The closest post which is comparable to the post of the vizier as the Malay kingdoms are Islamic kingdoms. In modern times, it is typical to render the position as prime minister. Though a bendahara's duties are similar to that of a prime minister's, the two terms are not interchangeable. One clear difference is the amount of power held by the two positions. In ancient times, the bendahara was typically the highest ranking official after the sultan but the sultan retained ultimate authority. The sultan was not answerable to the bendahara, or to anyone else for that matter. The sultan was not a ceremonial ruler like the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in contemporary Malaysia where the Prime Minister holds effective political power.
Though it is unclear when the title was first used, the Sultanate of Malacca had several influential bendaharas. The most famous is Tun Perak. Under Tun Perak's service which spanned several sultans, Malacca reached its height in the late 15th century. According to the Malay Annals and the Hikayat Hang Tuah, the bendahara secretly saved the life of Hang Tuah, a laksamana the sultan had ordered killed.
In 1612, Bendahara Tun Sri Lanang of the Sultanate of Johor was commissioned by Sultan Alauddin Riaayat Shah to compile Malay history and record it into a book. The book was later known as Sejarah Melayu, an important literary piece in Malay language history. In 1699, Bendahara Abdul Jalil became Sultan Abdul Jalil IV of Johor after the previous sultan, Mahmud Shah II was murdered, leaving no heir behind. After the rule of Sultan Abdul Jalil IV, the Bendahara was awarded Pahang as his personal fief. Bendahara Tun Abbas and his descendents ruled Pahang continuously until Tun Mutahir, who was deposed in a civil war in 1863.