Đại Việt

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Đại Cồ Việt (968–1054)
Đại Việt (1054–1804)
Đại Cồ Việt Quốc (大瞿越國)
Đại Việt Quốc (大越國)
Đại Việt in 1802
Đại Việt in 1802
Map of Đại Việt's territory expansion (Nam tiến) from the 10th century to the 18th century
Map of Đại Việt's territory expansion (Nam tiến) from the 10th century to the 18th century
CapitalHoa Lư (968–1010)
Thăng Long (1010–1398, 1428–1789)
Phú Xuân (1789–1804)
Official languagesClassical Chinese
Buddhism (State religion from 968 to 1400)
Vietnamese folk religion
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy
(968-1533, 1788-1804)
Monarchic feudal military dictatorship
• 968–979
Đinh Bộ Lĩnh
• 1802–1804
Gia Long
Military dictators 
• 1533–1545 (first)
Nguyễn Kim
• 1545–1786
Trịnh lords
• 1786–1788 (last)
Nguyễn Huệ
Historical eraPostclassical era to Late modern period
• Established.[1]
• Lý Thánh Tông shortened his kingdom's name from Đại Cồ Việt to Đại Việt
• Renamed Đại Ngu under Ho Quy Ly
• Ming rule
• Emperor Gia Long changed Đại Việt to Việt Nam
• 1200
• 1539
• 1800
7,219,000[4][self-published source]
CurrencyVietnamese văn, banknote
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Tĩnh Hải quân
Việt Nam under the Nguyễn dynasty
Today part of
Nước Đại Việt[5][6]
Vietnamese name
VietnameseNước Đại Việt

Đại Việt (大越, IPA: [ɗâjˀ vìət]; literally Great Viet), often known as Annam, was a Vietnamese kingdom in eastern Mainland Southeast Asia from the 10th century AD to the early 19th century, centred around the region of present-day Hanoi. Its early name, Đại Cồ Việt (Han tu: 大瞿越), was established in 968 by Vietnamese ruler Đinh Bộ Lĩnh after he ended the Anarchy of the 12 Warlords, until the beginning of the reign of Lý Thánh Tông (r. 1054–1072), the third emperor of the Lý dynasty. Đại Việt lasted until the reign of Gia Long (r. 1802–1820), the first emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty, when the name was changed to Việt Nam.[7][8]

Dai Viet's history is divided into the rule of eight royal dynasties of the Đinh (968–980), Early Lê (980–1009), (1009–1226), Trần (1226–1400), Hồ (1400–1407), and Later Lê (1428–1789); the Mạc dynasty (1527–1677); and the brief Tây Sơn dynasty (1778–1802). It was briefly interrupted by the Hồ (1400–1407), which used the name Đại Ngu (大虞), and the Fourth Chinese domination of Vietnam (1407–1427) when the region was administered as Jiaozhi.[9]: 181 

Mahayana Buddhism was adopted as state religion during the early period, before its decline in the 15th century. From the 13th to 18th century, Đại Việt's borders expanded to encompass territory that resemble modern-day Vietnam, which lies along the South China Sea from the Gulf of Tonkin to the Gulf of Thailand. Throughout its long existence from 968 to 1804, Đại Việt flourished and acquired significant power in the region. The kingdom slowly annexed Champa's and Cambodia's territories, expanded Vietnamese territories to the south and west. The kingdom is one of many important precursors of the country of Vietnam and the basis for its national historic and cultural identity.


The term "Việt" (Yue) (Chinese: ; pinyin: Yuè; Cantonese Yale: Yuht; Wade–Giles: Yüeh4; Vietnamese: Việt) in Early Middle Chinese was first written using the logograph "戉" for an axe (a homophone), in oracle bone and bronze inscriptions of the late Shang dynasty (c. 1200 BC), and later as "越".[10] At that time it referred to a people or chieftain to the northwest of the Shang.[11] In the early 8th century BC, a tribe on the middle Yangtze were called the Yangyue, a term later used for peoples further south.[11] Between the 7th and 4th centuries BC Yue/Việt referred to the State of Yue in the lower Yangtze basin and its people.[10][11]

