Empire (Khmer: ចក្រភពខ្មែរ: Chakrphup
Khmer or អាណាចក្រខ្មែរ: Anachak Khmer ),
អាណាចក្រអង្គរ: Anachak Angkor), the
predecessor state to modern
Cambodia ("Kampuchea" or "Srok Khmer" to
the Khmer people), was a powerful Hindu-
Buddhist empire in Southeast
Asia. The empire, which grew out of the former kingdoms of
Chenla, at times ruled over and/or vassalised most of mainland
Its greatest legacy is Angkor, in present-day Cambodia, which was the
site of the capital city during the empire's zenith. The majestic
monuments of Angkor—such as
Angkor Wat and Bayon—bear testimony to
the Khmer Empire's immense power and wealth, impressive art and
culture, architectural technique and aesthetics achievements, as well
as the variety of belief systems that it patronised over time.
Satellite imaging has revealed that Angkor, during its peak in the
11th to 13th centuries, was the largest pre-industrial urban centre in
The beginning of the era of the Khmer
Empire is conventionally dated
to 802 CE. In this year, King
Jayavarman II had himself declared
chakravartin ("king of the world", or "king of kings") on Phnom Kulen.
The empire ended with the fall of
Angkor in the 15th century.
2.1 Formation and growth
2.1.1 Jayavarman II — the founder of Angkor
2.1.2 Yasodharapura — the first city of Angkor
2.2 Golden age
2.2.1 Suryavarman II —
2.2.2 Jayavarman VII —
2.2.3 Jayavarman VIII — the last blooming
2.3.1 Conversion of faith
2.3.2 Foreign pressure
2.3.3 Ecological breakdown
Angkor after the 15th century
3 Culture and society
3.1 Economy and agriculture
3.2 Society and politics
3.4 Art and architecture
3.5 Culture and way of life
4 Relations with regional powers
5 List of rulers
6 Gallery of temples
7 See also
The history of
Angkor as the central area of settlement of the
historical kingdom of Kambujadesa is also the history of the Khmer
kingdom from the 9th to the 13th centuries.
From Kambuja itself — and so also from the Angkor
region — no written records have survived other than stone
inscriptions. Therefore, the current knowledge of the historical Khmer
civilisation is derived primarily from:
Archaeological excavation, reconstruction and investigation
Stone inscriptions (most important are foundation steles of temples),
which report on the political and religious deeds of the kings
Reliefs in a series of temple walls with depictions of military
marches, life in the palace, market scenes and also the everyday lives
of the population
Reports and chronicles of Chinese diplomats, traders and travellers.
Formation and growth
Jayavarman II — the founder of Angkor
Archers mounted on elephants
Sdok Kok Thom
Sdok Kok Thom inscription,:97:353–354 circa 781
Indrapura was the first capital of Jayavarman II, located in Banteay
Prei Nokor, near today's Kompong Cham. After he eventually returned
to his home, the former kingdom of Chenla, he quickly built up his
influence, conquered a series of competing kings, and in 790 became
king of a kingdom called "Kambuja" by the Khmer. He then moved his
court northwest to Mahendraparvata, far inland north from the great
lake of Tonle Sap.
Jayavarman II (802-835):xiii,59 is widely regarded as a king who
set the foundations of the
Angkor period in Cambodian history,
beginning with a grandiose consecration ritual that he conducted in
802 on the sacred Mount Mahendraparvata, now known as Phnom Kulen, to
celebrate the independence of Kambuja from Javanese dominion. At
that ceremony Prince
Jayavarman II was proclaimed a universal monarch
(Cambodian: Kamraten jagad ta Raja) or God King (Sanskrit: Deva Raja).
He declared himself Chakravartin, in a ritual taken from the
Hindu tradition. Thereby he not only became the divinely
appointed and therefore uncontested ruler, but also simultaneously
declared the independence of his kingdom from Java. According to some
Jayavarman II had resided for some time in
Java during the
reign of Sailendras, or "The Lords of Mountains", hence the concept of
Deva Raja or God King was ostensibly imported from Java.:99–101
At that time, Sailendras allegedly ruled over Java, Sumatra, the Malay
Peninsula and parts of Cambodia, around the
The first pieces of information on
Jayavarman II came from the K.235
stone inscription on a stele in
Sdok Kok Thom
Sdok Kok Thom temple,
dating to 1053. it recounts two and a half centuries of service that
members of the temple's founding family provided for the Khmer court,
mainly as chief chaplains of the Shaivite
According to an older established interpretation,
Jayavarman II was
supposed to be a prince who lived at the court of
Sailendra in Java
and brought back to his home the art and culture of the Javanese
Sailendran court to Cambodia.:97 This classical theory was
revisited by modern scholars, such as Claude Jacques and Michael
Vickery, who noted that Khmer called chvea the Chams, their close
neighbours. Moreover, Jayavarman's political career began at
Vyadhapura (probably Banteay Prei Nokor) in eastern Cambodia, which
makes more probable long time contacts with them (even skirmishes, as
the inscription suggests) than a long stay in distant Java.
