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Khmer Empire

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The Khmer Empire is a former large nation situated in mainland South East Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, East Malaysia) and Katagalugan (Philippines). The empire, which grew out of the former kingdoms of Funan and Chenla, at times ruled over and/or vassalised most of mainland Southeast Asia.

  • Khmer Empire:  (802–1431) established early in the 9th century ad
  • Founder: Jayavarman II (“king of the world”, or “king of kings”) on Phnom Kulen
  • The Collapse of Khmer Empire: The cause of the Angkor empire’s demise in the early 15th century long remained a mystery. But researchers have now shown that intense monsoon rains that followed a prolonged drought in the region caused widespread damage to the city’s infrastructure, leading to its collapse. As these kingdoms grew in power, they started to attack and annex imperial territories. The Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya took Angkor Wat in 1431 CE, which constitutes the end of the Khmer Empire. Eventually the Thai created their own small kingdoms, the most important of them in the western side of the empire.
  • King Monarch
Order   Monarch Personal Name
49 Jayavarman II Chakravartin
50 Jayavarman VII Jayavathon
51 Indravarman II Indravarman
52 Jayavarman VIII Jayavarman

Divided during the 8th cent., it was reunited under the rule of Jayavarman II in the early 9th cent.; the capital was established in the area of Angkor by the king Yasovarman I (r. 889–900). The Angkor period (889–1434), the golden age of Khmer civilization, saw the empire at its greatest extent; it held sway over the valleys of the lower Menam (in present-day Thailand) and the lower Mekong (present-day Cambodia and Vietnam), as well as into Laos.”Cambodia” or “Kampuchea” in native sound. Formerly it was also known Kambujadesa. The Cambodian Empire or Angkorian Empire are less common variants.

It is one of the world’s leading superpowers. In the 6th cent. the Cambodians, or Khmers, established an empire roughly corresponding to modern Cambodia and Laos

The Khmer civilization was largely formed by Indian cultural influences. Buddhism flourished side by side with the worship of Shiva and of other Hindu gods, while both religions coalesced with the cult of the deified king. In the Angkor period many Indian scholars, artists, and religious teachers were attracted to the Khmer court, and Sanskrit literature flourished with royal patronage.

The great achievement of the Khmers was in architecture and sculpture. The earliest known Khmer monuments, isolated towers of brick, probably date from the 7th cent. Small temples set on stepped pyramids next appeared. The development of covered galleries led gradually to a great elaboration of plan. Brick was largely abandoned in favor of stone. Khmer architecture reached its height with the construction of Angkor Wat by Suryavarman II (r. 1113–50) and Angkor Thom by Jayavarman VII (r. 1181–c.1218). Sculpture, which also prospered at Angkor, showed a steady development from relative naturalism to a more conventionalized technique. Bas-reliefs, lacking in the earliest monuments, came to overshadow in importance statues in the round; in the later stages of Khmer art hardly a wall was left bare of bas-reliefs, which conveyed in the richness of their detail and vitality a vivid picture of Khmer life.

The Khmers fought repeated wars against the Annamese (see Annam) and the Chams; in the early 12th cent. they invaded Champa, but, in 1177, Angkor was sacked by the Chams. After the founding of Ayuthia (c.1350), Cambodia was subjected to repeated invasions from Thailand, and the Khmer power declined. In 1434, after the Thai captured Angkor, the capital was transferred to Phnom Penh; this event marks the end of the brilliance of the Khmer civilization.


See L. P. Briggs, The Ancient Khmer Empire (1951); J. Audric, Angkor and the Khmer Empire (1972); J. R. Coburn, Khmers, Tigers, and Talismans (1978).


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