From the 3rd century BC the term was used for the non-Chinese populations of south and southwest China and northern Vietnam, with particular ethnic groups called Minyue, Ouyue, Luoyue (Vietnamese: Lạc Việt), etc., collectively called the Baiyue (Bách Việt, Chinese: 百越; pinyin: Bǎiyuè; Cantonese Yale: Baak Yuet; Vietnamese: Bách Việt; "Hundred Yue/Viet"; ).[10][11] The term Baiyue/Bách Việt first appeared in the book Lüshi Chunqiu compiled around 239 BC.[12] By the 17th and 18th centuries AD, educated Vietnamese apparently referred to themselves as nguoi Viet (Viet people) or nguoi nam (southern people).[13]



For a thousand years, the area of what is now Northern Vietnam was ruled by a succession of Chinese regimes as Giao Châu (交州, Jiaozhou) and Giao Chỉ (交趾, Jiaozhi).[citation needed]

James Chamberlain believes that the traditional Vietic realm was north central Vietnam/northern Laos and not the Red River Delta. Based on his interpretation of Keith Weller Taylor's examination of Chinese texts (Jiu Tangshu, Xin Tangshu, Suishu, Taiping Huanyu Ji, Tongdian), Chamberlain suggested that Viet-Muong peoples began emigrating from Central Vietnam (Jiuzhen, Rinan) to the Red River Delta in the seventh century, during the Tang dynasty,[14] possibly due to pressures from the Khmers in the south or the Chinese in the north. Chamberlain speculates that during the rebellion that was led by Mai Thúc Loan, son of a salt-producing family in Hoan province (today Hà Tĩnh Province, North-Central Vietnam), and lasted from 722 to 723, a large number of Sinicized lowland Vietic people or the Kinh moved north. The Jiu Tangshu[15][16] recorded that Mai Thúc Loan, also known as Mai Huyền Thành, styled himself as the Black Emperor (possibly after his swarthy complexion), and that he had 400,000 followers from 23 provinces across Annam and supporters from other kingdoms, including Champa and Chenla.[17] The theory about Vietnamese migration from mountainous Central Vietnam to the Red River Delta was first proposed by Vietnamese linguist Nguyễn Tài Cẩn in 1997 when he was researching on language of Vietic Chứt people in Central Vietnam, an ethnic minority group that speak a Vietic language related to the Vietnamese language.[18][verification needed]

Even so, archaeogenetics demonstrated that before the Dong Son period, the Red River Delta's inhabitants were predominantly Austroasiatic: genetic data from Phùng Nguyên culture's Mán Bạc burial site (dated 1,800 BC) have close proximity to modern Austroasiatic speakers;[19][20] meanwhile, "mixed genetics" from Đông Sơn culture's Núi Nấp site showed affinity to "Dai from China, Tai-Kadai speakers from Thailand, and Austroasiatic speakers from Vietnam, including the Kinh";[21] therefore, "[t]he likely spread of Vietic was southward from the RRD, not northward. Accounting for southern diversity will require alternative explanations."[22] Michael Churchman stated that "the absence of records of large-scale population shifts indicates that there was a fairly stable group of people in Jiaozhi throughout the Han–Tang period who spoke Austroasiatic languages ancestral to modern Vietnamese".[23] On a Buddhist inscription dated 8th century from Thanh Mai village, Hanoi, 100 out of 136 women mentioned in the epigraphy could be identified as ethnic Vietnamese females.[24] Linguist John Phan proposes that a local dialect of Middle Chinese called Annamese Middle Chinese developed and was spoken in the Red River Delta by descendants of Chinese immigrants, and later was absorbed into the co-existing Viet-Muong languages by the ninth century.[25] Phan himself identifies three layers of Chinese loanwords into Vietnamese: earliest layer of borrowing dates to the Han Dynasty (ca. 1st century CE) and Jin Dynasty (ca. 4th century CE) layers); the late layer of borrowing dates to the post-Tang period, and the recent layer of borrowing dates to the Ming & Qing dynasties.[26]

From domination to independence[edit]

The Jinghai circuit (bottom) of the Khuc clan in 907

The hill dweller Muongs who were intact of Chinese culture, allied with the Yunnanese state Nanzhao and rebelled against the Tang dynasty in the 860s. They captured Annan in three years, forcing the lowland Kinh scattered in asylums around the delta. The Tang Empire turned back and defeated the Nanzhao-Muong alliance in 866, but a military mutiny forced Tang authorities to withdraw in 880 while loyalist troops left for home on their own initiative.[27]

A regional regime of the Red River Delta was formed in the early 10th century led by the Sino-Viet Khuc family. From 907 to 917, Khuc Hao and then Khuc Thua My was appointed by Imperial China as jiedushi, tributary governors, as the Khucs did not try to create any kind of a de jure independent polity.[28] In 930, the neighboring Southern Han state invaded Annam and removed the Khucs from power, however, the Chinese occupiers soon face the stubborn Vietics of the south. In 931, Duong Dinh Nghe, a local chief from Ai, revolted and quickly ousted the Southern Han.[29] In 937 he was assassinated by Kieu Cong Tien, leader of the revanchist faction who allied with the Southern Han. In 938, emperor Liu Gong of Southern Han led an invasion fleet to Annam to assist Kieu Cong Tien. Duong Dinh Nghe’s son-in-law Ngo Quyen, also was from the south, marched north and killed Cong Tien. He then led the people to fight and destroyed the Southern Han fleet on the Bach Dang River.[30][31]

After defeating the Southern Han invasion, Ngo Quyen proclaimed himself as king and established a new dynasty in Co Loa citadel over the Principality. In 944, after his death, Ngo Quyen’s brother-in-law Duong Tam Kha (son of Duong Dinh Nghe) took power.[32] The Duong clan further pushed the segregation by bringing more southern men into the court. As a result, the principality broke apart during the reign of Tam Kha. Ngo Quyen’s sons Ngô Xương Văn and Ngô Xương Ngập deposed their maternal uncle and became dual kings in 950. In 954, Ngo Xuong Ngap died. The younger Ngo Xuong Van ruled as the sole king, and nine years later he was killed by warlords.[33] Chaos unleashed across the Red River Delta.[34]

Early Dai Viet[edit]

Sculpture of Dinh Bo Linh in Hoa Lu temple (c. 17th cent).
A Thái Bình Hưng Bảo coin (~970s).

A new leader, the man of prowess named Đinh Bộ Lĩnh emerged. From Hoa Lư, he and his son Dinh Lien spent two years of political and military struggle, managed to subdue all warlords and oppositions. Around 967 or 968, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh established the new kingdom of Đại Cồ Việt (meaning "Great Gautama's Viet"[35][36]), and moved the court to Hoa Lư.[37] He (r. 968–979) became king of Dai Viet and titled himself as emperor, while Prince Dinh Lien became the great prince. In 973 and 975, Bo Linh sent two embassies to Song dynasty of China and established relationships. Buddhist clergy were put in charge of important positions. Coins were minted. The territories of the early Viet state comprised the lowland Red River Basin to Nghe An region.[38] According to an Hoa Lu inscription (c. 979), in that year Dinh Lien murdered his brother Đinh Hạng Lang who was promoted as the crown prince by his father.[39] In late 979, both Dinh Bo Linh and Dinh Lien were assassinated. Hearing the news, Ngô Nhật Khánh, a prince of the old royal family in exiled-and king Paramesvaravarman I of Champa launched a naval attack on Hoa Lu, but much of the fleet was capsized by a late-season typhoon.[40]

Queen Duong Van Nga placed her partner, general Le Hoan, as the chief of the state. Le Hoan’s rivals then attacked him but were defeated. The queen of the Duong family then decided to replace the Dinh family with the Le family of Le Hoan, and brought the crown from her six-year-old son Dinh Toan (r. 979–980) to her mate Le Hoan (r. 980–1005) in 980.[41] Disturbances in Dai Viet attracted attention from the Song Empire. In 981, the Song Emperor launched an invasion of Dai Viet, but was repulsed by Le Hoan. In 982 he attacked Champa, killed the Cham king Paramesvaravarman I, and destroyed Cham capital Indrapura.[42] An Khmer inscription (c. 987) mentioned that in that year, some Vietnamese merchants or envoys arrived in Cambodia through the Mekong.[43]

After Le Hoan died in 1005, civil war broke out between his crown princes Le Long Viet, Le Long Dinh, Le Tich, and Le Kinh. Le Long Viet (r. 1005) was murdered by Le Long Dinh while just had ruled for three days. As the Le brothers fought each other, the Ly family-a member of the court’s cadet, led by Ly Cong Uan, quickly rose to power. Le Long Dinh (r. 1005–1009) ruled as a tyrant king and developed hemorrhoids. He died in November 1009. Ly Cong Uan therefore, with support from the monks, ascended the throne two days later as Ly Thai To.[44]


Statue of Ly Cong Uan (974–1028) in Bac Ninh.

Emperor Ly Thai To (r. 1009–1028) moved the court to the abandoned Chinese city of Dai La and renamed it to Thang Long in 1010, which become present-day Hanoi.[45] To control and maintain the nation’s wealth, in 1013 he created a taxation system per product.[46] His reign was relatively peaceful, though he campaigned against the Hani communities in Hà Giang massif and subdued them in 1014.[47] He furthermore laid the basis of the stability Vietnamese state, his dynasty would rule the kingdom for the next 200 years.

Ly Thai To’s son and grandson Ly Thai Tong (r. 1028–1053) and Ly Thanh Tong (r. 1054–1071) continued to strengthen the Viet state. Began during the reign of Le Hoan, the Viet expansion extended the Viet territories from the Red River Delta to every direction. The Vietnamese destroyed Cham northern capital Inprapura in 982, raided and plundered Southern Chinese port cities in 995, 1028, 1036, 1059, and 1060;[48] subdued the Nung state in 1039; raided Laos in 1045; invaded Champa and pillaged Cham capital Vijaya in 1044 and 1069,[49] subjugated three northern Cham provinces of Dia Ly, Ma Linh, and Bo Chinh.[50] Contact between the Song dynasty of China and the Viet state increased through raids and tributary mission, which resulted in Chinese cultural influences on Vietnamese culture,[51] the first civil examination based on Chinese model was staged in 1075, Chinese script was announced to be the officially writing script of the court in 1174,[52] and the emergence of Vietnamese demotic script (chu nom) in the 12th century.[53]

In 1054 Emperor Ly Thanh Tong changed his kingdom name to Dai Viet and declared himself an emperor.[54] He married an ordinary girl named Lady Y Lan and she gave birth to him the crown prince Ly Can Duc. In 1072 the infant Ly Can Duc became Emperor Ly Nhan Tong (r. 1072–1127), the longest-ruling monarch in Vietnamese history. During the early years of Nhan Tong, his father’s military leader Ly Thuong Kiet, uncle Ly Dao Thanh, and Queen Y Lan became court regents.[55] From the 1070s, border tensions between the Song Empire, local Tai principalities, and the Viet kingdom arose into open violence. In winter 1075, Ly Thuong Kiet led a naval invasion of southern China. Viet troops wreaked havoc on Chinese border towns, then laid siege of Nanning and captured it one month later. The Song emperor sent a large counter-invasion of Dai Viet in late 1076, but Ly Thuong Kiet was able to fend off and defeat the Song advance at the Battle of the Cầu River, where half of Song forces perished in combats and diseases.[56] Ly Nhan Tong then offered peace with the Song, and later all hostilities were ended in 1084; the Song recognized the Viet polity as a sovereign kingdom.[57] According to a fourteenth-century chronicle, the Đại Việt sử lược, the Khmer Empire sent three embassies to Dai Viet in 1086, 1088 and 1095.[58] The matured Ly Nhan Tong came to rule in 1085. He defeated the Cham ruler Jaya Indravarman II in 1103,[59] built the Dam pagoda in Bac Ninh in 1086,[60] and constructed a Buddhist temple for his mother called Long Doi pagoda in 1121.[61][62] He died in 1127. One of his nephews, Ly Duong Hoan, succeeded him and became known as Emperor Ly Than Tong (r. 1128–1138). This marked the downfall of Ly family’s authority within the court.[63]

The inscription of Dam Pagoda (built by king Ly Nhan Tong around c. early 12th cent).
Luqīn (Annam/Dai Viet) and Sanf (Champa) are shown in the bottom right of the Tabula Rogeriana, drawn by al-Idrisi for Roger II of Sicily in 1154.