Finally, many early temples on
Phnom Kulen shows both Cham (e.g.
Prasat Damrei Krap) and Javanese influences (e.g. the primitive
"temple-mountain" of Aram Rong Cen and Prasat Thmar Dap), even if
their asymmetric distribution seems typically khmer.
Bakong, one of the earliest temple mountains in Khmer architecture
In the following years he extended his territory and eventually, later
in his reign, he moved from
Mahendraparvata and established his new
Hariharalaya near the modern Cambodian town of
Rolous.:98 He thereby laid the foundation of Angkor, which was to
arise some 15 km to the northwest.
Jayavarman II died in the year
835:59 and he was succeeded by his son Jayavarman III.:103
Jayavarman III died in 877 and was succeeded by Indravarman I.:110
The successors of
Jayavarman II continually extended the territory of
Indravarman I (reigned 877 – 889) managed to expand
the kingdom without wars, and he began extensive building projects,
thanks to the wealth gained through trade and agriculture. Foremost
were the temple of
Preah Ko and irrigation works. Indravarman I
Hariharalaya further by constructing Bakong:354–358
Bakong in particular bears striking similarity
Borobudur temple in Java, which strongly suggests that it
served as the prototype for Bakong. There must have been exchanges of
travellers, if not missions, between the Khmer kingdom and the
Sailendras in Java, transmitting to
Cambodia not only ideas, but also
technical and architectural details.
Yasodharapura — the first city of Angkor
Temple and mausoleum dedicated to King Yasovarman
Indravarman I was followed by his son
Yasovarman I (reigned
889 – 915), who established a new capital,
Yasodharapura – the first city of Angkor. The city's central
temple was built on Phnom Bakheng, a hill which rises around 60 m
above the plain on which
Angkor sits. Under
Yasovarman I the East
Baray was also created, a massive water reservoir of 7.1 by
At the beginning of the 10th century the kingdom split. Jayavarman IV
established a new capital at Koh Ker, some 100 km northeast of
Angkor, called Lingapura.:360,363 Only with
(reigned 944 – 968) was the royal palace returned to
Yasodharapura. He took up again the extensive building schemes of the
earlier kings and established a series of temples in the
not the least being the East Mebon, on an island in the middle of the
East Baray, and several
Buddhist temples, such as Pre Rup, and
monasteries.:363–367 In 950, the first war took place between
Kambuja and the kingdom of
Champa to the east (in the modern central
The son of
Rajendravarman II, Jayavarman V, reigned from 968 to 1001.
After he had established himself as the new king over the other
princes, his rule was a largely peaceful period, marked by prosperity
and a cultural flowering. He established a new capital slightly west
of his father's and named it Jayendranagari; its state temple, Ta Keo,
was to the south. At the court of
Jayavarman V lived philosophers,
scholars, and artists. New temples were also established: the most
important of these are Banteay Srei, considered one of the most
beautiful and artistic of Angkor, and Ta Keo, the first temple of
Angkor built completely of sandstone.:117–118:367
A decade of conflict followed the death of Jayavarman V. Three kings
reigned simultaneously as antagonists until
Suryavarman I (reigned
1006 – 1050) gained the throne.:134–135 Suryavarman I
established diplomatic relations with the
Chola dynasty of south
Suryavarman I sent a chariot as a present to the Chola
Emperor Rajaraja Chola I. His rule was marked by repeated attempts
by his opponents to overthrow him and by military conquests.
Suryavarman was successful in taking control of the Khmer capital city
Angkor Wat. At the same time,
Angkor Wat came into conflict
Tambralinga kingdom of the Malay peninsula. In other
words, there was a three-way conflict in mainland Southeast Asia.
After surviving several invasions from his enemies, Suryavarman
requested aid from the powerful Chola Emperor
Rajendra Chola I
Rajendra Chola I of the
Chola dynasty against the
Tambralinga kingdom. After
learning of Suryavarman's alliance with Rajendra Chola, the
Tambralinga kingdom requested aid from the
Srivijaya King Sangrama
Vijayatungavarman. This eventually led to the Chola Empire
coming into conflict with the Srivijiya Empire. The war ended with a
victory for the
Chola dynasty and of the Khmer Empire, and major
losses for the
Empire and the
This alliance also had religious nuance, since both Chola and Khmer
Hindu Shivaist, while
Mahayana Buddhist. There is some indication that before or after these
Suryavarman I sent a gift, a chariot, to
Rajendra Chola I
Rajendra Chola I to
possibly facilitate trade or an alliance.:136 Suryavarman I's
wife was Viralakshmi, and following his death in 1050, he was
succeeded by Udayadityavarman II, who built the
Baphuon and West
Baray.:135,137–138 In 1074, conflict arose between Harshavarman
III and the
Champa King Harivarman IV.:152
Suryavarman II —
Buddhist monks at
The 12th century was a time of conflict and brutal power struggles.
