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Funan was an ancient pre-Angkormarker Indianized kingdom located around the Mekong Delta. The ethno-linguistic nature of the people; whether they were mostly Mon-Khmer or Austronesian, is the subject of much discussion among specialists.

It is believed to have been established in the first century C.E. in the Mekong delta, which today is Vietnamesemarker territory, although extensive human settlement in the region may have gone back as far as the 4th century B.C.E. Though regarded by Chinese envoys as a single unified empire, Funan may have been a collection of city-states that sometimes warred with one another and at other times constituted a political unity. At its height, Funan and all its principalities covered much of mainland Southeast Asia, including within its scope the territory of modern day Cambodiamarker and Southern Vietnam, as well as parts of Laosmarker, Thailandmarker and Myanmarmarker, and extending into the Malay Peninsula.

Little is known about Funan, except that it was a powerful trading state, as evidenced by the discovery of Roman, Chinesemarker, and Indianmarker goods during archaeological excavations at the ancient port of Oc Eomarker in southern Vietnammarker. The capital, initially located at Vyadhapura (City of the Hunter) near the modern Cambodian town of Banam in Prey Veng Provincemarker, may have been moved to Oc Eo at a later time. Most of what is known about Funan is from records by Chinese and Cham sources dating from the third to sixth centuries and from archaeological excavations. No archaeological research has been conducted on this state in Cambodia's Mekong Delta in several decades, and it is precisely this region that reputedly housed the capitals of Funan.


The race and language of the Funanese are not known, but Chinese records dating from the third century C.E. reveals the same origin myth of the Khmer people that survives in modern Khmer folklore. In a tenth-century document of the Chinese official Rang Tai's visit to Funan in the middle of the third century C.E. records one of the earliest variants of the legend. In it, Rang Tai learned that the original sovereign of Funan was a woman named Liu-Ye. According to the story, Kaundinya had been given instruction in a dream to take a magic bow from a temple and to embark on a journey. He did so and went to Cambodia, where a local queen (Liu-ye) launched an attack on the Brahmin's boat. With the aid of the divine bow, Kaundinya repelled the attack and persuaded the defeated queen to marry him. Their lineage became the royal dynasty of Funan. A similar account is recorded in the seventh century History of Chin.

Although the Chinese records shows bias, similar names have been recorded in stone inscriptions at My Sonmarker dating to A.D. 657. In this Cham version, the prince is known as Kaudinya and the queen as Soma, the daughter of the naga king. A Khmer inscription from the tenth century described the ruling line as descendants of Sri-Kaudinya and the daughter of Soma. The same origin myth in modern Khmer folklore gives the name Preah Thaong to the prince and Neang Neak to the queen. In this version, Preah Thaong arrives by sea to an island marked by a giant thlok tree, native to Cambodia. On the Island, he found the home of the nagas and met Neang Neak, daughter of the naga king. He married her with blessing from her father and returned to the human world. The naga king drank the sea around the island and gave the name Kampuchea Thipdei, which in Sanskrit (Kambuja Dhipati) translates into the king of Kambuja. In another version, it is stated that Preah Thaong fights Neang Neak. The continuation of the same origin myth implies that modern Khmers are descendants of the Funanese people.

The first Khmer inscription dated shortly after the fall of Funan and those dating to later dates are concentrated in southern Cambodia suggests that the Khmers already inhabited lowland Cambodia.

The Australian archaeologist,Michael Vickery, has said: “on present evidence it is impossible to assert that Funan as an area and its dominant groups were anything but Khmer”.


The Funanese Empire reached its greatest extent under the rule of Fan Shih-man in the early third century C.E., extending as far south as present-day Malaysiamarker and as far west as present-day Myanmarmarker. The Funanese established a strong system of mercantilism and commercial monopolies that would become a pattern for empires in the region. Fan Shih-man expanded the fleet and improved the Funanese bureaucracy, creating a quasi-feudal pattern that left local customs and identities largely intact, particularly in the empire's further reaches.


Keeping in mind that Funanese records did not survive into the modern period, much of what is known came from archaeological excavation. Excavations yielded discoveries of brick wall structures, precious metals and pottery from southern Cambodia and Vietnam. Also found was a large canal system that linked the settlements of Angkor Borei and coastal outlets; this suggests a highly organized government. Funan, a complex and sophisticated society with a high population density, advanced technology, and a complex social system dominated the area of Cambodia because of the Khmer people's ability to produce food in Cambodia's fertile plains.


Funanese culture was a mixture of native beliefs and Indian ideas. The kingdom is said to have been heavily influenced by Indian culture, maybe through intermediary kingdoms like Dvaravati or Malayu, and to have employed Indians for state administration purposes. Sanskrit was the language at the court, and the Funanese advocated Hindu and, after the fifth century, Buddhist religious doctrines. Records show that taxes were paid in silver, gold, pearls, and perfumed wood. K'ang T'ai reported that the Funanese practiced slavery and that justice was rendered through trial by ordeal, including such methods as carrying a red-hot iron chain and retrieving gold rings and eggs from boiling water.

