Although he seems to have been on the throne for a fair while, very little is actually known about Jayavarman III – so certainly one of Angkor’s most obscure rulers but not necessarily the lightweight he’s often portrayed to be.
Son of J II, born in Hariharalaya as Jayavardhana – that much is known. Dates for his father’s death vary between 834 and 854 – although the latter would put him at over 100 years old when he died and would put his son at around 50 or 60 when he inherited the throne. Very unlikely!
The latest definite date for his reign is 861, but with his successor Indravarman not coming to the throne until 877 this latter date is usually given as the end of J III’s rule. That would also have J III dying at an age approaching his father’s so it is logical to assume, as several historians have done, that after Jayavarman III’s death there was an interregnum period before the accession of Indravarman. Particularly plausible bearing in mind that he apparently died suddenly during an elephant hunt and was unlikely (although not impossible) to have gone elephant hunting when he was in his 70s! That gives an approximate reign of 834 to 870-875.
Elephant hunting’s a bit of a recurring theme with Jayavarman III since one of the few known inscriptions of his reign, (at Prasart Chuk, aka Prasart Reach Kandal, aka Prasart Gork Chak), states that the temple was erected to thank the gods for helping him to catch a white elephant he’d been after for a while, (or words to that effect). (If you don’t believe us you can read them for yourself below.)
Prasart whatever it’s called, situated in the Western suburbs of Siem Reap, comprised of 3 brick towers on a raised platform and guessing by the garuda lintels was maybe dedicated to Vishnu. Note, 2 ruined towers remain, the platform is under a mound of earth and of the lintels one was never finished and the other damaged. It is, along with parts of Kok Po, the only temple that can definitely be credited to this reign though there are several more strong possibilities. Not least Bakong which as an upgrade by his son Indravarman of an already existing temple must almost certainly have been started by dad but also the nearby Trapaeng Phon. As that site south of Rolous is thought to have been built during the reign of Jayarvarman II and later added to it’s a good bet Jayarvarman II did the adding to…
Last but not least another Rolous site – Prei Monti – is considered to predate Indravarman but postdate Jayarvarman II leaving only Jayavarman III! The large size of the enclosure wall around the 3 brick towers of Prei Monti has also led archaeologists to suggest that it also enclosed the royal palace.
Since he constructed a number of temples and appears to have spent a lot of time elephant hunting we’re guessing that his reign was relatively prosperous and relatively peaceful but really nothing more is known. If that is the case then J III successfully oversaw an important transition period between the tumultuous era of J II and the important and prestigious Indravarman era – a not inconsequential feat!
Shame so little is known of this king’s reign since it must have been a significant period in pre-Angkor history.