Suryavarman II (reigned 1113–1150) the kingdom united
internally:113 and the largest temple of
Angkor was built in a
period of 37 years:
Angkor Wat, dedicated to the god Vishnu. In the
east, his campaigns against Champa, and Dai Viet, were
unsuccessful,:114 though he did sack Vijaya in 1145 and depose Jaya
Indravarman III.:75–76 The Khmers occupied Vijaya until 1149,
when they were driven out by Jaya Harivarman I.:160 Suryavarman II
sent a mission to the
Chola dynasty of south India and presented a
precious stone to the Chola Emperor
Kulothunga Chola I
Kulothunga Chola I in
Another period followed in which kings reigned briefly and were
violently overthrown by their successors. Finally, in 1177 the capital
was raided and looted in a naval battle on the
Tonlé Sap lake by a
Cham fleet under Jaya Indravarman IV, and
Jayavarman VII —
Portrait statue of Jayavarman VII
Bronze replica of one of the twenty-three stone images sent by King
Jayavarman VII to different parts of his kingdom in 1191.
Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181–1219) was generally considered as
Cambodia's greatest king. He had already been a military leader as a
prince under previous kings. After the Cham had conquered Angkor, he
gathered an army and regained the capital. He ascended the throne and
continued the war against the neighbouring eastern kingdom for another
22 years, until the Khmer defeated
Champa in 1203 and conquered large
parts of its territory.:170–171:79–80
Jayavarman VII stands as the last of the great kings of Angkor, not
only because of his successful war against the Cham, but also because
he was not a tyrannical ruler in the manner of his immediate
predecessors. He unified the empire and carried out noteworthy
building projects. The new capital, now called
Angkor Thom (literally:
"Great City"), was built. In the centre, the king (himself a follower
Mahayana Buddhism) had constructed as the state temple the
Bayon,:378–382 with towers bearing faces of the boddhisattva
Avalokiteshvara, each several metres high, carved out of stone.
Further important temples built under
Jayavarman VII were
Ta Prohm for
Preah Khan for his father,:388–389 Banteay Kdei, and
Neak Pean, as well as the reservoir of Srah Srang. An extensive
network of roads was laid down connecting every town of the empire,
with rest-houses built for travellers and he established a total of
102 hospitals across his realm.:173,176
Jayavarman VIII — the last blooming
After the death of Jayavarman VII, his son
Indravarman II (reigned
1219–1243) ascended the throne.:180–181 Like his father, he was
a Buddhist, and he completed a series of temples begun under his
father's rule. As a warrior he was less successful. In the year 1220,
under mounting pressure from increasingly powerful Đại Việt, and
its Cham alliance, the Khmer withdrew from many of the provinces
previously conquered from Champa. In the west, his Thai subjects
rebelled, establishing the first Thai kingdom at Sukhothai and pushing
back the Khmer. In the following 200 years, the Thais would become the
chief rivals of Kambuja.
Indravarman II was succeeded by
Jayavarman VIII (reigned 1243–1295).
In contrast to his predecessors,
Jayavarman VIII was a follower of
Shaivism and an aggressive opponent of Buddhism, destroying many
Buddha statues in the empire and converting
Buddhist temples to Hindu
temples.:133 From the outside, the empire was threatened in 1283 by
the Mongols under Kublai Khan's general Sogetu (sometimes known as
Sagatu or Sodu), who was the governor of Guangzhou, China. The
king avoided war with his powerful opponent, who ruled all of China,
by paying annual tribute, starting in 1285.:192 Jayavarman
VIII's rule ended in 1295 when he was deposed by his son-in-law
Srindravarman (reigned 1295–1309). The new king was a follower of
Theravada Buddhism, a school of
Buddhism that had arrived in southeast
Sri Lanka and subsequently spread through most of the
Baphuon, a temple-mountain dedicated to the
Hindu God Shiva.
In August 1296, the Chinese diplomat
Zhou Daguan arrived at
recorded, "In the recent war with the Siamese, the country was utterly
devastated.":211:90 He remained at the court of King
Srindravarman until July 1297. He was neither the first nor the last
Chinese representative to visit Kambuja. His stay is notable, however,
Zhou Daguan later wrote a detailed report on life in Angkor.
His portrayal is today one of the most important sources of
understanding historical Angkor. Alongside descriptions of several
great temples (the Bayon, the Baphuon,
Angkor Wat) – his account
informs us that the towers of the
Bayon were once covered in gold –
the text also offers valuable information on the everyday life and the
habits of the inhabitants of Angkor.
By the 14th century, the Khmer empire suffered a long, arduous, and
steady decline. Historians have proposed different causes for the
decline: the religious conversion from Vishnuite-Shivaite
Theravada Buddhism that affected social and political systems,
incessant internal power struggles among Khmer princes, vassal revolt,
foreign invasion, plague, and ecological breakdown.
For social and religious reasons, many aspects contributed to the
decline of the Khmer empire. The relationship between the rulers and
their elites was unstable – among the 27 Angkorian rulers, eleven
lacked a legitimate claim to power, and civil wars were frequent. The
Khmer empire focused more on the domestic economy and did not take
advantage of the international maritime network. In addition, the
Buddhist ideas conflicted and disturbed the state order built
under the predominant Hinduism.
