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Rise and Fall of Angkor Civilization

Reasons for the rise of Angkor Empire

1)  The adoption of Indian doctrines of deva-raja or “god-king”

The ancient Khmer kings adopted a successful monarchy system of Indian civilization as the replica. Being revered as the “god-king” or deva-raja, the Khmer kings were able to rule over the empire with divine kingship and absolute power. This enhanced the kings to mobilize large manpower to serve in its military force to defend the nation as well as to invade the neighbors. In addition, the kings could maintain their extensive irrigation system which was the prime factor of its successful economy with their Khmer laborers and foreign slaves.

Moreover, the kings surrounded themselves with the wise men or the “learned” Khmer Brahmins as their counselors. The Brahmins were known to have acquire vast knowledge which were inherited from father to sons or taught only within the family. These learned Brahmins help the kings to run an efficient administration of the country, and thus resulted in stronger empire.

2)   Strategic Location

Well-chosen strategic location of the Angkor by its founder Jayavarman II hampered the attack by its potential enemies which enable its existence for over 6 centuries.

The Angkor was situated in the North of Tonle Sap Lake, and the only possible way for invaders to bring in a large enough troop to fight against the Angkor is by sailing upstream from the Mekong River. Geographically, the Angkor was protected by rugged thick forests from all sides.  There were no well-developed roads, and the land access with large military force could turn out into a tragedy. The troops and weapons had to be delivered in a long line which could not support one another in case of being attack. A good example is the Persian invasion to the Greeks during the 4th and 5th B.C. Greece for instance was protected by high mountains. Although the Persian was far more superior and much more in number, it could hardly win over the Greeks.

When the enemies intended to attack the Angkor, they have to sail up from the Mekong River only to meet with the strong naval force of Angkor upstream.  The enemy’s battle ships moved slower thus became an easier target of being attacked and sunk. Throughout the history of over 600 years, Angkor lose only one major naval battle on Tonle Sap Lake to Champa in 1171.

3)   Mastery over Water Control

The geographical location of the Angkor Empire itself faces two extreme seasons, i.e. the heavy rainfall during Monsoon and the dry period during the off-Monsoon season. Numerous large reservoirs, dikes, moats and ponds helped significantly to prevent floods over the farmland during the heavy rainfall in Monsoon and to conserve water storage for use during the dry season. The efficient and extensive irrigation system of the ancient Khmer enabled the empire to cultivate crops two to three times a year which led to high productivity and strong economy of the Angkor Empire.

Reasons for the Fall of Angkor Civilization

1)   Introduction of Theravada Buddhism

The pillar of the Angkor Civilization was supported by the religious belief of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism. The monarchs being regarded as the god-king were able to motivate the dedication of their people to serve the throne as a divine service. The empire’s extensive irrigation system and military troops required massive laborers and manpower to maintain.   The introduction of Theravada Buddhism in 13th century to the Khmers

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