Khmer at Angkor Wat

By Teddy Holappa

Khmer at Angkor Wat Background information

Khmer at Angkor Wat is located where what is now Cambodia. The people's leader at Khmer was known to them as a God-King, they highly regarded their leader, just like how Egyptians treated their pharaohs as gods. This devotion to their leader made people work hard. There were immense irrigation systems, long, complex highways and rice farms that took up acres and acres of land. Most people were farmers, there were actually 66,000 people who farmed, so they heavily relied on their irrigation systems to provide their farm with water. At it's height, Khmer had temples honoring the trimurti of hindu gods, Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva.

It seemed like Khmer had it all, power, infrastructure, and motivated people. So how did it fall?

Why did this super-city collapse?

Many scholars say that the main cause of the collapse of Khmer was overpopulation, invaders, or even a change of religion. Although these did help the city collapse, they were not main causes.

Although Khmer at Angkor Wat was a medieval powerhouse, climate change caused the people to lose faith in their leader which lead the overpopulated society to fall to outside invaders.

Climate Change

Climate change was the main cause for the collapse of Angkor Wat. At it's height, the city's main source of water was from monsoon water and reservoir water. When there was too much water, the canals would allow the water to slowly bleed out so there wasn't too much water being transported. When there was too little water, the canals would be able to capture as much water as possible from the ground and reservoirs. But, when Angkor Wat experienced it's first 30 year mega drought, these sources dried up. The people were living on the bare minimum of water to live. The canals also dried up, and they were not in use. The canals were meant to have water in them, when they dried up, dirt collected in them, and caused blockages that the people didn't know about. The storm to end the drought was a summer monsoon. This was a heavy rain monsoon, too much rain. When this rain filled up the water systems for the first time in 30 years, it damaged them. The canals became broken, some were completely blocked. A city who's economy depended on these canals, started to fall. Too make matters worse, after this devastating monsoon, another drought hit, for 30 more years. These broken irrigation systems and useless farms made people turn to their leader.

People Loose Faith in Their Leader

Just like Rome, when the economy started falling, and people started loosing jobs, they went to the government. And just like Rome, the government did not act accordingly. Before the people really needed the government, the princes (there were many because the king tended to have multiple wives) were always fighting over who was going to be the successor and who wasn't. Most of the time in Angkor Wat, it was like the War of Roses. It was a big civil war on each possible successor. Because of this, the government was not very stable. It was consistently struggling. The people used to think that their ruler was a "God- King" much like the Egyptians thought about their ruler. When the people came to their ruler for help, and he didn't provide, he turned into just another civilian. Since the people had no one ruler (or a ruler that they weren't loyal to) they stopped working on the water systems, causing them to get in worse shape. The broken water systems, the careless government, and the unmotivated people was a recipe for disaster.

The Overpopulated City Can't Hold On Anymore

The broken water systems and the lack of rain caused the food supply to lower, which lead the overpopulated society to fall. The entire city of Angkor Wat had just under 1 million civilians. With all of the flaws that the city had, it couldn't support the weight of that many people. There were too many mouths to feed, and not enough land to produce the necessary food. This is the one thing that the government tried to fix. In order to do that, they cut down trees. At the time, they probably thought that this was a good idea, but it did not work. This lead to high levels of erosion and an increase in flooding because none of the trees could suck up the water. This situation was similar to the Maya civilization. The overpopulated society and careless government killed the people. This made the people in what is now Thailand to easily invade, and conquer the weakened city. When the invaders came in, the highways that the city built acted as an easy way for invaders to spread around. These invaders were the final straw for the lively hood of Khmer at Angkor Wat, they final fell to these Thai invaders in 1431.

Can We Learn From These Mistakes?

We can clearly see that if a country or kingdom is going to be overpopulated, there needs to be a government that does care about the people, and that will try to help the society, and attempt to fix it. Rome fell due to internal decay, like government issues. The Maya fell due to climate change and lack of resources. Both of these places fell eventually due to too many people to take care of, and not enough resources to go around, just like Angkor Wat. Even with this modern age, governments need to be prepared for climate change, or else they will end up like Khmer, Maya, and Rome, collapsed.


Works Cited

"Did Climate Influence Angkor's Collapse." Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Columbia University, 29 Mar. 2010. Web. 3 Mar. 2014. <>. Reliability- This article is extremely relevant because it talks completely on the topic of the collapse or Angkor and says why it happened. It gives the reader facts about how Angkor started it's collapse, it also explains and experiment they did to make sure that they were correct about climate change. Authority- This website has hight authority. It ends in a .edu so it proves that it is a legitimate source. This is written by a branch of Columbia University, a school that is very high on the totem pole. The entire purpose of this article is to inform the reader and the show what their experiment showed. Point of View- The point of view of this article is not bias and it's ideas or opinions are based only off of facts, but there are some opinions that show what the writers think, but that gives the readers different point of views on what truly caused the fall of Angkor. The only bias in this article is what was the main source of the collapse of Angkor. The point of this article was not to show one's opinion, but to inform based off facts.

Marcus, Joyce, and Ann Arbor. "Climate as a Contributing Factor in the Demise of Angkor, Cambodia." Climate as a Contributing Factor in the Demise of Angkor, Cambodia. PNAS, 26 Feb. 2010. Web. 04 Mar. 2014. <>.

Shapiro, Margaret. "Science New: What Happened at Angkor Wat." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 13 Apr. 2010. Web. 04 Mar. 2014. <>. Reliability- This source is extremely relevant to the topic of collapse of Angkor Wat. This strictly talks about the reasons for the collapse and the outcomes of those reasons. This article is written strictly to inform the reader on the many reasons why the empire fell. Authority- The authority of this source is very high. This is written by a newspaper much like the New York Times- The Washington Post. This newspaper company has became successful because of their legitimacy. This company has a very high authority. Point of View- The point of view in this article is unbiased and strictly informative. This is a lot like Jared Diamond's book Collapse because it states one big reason why Angkor fell, then all of the other things after that. This article is written strictly to inform.

Stone, Richard. "National Geographic Magazine -" National Geographic Magazine - National Geographic, July 2009. Web. 04 Mar. 2014. <>. Reliability- This source is extremely relevant to the topic of Angkor's collapse. This article discusses a counter argument to the topic, and clearly explains why the author is correct. This discusses every possible way that Khmer at Angkor Wat could have collapsed, and breaks it down into the most logical reasons. Authority- The authority of this article is very high. This is published by National Geographic, the most highly regarded magazine in the country. This article would not be published by them if it wasn't of great authority. Point of View- The point of view in this article is completely neutral. This article explains the counter-arguments of the author's ideas and then backs up everything the author says with what facts, and even what happened in other countries. This author shows every point of view and then explains why his is correct. This article shows the most logical reason to the collapse of Khmer.