About 3000 years ago, a mountain people from the Badakshan area of Central Asia (northeastern Afghanistan and southeastern Tajikistan), an important trading center through which the “Silk Road” passed, became tempted by thoughts of wealth in lowlands to their west, which they were becoming strong enough to consider appropriating. These people of Kamboja, or Kambujiya, had strong belief in hierarchy, divine will and the right of might. To them, to be able to take was a mandate to do so, within the natural, moral compass and order of things. How could it be else-wise?
In the 9th century BCE they took Persis (now Fars Province of Iran, where Shiraz is), then Anshan (in the Zagros mountains of southwestern Iran), a quite ancient civilization, and soon the whole Iranian plateau.
The empire at around 500 BCE stretched from the Indus Valley in the east to Thrace and Macedonia; it eventually controlled Egypt and encompassed approximately 8 million square kilometers; in 480 BCE it is estimated to have had 50 million people. At its greatest extent, it had absorbed the modern territories of Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, most of Turkey, parts of Libya, Georgia and Azerbaijan, much of the Black Sea coastal regions and extensive parts of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Oman. They may well have been the root of the Ksyatriya caste, India’s ruling and military elite who were in charge of protecting society by fighting in wartime and governing in peacetime, and Gautama Buddha was most likely one of them (see the work of Ranajit Pal, who faces much disparagement but seems to me spot on, at least about some things).
Some of these Persian Ksyatriyas created the Srivijaya maritime empire, a splinter group from which met other Kambojas who had come overland (eventually following the path of the Mekong) to the Tonle Sap in what was then the kingdom of Chenla (Zhenla) and what is now Cambodia. These two groups, united by racial background and world-view, would have had trouble communicating verbally after a millennia and a half of differing influences on their language, but they saw the locals in quite the same way. Together they enslaved the local aboriginals, built the extensive Angkor Wat complexes, became known as the Khom and eventually formed the core of Siamese royalty and what became Thailand. As less than 1% has great difficulty holding in slavery over 99%, when drought and the Black Plague hit about 1300 CE, the Angkor Empire started to crumble, its edifices, by the time of the rise of Ayudhaya, left as a bad memory to become over-run by jungle, and the Khom were almost forgotten. Jit Phoumisak, called by some the only Thai intellectual, wrote about this, and seems as a result to have been executed. David K. Wyatt of Cornell University, the foremost historian on Thailand, might well have wanted to write on it, too, but wanted even more to be able to return to Thailand for visits, and so did not, although some of his later writings show interest in the surrounding controversies.
Srivijaya, like the Dutch and British East India Companies, merely expropriated ports, with “Factory” warehouses, and didn't attempt administration of colonies (Ligor, now Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Thailand, a possible exception), but the Khom rulers of the Khmer (pronounced “kha-may", the first syllable just like the Thai word for slave) raised rule to an art form, beguiling a gullible public with magical incantations and other bewitchery for half a millennium.
This is fascinating: in his “A history of Cambodia” David Chandler says, “In the 17th century, according to Dutch sources, foreign traders were required to love in specific areas of the new capitol, Udong, reserved for them and to deal with the Cambodian government only through appointed representatives, or shabandar.”
Wikipedia says, “S̲h̲āhbandar (Persian: شهبندر, lit. “harbourmaster”), was an official of the ports in Safavid Persia and one also known on other shores of the Indian Ocean. The Shahbandar (Port Master) was in charge of the traders and the collection of taxes. The office of shahbandar first appeared in Persia, and from there spread throughout the Indian Ocean basin.” Chandler doesn’t mention Persians though.
Yup, Persian influence in SE Asia goes WAY back. As Dr. Ranajit Pal put it, “evidence has revealed the presence of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became Buddha, as far west as Persia. Family seals and records found at Persepolis, the ancient capital of the fourth Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, have been identified and associated with the names of Siddhartha Gautama and his father, Suddhodana Gautama. … Even the Indus Culture (India) is a colony of the Sumerian Empire, ...”
I was researching to write about Vasco de Gama for one of my novels, and ended up parroting others who had him meeting (and battling with) Arab traders in the Arabian Sea area, as if Persians would not have come down from the Persian Gulf… I’ve corrected that now. Clearly, Persians did travel and interact to the east and south of their home area, and why not? I’ve yet to have solid evidence for my speculations about their possible influence on Angkor, yet, though.
