The First Angkor Kings

A close up image of a Buggha face carved into the walls of Bayon temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The Angkor Empire and its reigning kings is a long and fascinating piece of history. Below is your comprehensive guide to the first succession of the Angkor kings from the empires birth in 802 until Dharanindravarman I died in 1113.

Jayavarman II—the First Angkor King (802-834)

In 802, Jayavarman II crowned himself (for the second time), and thus began a period now considered the beginning of the Khmer civilization and the birth of the Angkor Empire. He was revered as a god-king with absolute power. He decided to place his capital at the northern end of the Tonle Sap (Lake) because of the area’s military significance and defensibility.

To reach his capital enemies would have to work their way upstream, a difficult task without motorboats. Jayavarman II actively waged wars throughout Cambodia and expanded his territory.

He built a temple devoted to god Shiva at Phnom Kulen about 40 km/24 miles northwest of Tonle Sap.King Jayavarman II reigned until 834.His name is significant in Angkorian history: “Jaya” literally means “victorious” and “varman” means “the protector.”

Jayavarman III (834–877)

After the death of Jayavarman II, his son Jayavarman III succeeded him and reigned for over 40 years. Little is known about him. He may have built the Prei Monti temple.

Indravarman I (877-889)

He was the third king of the Angkor kingdom and regarded as the first great builder. Indravarman I was not related to the first two kings so it is not known what right granted him the throne. He built at least three primitive Khmer temples, the Preah Ko temple, the Lolei and the Bakong. Indravarman I also built a large reservoir named Indratataka.

Yasovarman I (889-910)

Yasovarman I built a new Angkor capital called Yasodharapura, located not far from Roluos on the vast plain of Siem Reap and about eight km north of the Tonle Sap. At the centre was Phnom Bakeng Hill. Yasovarman I built one of the largest reservoirs in the Angkor Kingdom, called East Baray (Lake).

Harshavarman I (910-923) & Isanavarman II (923-928)

After the death of Yasovarman I, his son Harshavarman I became the next king. The two monuments built by Harshavarman I were the Baksei Chamkrong, a laterite temple northeast of Phnom Bakheng, and Prasat Kravan, built of bricks and dedicated to god Vishnu. His reign was followed by his brother Isanavarman II.

Jayavarman IV (928-941)

When Isanavarman II died in 928, Jayavarman IV ascended the throne and moved the capital to Koh Ker, about 90 km/54 miles north of Angkor Wat. At his new capital, Jayavarman IV constructed obscure Rahal Baray (Lake), running in a non-traditional north-south direction, and difficult to engineer. Sandstone may have been first introduced as the building materials of the Khmer monuments during this time. Koh Ker remained as the capital for only about 15 years.

Harshavarman II (941-944)

Harshavarman II ascended the throne by force with the help of his cousin who became the next king.

Rajendravarman II (944-968)

As soon as Harshavarman II died, his cousin Rajendravarman II took power. He reinstated Angkor as the capital and started to build the mountain-temple of Pre Rup which was sited on top of the ashramas built by Yasovarman I. Rajendravarman II had problems keeping his crown due to rebellions among his rivals.

Rajendravarman II had a strong military urge since he not only waged war with his rivals but even sacked the Champa Kingdom located to the east in modern Vietnam and the Thai tribal states to the west. Jayavarman V (968-1000) He was the son of Rajendravarman II and succeeded to the supreme throne after his father in 968.

Jayavarman V had to fight vigorously with other princes in order to maintain his kingship. For some reason, he built a new capital at the vicinity of Angkor and named it “Jayendranagari,” meaning “Capital of the Triumphant Monarch,” which implied his victory over his many enemies.

During his reign, two major complexes were constructed, Banteay Srei and Takeo.

Udayadityavarman I (1001-1002) & Jyaviravarman (1002-1010)

When Jayavarman V passed away in 1000, the historical account of his rule ended with the crowning of the new king named Udayadityavarman I. He apparently became king through violent conflict.

He ruled only for a few years before being ousted and killed in 1002. His rule was followed by a power struggle between two princes, Jayaviravarman and Suryavarman I. The first prince ascended the throne in 1002, but his regime was consistently challenged by his rival Suryavarman I, who successfully overthrew him in 1010.

During this decade of civil war, no significant monuments were built.

Suryavarman I (1010-1050)

His reign was long but not peaceful. Suryavarman I spent much of his time and energy defending his kingship. He was the first king who built his palace surrounded by a wall. His palace was situated in the vicinity of Angkor Thom (the Royal Complex). Suryavarman I claimed to be the descendant of Brahmin Kaundinya and princess Soma. Later, in 1022, Suryavarman I expanded his territory to the west up to Lopburi in modern Thailand.

The major temples built by him were the Preah Vihear on the Dangrek Mountain and the Phimeanakas, a modest temple in a pyramidal style located near his palace. Suryavarman I also started to build the second Angkor reservoir, the West Baray, which is almost twice as large as the East Baray.

Udayadityavarman II (1050-1066)

Udayadityavarman II ruled over the Angkor Kingdom during a time of war. He was not the son of Suryavarman I, but a descendant of the line of Yasovarman I’s spouse. A stone inscription made during his reign praised one of his faithful generals, Sangrama, who put down several major rebellions

Udayadityavarman II built the renowned Baphoun Temple devoted to the god Shiva. He completed the construction of the West Baray started in the time of his predecessor, and built the West Mebon, an earthen island, in the centre. Dedicated to the god Vishnu, it was constructed on the island, but has vanished. The West Baray reservoir is still in use today.

Harshavarman III (1066-1080)

Harshavarman III was the former king’s older brother. No monuments built by this king are known and there are almost no historical accounts referring to him. It is believed he died in a violent rebellion.

Jayavarman VI (1080-1107)

Jayavarman VI did not seem to have any direct connection with the royal family of the preceding kings. The centre of his power was to the west of Angkor in the area of Phimai, now in Thailand. Jayavarman VI claimed to be descendent of legendary Kambu and Mera (from Mount Mera). During his reign, there were few monuments built, except the one at the centre of his power – the Phimai temple.

Dharanindravarman I (1107-1113)

Jayavarman VI died in 1107, and the throne was assumed by his elder brother Dharanindravarman I. He was ousted and killed in a civil war that lasted for only one day. His killer was his nephew, Suryavarman II, who later became one of the greatest kings of the Angkor Empire.

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