Around 4000 B.C. at what today is Samrong Sen at lake Tonle Sap a human society developed a remarkable level of civilization. As has been found in excavations, at that time, people already built houses on stilts, just like they still do today at lake Tonle Sap.
For centuries, the area around the Mekong delta and the Cambodian central plain were ruled by the Kingdom of Java (in today's Indonesia). But in 802, Khmer prince Jayavarman II, who was born and raised at the court of the Javanese Sailendra Dynasty, declares the areas inhabited by Khmer independent from Java and thus founds the kingdom of Angkor. He is crowned as Devaraja (god king) by a Brahman priest. In the following years he moves his capital several times. Initially it was at Indrapura (east of Kampong Cham), then at Wat Phou (in today's southern Laos) and finally at Rolous (near Angkor).
In 889 Yasovarman I becomes king of the Khmer. He starts the construction of Angkor, then named Yasodharapura. Yasovarmans reigns until the year 900.
In 1002 Suryavarman I usurps the throne. Under his rule, the kingdom of Angkor is extended into vast stretches of today's Thailand and Laos.
In 1080, after Angkor had been conquered by the kingdom of Champa, a northern provincial Khmer governor declares himself king, assuming the name Jayavarman VI. He rules the new Khmer kingdom from his northern province.
In 1113 a nephew of Jayavarman VI is crowned king of the Khmer, choosing the new name Suryavarman II. During his long reign Angkor Wat is built.
In 1177 Angkor is again conquered by an army from Champa. Jayavarman VII, a cousin of Suryavarman II, becomes king in 1181 and subsequently conquers Vijaya, the capital of Champa (in today's Vietnam). Under Jayavarman VII the Khmer territory reaches its largest extent ever. It covers practically all of today's Thailand and Laos, and reaches into today's Myanmar, Malaysia and Vietnam. Jayavarman VII converts from Hinduism to Buddhism and makes Buddhism the new national religion.
In 1200 construction of a new royal capital is started Angkor Thom. As this enormous construction depletes the resources of the Khmer realm, it suffers economical problems in the following years.
The following decades see the decline of Angkor. To the West Thai kingdoms become the dominant political powers; to the East Vietnamese kingdoms rise. As a small buffer state Cambodia in between the two, the kingdom of the Khmer alternatively depends on the Thais and the Vietnamese. In order to liberate themselves from the yoke of one conqueror they need the help of the other who then demands that the Khmer obey in compensation of their debts.
In 1432, after Thais once more conquered Angkor, the Khmer abandon their capital, leaving it to the jungle.
On April 17, 1864, after being alternatively controlled by Thailand or Vietnam for more than 400 years, Cambodian King Norodom accepts for his country the status of a French protectorate. King Norodom expects the French to protect Cambodia from the neighbouring countries Siam (Thailand) and Vietnam.
However, the French protectors cannot prevent politically strong Siam from temporarily annexing western parts of the country, including the town of Battambang. Nevertheless, by recognizing French rule, King Norodom preempted moves of Siam and Vietnam to entirely divide his country between them. In past centuries the loss of territory to Vietnam had been more significant. The Mekong delta, or rather the entire present-day South Vietnam, had been settled by Cambodians until well into the 18th century.
In 1884, with the acknowledgment of King Norodom, Cambodia's status is changed from protectorate to colony. The political influence of the French grows, and together with Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia becomes part of the Union Indochinois. In subsequent decades the French colonial masters install a European administrative system in Cambodia and improve the infrastructure of the country. Nevertheless, the economical development of the French Union Indochinois does not reach the extent of Burma's or India's development under British rule.
In September 1940, after France is invaded by Germany, Japanese troops occupy Indochina without meeting any resistance.
Officially the word is that the French colonial power leaves all military installation for the Japanese troops to use; in exchange the French colonial administration remains in office. Therefore the years of World War II bring less destruction to Cambodia than, for instance, to the fiercely contested Southeast Asian states of Burma and the Philippines.
In 1941 the French colonial masters proclaim 18-year-old Prince Norodom Sihanouk king of Cambodia, expecting to be able to easily control the politically inexperienced youth.
In March 1945 the Japanese military remove the French colonial administration and force young King Norodom Sihanouk to proclaim the independence of his country.
In East Asia, World War II ends August 14, 1945, with the capitulation of Japan. Subsequently, France tries to reestablish herself as colonial power in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
In 1946 King Norodom Sihanouk demands independence for his country from France. The French colonial masters respond by abolishing the absolute monarchy in Cambodia and by restricting the position of the king to representative status. A national assembly is elected.
In 1952 King Norodom Sihanouk enters self-elected exile, announcing he would return to Cambodia only when the country is independent.
On November 9, 1953, France releases Cambodia into independence and King Norodom Sihanouk returns.
In 1955, in order to free himself from the restrictions set for the king by the Cambodian constitution, Norodom Sihanouk abdicates in favour of his father, Norodom Suramarit, and enters politics. In successive elections, in 1955, 1958, 1962 and 1966, the party of Norodom Sihanouk wins every seat in parliament.
In March 1969 American planes start bombing Cambodia to interrupt the supply trails of the Vietcong. The bombardments last until 1973.
In 1970, while Norodom Sihanouk is in Moscow on a state visit, Marshal Lon Nol stages a coup d'état in Phnom Penh. Lon Nol abolishes the monarchy and declares Cambodia a republic. Norodom Sihanouk chooses to stay in Peking, presiding over a government-in-exile. The Khmer Rouge is part of it. During the following years, the Khmer Rouge conquer more and more regions of Cambodia, until finally only Phnom Penh remains under the control of the Lon Nol government.
On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh. Within a few days, they execute a large number of Cambodians formerly connected to the Lon Nol regime. More than 2 Million inhabitants of Phnom Penh are forced out of the city and moved to provincial labour camps. Phnom Penh becomes a ghost town. The economy of the entire country is transformed along radical Communist lines; money is simply abolished. The consequences include famine and epidemics.
Within the following 44 months more than a million Cambodians fall victim to the Khmer Rouge rule of terror. Refugees who make it to Thailand report atrocities of the worst kind: executions of children, only because they were not born of peasant families or of Vietnamese or Chinese origin. Whosoever was suspected of being educated, or to be a member of a merchant family, was murdered: clubbed to death, not shot, in order to save ammunition.
On December 25, 1978, after a series of transgressions at the Cambodian-Vietnamese border, the Vietnamese army invades Cambodia. On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese troops occupy Phnom Penh. A Vietnam-friendly government is installed, Heng Samrin, a Khmer Rouge guerrilla who earlier had fled to Vietnam, is proclaimed president. The new Cambodian government is not recognized by Western countries.
In 1982, three Cambodian resistance groups, the Khmer Rouge, the National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) of Prince Sihanouk, and the anticommunist Khmer People's National Liberation Front of former PM Son Sann, form a coalition aiming to expel the Vietnamese occupation forces.
In 1989 the Vietnamese troops retreat from Cambodia. On October 23, 1991, the government previously installed in Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese, together with the resistance coalition, among them the Khmer Rouge, sign a peace treaty in Paris. Three weeks later, on November 14, 1991, Prince Sihanouk returns to Phnom Penh. The population of the capital receives him enthusiastically.
In 1992 the United Nations Transitory Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) take over the government and the administration of the country. The Khmer Rouge do not adhere to the Paris agreement which stipulates that warring factions lay down their arms.
On May 23, 1993, in elections for a constitutional assembly, supervised by the UN, FUNCINPEC wins 45% of the votes; the Cambodian People's Party of the government installed by the Vietnamese achieves 38%. FUNCINPEC and CPP agree to form a coalition government.