Khmer at Angkor Wat Collapse

By: Abigail Ker, Abby Crowley


Khmer at Angkor Wat in cambodia was one of the first societies to inhabit that part of the world as an individual civilization. They lasted from 802AD until 1431 when they faced environmental problems and military attacks from neighbors. Khmer traded rice with surrounding civilizations as their main export. Even though the capital of the civilization was in Cambodia, the region under Khmer rule expanded through much of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Laos, and Southern Vietnam. Although Khmer lasted for over 600 years, it eventually collapsed under the pressure of attacks, change in climate and deforestation, and failure in irrigation systems causing them even more problems.


The first problems that Khmer at Angkor Wat faced consisted of deforestation and intense monsoons and droughts that lasted for long periods of time. Because their location, Khmers were used to six months of drought and six months of monsoons every year, however they never prepared themselves for a change. When the droughts became longer and longer, sometimes lasting for decades the civilization found they lacked water and good land for crops. All at once, they would have lengthy seasons of monsoons, which were stronger than they were used to. The storms caused damage to their irrigation systems and messed with their water storage causing it to flood. Therefore when the droughts came, there wasn’t as much water stored as possible. Also, when the civilization extended into other parts of Southeast Asia, they used timber to build their grand temples and even regular citizen houses. This caused the society to face deforestation. Khmers desired to increase agricultural production at the cost of destroying the environment. In conclusion, one of the main reasons that the civilization of Khmer at Angkor Wat fell was because of the abnormal environmental changes and their disregard for trees and land that they were using for their extravagant temples and large farms.


Religious conflict and rivalries within the Khmer at Angkor Wat empire were some of the things responsible for its collapse. During the time before the collapse of the empire, the kings were spending more time defacing the temples of their predecessors than building their own monuments and other achievements. Because the kings lack of interest in the well-being of the empire, the state religion constantly changed during the years before the empires official collapse. This change of religion often erupted into civil wars. For unknown reasons, the Thai population began migrating south and creating their own small kingdoms, this was know as the Great Thai Migration of the 12-14th centuries CE and is documented as the turning point for the collapse of the empire. As these Thai kingdoms grew, attacks began to occur on imperial territories. In 1431 CE the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya captured Angkor, resulting in the official end of the Khmer empire.

Technology Failure

The intense weather that the Khmers weren’t prepared for caused a breakdown in the irrigation systems and water storage. If the droughts hadn’t lasted so long, they might have lasted through the monsoons. However, they were vulnerable and not prepared for the amount of rain coming in. Therefore, the water storage couldn’t hold all the rain the storms brought and the irrigation systems failed to deliver all the water needed. This caused a lack of production of crops making life for this empire even more unbearable. The failures in the waterways played a large role in the conditions of farmlands and agricultural products, thus making it difficult for the civilization to thrive. They had four large reservoirs constructed to collect and store water for the months of drought, but the abnormal climate change greatly caught Khmer off guard. They then didn’t have enough products stored to last the droughts and when the monsoons came, the lack of use during the long periods with no water caused their technologies to become rundown. Therefore extreme usage caused chaos. In conclusion, one of the main components for why the Khmer civilization at Angkor Wat collapsed was because of the failure in their technologies which led to the lack of production of food.


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