Early Centres of Power

LESSON 2: How were ancient kingdoms organized?

Ancient polities were organized in a way which is often called the Mandala model, with multiple circles of influence. This section exposes the perspectives of people from different parts of the ancient social hierarchy, for example, rulers, officials, villagers, soldiers, etc.

Subject History / Social Studies
Topic How were ancient kingdoms organized?
Key idea In ancient times, the structure of kingdoms was very different from today’s countries, with no fixed borders.
Rulers competed with each other to gain the loyalty of the villagers living in surrounding areas. They collected
‘tribute’ from the villagers in exchange for protection.
Key concepts Allegiance / loyalty
Level Lower secondary
No. of periods / lessons 1 period or 2 periods (1 period is approximately 50 minutes)
Facilities needed Sources and handouts for distribution
Cards to play the Mandala role play
Prerequisite knowledge Students should gain prerequisite knowledge by completing Handout 1: Pre-reading and Source 2: Map of
mandala kingdoms. This could be done for homework before the activities described below, or in a prior
class period.

Learning objectives
By the end of the lesson, the students will be able to:

  1. Explain the definition of mandala kingdoms
    and how mandala kingdoms were
  2. Describe how power was structured and
    how it shifted in ancient kingdoms without
    clearly defined borders.
  3. Contrast mandala kingdoms to countries
  1. Practise making educated guesses about
    cause and effect in history.
  2. Engage in a cooperative role play
  1. Develop empathy for people living in
    ancient times.
  2. Appreciate the perspectives of ancient
    people from different parts of the social
    hierarchy (rulers, villagers, soldiers, etc.).


Download the lesson plan for details on the talks and activities suggested below.

1. Hook activity: Think-pair-share

Students reflect on the following question: ‘In ancient times, do you think the same countries existed that exist today? Why or why not?’

2. Teacher talk

The teacher explains that even before the country had their current borders, groups of people had lived in the area for a long time. However, they organized themselves differently than we do today. Historians compare the structure of many of the ancient Southeast Asian kingdoms to mandalas.

3. Mandala kingdom role play

The students understand how a mandala kingdom functioned and people interacted through a role play activity.

4. Reflection

Students reflect on the role play and on the differences between mandala kingdom and countries today.