II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > C. Early Civilizations and Classical Empires of South and East Asia > 3. Southeast Asia, c. 500 B.C.E.–500 C.E.
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
3. Southeast Asia, c. 500 B.C.E.–500 C.E.
For both the Malay Archipelago and the mainland areas of Southeast Asia, the main characteristic during this period was of scattered centers of civilization with widely divergent linguistic patterns (See Japan). What has been called the mandala pattern organized space and the polities within it (often this meant an unstable political situation in a vaguely definable geographical area without fixed boundaries; these boundaries expanded and contracted regularly); within these mandalas would reside several tributary rulers. Typical of the entire Southeast Asia area, between the 3rd and the 13th centuries C.E., was the appearance of hundreds of Indic kingdoms (negara), in which rulers adopted the Indic models of kingship and social order.  1
Demography. Characteristic of this period, in areas where there was surplus food production—resulting primarily from the development of wet rice production—there would be a tendency to have more dense population growth, but this increase in population was offset by patterns of warfare and plunder during this period. The scarcity of labor in relation to available land meant a pattern of competition for resources in which additional labor was more valued than additional land. As different centers of power vied for control, an area would be stripped of its inhabitants and they would be forced to relocate to the territory of the victorious ruler. This pattern of warfare, though not particularly high in casualties, severely disrupted agricultural patterns so that sustained population growth patterns did not occur until after the 1500s.  2
Around 500 B.C.E. beginning with the establishment of wet rice cultivation, socially stratified villages relatively autonomous from one another developed. Common to most lowland areas was cognatic kinship (descent reckoned equally through males and females) and, thus, the downgrading of the importance of lineage. The development of town life and, especially, the emergence of entrepôts (established to facilitate the growing trade between India and China) were among the greatest changes. The entrepôts became centers for the spread of Indian civilization in Southeast Asia, a process of cultural synthesis often referred to as the “Indianization” of the states of mainland Southeast Asia, or the “Hinduizing” of belief systems, beginning about 200 B.C.E.  3
These early civilizations centered around the major river valleys and the Great Lake of Cambodia. At the same time, the emergence of peasant societies underscored the increasing differentiation between hill (tribal cultures) and lowland peoples. Hill peoples became incorporated into social systems dominated by lowland peoples, a relationship symbolized by various ceremonials in which the hill peoples paid tribute, often situated in gift exchanges.  4
This period witnessed the expansion of trade between China and India via Southeast Asia. Accompanying this expansion was the movement of Brahman priestly specialists, Buddhist monks, and other scholars. The Southeast Asian rulers played a leading role in the Indianization of their societies. (See Southeast Asia, 500–900)  5
a. Funan
The polity termed by the Chinese “Funan” is the first known polity to emerge in Southeast Asia, usually dated in the 1st century C.E., with its capital near present-day Ba Phnom in Cambodia's province of Prei Veng. Because of its location on the then-existent trade route, which included an overland segment, and its access to sufficient agricultural production to support the needs of traders, it greatly benefited from the growth of maritime trade, which resulted during the century when Roman demand for Asian goods increased dramatically.  6
By the 2nd or 3rd Century
Funan was a center with Indians, Chinese, Persian Gulf, and Malay traders. Its fortunes of wealth and power appear to have peaked in the 4th century.  7
By the 5th Century
, competition from the Malay traders and the competition of an all-sea route from India to China that went through the Straits of Melaka undermined its position.  8
By the 6th Century
, its position had been so undermined that it was taken over by the Khmer people who lived in the middle sections of the Mekong River.  9
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.