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Funan State

Precursor to the Angkor Civilization


Terracotta Ewer from Funan Culture Site of Oc Eo

Terracotta Ewer from Funan Culture Site of Oc Eo

Bình Giang

Funan is the name for the archaeological ruins of an early southeast Asian state located in Vietnam and southern Cambodia. One of the earliest states in southeast Asia, Funan dates from about AD 100-550, with centers in the Mekong and Bassac deltas below Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Out of this region developed the Angkor Civilization.

Early Reports of Funan

In AD 250, two Chinese emissaries from the Wu Emperor visited what they called Funan. Eventually, they provided a detailed report documenting a civilization with a king and walled settlements: scholars identified ruins in southeast Asia which match that description and called them Funan as well. The word Funan itself appears to be a transliteration of the word Phnom, which means Hill in the Khmer language and forms part of many place names in southeast Asia.

The Funan kingdom included large walled capitals at Oc Eo (Vietnam) and Angkor Borei (Cambodia), and the two Chinese visitors Kang Dai and Zhu Ying reported back to the Wu Emperor that Funan had a luxury tax on gold, silver, perfumes and pearls, and a legal system involving trial by ordeal. The reports from the two visitors also included the origin story of Funan, the dynastic lineages, and the presence at court of a representative of the Indian Murunda king. Craft specialists at Funan worked metal, engraved stone, and produced jewelry.

Funan houses were raised on stilts, and the region included an extensive canal system. Connections to the vast Silk Road trade network between Rome, India and China have been identified in the artifacts recovered from Funan sites, including Brahmin seals from India. Several Sanskrit scripts refer to a ruler named Jayavarman, who founded sanctuaries dedicated to Vishnu, a hermitage and reservoir, and fought many battles.

Funan was quite prosperous, and it flourished after its connections with China and India as a result of its control of the Mekong Delta until the 6th century AD, when that control was lost and the control of southeast Asia moved to Chenla state.

Archaeology at Funan

The ruins of Oc Eo were first identified in the 1920s by aerial photographer Pierre Paris. Louis Malleret excavated at Oc Eo in 1944, and found a central place with public buildings, and evidence for trade with China, India, Iran, and the Roman Empire. Another Funan city of political importance was Vyadhapura ("City of the Hunters" in Sanskrit) near what is now Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Modern studies of Funan have been conducted under the direction of the Lower Mekong Archaeological Project (LoMAP), initiated in the 1990s and based at the University of Hawai'i, and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, which has focused on luminescence dating of sediments and ceramics from the region.

Funan Sites: Oc Eo, Vyadhapura, Angkor Borei, Ta Keo, Bung Bac, Satingpra


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Angkor Civilization, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Bacus EA. 2001. Archaeology of Southeast Asia. In Smelser NJ, and Baltes PB, editors. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Oxford: Pergamon. p 14656-14661.

Higham, C. 1989. The Development of Mandalas (especially pp 249-253). In The Archaeology of Mainland Southeast Asia. Cambridge World Archaeology, Cambridge England.

Higham C. 2008. ASIA, SOUTHEAST | Early States and Civilizations. In: Editor-in-Chief: Pearsall DM, editor. Encyclopedia of Archaeology. New York: Academic Press. p 796-808.

Proske U, Heslop D, and Hanebuth TJJ. 2009. Salt production in pre-Funan Vietnam: archaeomagnetic reorientation of briquetage fragments. Journal of Archaeological Science 36(1):84-89.

Sanderson DCW, Bishop P, Stark M, Alexander S, and Penny D. 2007. Luminescence dating of canal sediments from Angkor Borei, Mekong Delta, Southern Cambodia. Quaternary Geochronology 2:322–329.


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