bangkok era. Their approach is informed by the latest Thai-language and international scholarship, and, crucially, takes account of the broader comparative context of related regional written law traditions, particularly in Burma but also in South Asia. The value of this landmark contribution for research on legal, religious, and political history in Southeast Asia cannot be overstated.—D. C. Lammerts, Assistant Professor of Buddhist and Southeast Asian Studies, Rutgers University


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