Southeast Asia Dynasties

Pagan Empire, Khmer Empire, Trading Kingdoms, Vietnam

Around the 840s people called the Burnams established the kingdom of Pagan. The kingdom was located in the fertile Irrawaddy River valley, which was ideal for rice farming. Pagan's first great king was Anawratha. Under his rule conquests provided Pagan with access to trading ports, and the kingdom prospered. Anawratha and his successors supported Theravada Buddhism, and built thousands of Buddhist temples.  

The powerful Khmer Empire arose in what is now Cambodia. The Khmer Empire reflected a strong Indian influence. The empire’s rulers adopted both Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and ruled as gods.  The Khmer rulers fund such impressive building projects because their empire had grown prosperous from rice farming. To improve agricultural production, the Khmer devised an irrigation system that covered millions of acres. With this system, the Khmer could grow several crops of rice a year.

To the south of the mainland, several trading kingdoms developed on the islands of Southeast Asia. On the island of Java, the kingdom of Sailendra flourished from about 750 to 850. The people of this kingdom relied on agriculture and trade for their livelihood. The kingdom adopted Mahayana Buddhism and is known for its impressive Buddhist art and architecture. The Buddhist monument at Borobudur is the most famous Sailendra achievement. Centered on the island of Sumatra, the wealthy Srivijaya Empire flourished from the 600s to the 1200s. The Srivijaya Empire gained its wealth from its control of overseas traders. Aware of the importance to trade to their continued prosperity, the rulers of Srivijaya worked to ensure that trade continued to pass through their empire.

While most of Southeast Asia was strongly influenced by India, Vietnam was strongly influenced by China. Under Chinese rule, Vietnam absorbed many aspects of Chinese civilization. Chinese rulers forced the Vietnamese to adopt the Chinese language and Chinese clothing and hairstyles. Confucianism and Daoism influenced Vietnamese society. The Vietnamese adopted many features of Chinese government as well, including a bureaucracy and a Confucian-based civil service system. Vietnam embraced Mahayana Buddhism, and Buddhist art and architecture influenced Vietnamese culture. In spite of the many ways in which China influenced Vietnam, the Vietnamese still maintained many of their traditional customs. For example, the Vietnamese continued to worship nature spirits alongside other belief systems. One of the most famous rebellions took place in AD 39. That year, two sisters named Trung Trac and Trung Nhi raised an army and briefly drove the Chinese from Vietnam.