The Angkorian World

by Mitch Hendrickson & Miriam T. Stark & Damian Evans

Pluridisciplinary, encyclopaedic, ambitious and often highly enjoyable synthesis and sum of Angkorean research to the date.

The angkorian world cover

Type: e-book

Publisher: Routledge 1st edition

Edition: Kindle (limited consultation)

Published: 2023

Pages: 685

ISBN: 978-0815355953

Language : English

ADB Library Catalog ID: e-KINGENE2

A few decades ago, one would have expected under such an ambitious title ('The Angkorian World') no less than a re-creation of said world, part speculative history, part popularization, part 'National-Geographic-meets-Edward-Gibbon'. What this impressive tome is attempting to define, however, is more 'The World of Angkor Studies Today': a multidisciplinary, minitiously encompassing synthesis of (almost) all what contemporary archaeologists, historians of art and of material culture, anthropologists, have discovered or fine-tuned in the last fifteen years.

While several chapters are informed and smart exercises in vivid depictions of daily life, material culture and cultural representations during Angkor's heyday -- in particular Chapters 8, 13, 27 and 28 --, the main angle is to summarize scholarly discussions on important yet still uncompletely solved questions. The following topics seem to us of particular relevance:

A Khmer "Empire", "Nation", or a political, religious and social space we are still struggling to comprehend?

"Angkor’s success and emergence as Southeast Asia’s largest empire were based in large part on the successful operationalisation of a complex and Indic-tinged system of statecraft", remark the editors in their preamble; "Unravelling the intricate genealogies of Khmer kings and locating their religious, art historical, and architectural legacies in time and space have long been mainstays of the literature on the Angkorian World; instead, our volume focuses on selected social processes that force new understandings of Khmer agency and power. How kings became fully legitimate kings rested on systems of bureaucracy and ritual."

"As the final arbiter and overseer of land ownership, the king sat at the head of Angkorian legal institutions. Physical representations of Brahmanic and Buddhist deities in the state temples of Angkor were central to the reproduction of royal power; we also see that, beyond the capital, local deities became intertwined with Brahmanical practices across the diverse landscapes of the Angkorian World. Part IV: Economies In this section, our contributors focus on the myriad activities and structures that facilitated the rise and functioning of the Angkorian state. Greater Angkor’s geographic location was instrumental to its deep occupational history and helps to explain its huge population. [...] New approaches to the study of sandstone, the building material of choice for the Khmers from the 11th century onwards, also reveal the complex and dynamic interplay between resource availability, architectural transformations, and the historical trajectory of the Khmer Empire."

Further on, they note that "conventional Angkorian scholarship emphasises a syncretic fusion of Hindu/Buddhist and local beliefs as a form of ‘Hindicisation’. More recent research instead emphasises pluralism, and a kind of ‘indigenization’ in which Khmer elites selected key foreign elements that supported their political goals and Worldview. The beautiful statues that served as foci for religious veneration in the Pre-Angkor and Angkor Periods are now counted among Southeast Asia’s greatest artistic achievements."

Focusing on the grey areas in our understanding of the size and structuration of the Khmer Empire, the authors of Chap. 28 quote "O.W. Wolters’ influential definition of a maṇḍala as a kingdom in pursuit of quasi-universal authority which in practice presided over an ‘often unstable political situation in a vaguely definable geographical area without fixed boundaries’ (1999, 28). However, Wolters insists that Angkor was ‘the single exception’ to the overall pattern in early Southeast Asia. ‘The Khmer elite’, Wolters asserts, ‘had a vested interest in the territorial integrity of metropolitan Cambodia’ (1999, 36). By ‘metropolitan Cambodia’, Wolters implies the existence of a territorial state and identity that was differentiated from ‘the otherwise ephemeral’ political situation of Angkor’s more remote imperial claims.'".

