- c 150 AD
European knowledge of the Malay peninsula is confirmed in Ptolemy’s book Geographia. It’s likely that Romans visited the region during trading expeditions to India and China.
Langkasuka, one of the first Hindu-Malay kingdoms, is established on the peninsula around the area now known as Kedah. It lasted in one form or another until the 15th century.
From their base in southern Sumatra, most likely around modern-day Palembang, the Buddhist Srivijaya Empire dominates Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia and Borneo for another six centuries.
Hindu prince and pirate Parameswara (1344–1414) founds the great trading port and sultanate of Melaka; seven years later he marries a Muslim princess and adopts the Persian title Iskandar Shah.
A naval force from Siam (Thailand) attacks Melaka. Warded off, the Siamese return in 1456 but are again rebuffed. Such attacks encourage Melaka’s rulers to develop closer relations with China.
Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei controls land as far south as present-day Kuching in Sarawak and north towards the islands of the Philippines.
Portuguese traders sail into Melaka. Although at first greeted warmly, acting on the advice of his Indian Muslim councillors, the Melakan sultan later attacks the Portuguese ships, taking 19 prisoners.
Following the Portuguese conquest of Melaka, the sultan and his court flee, establishing two new sultanates on the peninsula: Perak to the north and Johor to the south.
The Portuguese in Melaka and the sultanate of Johor unite to successfully defend themselves against the navy of Iskandar Muda, the sultan of Aceh in Sumatra, who had already conquered Kedah.
After a siege lasting several months, the Dutch, with the help of the Johor sultanate, wrest Melaka from the Portuguese. Melaka starts to decline as a major trading port.
British Captain Francis Light cuts a deal with the sultan of Kedah to establish a settlement on the largely uninhabited island of Penang. Under a free-trade policy the island’s new economy thrives.
The sultan of Kedah’s attempt to retake Penang from the British fails. He is forced to cede the island to the British East India Company for 6000 Spanish dollars per annum.
By backing the elder brother in a succession dispute in Johor, Stamford Raffles gains sole rights to build a trading base on the island of Singapore.
The Johor sultan fully cedes Singapore to Britain. A year later the Dutch and British carve up the region into what eventually becomes Malaya and Indonesia.
Having swapped Bencoolen on Sumatra for the Dutch-controlled Melaka, the British East India Company combines this with Penang and Singapore to create the Straits Settlements.
British buccaneer James Brooke lands in Sarawak and helps quell a local rebellion. In gratitude, the Brunei sultanate installs him as the first White Raja of Sarawak two years later.
British start to take control of Peninsular Malaysia after the Pangkor Treaty with the sultan of Perak; Sir James Birch is installed as Perak’s first British Resident.
Having lost much territory to the British Empire, Brunei’s sultan signs a treaty to make his country a British protectorate. A British Resident is installed in 1906.
Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang join as Federated Malay States; the sultans concede political power to British Residents but keep control of matters relating to Malay traditions and Islam.
Britain does a deal with Thailand to gain control of Kelantan, Terengganu, Perlis and Kedah. Johor succumbs to a British Resident in 1914, completing the set of ‘Unfederated Malay States.’
The Japanese land on Malaya’s northeast coast. Within a month they’ve taken Kuala Lumpur, and a month later they are at Singapore’s doorstep.
The British suffer a humiliating defeat in February as they capitulate Singapore to the Japanese. The occupiers rename it Syonan (Light of the South).
Z Special Unit parachute into Sarawak’s Kelabit Highlands and win over the indigenous Dayak people. Armed with blowpipes and led by Australian commandos, this unlikely army scores several victories over the Japanese.
The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is formed on 1 March, signalling the rise of Malay nationalism and a desire for political independence from Britain.
The Malayan Communist Party (MCP) take to the jungles and begin fighting a guerrilla war against the British, known as the ‘Emergency’ that will last 12 years.
Sir Henry Gurney, British high commissioner to Malaya, is assassinated by MCP rebels on the road to Fraser’s Hill, a terrorist act that alienates many of the party’s moderate Chinese members.
The Parti Perikatan (Alliance Party) is formed, an alliance between UNMO, the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and Malayan Indian Congress (MIC). Two years later the party wins Malaya’s first national elections.
On 31 August Merdeka (independence) is declared in Malaya; Tunku Abdul Rahman becomes the first prime minister and the nine sultans agree to take turns as the nation’s king.
In July the British Borneo territories of Sabah and Sarawak are combined with Singapore and Malaya to form Malaysia – a move that sparks confrontations with Indonesia and the Philippines.
In August, following Singapore’s refusal to extend constitutional privileges to the Malays on the island and subsequent riots, Singapore is booted out of Malaysia. Lee Kuan Yew becomes Singapore’s first prime minister.
Sultan Sri Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien III voluntarily abdicates in favour of his eldest son and the current ruler, the 29th in the unbroken royal Brunei line, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
Following the general election, on 13 March race riots erupt in KL, killing hundreds. In response the government devises the New Economic Policy of positive discrimination for Malays.
Brunei Town, the country’s capital, is renamed Bandar Seri Begawan after the title accorded to the former Sultan Sri Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien III following his abdication.
Following the formation of the Barisan Nasional (BN) in 1973, this new coalition led by Tun Abdul Razak wins the Malaysian general election by a landslide.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad becomes prime minister of Malaysia and introduces policies of ‘Buy British Last’ and ‘Look East’ to encourage the country to emulate Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
A somewhat reluctant Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah leads Brunei to complete independence from Britain. The country subsequently veers towards Islamic fundamentalism, introducing full Islamic law in 1991.
After more than three decades in the job, Lee Kuan Yew steps down as prime minister of Singapore, handing over to Goh Chok Tong.
Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, charged with corruption and sodomy, is sacked, arrested, sent for trial and jailed following disagreements with Dr Mahathir over how to deal with the Asian currency crisis and tackle government corruption.
Having announced his resignation the previous year, Dr Mahathir steps down as prime minister in favour of Abdullah Badawi. He remains very outspoken on national politics.
A month after the election in which BN takes 199 of 219 seats in the Lower House of parliament, Anwar Ibrahim sees his sodomy conviction overturned and is released from prison.
As Malaysia celebrates 50 years since independence it is also shaken by two anti-government rallies in November in which tens of thousands take to the streets of KL to protest.
In the March election BN retains power but suffers heavy defeats to the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR); in August Anwar Ibrahim becomes PR leader following his re-election to parliament.
In April, Najib Razak succeeds Abdullah Badawi as prime minister; the 1Malaysia policy is introduced to build respect and trust between the country’s different races.
Elections in Sarawak return a BN state government but with a reduced majority; tens of thousands rally in KL in support of fairer elections.
General elections in May see BN hold on to power even though opposition parties in PR won a majority of votes overall.
Malaysia suffers double blow as flight MH370 goes missing in March, and flight MH17 is shot down over Ukraine in July.
Singapore mourns in March when Lee Kuan Yew, the nation's founding Prime Minister, dies at the age of 91. Later in the year Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence.
BN lose the general election to the Pakatan Harapan coalition of opposition parties led by 93-year-old Mahathir Mohamad. Anwar Ibrahim is released from jail and Najib Razak is charged with corruption.