Melaka was an incredibly rich and powerful city, and the fact that a small Portuguese force (~1200 men) was able to take it at all is remarkable and surprising. The accounts we have, including de Albuquerque's own letters to King Manuel of Portugal and the narrative of de Albuquerque's conquests written by his son (also named Afonso), tell us that perhaps the mercenary nature of the Melakan army and the lack of homogeneity and loyalty among the citizenry was more responsible for Melaka's downfall than the sheer superiority of Portuguese weapons or tactics. The bulk of the military appears to have consisted of Javanese mercenaries under the command of a Javanese man named Utimutaraja, and he was apparently willing to negotiate with the Portuguese from the moment they displayed their fighting strength on Saint James's day (25th July) 1511 at the battle for the city's mosque.
|Afonso de Albuquerque (the elder), conqueror of Melaka, Goa, and Hormuz; religious zealot and Islamophobic bigot.|
Não se espante quem ler esta escritura de dizer que em Malaca se tomaram três mil tiros de artilharia, porque diziam Rui de Araújo e Ninachatu a Afonso de Albuquerque que em Malaca havia oito mil, e pode-se crer isto por duas razões: a primeira, porque em Malaca havia muito cobre e muito estanho, e tão bons fundidores como em Alemanha; a outra, que a cidade era uma légua de comprido, e quando Afonso de Albuquerque desembarcou, lhe atiravam de todas as partes, por onde parece que ainda era pouca para a que havia mister para se defender.Earle and Villiers (1990) translate this as: 'The reader should not be surprised when I say that three thousand pieces of artillery were taken in Malacca, because both Rui de Araújo and Nina Chatu told Afonso de Albuquerque that there were eight thousand pieces in the city. There are two reasons for believing this to be true. The first is that in Malacca there was a great deal of copper and tin and that their gun-founders were as good as the Germans. The other is that the city stretched a league along the shore and, when Afonso de Albuquerque disembarked, they fired at him from all directions, from which it is clear that even what they had was hardly enough for its defence.'
I first read this item in Walter de Gray Birch's 1880 translation of the Commentaries, the text by Afonso Jnr., but I only recently acquired the original Portuguese text in Earle and Villiers Albuquerque, so I wanted to check it before writing about it. It seems pretty clear, in any case, that Melaka was a reasonably technologically sophisticated place with excellent guns. It's notable that, while the Portuguese did use guns, the main weapons to appear on the Portuguese side in the Commentaries are javelins and crossbows, which were apparently effective enough.
The younger Afonso also says:
Tomaram-se três mil tiros de artilharia, e destes seriam dois mil de metal, e um tiro grande que o rei de Calecute mandara ao rei de Malaca. Os outros eram de ferro da feição dos nossos berços, e toda esta artilharia com seus reparos, que lhe não fazia vantagem a de Portugal. Espingardões, zarabatanas de peçonha, arcos, frechas, laudéis de lâminas, lanças de Java, e outra diversidade de armas, foi coisa de espanto o que se tomou, afora muitas mercadorias de toda a sorte.Earle and Villiers: 'Three thousand pieces of artillery were taken, of which two thousand were of bronze, and one large piece which the king of Calicut had sent to the king of Malacca. The rest were of iron of the same calibre as our
berços. All these guns were equipped with carriages and were in no way inferior to weapons of Portuguese manufacture. There were muskets, poison blowpipes, bows and arrows, coats of mail, Javanese lances [?] and a great variety of other arms. The sheer quantity of weapons was amazing, quite apart from the great amount of merchandise of all kinds.' (A berço, apparently, was '[a] small bronze or wrought iron breech-loading gun, often mounted on a fork as a swivel gun, but also on trunnions for use as a carriage cannon, and capable of firing balls of three pounds' (Earle & Villiers 1990:287, note 40).)
|A Bornean man with a blowgun, presumably similar to the blowguns shot at the Portuguese in late summer 1511. h/t Tropenmuseum.|
|Of course, Europeans also used blowguns, as in this depiction from 1480 CE (just thirty years before the conquest of Melaka).|
More from the Portuguese conquest of Melaka next time. I thought it would vary things a little if I threw in some Afonso de Albuquerque alongside Sanskrit inscriptions and Marco Polo, so I'll be returning to other topics as well over the next few weeks.