For centuries, the area around the Mekong delta and the Cambodian central plain were ruled by the Kingdom of Java (in today's Indonesia). But in 802, Khmer prince Jayavarman II, who was born and raised at the court of the Javanese Sailendra Dynasty, declares the areas inhabited by Khmer independent from Java and thus founds the kingdom of Angkor. He is crowned as Devaraja (god king) by a Brahman priest. In the following years he moves his capital several times. Initially it was at Indrapura (east of Kampong Cham), then at Wat Phou (in today's southern Laos) and finally at Rolous (near Angkor).


Photo: At Angkor Thom, more than 11,000 relief figures tell the history of the Khmer people.

In 889 Yasovarman I becomes king of the Khmer. He starts the construction of Angkor, then named Yasodharapura. Yasovarmans reigns until the year 900.

In 1002 Suryavarman I usurps the throne. Under his rule, the kingdom of Angkor is extended into vast stretches of today's Thailand and Laos.

In 1080, after Angkor had been conquered by the kingdom of Champa, a northern provincial Khmer governor declares himself king, assuming the name Jayavarman VI. He rules the new Khmer kingdom from his northern province.

In 1113 a nephew of Jayavarman VI is crowned king of the Khmer, choosing the new name Suryavarman II. During his long reign Angkor Wat is built.

In 1177 Angkor is again conquered by an army from Champa. Jayavarman VII, a cousin of Suryavarman II, becomes king in 1181 and subsequently conquers Vijaya, the capital of Champa (in today's Vietnam). Under Jayavarman VII the Khmer territory reaches its largest extent ever. It covers practically all of today's Thailand and Laos, and reaches into today's Myanmar, Malaysia and Vietnam. Jayavarman VII converts from Hinduism to Buddhism and makes Buddhism the new national religion.

In 1200 construction of a new royal capital is started Angkor Thom. As this enormous construction depletes the resources of the Khmer realm, it suffers economical problems in the following years.

Photo: Ta Prohm temple at Angkor; after the old capital was abandoned, the site was taken over by the jungle.

The following decades see the decline of Angkor. To the West Thai kingdoms become the dominant political powers; to the East Vietnamese kingdoms rise. As a small buffer state Cambodia in between the two, the kingdom of the Khmer alternatively depends on the Thais and the Vietnamese. In order to liberate themselves from the yoke of one conqueror they need the help of the other who then demands that the Khmer obey in compensation of their debts.

In 1432, after Thais once more conquered Angkor, the Khmer abandon their capital, leaving it to the jungle.

Last updated: March 2, 2016