Conversion of faith
11th-century Cambodian sculpture of the Buddha
Sanskrit inscription is dated 1327 and describes the
Indrajayavarman by Jayavarmadiparamesvara.:228
Historians suspect a connection with the kings' adoption of Theravada
Buddhism: they were therefore no longer considered "devarajas", and
there was no need to erect huge temples to them, or rather to the gods
under whose protection they stood. The retreat from the concept of the
devaraja may also have led to a loss of royal authority and thereby to
a lack of workers. The water-management apparatus also degenerated,
meaning that harvests were reduced by floods or drought. While
previously three rice harvests per year were possible – a
substantial contribution to the prosperity and power of Kambuja –
the declining harvests further weakened the empire.
Looking at the archaeological record, however, archaeologists noticed
that not only were the structures ceasing to be built, but the Khmer's
historical inscription was also lacking from roughly 1300–1600. With
this lack of historical content, there is unfortunately very limited
archaeological evidence to work with. Archaeologists have been able to
determine that the sites were abandoned and then reoccupied later by
Seated Buddha from the 12th century
The western neighbour of the Khmer, the first Thai kingdom of
Sukhothai, after repelling Angkorian hegemony, was conquered by
another stronger Thai kingdom in the lower
Chao Phraya Basin,
Ayutthaya, in 1350. From the fourteenth century, Ayutthaya became
Angkor was besieged by the Ayutthayan
Uthong in 1352, and following its capture the next year, the
Khmer monarch was replaced with successive Siamese princes. Then in
1357, the Khmer king Suryavamsa Rajadhiraja regained the
throne.:236 In 1393, the Ayutthayan king Ramesuan besieged Angkor
again, capturing it the next year. Ramesuan's son ruled Khmer a short
time before being assassinated. Finally, in 1431, the Khmer king
Ponhea Yat abandoned
Angkor as indefensible, and moved to the Phnom
The new centre of the Khmer kingdom was in the southwest, at
the region of today's Phnom Penh. However, there are indications that
Angkor was not completely abandoned. One line of Khmer kings may have
remained there, while a second moved to
Phnom Penh to establish a
parallel kingdom. The final fall of
Angkor would then be due to the
transfer of economic – and therewith political – significance, as
Phnom Penh became an important trade centre on the Mekong. Besides,
severe droughts and ensuing floods were considered as one of the
contributing factors to its fall. The empire focused more on
regional trade after the first drought. Overall, climate change,
costly construction projects, and conflicts over power between the
royal family sealed the end of the Khmer empire.
Satellite image of Angkor, the dried
East Baray suggests the
environmental changes in the region
Ecological failure and infrastructural breakdown is a new alternative
theory regarding the end of the Khmer Empire. Scientists working on
Angkor Project believe that the Khmers had an elaborate
system of reservoirs and canals used for trade, transportation, and
irrigation. The canals were used for harvesting rice. As the
population grew there was more strain on the water system. During the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, there were also severe climatic
changes impacting the water management system. Periods of drought led
to decreases in agricultural productivity, and violent floods due to
monsoons damaged the infrastructure during this vulnerable time.
To adapt to the growing population, trees were cut down from the Kulen
hills and cleared out for more rice fields. That created rain runoff
carrying sediment to the canal network. Any damage to the water system
would have enormous consequences.
The plague theory, which suggests a severe epidemic outbreak might had
hit the heavily populated Angkor, contributed to the fall of the
empire, has been reconsidered. By the 14th century, the Black
Death had affected Asia, as the plague first appeared in China around
1330 and reached Europe around 1345. Most seaports along the line of
travel from China to Europe felt the impact of the disease, which
might had a severe impact on life throughout Southeast Asia. Possible
disease include bubonic plague, smallpox or malaria.
Angkor after the 15th century
In any event, there is evidence for a further period of use of Angkor.
Under the rule of King Barom Reachea I (reigned 1566–1576), who
temporarily succeeded in driving back the Thai, the royal court was
briefly returned to Angkor. Inscriptions from the 17th century testify
to Japanese settlements alongside those of the remaining Khmer.
The best-known inscription tells of Ukondayu Kazufusa, who celebrated
Khmer New Year
Khmer New Year there in 1632. However, in following decades
the Japanese community was absorbed into the local Khmer community,
owing to the lack of new Japanese arrivals and very little possibility
of renewing their community.
