Ancient History

1. Prehistory: 5-300,000 BP – 543 BC

2. Historical Chronicles + Sacred Sites

3. Pre Anuradhapura: 543 – 377 BC

4.Anuradhapura: 377 BCE – 1,017 AD

5. Polonnaruwa: 1,107 – 1,232 AD

6. Transitional: 1,232 – 1,597

7. Kandy: 1,597 – 1,815

8. British Ceylon: 1,815 – 1,948

9. Sri Lanka: 1,948 – Present Day

1. Prehistory [5-300,000 BP – 543 BC]

Stone Age:

5-300,000 BP or 125,000 years ago to 1,800 BC


Findings in Iranamadu suggest life since 300,000 BP. People made settlements by 125,000 BP and used quartz and chert for tools.


Balangoda Man, hunter gatherers who lives in caves (34,000 BP). There was bow and arrow technology dated to 48,000 BP; ​earliest use outside of Africa.


Recent excavations found items of people who lived 8,000 years ago. Skeleton remains of dogs dating back 4,500 BC, suggest Balangoda people may have kept hounds for hunting game and domesticated animals for meat.


Oats and barley may have been cultivated by 15,000 BC.


Mesolithic—Iron Age Transition: 

Human skeleton dated back to 5,000—3,000 BC was accompanied by tools of animal bone and stone. 


​Evidence of agriculture are present by 8,000 BC; including herding cattle and cultivating barley and oat. 


Excavations by 4,300 show pottery and stone tools, and potential cereal cultivation.

Slag (by-product after metal separated from raw ore) was found in Mantai, dating to 1,800 BC to indicate knowledge of copper-working.

Dravidian - corroborating the view that Indo-Aryan was pre-dominant from at least as early as 500 BC in Sri Lanka.

2. Historical Chronicles

1. Dipavamsa ("Chronicle of the Island");

2. Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle”);

3. Culavamsa ("Lesser Chronicle"); and
4. Rajaveliya (“Line of Kings”)​

(1) Dīpavaṃsa ("Chronicle of the Island"):

Anonymously compiled oldest historical record by Buddhist monks based on Atthakatha (Tripitaka commentaries) and other sources around 3rd – 4th century CE. Source of history, legend and early Buddhist literature.

Discusses Buddha’s visits to the island--arrival of the Tooth Relic and the Bodhi Tree and arrival of Vijaya.

(2) Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle”):

Historical chronicle of Sri Lanka written in late 5th century by a monk Mahanama as epic poem.

Relates history from legendary beginnings up to reign of Mahasena of Anuradhapura (A.D. 302) details period between arrival of India’s Prince Vijaya in 543 BC.

(3) Culavamsa ("Lesser Chronicle"):

Historical record by monks in epic style regarding monarchs of Sri Lanka.

It covers the period from the 4th century to 1815.

Considered sequel to Mahavamsa and as a single work spanning over two millennia of Sri Lankan history.

(4) Rajaveliya (“Line of Kings”):

•Ancient chronicle contains continuous history of King Vijaya to King Vimaladharmasuriya ΙΙ in Sinhalese language.

Sacred Sites: 


I. Solosmasthana:

16 places visited* by Buddha.

II. Atamasthana or Eight sacred places:

Visited by Buddha during his three visits to the country:

(1) Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya,

(2) Ruwanwelisaya,

(3) Thuparamaya,

(4) Lovamahapaya,

(5) Abhayagiri Dagaba,

(6) Jetavanarama,

(7) Mirisaveti Stupa; and

(8) Lankarama.

3. Pre-Anuradhapura [543 – 377 BC]

Pre Anuradhapura period of Sri Lankan history begins with the gradual onset of historical records in the final centuries of the prehistoric period and ending in 437 BC.


According to the Mahavamsa, the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka are the Yakshas and northern Naga tribes.

Sinhalese history traditionally starts in 543 BC at the arrival of Prince Vijaya, a semi-legendary king who was banished from the Indian subcontinent with his 700 followers, and is recorded in the Mahavamsa chronicle.


This period was succeeded by the Anuradhapura period.

The Kingdom of Tambapanni existed from 543 BC to 505 BC. According to Mahavamsa, the legendary Prince Vijaya and seven hundreds of his followers came to Sri Lanka after being expelled from Sinhapura in India.

Vijaya is said to have landed on the island on the day of Gautama Buddha's death, and after reaching the heaven, the Buddha asked the deities to protect him so that he could spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Prince Vijaya established the Kingdom of Tambapanni. He married a local Yakkhini named Kuveni, and their children gave rise to the Pulinda race (identified with the Vedda people).

Vijaya also married a princess of the Pandu kingdom (identified with Pandyan kingdom), but did not have any children with her.


His followers also married maidens sent by the Pandu king, and their descendants gave rise to the Sinhalese race.

4. Anuradhapura period [377 BC – 1,017 AD]

History of Anuradhapura Kingdom from 377 BC to 1017 AD.


The period begins when Pandukabhaya, King of Upatissa Nuwara moved the administration to Anuradhapura, becoming the kingdom's first monarch.


Anuradhapura is heralded as an ancient cosmopolitan citadel with diverse populations.

5. Polonnaruwa period [1,017–1,232 AD]

Period of history from 1017, after the Chola conquest of Anuradhapura and when the center of administration was moved to Polonnaruwa, to the end of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa in 1232.

6. Transitional period [1,232–1,597 AD] 

Start of 16th Century Crisis due to succession of capitals after fall of Polonnaruwa and start of Jaffna.

Portuguese landed in 1,505.


They founded a fort in Colombo in 1,517 and gradually expanded influence in coastal areas.


Sinhalese moved to Kandy in 1,592 which is more secure.


Those who lived in coast were forcibly converted to Christianity.

