North-Western Cambodia in the Seventh Century

by O. W. Wolters

Reconstructing the geographical and political entities in the "Chenla of the Land" and "Chenla of the Water" areas during pre-Angkorean times.

Sangke River

Publication: BSOAS (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London, Vol. 37, No. 2 (1974), pp. 355-384

Published: 1974

Author: O. W. Wolters

Pages: 30

Language : English

Before Chenla, as an entity, overcame the Funan rulers, there were several principalities or´visaya´(provinces) in the north-western area of modern Cambodia. Studying Chinese official and historiographical sources such as In Ma Tuan-lin's Wen-hsien-t'ung-k'ao, or the Ts'e-fu yuan-kuei (TFYK), the author vividly describe their interactions and their contacts with the outer world, in particular with Khmer and Chinese missions going back and forth.

According to this study, "in Angkorian times the northern contained at least three provinces: the Dangreks province, Sangkhah, and Amoghapura. The first of these was at the foot of the mountains. Sangkhah included at least the territory between Kralanh and the site of the Phnom Net Prah inscription between the river Sreng and the neighbourhood O Ta Siu river, which flows into the river system from the north. To the of Sangkhah between the Dangreks and Gajapura lay some, if not all, territory of Amoghapura province."

Further on, he remarks that Cambodia 'was still studded with local chieftainships, whose rulers by no means felt that they already normally belonged to a larger and permanent political unity. Ambitious chiefs would emerge from time to time, but the path to overlordship was never an easy one. Only Jayavarman I stands out as a person who could hold together a large territory for a considerable length of time, and even his achievement did not survive him. The chiefs in north- western Cambodia were not the only ones who exploited the vacuum caused by the decline of an overlordship in order to resume what they regarded as a normal state of independence. In this situation the term 'kingdom ' as some- thing distinct from the temporary territorial influence of a successful soldier- chief is an inappropriate one. Greater unities were still only the fragile con- sequence of the prowess of an individual leader. This kind of unity quickly dissolved when an overlord died or lost the confidence of his allies.'

Photo: The Sangke River, Northwestern Cambodia (by Samlout Sangke River Trail)

Tags: Chenla, Funan, Jayavarman I, Jayavarman II, Chinese missions, Chinese sources

About the Author

O W Wolters

O. W. Wolters

Oliver William Wolters (8 June 1915, Reading, UK – 5 December 2000, Ithaca, N.Y., USA) was a British academic, historian and author who did pioneering work on the ancient Malay kingdom of Srivijaya, following the groundbreaking studies by George Coedes. He was also a Malayan civil servant and administrator for twenty years.

At his death, he was the Goldwin Smith Professor of Southeast Asian History Emeritus at Cornell University, chair he kept after retiring in 1984. Previously, he had taught at SOAS University of London. He left many essays on regional history, including "The Khmer King at Basan (1371-1373) and the Restoration of the Cambodian Chronology during the 14th and 15th Centuries" (1965).

On Srivijaya, the maritime and commercial kingdom that flourished from the 7th to the 13th centuries in the Malay Archipelago (centered on Palembang on the island of Sumatra), he published ''Early Indonesian Studies and the Origins of Srivijaya'' in 1967. In 1970, he published ''The Fall of Srivijaya in Malay History''.