Traditionally, the history of Angkor as we know it from inscriptions and the existing temples begins in the ninth 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 soil, has been settled since Neolithic times, as is known from stone tools and ceramics found there, and from the identification of circular habitation sites from aerial photographs. For the whole Khmer country, there is more descriptive evidence from the accounts of the Chinese, who began to trade and explore the commercial opportunities of mainland Southeast Asia in the early centuries of the Christian era. The picture is one of small town-states, moated, fortified and frequently in conflict with each other. The Chinese called the principal country with which they traded Funan; 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 civilization.
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