Traditionally, the history of Angkor as we know it from inscriptions and the existing temples begins in the 9th century, when the young king Jayavarman II declared himself the supreme sovereign and established his capital first near present - day Roluos, and a little later in the Kulen Mountains. Up to that point, khmer history had been that of small independent states occasionally consolidating into larger empires, but never for long. It took a conqueror to establish the beginnings of one of Southeast Asia's most powerful empires.
The Angkor region, bordering the Great Lake with its valuable supply of water, fish and fertile oil, has been settled since neolithic times...
Funan Period: it had a strategic importance in controlling the sea routes around the Mekong delta and the Gulf of Thailand. In particular it controlled the narrow Isthmus of Kra - the neck of the Malay Peninsula - which connected eastern Asia with India.
Indeed, it was trade with India that gave the Khmers their primary cultural contacts, and introduced them to Hinduism and Buddhism. Khmer religious beliefs, iconography, art and architecture all stemmed directly from India, and this had a profound influence on the development of its civilisation.
The 6th century sees the first historical evidence from local inscriptions. At around this time, the Chinese accounts begin to write of a Kingdom called 'Chenla' in the interior, but this is a Chinese rather than a khmer name. In the second half of the century there is a record of a city called Bhavapura, with its King, Bhavavarman I extending his rule from near the present - day site of Kompong Thom to at least as far as Battambang in the west. He was succeeded by his brother, who ruled as Mahendravarman, who in turn was succeeded by his son, Isanavarman I.
These three kings progressively conquered the khmer part of Funan, while the western part was taken by other peoples, in particular the Mons of the Kingdom of Dvaravati to the W of Bangkok. Isnavarman I was responsible for the temple at Sambor Prei Kuk, establishing the first of the pre - Angkor styles of architecture. Under Isnavarman's son, Bhavavarman II, who took the throne in 628, the empire disintegrated back into small states, and it took until 654 for Jayavarman I, a grandson of Isnavarman I, from one of these princedoms, to reconquer much of the territory. There is evidence that he ruled from Aninditapura, close to Angkor. On his death, the empire again collapsed, and his successors, including his daughter Jayadevi, the only ancient khmer queen, controlled only the small Kingdom of Aninditapura. The country remained this way until the end of the 8th century, when Jayavarman II became king in 790.
Jayavarman II's conquests, first of Vyadhapura (SE of Cambodia), then Sambhupura (present - day Sambor), then N as far as Wat Phu, and finally of Aninditapura, established his power. He settled first at Hariharalaya, an ancient capital in the region of what is now Roluos, but then, trying to go further NW, experienced an unknown setback which resulted in him relocating to the Kulen Plateau, some 50km NE of Siem Reap. Here he pronounced himself 'world emperor' in 802, but it was many years before he was strong enough to move his capital back to Hariharalaya on the shores of the Great Lake, where he died in 835.
His son Jayavarman III succeeded him on his death. He seems to have built the laterite pyramid of Bakong, which his successor, Indravarman I, had clad in sandstone. The date of his death is unknown, but most probably his successor took the throne with violence. The king remodelled his capital, building in his palace the Preah Ko temple, dedicated in 880 and improving Bakong. He also began the baray of Indratataka, which his son Yasovarman I completed after he came to power in 889. This accession was a bloody one, involving a struggle with the crown prince, his brother, and destruction of the palace. Therefore he decided to move his capital to Angkor.