Funan was a pre-Angkor Cambodian kingdom located around the Mekong delta, probably established by Mon-Khmer settlers speaking an Austro-Asiatic language. We know very little about it, except that it was a powerful trading state. This is evidenced by the discovery of Roman, Chinese and Indian goods during archaeological excavations at Oc Eo in southern Vietnam. The capital was initially located at Vyadhapura, near modern Phnom Penh, though it may have been moved to Oc Eo at a later time.
According to reports by two Chinese envoys, K'ang T'ai and Chu Ying, the state was established by an Indian Brahimin named Kaundinya, who in the first century C.E. was given instruction in a dream to take a magic bow from a temple and defeat a Khmer queen, Soma. Soma, the daughter of the king of the Nagas, married Kaundinya and their lineage became the royal dynasty of Funan. The myth had the advantage of providing the legitimacy of both an Indian Brahmin and the divinity of the cobras, who at that time were held in religious regard by the inhabitants of the region.
The Funanese Empire reached its furthest extent under the rule of Fan Shih-man in the early third century C.E., extending as far south as Malaysia and as far west as Burma. 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 farther reaches.
The kingdom is said to have been heavily influenced by Indian culture, 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.
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 C.E. The Chinese Emperor was so impressed that he ordered the establishment of an institute for Funanese music near Nanking. The Funanese were reported also to have extensive book collections and archives throughout their country, demonstrating a high level of scholarly achievement.
Funan's political history is little known apart from its relations with China. A brief conflict is recorded to have happened in the 270s when Funan and its neighbor Champa joined forces to attack the Chinese province of Tongking. In 357, Funan became a vassal of China, and would continue as such until its disintegration in the sixth century.
See also: Cambodia, Chenla, Khmer empire.
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