Sites considered throughout the book (©authors)

Purposes and Uses of Monuments

The authors of stimulating chapter 15 open their study with a reference to Philippe Stern's article ‘Diversité et Rythme des Fondations Royales’ (1951), in which he "argued that the reigns of Angkorian rulers were legitimated by the sponsorship of three types of ‘major royal projects’, always implemented in the same chronological order: The first included ‘foundations of public interest’, followed by a temple dedicated to the king’s ancestors and then by the construction of a state mountain temple. Archaeological and ethnographic evidence strongly supports this sequence of foundation, especially for a number of the most important reigns in Angkorian history. For instance, this sequence of foundation characterises the reign of Indravarman I at Hariharālaya (Roluos). At the time of his coronation in 877 CE, he founded the Indrataṭāka, a reservoir measuring 3800 m long and 800 m wide, known today as the Lolei Baray. Subsequently, in 879, he dedicated the Preah Ko (Parameśvara) temple to his parents and grandparents. Finally, he founded his mountain temple."

New mineralogical findings allow researchers to grasp more precisely the building sequency. For instance, remark the authors of Chap. 20 ('From Quarries to Temples'), "a coarser yellowish to light grey variety with some levels containing pebble-size conglomeratic beds or showing iron-rich Liesegang banding was used for the Wat Ek temple, near Battambang, attributed to Sūryavarman I. The temple of Preah Vihear (11th c.) was also built with sandstone from this series, while in northeastern Thailand and southern Laos, sandstone from corresponding formations in the Khorat group were used for Angkorian constructions such as the temples of Phimai and Wat Phu."

And the same archaeological breakthroughs allow David Brotherson in Chap. 14 to explore one of the most intriguing, and controversed, facette of Angkor Thom: were the outer walls of the large city used as defensive fortifications at some point of the Khmer kingdoms history?

The site of Angkor, details (©authors)

Angkor Reverb

This Angkorian World is so substantial that we shall return to many topics in the months and years to come. However, it is perhaps the shortest part of the book, 'After Angkor' (Parrt VI), that opens the most numerous and stimulating avenues for future reflections and discussions. First, because it touches to the most enigmatic moment of the Angkorean history, the "collapse" or "abandonment" or "fading-away" of Angkor as a capital city (Chap. 30). But also because the two very last chapters explore what is at the core of Angkor Database endeavor: comprehend the myth and the real in Angkor, marvel at its ongoing inspirational role for artists from all cultures and horizons. How Angkor keeps reverberating through our times.

'Yama, The God Closest to the Khmers', anthropologist and leading Cambodian intellectual Ang Choulean's contribution (Chap. 34) is a truly fascinating, brilliant, subtle and yet highly readable journey through times, a study in historical anthropology which starts with the few,enigmatic Angkorean representations of Yama, the god of death in the Hindu pantheon but much more in the Khmer symbology. Prof. Ang Choulean is not the first to assume here that the 'Leper King' and Yama are two facets of the same principle, but his deep knowlege of Cambodian traditions and religious practices leads us from these ancient times to the way the 'Fortnight of the Dead' (Pchum Ben) festival is still celebrated nowadays, or to the cremation rites performed today as they were in the ancient times. Even in etymology, the strange ballet of death, rebirth and life takes us into its tempo: "Adopted in Khmer vocabulary with no alteration, Sanskrit kāla means both ‘time’ and ‘death’. Now, let’s repeat that Yama was at the origin of time, and, time being engendered following Yama’s death, humankind was born from then on".

The ruler of hell (as depicted in the vast bas-relief of the Southeastern gallery at Angkor Wat), Yama is nevertheless "actively sought as a saviour enabling good reincarnation. In cremation ceremonies, as well as in rituals symbolising birth and rebirth (for example, the ‘age expanding’ rituals and those of the Fortnight of the Dead) Yama appears more as the god of salvation than a strict and righteous supreme judge. If he keeps inspiring fear, he also represents hope. All known rituals in relation to Yama show that the latter dimension is the most valorised. For that reason, and this is the second point, not only is he close to being human, but he is also the closest thing to humans—which is rice."

As for author Penny Edwards, she devotes her chapter "Inarguably Angkor" to the shadow (or ghost, or rememberance?) of Angkor in Cambodian modern literature, focusing on Suttintaprija Ind’s Niras Nokor Vat (Journey to Angkor Wat), "the only known published long verse narrative in Khmer by a Cambodian author about Angkor from the early 20th century." [1]

"Just as Angkor has eluded capture, so, too, scripts inspired by Angkor have gained lives and afterlives"," she concludes; "Angkor stands as witness and offers solace. And ultimately, it is Angkor that captivates and captures, in a mesh of memory as tenuous and finely wrought as Khmer goldwork. Probing these links, to return to the metaphor of a broken chain (Um 2015, 184) unchains more questions. Is Angkor a mirror or museum? A vessel or vehicle? Chimera or camera, obscura or lucida? Only time, and memories, will tell. Angkor resists arrest."

