A Brief History of Khmer Currency
By Bora Touch
The khmer chronicle compiler might have been mistaking Prak Daong for prak Faung and the time, there was no currency/money called Daung either in Siam or in Cambodia. King Ang Daung did not come to power/become king until 1840 So his name could not have been known/used to identify the name of currency during the Longvek period. King Ang Daung first minted coins by using western coin machine in 1847. In 1853, he purchased a coin machine from a company J. Ingram & Co, Birmingham, England. (the King purchased a telescope from England in 1854) The currency was called locally prak prasath or prak Daung (referring to the King’s name). You would recall that the khmer chronicles, esp, the most popular one titled Aekasar mohaboroh khmer, ed. by Eng. Sot, (1967) was compiled/wrtten in 19th century.
“Prak” Khmer term used for “currency” probably since at least Angkor.
“Riel” is the 20th century name of Khmer currency. The name Riel was adopted by the khmer from the Spanish (and Portugese) word “Real”.’ The real (meaning: “royal”) was a unit of currency in Spain for several centuries after the mid-14th century, but changed in value relative to other units introduced. In 1864, the real was replaced by a new Spanish “escudo”.
While the word “Luy” dervived from the name of King Louis III of France, who introduced French currency to the Khmer Kingdom.
Pada (Baht) was used during Angkor as a unit of weight as Inscription K. 207 tells “Three gobhiksa weighing all together one pada“. The Thai later copied and originally used it a unit of weight and became the name of currency in 19th century. The Pada (bath) was used by us Khmer as unit of weight until 19th century as well. More later.
Funan, AD 100 to AD 550, and Chenla, AD 550 to AD 720, the Khmer had their own coin money and the transactions were monetised. There is no evidence to indicate that coins were manufactured or issued inside Cambodia. Later, however, from AD 808-12th century, commercial transactions did not appear to be monetised.
Zhou Daguan, a Chinese envoy who visited Angkor in AD 1297, noted three distinct exchange spheres “for small transactions, they use rice, grain and Chinese coins (Tang huo); and for somewhat larger ones, they use hemp cloth. For largest transactions, they use gold and silver “.
In my view, although the Angkor economy may not have been monetised, the monetary concepts necessary for commercial transations, including units of account, existed.
On a relevant note, “Apana” is the khmer term for “market”: (Ta Prohm Inscription of 12th century), while Phsar is Sanskrit. David Chandler, in his The Khmer (1997) was incorrect when he said “phsar” is a Malay term. malay does use “phsar”.
Not until the 16th century, did we issue our own coins. Gabriel Quiroga, who visited the Khmer Court at Longvek in 1595, noted that “this Kingdom has its own coinage in gold and silver on which is inscribed a cock, a serpent or a heart with a flower in the centre. The largest coin is called a Mace and is like a Potuguese real [Riel]. Another of half value is called a mi-pey (one pey). And a fuang, is like a quarter Real” : (Panish, 1975). The coins had a Hangsa bird standing left with vine in mouth.
The currency was also called Sleung or Mace and Faung and Att. At his time, Pada/Baht was used as a unit of weight, one pada/baht weighing 14.4 grams. The denomination then were: Sleung or mace 1/4: 3.85 gm, faung 1/8: 1.92 gm, half faung 1/16:0.96 gm, Pei 1/132: 0.48 gm, Att 1/64: 0.24 gm, half Att 1/128: 0.12 gm. For pictures of coin money Funan-to- 1979, see Michael Mitchiner, Non-Islamic State and Westerns Colonies Ad 600-1979.
“Bath lok” of Thon Chey. The title of “lok” (literally meaning the world) or “Mr.” made it appearance in late 18th cenutry. It was barely used then. It did not become popular until the mid-20th century. Buddhist monks were not called “lok sangh”, it was called “preah sdaeng” , (and there is another similar word I forgot), preah sangh, or something else. So Thon Chey’s Bath lok (alms container of monks) is a 19th century product. This term was not used before this period.