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Sri Lanka Table of Contents

Sri Lanka

Historical Background

Ancient Military Traditions

Warfare plays a central role in the historical traditions of Sri Lanka. The two great literary works of this early period--the Mahavamsa and the Culavamsa--relate in great detail the battles and campaigns of the ancient kingdoms (see Ancient Legends and Chronicles , ch. 1). For most of Sri Lanka's history, these conflicts were confined to the island and its coastal waters as the various kingdoms battled with each other or attempted to repel new waves of immigrants and invaders from the mainland. In the twelfth century, however, Parakramabahu I was able to unify the island and assemble a military force strong enough to engage in conflicts overseas. In 1164 he sent a naval force to Burma to retaliate for the poor treatment his envoys had received. In another expedition, to southern India, his army took part in a succession struggle for the Pandyan throne.

Thirteenth-century manuscripts tell of "four-fold" armies in which divisions of elephants, chariots, cavalry, and infantry confronted each other in battle. Troops in this period were raised by local levies among ordinary citizens, while special corps of "moonlight archers" and mace-bearers were given extended training. Foreign mercenaries played an important role in these armies, with Indians (Tamils, Keralas, and Rajputs) especially prominent.

Data as of October 1988