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Fiercely independent, the Siamese are skilled negotiators who cleverly play the game of thrones so that their magnificent temples stand unsullied.

The invasion of the Burmese armies in 1767 signaled the end of the Siamese monarchical system that had ruled since the 14th century from the capital of Ayutthaya. Liberated once more from foreign rulers by King Taksin, the Kingdom of Siam was restored and expanded before passing into the hands of the Chakri dynasty in 1782. These rulers shifted the kingdom’s capital to Bangkok, where they planned and developed the new city and built a modern centralized administration.

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The Kingdom of Siam went through two phases of expansion and modernization in the 19th century. The first occurred during the reigns of Rama I, Rama II, and Rama III (1782–1851) and was characterized by increasing monarchical power and territorial expansion. The second took place in the 1850s when new populations came to settle in the Chao Phraya basin. This migration eventually rendered the old administrative system obsolete, and the kings Mongkut and Chulalongkorn (1851–1910) began to reform their institutions based on the principles of Western models. The two kings wanted to develop a model of government that would prepare the kingdom for its transition into a strong and independent nation. Inspired by European nation-states, their endeavors created an embryonic centralized state with an increasing sphere of activities that was able to harness steadily increasing revenue. This income helped to fund a standing army, supplemented by conscripts, and to build courts in every province that would enforce a new legal code inspired by the French and British systems. The Chakri kings rebuilt the city of Bangkok and were responsible for the capital’s rapid development. In this city, which had over 500,000 inhabitants in 1860, they built the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), and in the early 20th century they constructed the Ananta Samakhom in an architectural style that blended local and Western influences.

Did you know?

A Siamese expeditionary corps was sent to fight on the Western Front alongside the Allies during the First World War. As one of the victors of the conflict, Siam became a founding member of the League of Nations (LN).