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The Kingdom of the Khmers

Updated on March 24, 2014
The kingdom of the Khmers occupied much of modern Cambodia, plus the southern part of Vietnam. Around 1 million people lived in the capital of Angkor. The rest of the population occupied the floodplains of rivers such as the Mekong.
The kingdom of the Khmers occupied much of modern Cambodia, plus the southern part of Vietnam. Around 1 million people lived in the capital of Angkor. The rest of the population occupied the floodplains of rivers such as the Mekong.

In the deep jungles of Cambodia stand some of the largest temples and palaces ever constructed. They are the remainders of the great civilization of the Khmers, who flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries AD. They were ruled by kings so powerful, that their people believed them to be gods.

Dense, tropical forests covered much of the Khmers’ country, and every year the monsoons would flood their rivers, making it difficult to grow crops. They lived in a very difficult and inhospitable part of the world.

Plants have engulfed the temples of the Khmers.
Plants have engulfed the temples of the Khmers. | Source
King of the Khmer Empire -- Jayavarman VII.
King of the Khmer Empire -- Jayavarman VII. | Source

The Khmers began to clear the forests and adapted to the rain, learning to grow rice in the flooded plains on either side of the great Mekong River.

As time passed, they learned how to dig canals and reservoirs to drain away or store the flood water – this meant they could water their fields during the rest of the year, when there wasn’t much rain.

The Khmers opened up trade routes through Siam (Thailand) into India. Due to these links, Khmer artists and architects copied the Indian styles, and the Khmers began to adopt the Hindu religion.

The Khmers had to clear large areas of tropical forest for farming and to make space for building temples. They used elephants to move and carry heavy trees. They also used elephants in warfare.
The Khmers had to clear large areas of tropical forest for farming and to make space for building temples. They used elephants to move and carry heavy trees. They also used elephants in warfare.

The Khmer Kings’ godly status gave then enormous power and made the majority of people eager to work for them. From the 12th century onwards, the kings began massive building projects – temples covering many acres, surrounded by huge lakes and long canals. The workers would gather together in groups of 25 or more, and haul the massive blocks of stone through the forest to the building sites to create the towering temples. They also built hospitals, reservoirs and roads.

The greatest of all Khmer temples was Angkor Wat. It was started by King Suryavarman II in 1113, and covers a vast area. It contains several courtyards lined with shrines and topped with huge towers.
The greatest of all Khmer temples was Angkor Wat. It was started by King Suryavarman II in 1113, and covers a vast area. It contains several courtyards lined with shrines and topped with huge towers. | Source

Key Dates

AD 802: The Khmer empire is founded under King Jayavarman II.

AD 881: King Yasovarman I builds the earliest surviving Khmer temple.

AD 1113: The building of Angkor Wat begins.

AD 1177: The Cham sail up the Mekong River and attack Angkor Wat.

AD 1200: King Jayavarman VII builds a new temple, Angkor Thom.

AD 1431: Siamese invaders destroy Angkor and the Khmer empire collapses.

The Khmer kingdom lasted up until the 15th century – the people had to fight off several invasion attempts by neighbors jealous of their wealth. However, finally in 1431, an invading army from Siam proved too strong for the Khmers, and they fled to a small area in the south of the country.

Have you ever visited Angkor Wat?

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Enjoyed this hub? Maybe you'd like my other hub about ancient civilizations:

The Formation of Ancient Babylon

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    • Danida profile image
      Author

      Danida 3 years ago from London

      @brownella: I have always been intrigued by the scale and complexity of some ancient structures and how they are still standing. We build something and it crumbles in a few years!

      Thanks for commenting!

    • brownella profile image

      brownella 3 years ago from New England

      Interesting hub on the Khmer Empire. I went to Cambodia a couple of years ago and saw Angkor Wat, it really is astounding and the complexity and ingenuity of the design makes it even more stunning. Thanks for sharing, I look forward to reading more of your work :-)

    • Danida profile image
      Author

      Danida 3 years ago from London

      Thank you Eiddwen!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Well written and so also well informed.

      Here's to so many more of yours to enjoy.

      Voting this one up and sharing.

      Eddy.