Culture and society
Further information: The Customs of Cambodia
Reconstruction of Prasat Bayon, the center of
Much of what is known of the ancient Khmer society comes from the many
bas-reliefs and also the first-hand Chinese accounts of Zhou Daguan,
which provide information on 13th-century
Cambodia and earlier. The
Angkor temples, such as those in Bayon, describe
everyday life of the ancient Khmer kingdom, including scenes of palace
life, naval battles on the river or lakes, and common scenes of the
Economy and agriculture
The ancient Khmers were a traditional agricultural community, relying
heavily on rice farming. The farmers, who formed the majority of
kingdom's population, planted rice near the banks of the lake or
river, in the irrigated plains surrounding their villages, or in the
hills when lowlands were flooded. The rice paddies were irrigated by a
massive and complex hydraulics system, including networks of canals
and barays, or giant water reservoirs. This system enabled the
formation of large-scale rice farming communities surrounding Khmer
cities. Sugar palm trees, fruit trees, and vegetables were grown in
the orchards by the villages, providing other sources of agricultural
produce such as palm sugar, palm wine, coconut, various tropical
fruits, and vegetables.
Khmer market on Bayon
Located by the massive
Tonlé Sap lake, and also near numerous rivers
and ponds, many
Khmer people relied on fresh water fisheries for their
living. Fishing gave the population their main source of protein,
which was turned into prahok — dried or roasted or steamed fish
paste wrapped in banana leaves. Rice was the main staple along with
fish. Other sources of protein included pigs, cattle, and poultry,
which were kept under the farmers' houses, which were on stilts to
protect them from flooding.
The marketplace of
Angkor contained no permanent buildings; it was an
open square where the traders sat on the ground on woven straw mats
and sold their wares. There were no tables or chairs. Some traders
might be protected from the sun with a simple thatched parasol. A
certain type of tax or rent was levied by officials for each space
occupied by traders in the marketplace. The trade and economy in the
Angkor marketplace were mainly run by women.
Zhou Daguan's description of the women of Angkor:
The local people who know how to trade are all women. So when a
Chinese goes to this country, the first thing he must do is take in a
woman, partly with a view to profiting from her trading abilities.
The women age very quickly, no doubt because they marry and give birth
when too young. When they are twenty or thirty years old, they look
like Chinese women who are forty or fifty.
The role of women in the trade and economy of the Khmer Empire
suggests that they enjoyed significant rights and freedom. Their
practice of marrying early may have contributed to the high fertility
rate and huge population of the kingdom.
Society and politics
See also: Devaraja
Naval battle against Cham, Bayon
Marching Khmer army, depicted on Bayon
The Khmer empire was founded upon extensive networks of agricultural
rice farming communities. A distinct settlement hierarchy is present
in the region. Small villages were clustered around regional centres,
such as the one at Phimai, which in turn sent their goods to large
Angkor in return for other goods, such as pottery and
foreign trade items from China. The king and his officials were in
charge of irrigation management and water distribution, which
consisted of an intricate series of hydraulics infrastructure, such as
canals, moats, and massive reservoirs called barays. Society was
arranged in a hierarchy reflecting the
Hindu caste system, where the
commoners — rice farmers and fishermen — formed the large majority
of the population. The kshatriyas — royalty, nobles, warlords,
soldiers, and warriors — formed a governing elite and authorities.
Other social classes included brahmins (priests), traders, artisans
such as carpenters and stonemasons, potters, metalworkers, goldsmiths,
and textile weavers, while on the lowest social level are slaves.
The extensive irrigation projects provided rice surpluses that could
support a large population. The state religion was
influenced by the cult of Devaraja, elevating the Khmer kings as
possessing the divine quality of living gods on earth, attributed to
the incarnation of
Vishnu or Shiva. In politics, this status was
viewed as the divine justification of a king's rule. The cult enabled
the Khmer kings to embark on massive architectural projects,
constructing majestic monuments such as
Angkor Wat and
celebrate the king's divine rule on earth.
The King was surrounded by ministers, state officials, nobles,
royalties, palace women, and servants, all protected by guards and
troops. The capital city of
Angkor and the Khmer royal court are
famous for grand ceremonies, with many festivals and rituals held in
the city. Even when travelling, the King and his entourages created
quite a spectacle, as described in Zhou Daguan's account:
Zhou Daguan's description of a royal procession of Indravarman
When the king goes out, troops are at the head of [his] escort; then
come flags, banners and music. Palace women, numbering from three to
five hundred, wearing flowered cloth, with flowers in their hair, hold
candles in their hands, and form a troupe. Even in broad daylight, the
candles are lighted. Then come other palace women, bearing royal
paraphernalia made of gold and silver... Then come the palace women
carrying lances and shields, with the king's private guards. Carts
drawn by goats and horses, all in gold, come next. Ministers and
princes are mounted on elephants, and in front of them one can see,
from afar, their innumerable red umbrellas. After them come the wives
and concubines of the king, in palanquins, carriages, on horseback and
on elephants. They have more than one hundred parasols, flecked with
gold. Behind them comes the sovereign, standing on an elephant,
holding his sacred sword in his hand. The elephant's tusks are encased
Zhou Daguan's description of the Khmer king's wardrobe:
Only the ruler can dress in cloth with an all-over floral
design…Around his neck he wears about three pounds of big pearls. At
his wrists, ankles and fingers he has gold bracelets and rings all set
with cat's eyes…When he goes out, he holds a golden sword [of state]
in his hand.
