Examination of Ancient Khmer Defensive Warfare Practices. A talk by Paul T. Carter


Military Aspects of Angkor Terrain, Two primary enemy avenues of approach restricted the available directions for an enemy to attack, and thus provided for more defensible terrain had the Khmers chosen to employ defensive capabilities.


Did ancient Khmer kings, particularly during the Classic Angkor period, neglect key defensive warfare principles which neighboring civilizations, less powerful and grand than Angkor, practiced centuries earlier?  The lecturer argues that while Khmer kings displayed very capable offensive warfare capabilities, they did indeed ignore basic defensive warfare tenets which largely rendered them militarily defenseless. This does not argue that the neglect of defensive warfare principles caused the collapse of the empire, nor that its key rulers, such as Jayavarman VII, completely ignored the defense of Angkor. His construction of Angkor Thom, with its significant walled and moat barriers, certainly illustrates some regard for defense. Neither does this suggest the employment of robust defensive principles would have saved Angkor from potentially debilitating societal changes that affected kings’ ability to respond to threats.  The preponderance of available evidence does suggest, however, that at no time did Angkor’s kings conduct key defensive warfare practices that other civilizations used centuries earlier. Such neglect placed the Khmer army at a significant disadvantage against the larger, attacking Ayutthaya Army in 1431, and made it unnecessarily vulnerable to any future enemies. This lecture demonstrates how Khmer kings ignored fundamental defensive warfare techniques. Next, that the Khmers would have been aware of these techniques earlier civilizations had practiced. Finally, it examines possible reasons for such neglect which leads to a broader discussion of Angkor civilization.

Mr. Paul Carter is a doctoral candidate in Thai Studies at Chulalongkorn University, from where he recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Thai Studies with a thesis on “Thai Forward Air Guides in Laos during the Second Indochina War”. He is a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer, serving in Afghanistan with the 82D Airborne Division in 2002-2003. He subsequently spent seven years at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington D.C. focusing on Iran and Iraq. In 2007-2011, he deployed to Iraq’s combat zones for four tours, providing critical information to U.S. forces while informing U.S. national policy makers on Iraqi trends and developments. In 2013, the U.S. Office Director of National Intelligence awarded him the President’s Daily Brief Professional Recognition Award for co-authoring 14 Presidential Daily Briefs in 2011-2014 on Middle East topics vital to U.S. national security. Mr. Carter is also a special lecturer each year on Cross Cultural Communications at Mahidol University, International Business class.

Date: Thursday, 8 November 2018
Time: 7.00 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

Non-members donation: B200. Siam Society members, members’ spouses and children, and all students showing valid student ID cards are admitted free of charge. For more information, please contact Khun Arunsri or

Office Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9:00am. – 5:00pm.

The Siam Society is deeply grateful to the James H.W. Thompson Foundation for its generous support of the 2018-2019 Lecture Series.