[1] In her biography, the authoress refers to a still unpublisher paper, Buakamsri T, 2012: 'Niras Nagar Vat: A Journey to Angkor Wat by Oknya suttantaprechea Oen (1859–24)', for which we are currently looking.

About the book scope

  • With "35 original chapters written by leading scholars from Cambodia, the United States, France, Australia, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Thailand", the tome does not reflect contributions by Indian, Southeast Asian or Chinese researchers -- with the exception of pioneer researcher Sachchidanand Sahai --, a shortcoming our platform tends to avoid. The editors acknowledge that, "despite strenuous efforts [...] our authorship still skews toward Euroamericans, with fewer Khmer voices than we had hoped. Little room exists in this kind of volume for the conventional culture histories that newcomers to Angkorian studies often seek, which often draw heavily on the Francophone canon that was instrumental to the development of Angkorian research."
  • With abundant and up-to-date bibliographies at the end of each chapter, it would have been useful for students and future researchers to develop a General Bibliography at the end of the book.
  • The book provides a Concordance Chronology of Chinese dynasties and Cambodia time periods (table7.1), but no attempt of comparative chronology between the Indian continent and the Indochinese peninsula, as some Vietnamese authors did for example in comparing the chronology of Champa and Chola dynasties.

Table of Contents

0) Prologue: An Introduction to the Angkorian World (Mitch Hendrickson, Miriam T. Stark, Damian Evans with Roland Fletcher)

PART I Contexts

1) ​An Environmental History of Angkor: Beginning and End (Dan Penny and Tegan Hall)

2​) Texts and Objects: Exploiting the Literary Sources of Medieval Cambodia (Dominique Soutif and Julia Estève)

3​) ‘Invisible Cambodians’: Knowledge Production in the History of Angkorian Archaeology (Heng Piphal, Seng Sonetra and Nhim Sotheavin)

4) ​The Mekong Delta before the Angkorian World (Miriam T. Stark and Pierre-Yves Manguin)

5) ​The Early Capitals of Angkor (Jean-Baptiste Chevance and Christophe Pottier)

6) ​Angkor’s Multiple Southeast Asia Overland Connections (Kenneth R. Hall)

7) ​Angkor and China: 9th–15th Centuries (Miriam T. Stark and Aedeen Cremin)

PART II Landscapes

8​) Forests, Palms, and Paddy Fields: The Plant Ecology of Angkor (Tegan Hall and Dan Penny)

9​) Angkor and the Mekong River: Settlement, Resources, Mobility and Power (Heng Piphal)

10) ​Trajectories of Urbanism in the Angkorian World (Damian Evans, Roland Fletcher, Sarah Klassen, Christophe Pottier and Pelle Wijker)

11) ​Angkor’s Temple Communities and the Logic of its Urban Landscape (Scott Hawken and Sarah Klassen)

12) ​Angkor as a ‘Cité Hydraulique’? (Terry Lustig, Jean-Baptiste Chevance and Wayne Johnson)

PART III State Institutions

13) Angkorian Law and Land (Tess Davis and Eileen Lustig)

14) Warfare and Defensive Architecture in the Angkorian World (David Brotherson)

15) Āśramas, Shrines, and Royal Power (Chea Socheatt, Julia Estève, Dominique Soutif and Edward Swenson)

16) Education and Medicine at Angkor (Chhem Rethy, Damian Evans, Chhom Kunthea, Phlong Pisith and Peter D. Sharrock)

PART IV Economies

17) Angkor’s Economy: Implications of the Transfer of Wealth (Eileen Lustig, Aedeen Cremin and Terry Lustig)

18) The Temple Economy of Angkor (Heng Piphal and Sachchidanand Sahai)

19) Angkor’s Agrarian Economy: A Socio-Ecological Mosaic (Scott Hawken and Cristina Cobo Castillo)

20) From Quarries to Temples: Stone Procurement, Materiality, and Spirituality in the Angkorian World (Christian Fischer, Federico Carò and Martin Polkinghorne)

