The Khmer empire, also known as the Angkor empire, lasted a full six hundred years, and the city-state of Angkor served as its cultural and political center.
It was one of Southeast Asia’s most impressive and important human accomplishments and over its long rule, it dominated an area that would encompass modern Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
The Angkor empire rose for a number of different reasons. The monarchy system that was adopted by the Khmer empire was much like that of the Indian kings, and the Angkor kings ruled with absolute power and divine right. The empire itself was capable of raising vast armies to both defend and attack.
The Site of the City
One of the reasons the Angkor empire lasted and thrived as long as it did was because of its location.
The capital city-state of Angkor was located in the north of Tonle Sap Lake putting it at an impressive advantage when it came to defenses. Invaders would need to sail upstream from Mekong River and the city itself was protected by forests on all sides. This control of the waterways put the Khmer Empire at a distinct advantage when it came to naval battles and through its long history, the Angkor empire only lost one major sea battle. This was the military history that was left behind by the Angkor empire and the record stands as one of the most impressive in Asian history.
Rulers of the Khmer Empire
The Angkor Empire is thought to have been started during the 9th century, with the ruler known as King Jayavarman II. He established the capital of Angkor just north of the largest lake in the region and this proved to be an excellent location for the expansion that any empire would need. It would also be a good spot for the foundation of an agricultural culture that could support the armies when they needed to be called up.
Until the rise of King Jayavarman II, it was believed that there was no Cambodian identity; up until that point, the area had been under the control of India. (Read the Cambodia history prior to Jayavarman II here). The establishment of a Cambodian identity in this fashion is one that has gone on to influence Cambodian culture to this day.
When looking at the history of the Angkor Empire, it is still possible to see the remnants of their vast and impressive culture. The temples and sky-scraping buildings that this culture erected remain in Cambodia, and the craftsmanship and care that went into these beautiful works is still evident.
The Angkor Empire lasted a full six centuries, giving it a lifespan that was longer than that of the famed Ming Dynasty or even the British Empire. During the days of the Angkor Empire, Europe was still wracked by Crusades and the Mayan empire of South America was the only one that could compare in size or function.
So in short…
The decline of the Khmer Empire is still something that is not well recorded in history. There is some hint that the famous European plague, the Black Death played a role, as did the change in climate and the loss of control over the waterways. The Angkor Empire fell, but only after a reign that was impressive and awe-inspiring in many ways, and its history remains something that is an important part of modern Cambodia.
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