These essays explore how the Khmer Kingdom ruled much of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos between the 9th and 15th centuries. At its peak in the 11th-13th centuries, the Khmer state controlled a huge swath of mainland Southeast Asia. Yet the Khmer people never numbered more than two million during their imperial era.
The Concise Essay first looks at the origins of the kingdom – how founder-kings exploited favorable circumstances to their advantage. I then turn to an examination of sources of wealth and power in the ancient world – agriculture, foreign trade, and foreign conquest. I move on to means of control – political organization and religious persuasion – used by ruling elites to retain power and extract wealth from the masses. Next I examine causes of decline in the Khmer Kingdom – internal erosion of control followed by foreign incursions by competing enemies. I then summarize the key trends in the aftermath of Khmer decline– how successful later groups were in holding on to power and creating wealth. At the end of the essay, I draw lessons for contemporary powers from the experiences of ancient empires and kingdoms.
The Complete Essay allows the reader to gain an in-depth look in the Khmer state.The intent of this essay is to investigate how the Khmer leaders gained the wealth and wielded the power that permitted them to create some of the world’s most impressive monumental religious architecture. In pursuit of that goal, the essay is divided into five sections. The first part sets the stage for the rise of power by discussing the region’s geography, resources, peoples, settlement patterns, and early kingdoms. The center section then looks at how the Khmer Kingdom was formed, how its religious and political institutions created and appropriated wealth, and why the kingdom declined and fell apart. Three succeeding sections examine the six centuries of aftermath by looking at the interlocking histories of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. A time line, an annotated bibliography, and a description of sites visited in the three Southeast Asian countries are appended at the end of the essay.
Southeast Asia Family Adventure Stanford Travel/Study Program, Land-based, with International Flights, Hanoi, Vietnam, Halong Bay, Luang Prabang, Laos, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat