The earliest mentions Chenlas found in Chinese chronicles. Current research, however, indicate that it was not at Chenla a united under a single crown state, but several principalities, each with different abundance of power and territorial expansion, whose rulers titles were not hereditary. The Chenla states emerged from the 6th century, partly in connection with or by cleavage of the kingdom of Funan. The mean their principalities were north and south of the Dangrek Mountains. Just as there were several principalities, there were also several political centers. One of them was Isanapura ( Sambor Prei Kuk ), center of power of the king Isanavaram, today located in the Cambodian province of Kampong Thom.
In addition to the Chinese chronicles also be from the Chenla period surviving inscriptions on society at the time information. These inscriptions are generally of one part in Sanskrit, in which the emperor or senior officials are lobgepriesen, and a part in Khmer, which describes the actual content of the inscription. They act mostly by foundations or donations and prove that the ruler title in Chenla gave not only political but also religious power. The company knew several layers, especially the staff of the temple, artisans and agricultural laborers; latter presented the lowest level of the common people and had a status similar to that of slaves. Chenla had no money economy, knew no tax increases and no personal land ownership. The economic centers were the temple. Also, no long-distance trade was, in contrast to Funan, driven. The economy was based almost entirely on agriculture, especially the wet rice cultivation, and on the mobilization of the workforce.
The people of Chenla revered Indian deities, including gods of Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Buddhism and Khmer deities. Indian deities were partly taken over by Indian Brahmans, partly by the Cham. On the other hand, was not indisiert the entire religious life; Khmer customs, which partly contradicted the Hindu norms were often continued.
Funan Chenla went on in the 6th century. The exact causes of which causality and the circumstances of this event are not clearly understood. At the beginning of the 8th century, Chenla was divided into the northern and the southern states, which in Chinese chronicles as Chenla of the country (陆 真 腊) and Chenla of the Sea (水 真 腊) were passed. Exchanges with China had only Chenla of the country. The Champasak province of Laos today was the center of the northern part, while the coastal region and the area of the Mekong Delta formed the southern part.
Several smaller states broke away in the year 715 of the two empires from and weakened by this. The territories of the former Chenla came in consequence partly under the influence of the maritime empire of the Mahayana Buddhist Sailendra dynasty, the center of the island of Java was formed. 790 returned native of Chenla Jayavarman II from Java, where he - had lived on the mainland back, united the partial states in several military campaigns, and was 802 for the first ruler of the Empire of Angkor - whether as a hostage or training is not clear.