It is probable that Burma is the Chryse Regio of Ptolemy, a name parallel in meaning to Sonaparanta, the classic Pāli title assigned to the country round the capital in Burmese documents. The royal history traces the lineage of the kings to the ancient Buddhist monarchs of India. This no doubt is fabulous, but it is hard to say how early communication with Gangetic India began. From the 11th to the 13th century the old Burman empire was at the height of its power, and to this period belong the splendid remains of architecture at Pagan. The city and the dynasty were destroyed by a Chinese (or rather Mongol) invasion (1284 A.D.) in the reign of Kublai Khan. After that the empire fell to a low ebb, and Central Burma was often subject to Shan dynasties. In the early part of the 16th century the Burmese princes of Toungoo, in the north-east of Pegu, began to rise to power, and established a dynasty which at one time held possession of Pegu, Ava and Arakan. They made their capital at Pegu, and to this dynasty belong the gorgeous descriptions of some of the travellers of the 16th century. Their wars exhausted the country, and before the end of the century it was in the greatest decay.

A new dynasty arose in Ava, which subdued Pegu, and maintained their supremacy throughout the 17th and during the first forty years of the 18th century. The Peguans or Talaings then revolted, and having taken the capital Ava, and made the king prisoner, reduced the whole country to submission. Alompra, left by the conqueror in charge of the village of Môtshobo, planned the deliverance of his country. He attacked the Peguans at first with small detachments; but when his forces increased, he suddenly advanced, and took possession of the capital in the autumn of 1753.

In 1754 the Peguans sent an armament of war-boats against Ava, but they were totally defeated by Alompra; while in the districts of Prome, Donubyu, etc., the Burmans revolted, and expelled all the Pegu garrisons in their towns. In 1754 Prome was besieged by the king of Pegu, who was again defeated by Alompra, and the war was transferred from the upper provinces to the mouths of the navigable rivers, and the numerous creeks and canals which intersect the lower country. In 1755 the yuva raja, the king of Pegu's brother, was equally unsuccessful, after which the Peguans were driven from Bassein and the adjacent country, and were forced to withdraw to the fortress of Syriam, distant 12 m. from Rangoon. Here they enjoyed a brief repose, Alompra being called away to quell an insurrection of his own subjects, and to repel an invasion of the Siamese; but returning victorious, he laid siege to the fortress of Syriam and took it by surprise. In these wars the French sided with the Peguans, the English with the Burmans. Dupleix, the governor of Pondicherry, had sent two ships to the aid of the former; but the master of the first was decoyed up the river by Alompra, where he was massacred along with his whole crew.

The other escaped to Pondicherry. Alompra was now master of all the navigable rivers; and the Peguans, shut out from foreign aid, were finally subdued. In 1757 the conqueror laid siege to the city of Pegu, which capitulated, on condition that their own king should govern the country, but that he should do homage for his kingdom, and should also surrender his daughter to the victorious monarch. Alompra never contemplated the fulfilment of the condition; and having obtained possession of the town, abandoned it to the fury of his soldiers. In the following year the Peguans vainly endeavoured to throw off the yoke. Alompra afterwards reduced the town and district of Tavoy, and finally undertook the conquest of the Siamese. His army advanced to Mergui and Tenasserim, both of which towns were taken; and he was besieging the capital of Siam when he was taken ill. He immediately ordered his army to retreat, in hopes of reaching his capital alive; but he expired on the way, in 1760, in the fiftieth year of his age, after he had reigned eight years.

In the previous year he had massacred the English of the establishment of Negrais, whom he suspected of assisting the Peguans. He was succeeded by his eldest son Noungdaugyi, whose reign was disturbed by the rebellion of his brother Sin-byu-shin, and afterwards by one of his father's generals. He died in little more than three years, leaving one son in his infancy; and on his decease the throne was seized by his brother Sin-byu-shin. The new king was intent, like his predecessors, on the conquest of the adjacent states, and accordingly made war in 1765 on the Manipur kingdom, and also on the Siamese, with partial success. In the following year he defeated the Siamese, and, after a long blockade, obtained possession of their capital. But while the Burmans were extending their conquests in this quarter, they were invaded by a Chinese army of 50,000 men from the province of Yunnan. This army was hemmed in by the skill of the Burmans; and, being reduced by the want of provisions, it was afterwards attacked and totally destroyed, with the exception of 2500 men, who were sent in fetters to work in the Burmese capital at their several trades.

In the meantime the Siamese revolted, and while the Burman army was marching against them, the Peguan soldiers who had been incorporated in it rose against their companions, and commencing an indiscriminate massacre, pursued the Burman army to the gates of Rangoon, which they besieged, but were unable to capture. In 1774 Sin-byu-shin was engaged in reducing the marauding tribes. He took the district and fort of Martaban from the revolted Peguans; and in the following year he sailed down the Irrawaddy with an army of 50,000 men, and, arriving at Rangoon, put to death the aged monarch of Pegu, along with many of his nobles, who had shared with him in the offence of rebellion. He died in 1776, after a reign of twelve years, during which he had extended the Burmese dominions on every side. He was succeeded by his son, a youth of eighteen, called Singumin (Chenguza of Symes), who proved himself a bloodthirsty despot, and was put to death by his uncle, Bodawpaya or Mentaragyi, in 1781, who ascended the vacant throne.