Khmer kings were often involved in series of wars and conquests. The
large population of
Angkor enabled the kingdom to support large free
standing armies, which were sometimes deployed to conquer neighbouring
princedoms or kingdoms. Series of conquests were led to expand the
kingdom's influence over areas surrounding
Angkor and Tonle Sap, the
Mekong valley and delta, and surrounding lands. Some Khmer kings
embarked on military conquests and war against neighbouring Champa,
Dai Viet, and Thai warlords. Khmer kings and royal families were also
often involved in incessant power struggle over successions or
rivalries over principalities.
The main religion was Hinduism, followed by
Buddhism in popularity.
Initially the kingdom revered
Hinduism as the main state religion.
Shiva were the most revered deities, worshipped in Khmer
Hindu temples. Temples such as
Angkor Wat are actually known as Preah
Pisnulok (Vara Vishnuloka in Sanskrit) or the realm of Vishnu, to
honour the posthumous King
Suryavarman II as Vishnu.
Hindu ceremonies and rituals performed by Brahmins (
usually only held among ruling elites of the king's family, nobles,
and the ruling class. The empire's official religions included
Mahayana Buddhism until
Theravada Buddhism prevailed,
even among the lower classes, after its introduction from
Sri Lanka in
the 13th century.
Art and architecture
Khmer architecture and Khmer sculpture
Zhou Daguan's description on the
Angkor Royal Palace:
All official buildings and homes of the aristocracy, including the
Royal Palace, face the east. The Royal Palace stands north of the
Golden Tower and the Bridge of Gold: it is one and a half mile in
circumference. The tiles of the main dwelling are of lead. Other
dwellings are covered with yellow-coloured pottery tiles. Carved or
painted Buddhas decorate all the immense columns and lintels. The
roofs are impressive too. Open corridors and long colonnades, arranged
in harmonious patterns, stretch away on all sides.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Khmer architecture.
The Khmer empire produced numerous temples and majestic monuments to
celebrate the divine authority of Khmer kings. Khmer architecture
Hindu belief that the temple was built to recreate the
Hindu gods, Mount Meru, with its five peaks and surrounded by
seas represented by ponds and moats. The early Khmer temples built in
Angkor region and the
Bakong temple in
employed stepped pyramid structures to represent the sacred
Khmer art and architecture reached their aesthetic and technical peak
with the construction of the majestic temple
Angkor Wat. Other temples
are also constructed in the
Angkor region, such as
Ta Phrom and Bayon.
The construction of the temple demonstrates the artistic and technical
achievements of the Khmer
Empire through its architectural mastery of
List of architectural styles during
Continuation of pre-Angkorean but a period of innovation and borrowing
such as from Cham temples. Tower mainly square and relatively high.
Mainly brick with laterite walls and stone door surrounds. Square and
octagonal colonettes begin to appear.
Indravarman I Jayavarman III
Preah Ko, Bakong, Lolei
Simple plan: one or more square brick towers on a single base. First
appearance of concentric enclosures and of gopura and libraries.
Decorative 'flying palaces' replaced by dvarapalas and devatas in
niches. First major temple mountain at Bakong.
Yasovarman I Harshavarman I
Phnom Bakheng, Phnom Krom, Phnom Bok,
Baksei Chamkrong (trans.)
Development of the temple mountain. More use of stone, particularly
for major temples and more decorative stone carving.
Koh Ker temples
Scale of buildings diminishes toward center. Brick still main material
but sandstone also used.
Pre Rup, East Mebon, Bat Chum, Kutisvara
Koh Ker and Banteay Srei. Long halls partly
enclose sanctuary. The last great monuments in plastered brick,
increasing use of sandstone.
Ornate, superposed pediments, sweeping gable ends, rich and deep
carving. Plasterd brick replaced by stone and laterite. Appearance of
scenes in pediments. Voluptuous devatas with gentle expressions.
Ta Keo, The Khleangs, Phimeanakas, Royal Palace
First use of galleries. Cruciform gopuras. Octagonal colonettes.
Restrained decorative carving.
Baphuon, West Mebon
A return to rich carving: floral motifs but also lintels with scenes.
Nagas without head-dress. Bas-reliefs appear at
carving with lively scenes enclosed in small panels, often in
Suryavarman II Yasovarman II
Angkor Wat, Banteay Samré, Thommanon, Chau Say Tevoda, Beng Mealea,
some of Preah Pithu, Phimai and Phnom Rung
The high classical style of Khmer architecture. Fully developed
conical towers with carving profile. Galleries wider and with half
galleries on one side. Concentric enclosures connected by axial
galleries. Nagas with head-dress, naga balustrades raised off the
ground. Invention of cross-shaped terrace. Richly carved lintels and
other decorations. Bas-reliefs, Apsaras.
