This is the fifth part of the Fall of Civilizations podcast by Paul Cooper in which he looks at how the Khmer Empire arose in the 9th century, developed into one of the great civilisations of the world, and eventually collapsed around the 15th century.
It is an exceptionally well made documentary on the subject, thoroughly researched and presented with well filmed scenes of life in the country, reconstructions of Khmer life in the Middle Ages and many photographs of the architectural remains and the reliefs that decorate them.
Paul Cooper has a knack of story telling, given that this is basically a podcast, or narrative retelling of the story, without interviews, or other “breaks” in the flow, and yet he manages to hold one’s attention for the more than one and a half hours it takes to tell the story.
We learn of the founding of the kingdom under Jayavarman II (the first Jayavarman was the head of the Champa Empire); its expansion, especially under Yashovarman and how attained its peak under the Buddhist king Jayavarman VII.
We also learn about its international relationships, its hydraulic civilization, and we are presented with several theories of why it eventually collapsed and almost vanished for several centuries.
I don’t agree with his idea about the effect of Theravāda Buddhism, which he seems to think undermined the God-King theory and helped precipitate the collapse, but that is a small thing given how much we do learn from this well told story.
I would really like to see another film of the sort telling of the rise and fall of the Mauryan Empire perhaps, or one of the medieval Chinese Empires, like that of the Mongols. And perhaps something around the rise of the Thai kingdoms and, not its collapse exactly, but its contraction in the 19th century.
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