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The Early history of Cambodia follows the prehistoric and protohistoric development

of Cambodia a country in mainland Southeast Asia. Thanks to archaeological work carried

out since 2009 this can now be traced back to the Neolithic period. As excavation sites have
become more numerous and modern dating methods are applied, settlement traces of all
stages of human civil development from neolithic Hunter-gatherer groups to organized
preliterate societies are documented in the region.
Historical records of a political structure on territory, what is now modern day Cambodia first
appear in Chinese annals in reference to Funan, a polity that encompassed the
southernmost part of the Indochinese peninsula during the 1st to 6th centuries. Centered at
the lower Mekong,[5] Funan is noted as the oldest regional Hindu culture, which suggests
prolonged socio-economic interaction with maritime trading partners of the Indosphere in the
west.[6] By the 6th century a civilisation, titled Chenla or Zhenla in Chinese annals, has firmly
replaced Funan, as it controlled larger, more undulating areas of Indochina and maintained
more than a singular centre of power.
The Khmer Empire was established by the early 9th century in a mythical initiation and
consecration ceremony to claim political legitimacy by founder Jayavarman II at Mount Kulen
(Mount Mahendra) in 802 C.E.[9] A succession of powerful sovereigns, continuing
the Hindu devaraja cult tradition, reigned over the classical era of Khmer civilisation until the
11th century. A new dynasty of provincial origin introduced Buddhism as changes of
religious, dynastic, administrative and military nature, environmental problems and ecological
imbalance[10] coincide with shifts of power in Indochina. The royal chronology ends in the 14th
century. Great achievements in administration, and accomplishments
inagriculture, architecture, hydrology, logistics, urban planning and the arts are testimony to a
creative and progressive civilization - in its complexity a cornerstone of Southeast Asian
cultural legacy.

At about the time that Western Europe was absorbing the classical culture and institutions of
the Mediterranean, the people of mainland and insular Southeast Asia were responding to
the stimulus of a civilization that had arisen in India during the previous millennium.[24] The
Indianization of Southeast Asia happened as a consequence of the increasing trade in
the Indian Ocean. Vedic and Hindu religion, political thought, literature, mythology, and
artistic motifs gradually became integral elements in local Southeast Asian cultures.

The caste system was never adopted, but Indianization stimulated the rise of highly

organised, centralised states.

Funan, the earliest of the Indianised states, is generally considered to have been the first
kingdom in the area. Found in the 1st century CE, Funan was located on the lower reaches
of the Mekong River delta area, in what is today southeast Cambodia and the extreme south
of Vietnam. Its capital, Vyadhapura, probably was located near the present-day town of Ba
Phnom in Prey Veng Province. The earliest historical reference to Funan is a Chinese
description of a mission that visited the country in the 3rd century. The name Funan is largely
believed to be derived from the old khmer word 'Phnom' meaning mountain. The Funanese
were likely of Austroasiatic origin. What the Funanese called themselves, however, is not
During this early period in Funan's history, the population was probably concentrated in
villages along the Mekong River and along the Tonl Sap River below the Tonl Sap. Traffic
and communications were mostly waterborne on the rivers and their delta tributaries. The
area was a natural region for the development of an economy based on fishing and rice
cultivation. There is considerable evidence that the Funanese economy depended on rice
surpluses produced by an extensive inland irrigation system. Maritime trade played an
extremely important role in the development of Funan, and the remains of what is believed to
have been the kingdom's main port, c Eo(O'keo) (now part of Vietnam), contain Roman as
well as Persian, Indian, and Greek artefacts.
By the 5th century, the state exercised control over the lower Mekong River area and the
lands around the Tonle Sap. It also commanded tribute from smaller states in the area now
comprising northern Cambodia, southernLaos, southern Thailand, and the northern portion
of the Malay Peninsula. Indianization was fostered by increasing contact with the
subcontinent through the travels of merchants, diplomats, and learned Brahmins. By the end
of the 5th century, the elite culture was thoroughly Indianised. Court ceremony and the
structure of political institutions were based on Indian models. The Sanskrit language was
widely used; the laws of Manu, the Indian legal code, were adopted; and an alphabet based
on Indian writing systems was introduced.
Beginning in the early 6th century, civil wars and dynastic strife undermined Funan's stability.
A former northern vassal turned to independent kingdom, Chenla, began to increase its
power and status quo was achieved only through dynastic marriages. But eventually Funan
was absorbed by the Khmer Chenla and became a vassal itself. Funan disappears from
history in the 7th century.

