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Cambodia History


Cambodia’s Pre- History

Evidence suggests the presence of occupation in Cambodia in the prehistoric period. The earliest settlement found so far at Loang Spean in Battambang province has produced evidence of occupation over 6,000 years ago. The people lived in caves and knew the techniques of polishing stone and decorating pottery with cord-marked, combed and carve designs.

A second prehistoric site, Bas-Plateaux in Kompong Cham province, has yielded radiocarbon dates from the second century BC. The inhabitants of this later site lived in groups resembling villages. Their level of domestication was similar to that of the people of Loang Spean. Samrong Sen in central Cambodia, a third prehistoric site, was occupied about 1500 BC. Opinions differ as to when the prehistoric period ended, it is generally agreed it occurred sometime between 500 BC and AD 100.

Pre-Angkor Period (Funan & Chenla) 1st to 8th Centuries

The Indianisation of Cambodia begin in the 1st century as traders playing the route from the Bay of Bengal to southern China brought Indian ideas and technologies to what is now southern Vietnam. The largest of the era’s nascent kingdoms, known to the Chinese as Funan, embraced the worship of the Hindu deities Shiva and Vishnu and, at the same time, Buddhism, and was crucial in the transmission of Indian culture to the interior of Cambodia. From 6th to 8th centuries Cambodia seems to have been ruled by a collection of competing kingdoms. Chinese annals refer to ‘’ Water Chenla’’, apparently the area around the modern-day town of Takeo, and ‘’Land Chenla’’, along the upper reaches of the Mekong River and east of Tonle Sap lake, and around Sambor Prei Kuk.

Angkor Period 9th to 15th Centuries

The Angkor era lasted from AD 802 to 1432, encompassing periods of conquest, turmoil and retreat, revival and decline, and fits of remarkable productivity. In 802 king Jayavarman II (reigned 802-850) proclaimed himself a ‘’universal monarch’’, or devaraja (god-king). He instigated an uprising against Javanese domination of southern Cambodia and, through alliances and conquests, brought the country under his control, becoming the first monarch to rule the most what we now call Cambodia. The Angkor Empire was made possible by baray (reservoirs) and irrigation works sophisticated and massive enough to support Angkor’s huge population. The first records of such works date to the region of Indravarman I (ruled 877-889), whose rule was marked by the flourishing of Angkor art, including the building of temples in the Roluos area. In the late 9th century YasovarmanI (ruled 889-910) moved the capital to Angkor, creating a new centre for worship, scholarship and the arts. After a period of turmoil and conflict, Suryavarman II (ruled 1113-1150)unified the kingdom and embarked on another phase of territorial expansion, waging successful but costly wars against both Vietnam and Champa. Because of his devotion to the Hindu deity Vishnu, he commissioned Angkor Wat.  The table soon turned. Champa struck back in 1177 with a naval expedition up the Mekong, taking Angkor by surprise and putting the king to death. But the following year a cousin of Suryavarman II- soon crowned Jayavarman VII (ruled 1181-1220)- rallied the Khmers and defeated the Chams in another epic naval battle. A devout follower of Mahayana Buddhism, it was he who built the city of Angkor Thom. Scholars believe that Angkor’s decline was already on the horizon when Angkor Wat was built- and that the reason were partly environmental. The 1000-sq km irrigation network had begun silting up due to deforestation and erosion, and the latest climate data from tree rings indicates that two prolonged droughts also played a role. After the era of Jayavarman VII’s reign, temple construction effectively ground to a halt. During the twilight years of the empire, the state religion changed back and forth several time and religious conflict and internecine rivalries were rife. The Thais, who were in the ascendency, made repeated incursions into Angkor, sacking the city in 1351 and again in 1431 and making off with thousands of intellectuals, artisans and dancers from the royal court whose profound impact on Thai culture can be seen to this day. From 1600 until the arrival of the French, Cambodia was ruled by a series of weak kings whose intrigues often involved seeking the protection of either Thailand or Vietnam- granted, of course, at a price.