Jayavarman VII Indravarman II
Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, Ta Nei,
Angkor Thom, Prasat
Chrung, Bayon, Elephant terrace,
Ta Prohm Kel, Krol Ko, Prasat Suor
Prat, Banteay Chhmar, Hospital Chaples, Jayatataka baray
The last great style. Hurried construction, often in laterite not
stone, carving less elegant. Complex plans, huge temples. In Cambodia,
face-towers and historical narrative bas-reliefs. Three periods: 1.
large complex temples on a single level, 2. face-towers and avenues of
giants carrying nagas, 3. decline of the building standards, devatas
Angkor Wat style diadem.
Jayavarman VIII and others
Terrace of the Leper King, Preah Pithu,
Preah Palilay (modifications
Inversion of cross-shaped terrace, causeways on columns, low or high.
Culture and way of life
Cockfighting on Bayon
Zhou Daguan's description of Khmer houses:
The dwellings of the princes and principal officials have a completely
different layout and dimensions from those of the people. All the
outlying buildings are covered with thatch; only the family temple and
the principal apartment can be covered in tiles. The official rank of
each person determines the size of the houses.
Houses of farmers were situated near the rice paddies on the edge of
the cities. The walls of the houses were made of woven bamboo, with
thatched roofs, and they were on stilts. A house was divided into
three rooms by woven bamboo walls. One was the parents' bedroom,
another was the daughters' bedroom, and the largest was the living
area. Sons slept wherever they could find space. The kitchen was at
the back or in a separate room. Nobles and kings lived in the palace
and much larger houses in the city. They were made of the same
materials as the farmers' houses, but the roofs were wooden shingles
and had elaborate designs as well as more rooms.
The common people wore a sampot where the front end was drawn between
the legs and secured at the back by a belt. Nobles and kings wore
finer and richer fabrics. Women wore a strip of cloth to cover the
chest, while noble women had a lengthened one that went over the
shoulder. Men and women wore a Krama. Along with depictions of battle
and the military conquests of kings, the basreliefs of
the mundane everyday life of common Khmer people, including scenes of
the marketplace, fishermen, butchers, people playing a chess-like
game, and gambling during cockfighting.
Relations with regional powers
Phimai, the site of an ancient Khmer city of Vimayapura
During the formation of the empire, the Khmer had close cultural,
political, and trade relations with Java and with the Srivijaya
empire that lay beyond Khmer's southern seas. In 851 an Arabic
merchant named Sulaimaan recorded an incident involving a Khmer king
and a Maharaja of Zabaj. He described the story of a Khmer king who
defied the power of Maharaja of Zabaj and was later punished by the
Maharaja. Zabaj is Arabic form of
Javaka and might refer to
Srivijaya. The legend probably describes the predecessor or initial
stage of Khmer kingdom under Javanese dominion. The Legend of the
Maharaja of Zabaj was later published by the historian Masoudi in his
947 book, "Meadows of
Gold and Mines of Gems." The Kaladi inscription
Java (c. 909 CE) mentioned Kmir (
Khmer people or Cambodian)
together with Campa (Champa) and Rman (Mon) as foreigners from
Southeast Asia who frequently came to
Java to trade. The
inscription suggests a maritime trade network had been established
between Kambuja and
Java (Mdang kingdom).
Throughout its history, the empire also was involved in series of wars
and rivalries with the neighbouring kingdoms of Champa, Tambralinga,
Đại Việt — and later in its history with Siamese Sukhothai
and Ayutthaya. The Khmer Empire's relations with its eastern neighbour
Champa was exceptionally intense, as both sides struggled for
domination in the region. The Cham fleet raided
Angkor in 1177, and in
1203 the Khmer managed to push back and defeat Champa.
Arab writers of the 9th and 10th century hardly mention the region for
anything other than its backwardness, but they considered the king of
Al-Hind (India and Southeast Asia) as one of the four great kings in
the world. The ruler of the
Rashtrakuta Dynasty is described as
the greatest king of Al-Hind, but even the lesser kings of Al-Hind
including the kings of Java, Pagan Burma, and the Khmer kings of
Cambodia are invariably depicted by the Arabs as extremely powerful
and as being equipped with vast armies of men, horses, and often tens
of thousands of elephants. They were also known to have been in
possession of vast treasures of gold and silver. The Khmer rulers
established relations with the
Chola dynasty of South India.
Empire seems to have maintained contact with Chinese
dynasties; spanning from the late Tang period to the Yuan period. The
relations with the
Yuan dynasty was of great historical significance,
since it produced The Customs of
Cambodia (Chinese: 真臘風土記),
an important insight into the Khmer Empire's daily life, culture and
society. The report was written between 1296 and 1297 by the Yuan
Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan, sent by
Temür Khan of
Yuan dynasty to
stay in Angkor.
Image of Siamese mercenaries in
Angkor Wat. Later the Siamese would
form their own kingdom and become a major rival of Angkor.
Beginning in the 13th century, Khmer's relations with the Siamese were
difficult and bitter, resulting in rivalry and hostility for
centuries. Siamese Sukhothai revolted from the empire's suzerainty in
1238. In August 1296,
Zhou Daguan recorded that in the recent war with
the Siamese, the country was utterly devastated. This report confirmed
that by the late 13th century, the Siamese warlords had revolted and
disrupted the Khmer empire's hegemony, starting Siam's rise. By the
14th century, the Siamese
Ayutthaya Kingdom became the Khmer empire's
formidable rival, as
Angkor was besieged and captured twice by
Ayutthayan Siamese invaders in 1353 and 1394.