Seems likely to me that well before Persians became bureaucrats for Cambodian and Thai kings, they traded through a large coastal area extending until Chinese influence and control became too strong to deal with. Over centuries, they became knowledgeable in methods of control, lost interest in colonization or active political control in preference to manipulations through trade (for the most part), doing what Portuguese, Dutch and British later did with their “East India” companies. A break-away group forged Angkor, though, and kept an empire until Han population explosion and conquest of Han people by Mongols changed the socio-political situation enough that an alliance with T’ai peoples, emigrating for safety’s sake from their Southern Chinese homelands, seemed an appropriate recourse. Pressures from Vietnamese peoples may have contributed.
Anyway, mangroves clogging the northern shores of the Gulf of Siam were reduced in extent sufficiently that a new port city on the ChaoPraya River could be built, and a descendant of Shan/Lanna royalty invited to come rule. The rulers of Angkor and their hangers-on, Chinese merchants from Kwantung and others formed a new elite for this new city, which they called Ayudhaya, after a mythological city from the Ramayana tale. Eventually integration of their descendants with locals created the distinction from Malays that has become much more noticeable over the last century.
Cambodia was left with neither a strong elite nor much of a trading community (except for Vietnamese who took control of the ports that had exported their forest products), lost population and area and became a kind of satellite state controlled by Siamese and Vietnamese rivals.
This explains more to me than any other scenario I have encountered, and leaves fewer holes, less confusion, and so, utilizing Occam’s Razor, I accept it without the kind of proofs Western academicians prefer.
But I do have this: Tibet and Altai are high-altitude places a series of conquerors descended from. Tajikistan might be another. People from there, or other mountains nearby, conquered Persia and almost Ancient Greece. Their Achaemenid Empire was huge but historians have underestimated it, I think. They didn’t only go West, but also East, along the Old Silk Road and to the headwaters of the Mekong, down that river and finally to Cambodia, the name of which comes from them. Marco Polo’s ludicrous account of descending steadily downhill for three months, into what is now Myanmar, may well be a reflection of this, taken from stories Turk traders heard from Tajiks. After Cambyses II, (A Tajik descendant, I am suggesting), son of Cyrus the Great, uncle of Xerxes died in a Libyan sandstorm (or something close enough), some of his people turned back and tried India instead, forming the Kshatriyan caste of India and then the Srivijayan maritime empire based in Ligor and Java. One of their explorers, finding descendants of Tajik traders near Tonle Sap, decided to go for real empire instead of just trading, and with the help of a “5th column” of distant relatives, was able to found the Angkor Empire. In 1431, secrets of kingship gleaned over two millennium were used to found Ayudhaya, a trading partner for Southern Chinese loathe to remain subjects of Beijing (or Xanadu, X’ian, of Mongols, Ming or Qing). To accomplish this, when they were overthrown by a successful slave revolt, they allied themselves with T’ai princes pushed south not only by Mongol conquests but by Han Chinese population expansion. Later, others from Persia formed the backbone of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty’s bureaucracy…
Mountain people who ate fresh meat and forest products tended to be much hardier than lowland grain-eating agriculturists, and sometimes found opportunity to enrich themselves through their strength and simultaneously gain revenge on the “civilized” folk who despised them. To maintain supremacy, they found elaborate, formal high-church-like ceremony endowed with purported accouterments of power and embellished with semblances of magic importantly helpful. The pageantry, as it often does, worked, but they had to continually work at it, becoming, in a way, increasingly slaves to their slaves. Thus the switch to “maritime empire,” which was often equally rewarding but less demanding. Ports in India, Indonesia and at Ligor became havens of luxury. But some, as happens, sociopathically aspired to God-hood. Wealth and power weren’t enough; adulation and sycophancy were desired also. And so, Babylon, Constantinople, Angkor, Xanadu (X’ian) and perhaps Ayudhaya, although in its case, the mountain people must have been at greater remove from their ancestral mountains. I suspect it was similar with the Aztecs. Incas, however, stayed in their mountains (and I know little of their pageantry, except that they had plenty).
I suspect that secrets of mass-manipulation have been handed down. This theory might help explain mafia influence in some current governments… Capishe?