Medieval Europe and Khmer Empire: Comparative Analysis of the Two Societies

July 20, 2023
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In the annals of history, Medieval Europe and the Khmer Empire stand as two distinct societies, existing simultaneously on opposite corners of the globe. Despite their geographical and cultural disparities, they share numerous similarities and differences in their daily ways of life.

Khmer Empire and Medieval Europe: a Comparison

Health and medicine

The state of health and medicine in both the Khmer Empire and Medieval Europe could be described as relatively impoverished. Both societies endured the burden of various diseases, even though hospitals were established. However, their approaches to treating illnesses differed markedly. An entry in the diary of a Chinese diplomat sheds light on the practices of the Khmer Empire, where people sought to cure diseases by repetitively washing their heads under water. In contrast, Medieval Europe relied on herbal remedies, plants, and flowers, reserving surgeries as a last resort. A commonality between the two societies was the presence of dysentery, an infectious ailment caused by contaminated food or water. However, they adopted distinct methods for its cure. In the peasant villages of the Khmer Empire, families shared trenches as toilets, leading to the contamination of water sources used for cooking and drinking. On the other hand, in Medieval Europe, indoor sanitation was virtually unheard of, with waste disposed of in chamber pots and blackberry syrup used as a treatment for dysentery. Despite these differences, both societies embraced manual treatments and medications.

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The culinary habits of the Khmer Empire and Medieval Europe were as diverse as their geographical locations. A notable difference lay in the vessels used for eating. In the Khmer Empire, banana leaf bowls were employed for serving food, while in Medieval Europe, diners were presented with thick, stale slices of bread known as trenchers, which doubled as disposable plates, absorbing oil and fat. Paintings from medieval England capture the sight of people gathered around tables, each with their cutlery and trenchers. Furthermore, social status played a crucial role in determining one's diet in both societies. The Khmer Empire relied on fish and rice as staple meals, reserving tropical fruits like bananas and melons for royalty and the privileged. Meanwhile, Medieval Europe saw peasants consuming meat or fish with grains or vegetables, while the wealthy indulged in exotic flavors paired with spicy, sour, and sweet sauces. Thus, both societies' diets were intricately linked to social standing.


Housing in the Khmer Empire and Medieval Europe was influenced by various factors, including climate, population, and available materials. A significant difference was the construction materials utilized for dwellings. In the Khmer Empire, peasant houses were made of bamboo walls, thatched roofs, and braided coconut leaves, while in Medieval Europe, brick, wood, or stone formed the basis for construction. The materials chosen were largely dictated by the natural resources found in each region. Despite this disparity, a similarity between the two societies was the simplicity of their peasant houses, each consisting of a single room. In Medieval Europe, it was not uncommon for large families, and sometimes several families, to inhabit a single-room dwelling, even sharing the space with domestic animals like cows. In the Khmer Empire, houses stood on stilts with a staircase leading to the solitary room. Hence, while the materials differed, both societies favored practicality with one-room homes.


Religion held a prominent role in the lives of both the Khmer Empire and Medieval Europe, with each society boasting grand buildings dedicated to their gods. For Medieval Europe, cathedrals stood as the centers of worship, distinguished by their ornate Gothic architecture featuring gargoyles, spires, pinnacles, colonnades, colonettes, and statues of saints and historical figures. Similarly, in the Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat served as the religious center, renowned for its incredibly intricate designs. A series of carvings and bas-reliefs adorned the walls, spanning 800 meters, illustrating historical aspects of life in the region. To support their monumental structures, Medieval cathedrals relied on flying buttresses, while Angkor Wat, primarily constructed of sandstone, incorporated the use of laterite in specific areas for added strength. Despite their architectural differences, both Angkor Wat and the cathedrals of Medieval Europe shared a commitment to awe-inspiring designs, each with their unique structural support systems.


In conclusion, Medieval Europe and the Khmer Empire, despite their geographical distance and distinct cultures, exhibited both resemblances and disparities in various aspects of their societies, from healthcare and cuisine to housing and religious architecture. Their parallel yet divergent historical narratives continue to intrigue and fascinate modern-day observers.

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