21) Crafting with Fire: Stoneware and Iron Pyrotechnologies in the Angkorian World (Mitch Hendrickson, Ea Darith, Chhay Rachna, Yukitsugu Tabata, Phon Kaseka, Stéphanie Leroy, Yuni Sato and Armand Desbat)

22) Food, Craft, and Ritual: Plants from the Angkorian World (Cristina Cobo Castillo)

PART V Ideologies and Realities

23) Gods and Temples: The Nature(s) of Angkorian Religion (Julia Estève)

24) Bodies of Glory: The Statuary of Angkor (Paul A. Lavy and Martin Polkinghorne)

25) ‘Of Cattle and Kings’: Bovines in the Angkorian World (Mitch Hendrickson, Eileen Lustig and Siyonn Sophearith)

26) An Angkor Nation? Identifying the Core of the Khmer Empire (Ian Lowman, Chhom Kunthea and Mitch Hendrickson)

27) The Angkorian House Alison K. Carter, Miriam T. Stark, Heng Piphal and Chhay Rachna

28) Vogue at Angkor: Dress, Décor, and Narrative Drama (Gillian Green)

29​) Gender, Status, and Hierarchy in the Age of Angkor (Trude Jacobsen Gidaszewski)

PART VI After Angkor

30​) Perspectives on the ‘Collapse’ of Angkor and the Khmer Empire (Damian Evans, Martin Polkinghorne, Roland Fletcher, David Brotherson, Tegan Hall, Sarah Klassen and Pelle Wijker)

31​) Uthong and Angkor: Material Legacies in the Chao Phraya Basin, Thailand (Pipad Krajaejun)

32) ​Mainland Southeast Asia After Angkor: On the Legacies of Jayavarman VII (Ashley Thompson)

33) ​Early Modern Cambodia and Archaeology at Longvek (Martin Polkinghorne and Yuni Sato)

34) ​Yama, the God Closest to the Khmers (Ang Choulean)

35) ​Inarguably Angkor (Penny Edwards)

Tags: multidisciplinary studies, Angkor studies, archaeology-related, epigraphy, art history, material culture, hydrology, Angkor daily life, Angkorian cities, Indian influences, China, Champa, mineralogy

About the Editor

Mitch Hendrickson

Mitch Hendrickson

Associate Professor at the UIC-Department of Anthropology (Chicago, USA), researcher at the Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney, Australia, Mitch Hendrickson is a landscape archeologist active on various Angkorean sites.

He is the Director of Industries of Angkor Project, Co-Director of the Two Buddhist Towers Project and the Iron and Angkor Project.

About the Editor

Miriam Stark

Miriam T. Stark

Professor Miriam T. Stark has worked in Southeast Asian archaeology since 1987 and currently directs field-based archaeological research programs in Cambodia that focus on political economy and state formation.

She is a co-director of the Lower Mekong Archaeological Project and a co-investigator with the Greater Angkor Project and the Khmer Production and Exchange Project.

Since 1995, she has taught in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, with specialties in East and Southeast Asian Archaeology and Archaeological Method and Theory.

She also lectured on the AIA’s national circuit Cultural Heritage Policy Committee (2013–16 term), focusing on ancient trade networks that linked Southeast Asia to the rest of the Old World, and the origins of Southeast Asian civilizations, with a particular focus on the rise of the Khmer Empire.

About the Editor


Damian Evans

A Canadian-Australian researcher, Damian Evans (d. 12 Sept 2023, Paris, France) focused on archaeological landscapes in mainland Southeast Asia, in particular those of the Khmer Empire.

He specialized in using advanced remote sensing technologies such as airborne laser scanning (or “LIDAR”) to uncover, map and analyse the urban and agricultural networks that stretched between, and beyond, great temple complexes such as Angkor in Cambodia.

Fellow researcher with the University of Sydney, then the Institut Francais d'Etudes Asiatiques, then EFEO, he has published several essays on Angkorian archaeology and mapping.

"In 2015, his team carried out the most extensive airborne study ever taken by archaeologists – using a laser radar mounted on a helicopter to scan an area of the jungle in Cambodia comparable in size to greater London", read his obituary in The Guardian.