The people of Chenla were probably Khmer. Inscriptions prove, that Khmer script, adopted
from south Indian Pallava script, had fully developed and was in use, alongside Sanskrit.
Chenla is first mentioned in the Chinese Sui dynasty's history as a Funan vassal. The
founder of the kingdom, who managed to break free from Funan's control, was Strutavarman.
A later king, Bhavarman, invaded Funan annexing it to Chenla's domains. Once they
established control over Funan, they embarked on a course of conquest that continued for
three centuries. They subjugated central and upper Laos, annexed portions of the Mekong
Delta, and brought what are now western Cambodia and southern Thailand under their direct
At the same time, king Mahendravarman established peace with the neighbouring kingdom
of Champa through marriage arrangements, and Isnavarman, who succeeded him in 616,
moved to a new capital, which, according to a Chinese writer, was inhabited by 20 thousands
families. Culturally, the royal families of Chenla generally preserved the earlier political,
social, and religious institutions of Funan, thus preserving the elements introduced from
India. Chenla appears to have had a preference for Hinduism over other religions brought
from there, like Buddhism.
In the 8th century, however, factional disputes at the Chenla court resulted in the splitting of
the kingdom into rival northern and southern halves. According to Chinese chronicles, the
two parts were known as Land (or Upper) Chenla and Water (or Lower) Chenla. Land Chenla
maintained a relatively stable existence, but Water Chenla underwent a period of constant
turbulence, partly because of attacks from the sea by the Javanese and others. The
Sailendra dynasty in Java actively tried to establish control on Water Chenla territories and
eventually forced the kingdom to vassal status. The last of the Water Chenla kings allegedly
was killed around 790 by a Javanese monarch whom he had offended. The ultimate victor in
the strife that followed was the ruler of a small Khmer state located north of the Mekong

Delta. His assumption of the throne as Jayavarman II (ca. 802 - 850) marked the liberation of
the Khmer people from Javanese suzerainty and the beginning of a Khmer empire.

The classic period or Khmer Empire lasted from the early 9th century to the early 15th
century. Technical and artistic progress, greatest cultural achievements, political integrity and
administrative stability marked the golden age of Khmer civilization. The ruins of great temple
complexes surrounded by an elaborate hydraulic network - the capital cities of Angkor,
located north of the Tonle Sap lake near the modern town of Siem Reap, are a lasting
monument to the accomplishments of Jayavarman II and his successors.[25]
Jayavarman II settled north of the Tonle Sap and founded Hariharalaya, at modern day
Roluos.[26] Indravarman I (877 - 889) extended Khmer control as far west as the Korat
Plateau in Thailand, and he ordered the construction of a huge reservoir north of the capital
to provide irrigation for wet rice cultivation. His son, Yasovarman I (889 - 900), built the
Eastern Baray (reservoir or tank), evidence of which remains to the present time. Its dikes,
which may be seen today, are more than 6 kilometres long and 1.6 kilometres wide. The
elaborate system of canals and reservoirs built under Indravarman I and his successors were
the key to Kambuja's prosperity for half a millennium. By freeing cultivators from dependence
on unreliable seasonal monsoons, they made possible an early "green revolution" that
provided the country with large surpluses of rice. The empire's decline during the 13th and
14th centuries probably was hastened by the deterioration of the irrigation system. Attacks by
Thai and other foreign peoples and the internal discord caused by dynastic rivalries diverted
human resources from the system's upkeep, and it gradually fell into disrepair.[27]
Suryavarman II (1113 - 1150), one of the greatest Angkorian monarchs, expanded his
kingdom's territory in a series of successful wars against the kingdom of Champa in central
Vietnam and the small Mon polities as far west as the Irrawaddy River of Burma. He reduced
to vassalage the Thai peoples who had migrated into Southeast Asia from the Yunnan region
of southern China and established his suzerainty over the northern part of the Malay
Peninsula. His greatest achievement was the construction of the temple city complex of
Angkor Wat. The largest religious edifice in the world, Angkor Wat is considered the greatest

