The Collapse of the Khmer Empire

Katie Kurz

Background: What's the Khmer Empire?

The Khmer Empire is located in South East Asia in Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand. It was an empire well known for its religion, which was highly influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism. It was recognized for its many exquisite religious centers like Angkor Watt, the empire's capital and also one of the many grand places that were built. The empire was known for its architecture as well. The Khmer Empire went from the highest peak and being so successful, to collapsing and losing it's empire, for a number of different reasons.


Although there are several reasons people believe to be why the Khmer Empire fell, the main reason was the Khmer Empire suffered from droughts due to the climate change and as a result of the climate change was the loss of habitat due to the building around the empire which led to political conflict and wars with Champa.
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Reason 1: Climate Change

Just like all people are, the citizens of the Khmer Empire were highly dependent of fresh water for surviving. What they had at the time of their reign that not every civilization had was a remarkable water system that was able to keep water they got in the monsoons for the time during the 6 or 7 months during the year it wasn't raining all the time, and were able to survive off of it. With their water system the Khmer people were able to build dams to keep the monsoons from flooding their cities and were also able to put the water into a reservoir that they had fresh water streams run into. Around 200,000 people at the time worked on building this reservoir and it was quite an accomplishment. The monsoon pattern then changed from raining for the duration of May to October to not raining at all. From 1362-1392 and from 1415- 1440 the Khmer empire suffered from major droughts and had no water coming in. The land suffered and was dry, the people didn't have food, and they couldn't keep themselves surviving on their own. Around the time of the empire's fall, the world was also suffering from a minor ice age. Everything was very dry and there was a lack of water and heat. The lack of water, food, and resources forced the people of the Khmer Empire to expand their territories which led to the war with bordering civilizations.

Reason 2: Loss of Habitat

Aside from the climate change and the droughts that caused the Khmer empire to be deprived of water, their buildings and infrastructure through the land didn't help them fix their lack of water plan. It caused more damage then it helped. The Khmer Empire had several thousands of builders and were well known for their fascinating architecture. Some might think, how could this possibly be a bad thing, but what they don't realize is it a major reason for the collapse of their empire. The people in the Khmer empire built lots of buildings and temples and what it did was it cut off the water supply for not only the people but also the land they needed to farm on. They cut off little streams, bigger rivers and other run offs that seemed useless but actually were responsible for feeding and nourishing the land. Without the fertile soil and the space to farm the people were heading towards disaster because there was not going to be away for them to feed their entire population. On top of the fact that they were destroying their fertile soil for their human needs, they also took down forests in the area for more homes. The forest serves as a purpose of oxygen, protection from erosion, and many other important things to but the most significant is a shelter to the animals. Without the animals having a place to live and then reproduce there was going to be even more of a lack of food for the people of Khmer. Because Khmer was so stuck in this position with having not enough land due to their building, they attempted and expanding their territory to find more land and be able to farm. When they tried this with the Champa empire, it didn't end well, and that leads to the third reason for why the Khmer Empire collapsed.

Reason 3: Political Conflict and War With Champa

The Khmer Empire was a highly populated yet desperate for resources civilization that followed expansionism. Khmer took over a lot of land greatening itself in size and power, but when Khmer tried to take over the land under Champa's rule, it was headed for a fall. There were four Khmer- Cham wars and these were another massive reason as to why the Khmer empire fell. The first Khmer- Cham war was in 1050 and it lasted one year in Khmer territory. They won the first battle. The second one was in 1144 and went until 1150 and the Cham- Annam alliance teamed up against Khmer and completely crushed them. This didn't stop Khmer from fighting back only 17 years later during the third Khmer- Cham war which lasted from 1157-1190. Champa used an alternate method of the navy to attack instead of war elephants and beat Khmer again. The fourth was was only a year later and went from 1191 t 1203, Thai Cham forces battled together again Khmer and destroyed Khmer's most precious capital, Angkor Watt, ruined their irrigation systems and took a final toll at destroying the empire. The Khmer Empire's wars against Champa weren't the most significant reason for the fall of the empire because the lack of water, food, and habitat were even more important, but all these reasons forced the Khmer Empire to try and expand which eventually led them to collapsing.


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