Ly Than Tong was crowned under the supervision of Le Ba Ngoc, a powerful eunuch. Le Ba Ngoc then adopted a son of the Emperor ’s mother named Do Anh Vu. During the reign of Ly Than Tong, Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire launched an attack on Dai Viet’s southern territories in 1128. In 1132 he allied with Cham king Jaya Indravarman III and briefly seized Nghe An, pillaged Thanh Hoa. In 1135 Duke Do Anh Vu raised an army and repelled the Khmer invaders. After the Chams refused to support in 1137, Suryavarman II abandoned his incursions on Dai Viet and launched the invasion of Champa.[64] At the same time, Ly Than Tong began suffering fatal illness, according to an inscription, and he died in the next year, left the infant Ly Thien To who became king Ly Anh Tong (r. 1138–1175) under Do Anh Vu’s patron.[65] After Anh Vu died in 1159, another powerful figure named To Hien Thanh stepped into the role of guarding the dynasty until 1179.[66] In 1149, Javanese and Siamese ships arrived Van Don to trade.[67] The sixth son of Anh Tong, Prince Ly Long Trat was crowned in 1175 as Ly Cao Tong (r. 1175–1210).[68]

By the 1190s, more outsider clans were able to penetrate and infiltrate the royal family, weakening further the Ly authority. Three powerful aristocratic families–Doan, Nguyen, and Tran (descendants of Tran Kinh, a Chinese emigre from Fujian) emerged in the court and contested on behalf of the royals. In 1210, Cao Tong’s eldest son Lý Sảm became Emperor Lý Huệ Tông (r. 1210–1224) of Dai Viet. In 1224, Lý Sảm appointed his second princess Lý Phật Kim as successor while he abdicated and became a monk. Finally, in 1225 the Tran leader Tran Thu Do sponsored a marriage between his eight-year-old nephew Trần Cảnh with Queen Phật Kim, that means the Ly would give up power to the Tran, and Trần Cảnh became Emperor Trần Thái Tông of the new dynasty of Dai Viet.[69]

The young Trần Thái Tông centralized the monarchy, organized the civil examination on the Chinese model, built Royal Academy and Confucian Temple, constructed and repaired the delta dikes during his reign.[70] In 1257, the Mongol Empire under Möngke Khan who was waging a war to conquer the Song Empire, sent envoys to Tran Thai Tong, demanded the Emperor of Dai Viet to present himself to the Mongol Khan in Peking. The envoys were imprisoned and the demand was rejected, about 25,000 Mongol–Dali troops led by general Uriyangqadaï to invade Dai Viet from Yunnan, and then to attack the Song from Dai Viet. Unprepared, Tran Thai Tong’s army was overwhelmed at battle of Bình Lệ Nguyên on 17 January 1258. Five days later they captured and sacked Hanoi.[71] The Mongols retreated to Yunnan fourteen days later, as Thai Tong had submitted and sent tribute to Möngke.[72]

Tran Thai Tong’s successors Tran Thanh Tong (r. 1258–1278) and Tran Nhan Tong (r. 1278–1293) continued to send tribute to the new Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. In 1283, Yuan emperor Kublai Khan launched the invasion of Champa. In early 1285 he commissioned prince Toghon to led the second invasion of Dai Viet to punish the Vietnamese Emperor Tran Nhan Tong for not helping the Yuan campaign in Champa and refusing to send tribute. Kublai also appointed Tran Ich Tac, a Tran prince dissent as the puppet Emperor of Dai Viet.[73] Yuan forces though initially captured Hanoi, however, were defeated by Cham–Vietnamese alliance in June.[74] In 1288 they decided to launch the third and also the largest invasion of Dai Viet but were repelled. Prince Tran Quoc Tuan ended the Mongol yokes through an decisive naval victory in the battle of Bạch Đằng River in April 1288.[75][76] Dai Viet continued to flourish under the reigns of Tran Nhan Tong and Tran Anh Tong (r. 1293–1314).[77]

Crisis of the Fourteenth century[edit]

By the 14th century, Dai Viet kingdom began experiencing a long decline. The transitional decade (1326–36) from the end of the Medieval Warm Period to the Mini-ice age period affected the climate of the Red River Delta into extremes.[78] Weather phenomena such as drought, violent flooding, storms frequently occurred, weakened the irrigation system that damaged agriculture production, created famines, together with widespread non-bubonic plagues, impoverished the peasantry, unleashed robbery and chaos.[79] The population grew from 1.2 million in 1200 to perhaps 2.4 million in 1340.[80]

Tran Anh Tong seized northern Champa in 1307, intervening in Champa’s politics through the marriage of Cham king Jaya Simhavarman III with Anh Tong’s sister Queen Paramecvariin. Tran Minh Tong (r. 1314–1329) went into conflict with Tai peoples in Laos and Sukhothai from the 1320s to 1330s.[81] During the reign of the weak king Tran Du Tong (r. 1341–1369), internal rebellions led by serfs and peasants from the 1340s and 1360s weakened the royal power.[82] In 1369, due to Tran Du Tong’s lack of an heir to success, Dương Nhật Lễ, a man from the Dương clan, seized power. A short bloody civil war led by the royal Tran family against the Dương clan broke out in 1369–1370 that created turmoil. The Tran reclaimed the crown, enthroned Tran Nghe Tong (r. 1370–1372) while Duong Nhat Le was deposed and executed. Duong's queen mother went into exile in Champa and begged Cham king Po Binasuor to help her get revenge.

Took advantage, Champa Empire under Po Binasuor (Chế Bồng Nga) invaded Dai Viet and ransacked Hanoi in 1371. Six years later, the Dai Viet army suffered a great defeat at Battle of Vijaya, and Tran Due Tong (r. 1373–1377) was killed. The Chams then continued to advance north, besieged, pillaged, and looted Hanoi four times, from 1378 to 1383.[83] War with Champa ended in 1390 after the Cham king Che Bong Nga was killed during his northward offensive by Vietnamese forces led by prince Trần Khát Chân, who used firearms in battle.[84]

Ming conquest (1406–1407) and colonization (1407–1427)[edit]

Tay Do citadel, built by Hồ Quý Ly, c. 1397.

Hồ Quý Ly (1336–1407)-the minister of the Tran court who has desperately fought off the Cham invasions, now became the most powerful figure in the kingdom. He conducted a series of reforms, including replacing copper coins with banknotes, despite the kingdom still recovering after the devastating war.[85] Time by time, he slowly eliminated the Tran dynasty and aristocracy.[86] In 1400 he deposed the last Tran king and became ruler of Dai Viet.[87] Quý Ly briefly changed the kingdom’s name to Great Ngu.[88] In 1401 he stepped down and established his second son Ho Han Thuong (r. 1401–1407) who had Tran blood as king.[87] In 1406, Emperor Yongle of the Ming dynasty, in the name of restoring the house of Tran, invaded Dai Viet. The ill-prepared Vietnamese resistance of Hồ Quý Ly, who failed to get support from his people, especially from the Dongking literati,[89] was crumbled and defeated by a Chinese army of 215,000, armed with the newest technology at the time. Dai Viet kingdom became the thirteenth province of the Ming empire.[90][91]

The short-lived Ming colonial rule had traumatic impacts on the kingdom and the Vietnamese. In pursuit of their mission civilisatrice (sinicization), the Ming built and opened Confucian schools and shines,[92] prohibited old Vietnamese traditions such as tattooing, sent several thousand Vietnamese scholars to China where they were re-educated in Neo-Confucian classics. Some of these literati would dramatically change the Vietnamese state under the new Le dynasty when they returned in the 1430s and served the new court, triggering a seismic shift from Mahayana Buddhism to Confucianism. Remains of pre-1400s Hanoi, Buddhist sanctuary and temples, were systematically demolished and reduced to ruins or nothing.[93]


Le Loi-son of a peasant from Thanh Hoa region, led an uprising against the Chinese occupation in spring 1418. He led a war of independence against Ming colonial rule that lasted for 9 years.[94] Assisted by Nguyen Trai–a prominent anti-Ming scholar–and other Thanh Hoa families–the Trinh and the Nguyen, his rebel forces managed to capture and defeat several major Ming strongholds and counterattacks, eventually drove the Chinese back to the north in 1427. In April 1428, Le Loi was proclaimed as king of a new Dai Viet.[87] He established Hanoi as Dong Kinh or the eastern capital, while the dynasty’s estate Lam Son became Tay Kinh or the western capital.

Through his proclamation, Le Loi called upon educated men of ability to come forward to serve the new monarchy.[95] The old Buddhist aristocrats were stripped during the Ming occupation and gave rise to the new emerging literati class. For the first time, a centralized authority based on proper laws was instituted. Literary examination now became crucial for the Viet state, scholars like Nguyen Trai played a large role in the court.

Le Loi shifted his main affair focus to the Tai people and the Laotian Lan Xang kingdom in the west, due to their betrayal and becoming allies with the Ming during his rebellion in the 1420s. In 1431 and 1433, the Viets launched several campaigns on various Tai polities, subdued them, and incorporated the northwest region into Dai Viet.

Resurgent kingdom[edit]

Succession crisis[edit]

Blue-line white dish decorates elephant surrounded by clouds, 15th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Kneeling royal scribe, 15th century. Asian Civilisations Museum.

