The Location of the Kingdom

In the previous articles we have attempted to show the general location of medieval Sanfotsi/Zabag, which we also equate to Shambhala of the Tibetan texts and Prester John's kingdom as mentioned in the medieval letters.

Now we will try to narrow down the location. As already mentioned, we believe the principal port of Sanfotsi/Zabag was Lingayen in the Philippines. In the Chinese records, the name is rendered Ling-ya-mon and located about a month's sea journey due south of Tsu'an-chou.

Lingayen is located in northwest Luzon in the province of Pangasinan and is perfectly situated as a transit route for trade between China and points south and southeast, including the clove and nutmeg-bearing regions of Toupo.

However, the actual location of the king of Sanfotsi/Zabag may have been different than Lingayen. Indeed, Ling-ya-mon was said to be a port of call before entering Sanfotsi proper.

The capital of the empire was described by both Chinese and Muslim writers as a sort of Venice of Southeast Asia, with people living on boats or homes built over the water. The capital furthermore appeared to be located in a delta area frequented by ships. According to Abu Zayd the city of the Mihraj, the ruler of Zabag, was situated on an "estuary resembling the Tigris River which passes Bagdad and Basra, and brings in salt water during the high tide and sweet water during low tide."

Sulayman said that the capital of the Mihraj was located at a freshwater port easily accessed from the sea. It was also said to "face" the southern coast of China, i.e. it's location would be on the western side of an island opposite (east/southeast of) the south China coast.

The nearest delta area to Lingayen is the Pampanga River system that runs into the northern Manila Bay. The area was highly influential during the Spanish conquest of the Philippines, and was the scene of heavy resistance that eventually forced the Spanish into a pacification treaty.

When the Spanish arrived in the Philippines, related peoples lived from the Pampanga River delta region northward to the Gulf of Lingayen. The people living in the region were still at that time conducting long distance trade throughout Asia.

While the delta towns of Macabebe, Lubao and Betis boasted strong rulers and garrisons, there is evidence that in earlier times a flourishing trade center existed further north.

Prior to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo around the 14th century, the area around San Marcelino and Porac in the north had connection with the sea. In 1992, after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, evidence of a trading post including an old boat hull associated with Chinese ceramics and stone anchors was found. Interestingly, these finds are in a region known by the name Sambal1.

According to geologists, before the medieval eruption of Pinatubo the sea extended much closer to this region and presumably as the lahar filled in the existing areas southward the delta civilization moved accordingly to maintain their maritime trading enterprise.

However, the eruption apparently brought the trading civilization to a temporary halt around the 14th century. The dating corresponds very well with the time that Sanfotsi drops out of sight from Chinese historical literature.

The descriptions of Zabag tell of a constantly erupting volcano near the kingdom. Something similar may be hinted at in the letters attributed to Prester John which speak of rivers of sand or stone flowing from a mountain range into a sea of sand/stones. The description resembles what happens when lahar flows from a volcano to the ocean creating what looks like a "sea of sand."

The resemblance of the name Sambal to Shambhala has additional geographical significance in that the area consists of a mountainous range. The snow-covered peaks of Shambhala even have a possible explanation. The modern eruption of Pinatubo left the Sambal mountain peaks capped with grey/white layers of volcanic ash given a resemblance of snow. This might explain how Shambhala could at the same time have snow-covered peaks and lush tropical vegetation.

Chau Ju-Kua mentions that most people in the region had the surname "Pu." In the Pampanga region, the honorific "Apu" is used before someone's name as a sign of respect. The Chinese whose own surnames come at the beginning of their names might have confused the honorific with a surname.

The medieval texts state that Sanfotsi/Zabag like Toupo to the southeast consisted of a loosely confederated kingdoms that bonded together for specific purposes. Interestingly, the system in this region at the time of the Spanish arrival consisted of autonomous datus and rajas. These independent entities though consulted with a special authority accepted by all when it came to making new laws or addressing regional security concerns. This authority not only approved new laws by the datus and rajas but also the regulations of the native priests. Thus, he combined both temporal and sacredotal powers.2

There is substantial archaeological and linguistic evidence of Indic and specifically Buddhist influence in the Luzon region in general although admittedly much more work needs to be done. Most interesting are the examples of Tantric jewelry that have been discovered in the Philippine region.

And there still needs to be confirmation regarding influence of Nestorian Christianity in this area.

However, from the geographical and historical aspects, the Sambal region and the Pampanga River delta are the best bets for the location of the capital of Sanfotsi/Zabag with Lingayen as it's main port.


1Christopher G. Newhall, Arturo S. Daag, F.G. Delfin, Jr., Richard P. Hoblitt, John McGeehin, John S. Pallister, Ma. Theresa M. Regalado, Meyer Rubin, Bella S. Tubianosa, Rodolfo A. Tamayo, Jr., and Jesse V. Umbal. "Eruptive History of Mount Pinatubo," FIRE and MUD: Eruptions and Lahars of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines:; Jesse V. Umbal and Kelvin S. Rodolfo. "The 1991 Lahars of Southwestern Mount Pinatubo and Evolution of the Lahar-Dammed Mapanuepe Lake," FIRE and MUD: Eruptions and Lahars of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines:

2Conrado Benitez. History of the Philippines. Boston, 1929, pp. 120-121.

  • Great Shambhala
  • The Kingdom of Prester John
  • The Spice Routes
  • The Medieval Geography of Sanfotsi and Zabag
  • The Location of the Kingdom

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