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Native Nameសម្ភុបុរៈ
Alternative nameSambor, Shambhupura
TypeAncient City
Coordinates12.79633, 105.97872
Founded6th to 9th Century
Art StyleThala Borivat

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Site Size & Condition: Ancient City Sambhupura (សម្ភុបុរៈ - Pronounced: Sam-bhu-pura)

A polity or city-state, mentioned in various inscriptions under the name of Sambhupura, appears to have played an important role in the pre-Angkorian - Chenla - and early Angkorian periods. As is often the case with archaeology relating to this timeframe, the precise location and nature of the polity is debated, with theories proposing Sambhupura as being located in modern-day Takeo Province or as an alternative name for Isanapura, while certain scholars point to the nearby, extensive, temple complexes at Thala Borivat.

In so far as the name crops up over a lengthy period we can perhaps dismiss Sambor Prei Kuk - already confirmed as Isanapura with a possible earlier incarnation as Bhavapura - and the best consensus appears to be a Mekong location in today's northern Cambodia, specifically around the area of Sambor. (Indeed the latter would seem to be a clear derivation of the name.) Our entry then refers to the concentration of early - 6th and 7th-century - sites, found on the east bank of the Mekong at the level of the Sambor Rapids, north of the modern-day, provincial capital of Kratie. The Mekong would have been the primary transportation and communications route in this period and the site of the rapids - which provide a difficult but not impassable passage - would have been a key strategic point.

The city-state was probably under the influence of Funan in early times and became independent during the 6th century with the rise of other so-called Chenla chiefdoms or proto-states. Its relationship with the sizeable settlement just north at Thala Borivat is unclear, (1) as indeed is its relationship with other Chenla cities such as Lingapura (Wat Phu), Isanapura/Bhavapura and the post-Funan sites further south. It does seem to have at least intermittently retained some degree of autonomy (2) and inscriptions record a list of Sambhupura monarchs including several queens.

There is evidence of early Chenla kings such as Bhavavarman I and Mahendravarman being active in this area - and indeed the site is unavoidable on any foray south from their Wat Phu base - while Jayavarman I and II seem to have accorded the site great importance. (3)

From the 9th and 10th centuries onwards, less is heard of Sambhupura and little or no signs of additional temple construction is visible so the implication is that; from at least the reign of Rajendravarmam II, Sambuhupura had become assimilated as a minor and far-flung province, albeit perhaps still an important transportation point, as well as perhaps staging post for any adventures into Champa?

Today, plenty of evidence of the city's former importance remains in the form of numerous ruined temple sites, vestiges, and inscriptions but sadly no impressive structures are still standing and Sambor is today, a remote and obscure location better known for its dolphins than ancient temples. (No city walls or moats as such have been identified - apart from the Mekong River to the west - but we're tentatively locating it in the center of the cluster of historic sites in Sambor Village.)

Don't forget - if you do make it up this way - that Sambhupura was once one of the most important cities of the region.

(1) Some scholars suggest the minor variation in art styles between Sambor and Thala Borivat point to the latter being slightly anterior to Sambor.

(2) The region appears to have fallen within Bhavavarman I and Isanavarman I's sphere of influence before a period of autonomy, extending into the troubled times of the 8th-century, was briefly broken by Jayavarman I. Sambhupura may also have emerged as one of the most powerful Chenla states during the post-Jayavarman I political chaos of the early 8th-century under King Sambhuvarman II.

(3) Jayavarman II is recorded as having made a diplomatic alliance with Sambhupura in the late 8th-century by marrying the resident Queen, before moving west to Hariharalaya and Kulen.

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