The Khmer Empire - Fall of the God Kings

Published: March 2020

Language : English

This thoroughly researched TV program dwells with the decline and fall of Angkor as a center of the Khmer Empire.

Going back to the coronation of Jayavarman II as the first Cambodian raja deva (god-king), the podcast presents the troubled succession of king down to Jayavarman IX, the last sovereign known to have reigned over Angkor before the Royal court was moved to other capital cities further south. Jayavarman VII's reign is reflected in detail, with the assumption that he went to Champa in exile not only once as generally assumed by twice. What remains unclear is how the Khmer sovereign managed to rebuild and expand the Khmer center of power so quickly, and at such an old age since he was 61 when he finally acceded to the throne.

As for the "protracted process that led to the abandonment of Angkor", three main reasons are considered:

  • Destructive civil wars and unrest, which combined with growing incursions by the Siamese and the Chams;
  • Weakening of the central state system as the Hinduist upper class was eroding with the rise of Theravada Buddhism as "state religion" at wished by King Jayavarman VII;
  • Climate change in the 14th-15th centuries, that contributed for instance to the demise of the Viking Kingdom of Greenland". Pointing to "devastating cycles of severe drought and flooding", the author remarks that "something went seriously wrong with [the Khmer] elaborated water system". Flooded streets, malaria, collapse of the agricultural strength of the area, resulted.

In the 1950s, writer Malcolm MacDonald described the site as "half-light and half-darkness". The podcast ends on this somber note, with the caution that "growing social inequality and climate change are also challenging our modern systems".

Fall of Civilizations Podcast, episode 5.

Produced and edited by Paul Cooper (@PaulMMCooper)

Special thanks to Tom Chandler, Brent McKee, Mike Yeates and Chandara Ung of SensiLab, Monash University Faculty of IT for kindly sharing their digital recreations of ancient Angkor.

Include some footage from Simulating 24 hours at Medieval Angkor Wat, a SensiLab 2019 production at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Photo: A gallery at Angkor Wat (screen capture from the film)

Tags: decline and fall, climate