A Javanese source, the
Nagarakretagama canto 15, composed in 1365 in
Majapahit Empire, claimed
Java had established diplomatic
relations with Kambuja (Cambodia) together with Syangkayodhyapura
(Ayutthaya), Dharmmanagari (Negara Sri Dharmaraja), Rajapura
(Ratchaburi) and Singhanagari (Songkla), Marutma (Martaban or Mottama,
Champa and Yawana (Annam). This record
describes the political situations in Mainland
Southeast Asia in the
mid-14th century; although the Cambodian kingdom still survived, the
rise of Siamese Ayutthaya had taken its toll. Finally, the empire
fell, marked by the abandonment of
Phnom Penh in 1431,
caused by Siamese pressure.
List of rulers
See also: List of monarchs of
Cambodia and Monarchs' family tree
Information and events
Proclaimed the independence of Kambuja from Java. Claimed as
Chakravartin through sacred
Hindu ritual on
Phnom Kulen and initiating
Devaraja cult in Cambodia.
Son of Jayavarman II
Nephew of Jayavarman II. Built
Preah Ko dedicated to Jayavarman II,
also for his father and his grand father. Constructed temple mountain
Son of Indravarman I. Built Indratataka
Baray and Lolei. Moved the
Yaśodharapura centred around Phnom Bakheng, and also built
Son of Yasovarman I. Involved in a power struggle against his maternal
uncle Jayavarman IV. Built Baksei Chamkrong.
Son of Yasovarman I, brother of Harshavarman I. Involved in a power
struggle against his maternal uncle Jayavarman IV. Built Prasat
Son of King Indravarman I's daughter, Mahendradevi, married to
Yasovarman I sister, claim the throne through maternal line. Ruled
from Koh Ker.
Son of Jayavarman IV.
Uncle and first cousin of
Harshavarman II and wrestle power from him.
Transfer the capital back to Angkor, Built
Pre Rup and East Mebon. War
Champa in 946.
Jayendranagari in Angkor
Rajendravarman II. Built a new capital Jayendranagari and Ta
Keo in its centre.
Udayadityavarman I, Jayaviravarman, Suryavarman I
Period of chaos, 3 kings rule simultaneously as antagonist.
Took the throne. Alliance with Chola and conflict with Tambralinga
Preah Khan Kompong Svay. The king adhered to Mahayana
Yaśodharapura II (Angkor)
Took the throne, descendant of Yasovarman I's spouse. Built Baphuon,
West Baray and West Mebon, also Sdok Kok Thom.
Yaśodharapura II (Angkor)
Succeeded his elder brother Udayadityavarman II, capital at Baphuon.
Champa invasion in 1074 and 1080.
Usurper from Vimayapura. Built Phimai.
Succeeded his younger brother, Jayavarman VI.
Usurped and killed his great uncle. Built
Angkor Wat, Banteay Samre,
Chau Say Tevoda
Chau Say Tevoda and Beng Mealea. Invade
Đại Việt and
Succeeded his cousin Suryavarman II
Overthrown by his minister Tribhuvanadityavarman
Cham invasion in 1177 and 1178 led by Jaya Indravarman IV, looted the
Cham occupation, led by
Champa king Jaya Indravarman IV
Led Khmer army against Cham invaders thus liberated Cambodia. Led the
Champa (1190–1191). Major infrastructure constructions;
built hospitals, rest houses, reservoirs, and temples including Ta
Prohm, Preah Khan,
Angkor Thom city, and Neak Pean.
Son of Jayavarman VII. Lost control of
Champa and lost western
territories to Siamese Sukhothai Kingdom.
Mongol invasion led by
Kublai Khan in 1283, and war with Sukhothai.
Built Mangalartha. Zealous Shivaite
Jayavarman VIII eradicated
Overthrown his father in law Jayavarman VIII. Made Theravada Buddhism
the state religion. Received Yuan Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan
Jayavarmadiparamesvara (Jayavarman IX)
Sanskrit inscription (1327).
Siam Ayutthaya invasion led by Uthong
Borom Reachea I
Siam Ayutthaya invasion led by Ramesuan
Barom Reachea II
Gallery of temples
Angkorian Temples in Cambodia
Chau Say Tevoda
Terrace of the Elephants
Angkorian Temples in Thailand
Prang Sam Yot
Prasat Muang Tam
Prasat Muang Singh
Sdok Kok Thom
Angkorian Temples in Laos
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Khmer Empire.
Dark ages of Cambodia
List of kings of Cambodia
List of kings of Cambodia – Chronological listing with reign, title
and posthumous title(s), where known
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Coordinates: 13°26′N 103°50′E / 13.433°N 103.833°E /
Eastern Ganga dynasty
ancient great powers
medieval great powers