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The Civilization of Angkor Paperback – April 23, 2004

3.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"The Civilization of Angkor is remarkable and unique in that it delves into the prehistoric roots of the civilization. Higham is THE international authority on southeast Asian archaeology, and presents an up-to-date and provocative synthesis of Angkor."—Brian Fagan, author of Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Niño and the Fate of Civilizations, and co-editor of The Oxford Companion to Archaeology.

"In blending archaeological and documentary data to chronicle the rise of this important Southeast Asian state, Higham's rich history of Angkor effectively refutes traditional models of state development in the Mekong region and offers insights regarding the nature of Angkor and the processes that led to its emergence."—Miriam Stark, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Hawai'i and editor of The Archaeology of Social Boundaries

About the Author

Charles Higham has been active in archaeological research in Southeast Asia since 1969. He has published a series of final excavation reports and is the author of four major syntheses of the region's prehistory, The Archaeology of Mainland Southeast Asia, The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia, Early Cultures of Southeast Asia, and Prehistoric Thailand (written with Rachanie Thosarat). He is a Fellow of the British Academy, James Cook Fellow at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and visiting scholar at St. Catharine's College, Cambridge.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 207 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (April 23, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520242181
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520242180
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,703,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Matthew M. Yau on January 25, 2006
The Civilization of Angkor draws on the latest research on prehistoric archaeology, epigraphy, and art history to reconstruct a detailed chronicle of a remarkable civilization. The book serves as a primer, in addition to the tour guide's word-of-the-mouth information and perfunctory Lonely Planet coverage, to my recent trip to Angkor Wat and the associated monuments. It illuminates the unique architecture and structural motifs that were dictated by religious influence.

Higham focuses on civilization of Angkor, which was established on the northern shore of the Great Lake (Tonle Sap) in Cambodia, and progressively controlled the Mekong Valley to the delta, the Khorat plateau of northeast Thailand and much of central Thailand. Traces of ruins with Khmer influence are found today in the ancient Siamese capital Ayuthaya, also part of my itinerary.

The Civilization of Angkor traces the origin and developments through four distinct phases, beginning about 500 BC in the prehistoric Iron Age, which saw the origin of rice cultivation. It was significant because domestication of rice represents one of the most profound changes in the human past of Southeast Asia. The second phase (100-550 AD) witnessed a swift transition to organized states in the Mekong delta that was fuelled by participation in a burgeoning international trade network. The third phase (550-800 AD) afforded formation of series of states in the low-lying interior of Cambodia, an area well suited to an agrarian economy. Flood retreat agriculture replenished with silt could provide the necessary rice surpluses to sustain the social elite. Thus the period saw the creation of wealth and establishment of social hierarchy.
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Having recently returned from a trip to Cambodia where my expectations of the temples of the Khmers was far from disappointed I found this history valuable in adding to my experience.

Who were these people who built such amazing buildings where the artistic achievement surpassed the engineering achievement - but that wasn't trivial either? We learn their prehistory and the succession of leaders who left such monumental evidence. We learn of some of their external influences - India and China, Vietnam and Thailand, perhaps Indonesia too.

I didn't get a strong understanding from the book, however, of the roles of Buddhism and Hinduism. Did they alternate? Did they merge? When Angkor was sacked by the Thais, the Khmers moved their capital to the banks of the Mekong River. But does that explain why the temples were abandoned for 400 years? Surely the locals must have known of these massive structures slowly being enmeshed in the jungle? Why did they not care?

The British in India faced a similar puzzle about some monuments that had been abandoned. They solved the puzzle with the realisation that just for a while India had Buddhist leaders and during that time Buddhist monuments were erected. Little wonder that these were disregarded, abandoned, 'forgotten' when the nation returned to Hinduism and the other imported religions. Perhaps a similar thing happened in Canbodia.

The answers are not all provided in this book - the answers are not known. At times I found the book to be a little tedious with its lists of kings and successions. But it did add perspective to the new names I now have to add to Angkor Wat and the Bayon; Pre Rup, Preah Ko, Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei, Preah Vihear (which we didn't visit), Bakong, Phimeanakas etc.
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I'm a big fan of ancient Southeast Asia and really enjoyed reading Higham's book. It does a great job describing the origins of the Angkor empire and the history of the empire in the classical age, which ran from 800 to 1200.

I would also recommend two other books about Angkor: Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Ancient Peoples and Places) is another great history of Angkor, and a journalist named Gregory A. Waldron wrote a superb palace intrigue novel set in ancient Angkor right after the death of Jayavarman VII, God King of Angkor - novel.

Ancient Angkor was a truly impressive place. All three of these books help recreate the atmosphere of what Angkor must have been like during its ascendancy.
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This book is very technical and difficult to stay with despite the fact the subject is amazing. It reads like a text book and would be good if you needed refrence material, but then the library is a better place to get it.
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