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Southeast Asia

Khmer kingdom

The 12th-century Angkor Wat temple The 12th-century Angkor Wat temple The early kingdoms of Southeast Asia were heavily influenced by China and India. From the 3rd century AD, traders and religious men from India introduced Hinduism and Buddhism to the local inhabitants, particularly the Khmer. The kingdoms of Funan and, later, Chenla grew up in this period. The golden age of Khmer civilization began in the 9th century when the Khmer kingdom was founded. It was ruled from its capital, Angkor, until the 15th century.

Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex in the worldAngkor Wat, the largest temple complex in the world


The building of a new capital city, called Angkor (in modern-day Cambodia), which would grow into a vast complex of temples and houses for up to 1 million people, was begun in about AD 900. The temples, many of whose sandstone walls were covered by beautiful carvings of god-kings, dancers and animals, were surrounded by a network of dams and irrigation channels.

Ta Prohm temple, Angkor Ta Prohm temple, Angkor The Khmer kingdom was finally overrun by armies of the neighbouring Thai kingdom in the mid-15th century. Angkor was abandoned to the jungle and not known outside Cambodia until 1860, when a French naturalist, Albert Henri Mouhot, came across it by accident.

Consultant: Philip Parker

See also in Culture

Angkor was probably the world’s largest city before the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century. Satellite imagery has revealed it covered at least 1000 sq km (390 sq miles)—modern New York is 785 sq km (303 sq miles).

The traditional Khmer farmer’s house is divided into three by woven bamboo walls: the living area, the parents’ sleeping area, and the daughters’ sleeping area. Sons sleep wherever they can find room.

Only the Khmer king could wear cloth with an all-over pattern of flowers. Senior officials could wear a scattered floral design, while junior officials could wear a design with just two flowers.

Archaeologists think that a long period of drought, which would have made Angkor’s many canals and reservoirs run dry, may account for the city’s rapid decline and its abandonment during the 15th century.

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