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Did Alexander the Great’s Descendant Establish Singapore?

Singapore Alexander the Great
Several scholars of the Malay Annals suggest that Singapore’s founder, King Sang Nila Uttama, was a descendant of Alexander the Great. Credits: Merlion444 / Wikimedia Commons CC 0 1.0

Singapore has a long history of human settlement, having been shown by Greek scientist Ptolemy almost 2000 years ago on his map of the world. Furthermore, the founder of Singapore is mentioned as a descendant of Alexander the Great in the Malay Annals, the greatest historical literary work that discusses the origin, evolution, and demise of the great Malay maritime empire.

The Lion City

Singapore, whose name means ‘lion city’, is an economic giant in spite of the tiny size of the territory it occupies.  As per the World Bank, it is a high-income economy with a gross national income of US $ 54,530 per capita, as of 2017.

In the most recent World Bank Human Capital Index, Singapore ranks as the best country in the world in human capital development. This means that children born today in Singapore will achieve 88% productivity when grown up, if they complete their education and enjoy full health.

The Singaporean passport is currently ranked 1st among global passports, according to the Guide Passport Ranking Index. As per Skytrax, a UK-based airline and airport review and ranking site, Singapore’s Changi Airport, known for its stunning indoor waterfall, is top of its 2023 ranking of the world’s best airports.

Singapore airport
Changi Airport Singapore. Credits: Benv3771 / Wikimedia-Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0

Apart from its fantastic economic performance, Singapore has a long history of human settlement, having been shown by Greek scientist Ptolemy almost 2000 years ago on his map of the world. 

For a long period of time Singapore, like most other South-East Asian nations, has been influenced by  culture originating in India and extending to the region that some scholars call greater India, including most of South-East Asia. Myth and history are intertwined when we look at the past of South-East Asia, including Singapore.

The founder of Singapore, Sang Nila Utama, is mentioned as a descendant of Alexander the Great in the Malay Annals, as interpreted by several scholars. The arrival of Alexander and his Macedonian Greek army in India and the forward march of his descendant King Suran is mentioned in the Malay Annals.

We cannot be sure whether this is myth or historical truth, but the fact that a nation thousands of kilometers away from Greece connects itself with the biggest conqueror in Greek history is in itself interesting.

Malay Annals

“The Sejarah Melayu” or Malay Annals are known in Malay as Sulalat al-Salatin (Genealogy of Kings); the oldest available literature on Malay history, it has been translated by John Leyden into English.

In 2001, the Malay Annals were listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme International Register and as per this text the founder of Singapore or what was then known as Singapura, Sang Nila Utama, was a descendant of Raja Iskandar Dzu’l-Karnain [Alexander the Great of Macedonia (Greece)].

As per Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator of Southeast Asia at the British Museum, Iskandar Zulkarnain (Alexander the Great of Macedonia) has often been a favored royal name for Malay kings.

The greatest ruler of Aceh in the early 17th century was named Iskandar Muda, ‘the Young Iskandar’, and a Sultan of the island of Mindanao (now in the Philippines) assumed a similar royal name  ‘And trusting to God, he is Datu Seri Muhammad Iskandar Zulkarnain’. 

From Greece to India and Beyond

Alexander the Great
Statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki. Credit: Alexander Gale / Greek Reporter

As per the Malay Annals, Raja Secander (Alexander the Great 356 – 323 BC) defeated Raja Kida Hindi of Hindostan (India) and married his daughter Princess Shaher-ul Beriah. Alexander the Great left the Princess with her father and returned to Macedonia, Greece. Alexander and the princess had a son Raja Araston Shah, who became the next king.

Amongst several generations of descendants of Alexander, King Suran (reign 1014 – 1044) emerged as the greatest. King Suran wanted to subdue China, and marched his huge force from India, through today’s Myanmar and Malaya til he arrived in Temasek (Singapore).

Hearing that China was very far away, Raja Suran abandoned his plans to invade China. Turning his interests now to the undersea world, Raja Suran lowered himself into the sea in a glass chest (diving bell).  Under the water, Raja Suran met Raja Maktab-al-Arz. There Raja Suran married the undersea king’s daughter Putri Maktab-al-Bakri and they had three sons.

After some years, Raja Suran decided to return to the world above the sea as he did not want to break the bloodline of Alexander the Great. Raja Suran returned to his own realm on a winged sea horse, and retired in his homeland of India.

Raja Suran had a son San Superba. San Superba’s son, Sang Nila Utama, became chief of Palembang. While adventuring in the Malacca Straits, his ship was driven to the Singapore coast by a terrible storm. A man of fortune, he became the first sole king of the island.

Legacy of Sang Nila Utama

King Sang Nila Uttama Statue, Singapore
King Sang Nila Uttama Statue. Credits: Altopian1 / Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0

On top of Fort Canning Hill in Singapore is the resting place of the King Sang Nila Utama, descendant of Alexander the Great. His statue was erected at the Raffles’ Landing Site as part of events commemorating the bicentennial of the founding of modern Singapore.

Seeing a creature that he believed to be a lion on the shore of what is now Singapore, Sang Nila Utama named the region Singa Pura, “Lion City”. Thus the lion’s head became the distinctive and easily recognizable National Symbol of Singapore, adopted in 1986 by the Government as a symbol that people and organizations could use to express their loyalty and commitment to the nation.

That Singapore, a country so far away from Greece, has a historical connection with the greatest Greek conqueror Alexander the Great, is indeed interesting, and needs to be studied more.

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