Le Loi died in 1433. He chose the younger prince Le Nguyen Long (Le Thai Tong, r. 1433–1442) as heir instead of the eldest Le Tu Te. Later Le Tu Te was expelled from the royal family and degraded status to a commoner.[96] Le Nguyen Long was only ten years old when he was crowned in 1433. Le Loi’s former comrades now fought politically with each other to control the court. Le Sat used his power as the young king's regent to purge opposition factions. When Le Nguyen Long found out about Le Sat’s abuses of power, he allied with Sat’s rival, Trinh Kha. In 1437, Le Sat was arrested and given a death sentence.[97]

In 1439 Le Nguyen Long launched a campaign against rebelling Tai vassals in the west and Chinese settlers in Dai Viet. He ordered the Chinese to cut their hair short and wear clothes of the Kinh people.[98] One of his sisters raised in China was forced to commit suicide, being accused of endless conspiracies. Later he had four princes: The eldest son Le Nghi Dan, the second Le Khac Xuong, the third Le Bang Co, and the youngest Le Hao. In 1442 the king died in suspicion after a visit to Nguyen Trai’s family. Nguyen Trai and his clan, relatives were innocently condemned to death.

One-year-old Le Bang Co (Le Nhan Tong, r. 1442–1459) assumed the throne a few days after his father’s death. The king was too young and most political power of the court fell Le Loi’s former comrades Trinh Kha and Le Thu, who allied with the queen mother Nguyen Thi Anh. During the dry season of 1445–1446, Trinh Kha, Le Thu, and Le Khac Phuc attacked Champa and took Vijaya, where the king of Champa Maha Vijaya (r. 1441–1446) was captured. Trinh Kha installed Maha Kali (r. 1446–1449) as a puppet king, however, three years later Kali’s elder brother murdered him and became king. Relations between the two kingdoms downfall into hostility.[99] In 1451, amidst chaotic political struggles, Queen Anh ordered Trinh Kha to be executed for an accusation of conspiracy against the royal throne. Only two of Le Loi’s former comrades, Nguyen Xi and Dinh Liet were still alive.[100]

During a night in late 1459, Prince Le Nghi Dan and followers stormed into the palace, stabbed his half-brother king and the queen mother. Four days later he was proclaimed as king. Nghi Dan ruled the kingdom for 8 months, then the two former-Nguyen Xi and Dinh Liet carried a coup against him. Two days after Nghi Dan's death, the youngest prince Le Hao was crowned, known as king Thanh Tong the Overflowing Virtue[101] (r. 1460–1479).[102]

Lê Thánh Tông’s reforms[edit]

Temple of Literature, Hanoi, served as royal school during 11th–18th century

In the 1460s, Le Thanh Tong carried out a series of reforms, from centralizing government, built the first extensive bureaucracy and strong fiscal system, institutionalizing education, trade, and laws. He greatly reduced the power of the traditional Buddhist aristocracy with a scholar-literati class, ushered a brief golden age. Classical scholarly, literature (in nom script), science, music, and culture flourished. Hanoi emerged as the centre of learning of Southeast Asia in the 15th century. Thanh Tong’s reforms helped heightened the power of the king and the bureaucratic system, allowing him to mobilize a more massive army and resources that overawed the local nobility and capable to expand the Viet territories.[103]

To expand the kingdom, Thanh Tong launched an invasion of Champa in early 1471 that brought destruction to the Cham civilization and made the rump state Panduranga a vassal of Dai Viet. Respond to disputes with Laos over Muang Phuan and the mistreatment of the Laotian envoy, Thanh Tong led a strong army that invaded Laos in 1479, sacked Luang Phabang, occupied it for five years, and advanced far away as Upper Burma.[104][105] On the sea, Vietnamese navy clashed with the Malacca Sultanate and Ryukyu Kingdom along the maritime trade route.[106] Vietnamese products, particularly porcelains, were sold throughout Southeast Asia, China, and also in modern-day East African coast, Japan, Iran and Turkey.[107]

Decline and disintegration[edit]

1653 French map represents political divisions of the Dai Viet kingdom during 17th century: northern part (Tonkin) was ruled by the Trinh family, while southern part (Cochinchina) was being under Nguyen Phuc family.
Painting depicts the funeral of lord Trinh Tung, who ruled northern Dai Viet from 1572 to 1623 as military dictator.