single architectural work in Southeast Asia. However, territorial expansion came to a halt
when Suryavarman II was killed in battle attempting to invade i Vit. With i Vit's
support, the Cham quickly drove Khmer presence out of Champa territory. Suryavarman II's
reign was, unfortunately, then followed by thirty years of dynastic upheaval and an invasion in
revenge by the neighbouring Cham, who destroyed the city of Angkor in 1177.

Khmer armed with war elephantsdrove out the Cham in the 12th century.

The Cham ultimately were driven out by Jayavarman VII, whose reign (1181 - ca. 1218)
marked the apogee of Kambuja's power. Unlike his predecessors, who had adopted the
worship of the Hindu god-king, Jayavarman VII was a fervent patron of Mahayana Buddhism.
Casting himself as a bodhisattva, he embarked on a frenzy of building activity that included
the Angkor Thom complex and the Bayon, a remarkable temple whose stone towers depict
216 faces of buddhas, gods, and kings. He also built over 200 rest houses and hospitals
throughout his kingdom. Like the Roman emperors, he maintained a system of roads
between his capital and provincial towns. According to historian Georges Coeds, "No other
Cambodian king can claim to have moved so much stone." Often, quality suffered for the
sake of size and rapid construction, as is revealed in the intriguing but poorly constructed
Carvings show that everyday Angkorian buildings were wooden structures not much different
from those found in Cambodia today. The impressive stone buildings were not used as
residences by members of the royal family. Rather, they were the focus of Hindu or Buddhist
beliefs that celebrated the divinity, or buddhahood, of the monarch and his family. Coeds
suggests that they had the dual function of both temple and tomb. Typically, their dimensions
reflected the structure of the Hindu mythological universe. For example, five towers at the
centre of the Angkor Wat complex represent the peaks of Mount Meru, the centre of the
universe; an outer wall represents the mountains that ring the world's edge; and a moat
depicts the cosmic ocean. Like many other ancient edifices, the monuments of the Angkorian
region absorbed vast reserves of resources and human labour and their purpose remains
shrouded in mystery.

Angkorian society was strictly hierarchical. The king, regarded as divine, owned both the land
and his subjects. Immediately below the monarch and the royal family were the Brahman
priesthood and a small class of officials, who numbered about 4,000 in the 10th century. Next
were the commoners, who were burdened with heavy corve (forced labour) duties. There
was also a large slave class who built the enduring monuments.
After Jayavarman VII's death, Kambuja entered a long period of decline that led to its
eventual disintegration. The Thai were a growing menace on the empire's western borders.
The spread of Theravada Buddhism, which came to Kambuja from Sri Lanka by way of the
Mon kingdoms, challenged the royal Hindu and Mahayana Buddhism. Preaching austerity
and the salvation of the individual through his or own her efforts, Theravada Buddhism did
not lend doctrinal support to a society ruled by an opulent royal establishment maintained
through the virtual slavery of the masses.
In 1353 a Thai army captured Angkor. It was recaptured by the Khmer, but wars continued
and the capital was looted several times. During the same period, Khmer territory north of the
present Laotian border was lost to the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang. In 1431 the Thai captured
Angkor Thom. Thereafter, the Angkorian region did not again encompass a royal capital,
except for a brief period in the third quarter of the 16th century.



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