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Khmer Society

Khmer Society. To glimpse into the Khmer Society, we can understand that the top of the hierarchy should have been the god-king or deva-raja, surrounded by his tutors who were brahmins, and also by the members of his royal family.  The priests residing in the temples were also powerful as they seem to own many lands and the paddy fields.1

The stone inscription found in many temples gave some glimpses to the donors whose names were written with the titles.  These donors could have been the noblemen or the dignitaries of the Khmer’s ruling class responsible for the administrative and judiciary tasks, however, their titles were unfamiliar to the historians and the hierarchical ranks were not known, thus it is difficult to draw a complete table of hierarchy for the Angkor Empire.

Since the economy of the Khmer civilization was based mainly on agriculture, the majority of the people should have been the peasants or the farmers living in the villages.  It was not clearly certain that there were any small landowners in the kingdom since most inscriptions often referred to large landowners of the elite class or of the temples.

The lowest hierarchy of the Khmer civilization should have been the slaves. Interestingly, there were two types of slaves in the kingdom which are worth mentioning and distinguished.  As previously discussed in the chapter of “inscription”, some of the Khmer stone inscriptions were found to list the names of slaves who belonged to the temples.  Since their names were carefully crafted and enshrined in the holy place, they could not have been the low class slaves as its  word “slave” implied.  The historians believed that they were actually the temple servants and the priests who were “the slaves only to the gods”, and not to any human being.  In reality then, the “actual slaves” were mostly the captives from the neighboring countries, however, it was found that the Khmer people themselves could fall into the lowest status of being a “slave” if they failed to pay their rents or loans to the upper ruling class.

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