7. Kandyan period [1,597–1,815]

After the fall of Kingdom of Kotte, the Kandyan Kingdom was the last Independent monarchy of Sri Lanka. The Kingdom founded in 1,476 and located in central part of island played a major role throughout the history of Sri Lanka and managed to stay independent from Portuguese and Dutch who controlled coastal parts.

Sinhalese Buddhists wanted to rid the violent Christian Portuguese. So, in 1,602 when Dutch captain Joris van Spilbergen landed, the king of Kandy Vimala Dharma Suriya appealed for help.

Dutch attacked in earnest but ended with an agreement and not until 1656 that Colombo fell. By 1,660 the Dutch controlled the whole island except the kingdom of Kandy.

The Dutch (Protestants) persecuted Catholics (the left-over Portuguese settlers) but left the Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims alone. However, Dutch taxed far more heavily than Portuguese.

A mixed Dutch-Sri Lankan people known as Burgher people are the legacy of Dutch rule.

In 1669, British sea captain Robert Knox landed by chance on Ceylon and was captured by the king of Kandy: Rajasingha II.


He escaped 19 years later and wrote an account of his stay. This helped to bring the island to the attention of the British.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain, fearing that French control of the Netherlands might deliver Ceylon to the French, occupied the coastal areas of the island with little difficulty in 1796.


In 1802 by the Treaty of Amiens the Dutch part of the island was ceded to Britain, and became a crown colony.


In 1803 the British invaded the Kingdom of Kandy in the 1st Kandyan War, but were bloodily repulsed.


In 1815 Kandy was occupied in the 2nd Kandyan War, ending Ceylonese independence

8. The British Ceylon period [1815 – 1948]

Kandy was colonised by British in 1815 due to a betrayal which led to our Royal Family being forcibly removed by the British.


King Sri Vickrama Rajasinha was captured as traitors actively sent intelligence to British who were plotting to seize the country.


Rajasinha was sent to Madurai as a political prisoner to die childless. Signing of convention known worst act of traitorship.


The rule of the king Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe was not favoured by his chieftains.


The king, who was of South Indian ancestry, faced powerful chieftains and sought cruel measures to repress their public popularity.


A successful coup was organised by Sinhala chiefs in which they accepted British Crown as their new sovereign.


This ended the line of the kingdom of Kandy.

The Kandyan treaty which was signed in 1815 was called the Kandyan Convention and stated the terms under which the Kandyans would live as a British protectorate.


The Buddhist religion was to be given protection by the Crown, and Christianity would not be imposed on the population, as had happened during Portuguese and Dutch rule.


The Kandyan Convention is an important legal document because it specifies the conditions which the British promised for the Kandyan territory.

Uva Rebellion [1817—1818]

There was a bloody suppression of After annexation of Kandy by British, the British soon betrayed the Kandyan chiefs by removing their traditional privileges (article 4 of Kandyan Convention) and appointing a loyal Moor (Arab) Muhandiram Hadji to have authority over Kandy who provoked Sinhalese by disrupting supply of salt and dry fish.

Keppetipola Disawe was initially sent by the British government to stop the uprising, but ended up joining the rebellion and ordering the regiment he was commanded to return to their garrison.


Keppetipola Disawe joined the uprising as its leader and is today celebrated for his actions in Sri Lanka.


He assisted many regional leaders in providing men and material from various regions.


The other leaders who supported this independent movement were:

2nd in-charge of Gode Gedara AdikaramWilbawe, II Pilima Talauve Adikaram, Kohu Kumbure Rate Rala, Dimbulana Disave, Kivulegedara MohottalaMadugalle DisaveButewe Rate RalaGalagoda family members, Galagedara Mohottala, Meegahapitiya Rate Rala, Dambawinna Disave, and Kurundukumbure Mohottala.

Keppitipola went up to Alupotha and joined the fighters having returned all arms and ammunition of the British.


Rev. Wariyapola Sumangala of Asgiriya fled to Hanguranketa with the tooth relic casket, resulting in a more vigorous phase of the Great Liberation War, as the Sinhalese believed that whoever possessed this tooth relic would be the rightful ruler of the country.


By September 1817, two leaders, Madugalle Basnayake Nilame and Ellepola Adikaram, surrendered to the British, and Pilimatalawe led the rebellion.


The British captured Ellepola, who was the Dissawa of Viyaluwa; also captured was a brother of Maha Adikaram Ehelepola, and both were beheaded in Bogambara on 27 October 1818.

The British successfully suppressed the rebellion and as retribution the entire able bodied male population of Uva region above the age of 18 years was killed while homes in the entire region were also destroyed.


Over 10,000 men above 18 were murdered and leaders beheaded publicly by British.

They also destroyed the irrigation systems, poisoned the wells, killed all cattle and other domesticated animals, and burnt all cultivated fields in the area of uprising. 


The Wellassa area, the name known to have derived from "wel lakshaya" literally meaning a hundred thousand paddy fields in Sinhalese, was composed of thousands of cultivated paddy fields yielding a substantial harvest.


However, this area has not yet recovered from the scorched earth policy of the British.


Kandyan peasantry were stripped of their lands by the Crown Lands (Encroachments) Ordinance No. 12 of 1,840 (sometimes called the Crown Lands Ordinance or the Waste Lands Ordinance), a modern enclosure movement and reduced to penury.

The British found that uplands of Sri Lanka were very suited to coffee, tea and rubber cultivation, and by the mid 19th century Ceylon tea had become a staple of the British market, bringing great wealth to a small class of white tea planters.


To work the estates, the planters imported large numbers of Tamil workers as indentured labourers from south India, who soon made up 10% of the island's population.


These workers had to work in slave-like conditions and to live in line rooms, not very different from cattle sheds.