Archaeological evidence largely corresponds to Chinese records. the Chinese described the Funanese as people who lived on stilt houses, cultivated rice and sent tributes of gold, silver, ivory and exotic animals.

K'ang T'ai's report was unflattering to Funanese civilization, though Chinese court records show that a group of Funanese musicians visited China in 263. The Chinese emperor was so impressed that he ordered the establishment of an institute for Funanese music near Nankingmarker. The Funanese were reported also to have extensive book collections and archives throughout their country, demonstrating a high level of scholarly achievement.


Funan was Southeast Asia's first great economy. The Kingdom was rich because of trade and agriculture. Funan grew wealthy because it dominated the Isthmus of Kramarker, the narrow portion of the Malay peninsula where merchants transported trade goods between Chinamarker and Indiamarker. They use their profits to construct an elaborate system of water storage and irrigation. Citizens lived relaxed lifestyles. The Funanese population was concentrated mainly along the Mekong River: the area was a natural region for the development of an economy based on fishing and rice cultivation. The Funanese economy depended on rice surpluses produced by an extensive inland irrigation system. Maritime trade also played an extremely important role in the development of Funan. Archaeological remnants of what was the kingdom's main port, Oc Eomarker, were found to include Roman as well as Persian, Indian, and Greek artifacts.The German classical scholar Albrecht Dihle believed that Funan’s main port, identified with Oc Eo, was the Kattigara referred to by the second century Alexandrian geographer Ptolemy as the emporium where merchants from the Chinese and Roman empires met to trade. Dihle believed that Oc Eo best fitted the details given by Ptolemy of a voyage made by a Graeco-Roman merchant named Alexander to Kattigara, situated at the easternmost end of the maritime trade route from the eastern Roman Empire.


King Fan Shih-man, the greatest king of Funan, and his successors sent ambassadors to Chinamarker and Indiamarker. The kingdom likely accelerated the process of Indianization into Southeast Asia. Later kingdoms of Southeast Asia emulated the Funanese court.

During its golden age, Funan controlled modern-day southern Vietnam, Cambodia, central Thailand, northern Malaysia, and southern Myanmar. Although Funan collapsed under the pressure of neighboring Chenla, its capital Vyadhapura remained the largest and most important urban center in the region until Angkor Thommarker.

The Funan kingdom had an efficient navy and rose to prosperity by regulating the sea trade between Chinamarker and Indiamarker.

Funan collapsed in the sixth century and was absorbed by the Chenla kingdom who are undeniably Khmers. Funan is held to be the first Khmer kingdom and the forerunner of the mighty Khmer Empire. The Khmers and the Funanese share the same origin myth and under Funan, Cambodia became an indianized polity which had a profound effect on its culture.


The French historian George Coedès once hypothesized a relation between the rulers of Funan and the Sailendra dynasty of Indonesiamarker. Coedès believed that the title of "mountain lord" used by the kings of Sailendra may also have been used by the kings of Funan, since the name "Funan" is related to the Khmer "phnom," which means "mountain." Other scholars have rejected this hypothesis, pointing to the lack of evidence in early Cambodian epigraphy for the use of any such titles. The Funanese also traded with the Liang dynasty of southern China.

Little is known about Funan's political history apart from its relations with Chinamarker. A brief conflict is recorded to have happened in the 270s, when Funan and its neighbour, Champa, joined forces to attack the area of Tongking (which was under chinese control at the time), located in what is now modern Northern Vietnam. In 357, Funan became a vassal of China, and would continue as such until its disintegration in the sixth century. Chenla, a vassal of Funan eventually absorbed Funan entirely.

Funan rulers

-see List of Vietnamese monarchs#Funan



  • George Coedès, The Indianized States of Southeast Asia (translated from the French by Susan Brown Cowing). Honolulu: East West Center Press, 1968.
  • Claude Jacques, “'Funan', 'Zhenla'. The reality concealed by these Chinese views of Indochina”, in R. B. Smith and W. Watson (eds.), Early South East Asia: Essays in Archaeology, History, and Historical Geography, New York, Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 371-9.
  • James C.M. Khoo (editor), Art & archaeology of Fu Nan: pre-Khmer Kingdom of the lower Mekong valley, Bangkok, The Southeast Asian Ceramic Society, Orchid press, 2003.
  • Lương Ninh, «Nước Chi Tôn», một quőc gia cở ở miển tây sông Hậu, (“Chi Tôn”, an ancient state in the western bank of the Hậu river), Khảo cổ học, ső 1, 1981, tr.38.
  • M. Vickery (2003–2004). "Funan reviewed: Deconstructing the Ancients." Bulletin de l'École Française d' Extrême Orient: 101–143.

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