In the next few decades after Thanh Tong’s death in 1497, Dai Viet shrank down again. Agriculture failures, fast population growth, corruption, and factionalism shed the kingdom, made it rapidly declined. Eight weak Le kings briefly hold power. During the reign Le Uy Muc–the "devil king" (r. 1505–1509), bloody fighting ignited between the two rival Thanh Hoa family in the cadet, the Trinh and the Nguyen on behalf of the royal family.[108] King Le Tuong Duc (r. 1509–1514) tried to restore the stability, but chaotic political struggles and rebellions returned years later. In 1516 a Buddhist-peasant rebellion led by Trần Cảo stormed the capital, killed the king, plundered, and destroyed the royal palace along with its library.[109] The Trinh and Nguyen clans briefly ceased hostility for a short time, suppressed Trần Cảo, and installed a young prince as king Lê Chiêu Tông (r. 1517–1522), then they quickly turned against each other and forced the king to flee.[110]

The chaos prompted Mac Dang Dung, a military officer and well-educated in Confucian classics, to quell up and restore the order. By 1522, he effectively put down the two warring clans and rebellions while establishing his clan and supporters to the government. In 1527 he enforced the young Le king to abdicate and proclaimed himself king and began the Mac dynasty rule.[111] Six years later, Nguyen Kim–a Nguyen noble and Le loyalist-rebelled against the Mac, enthroned Lê Duy Ninh–a descendant of Le Loi and reset up the monarchy-in-exile in Laos. In 1542 they reemerged from the south, known as the southern court, laid claim of the Vietnamese crown, and opposed the Mac (the northern court). The Viet kingdom now fell into a long period of depressions, decentralization, chaos, and civil wars that lasted for three centuries.[112]

The Le (assisted by Nguyen Kim) and the Mac loyalists fought on behalf of reclaiming the legitimate Vietnamese crown. When Nguyen Kim died in 1545, the power of the Le family swiftly falls into the dictate of the lord Trinh Kiem of the Trinh family. One of Nguyen Kim’s sons, Nguyen Hoang, was appointed as ruler of the southern part of the kingdom, thus began the Nguyen family rule over Cochinchina.[113]

The Le-Trinh loyalists ousted the Mac from Hanoi in 1592, forced the Mac to flee into the mountainous hinterland, where their reign extended until 1677.[114]

The Trinh-controlled northern Dai Viet was known as Dang Ngoai (Outer Realm), while the Nguyen-controlled south became Dang Trong (Inner Realm). They fought a fifty-year civil war (1627–1673), which ended inclusively and two lords signed a peace treaty. This stability disunification would last to 1771 when three Tayson brothers Nguyen Nhac, Nguyen Hue and Nguyen Lu led a peasant revolution that would overrun and topple the Nguyen, the Trinh lords, and the Le dynasty. In 1789, the Taysons defeated a Ching intervention that sought to restore the House of Le. Nguyen Nhac established a monarchy in 1778, followed by his brother Nguyen Hue (r. 1789–1792) and nephew Nguyen Quang Toan (r. 1792–1802), while a descendant of the Nguyen lords, Nguyen Anh returned to the Mekong Delta, after several years exiled in Thailand and France. Ten years later Nguyen loyalists defeated the Taysons and conquered the whole kingdom. Nguyen Anh became the emperor of the new unified Vietnamese state.

Political structure[edit]


In the early Dai Viet period (pre-1200), the Viet monarchy existed as a form of what historians describe as a "charter state"[115] or a "mandala state."[116][117][118] The study of the early Viet state has been questioned and debated, because the precise materials and sources of the period mainly come from surviving inscriptions and texts. In 1973, Minoru Katakura used the term "centralized feudal system" to describe the Lý dynasty’s Viet state. Yumio Sakurai reconstructed the Lý dynasty as a local dynasty that the king controlled several inner areas, while outer areas (phu) were autonomously governed by local clans who were vassals to the royal family through Buddhist alliances, such as temples.[119] As the Viets rise from tribal society into a state, the Viet king "man of prowess" was the centre of the mandala structure, while a bureaucracy was still nonexistent. For examples, an inscription dated 1107 in Hà Giang records the religious-political connection between the ethnic Nung Hà clan with the royal family, or another inscription dated 1100 commemorates Lý Thường Kiệt as the lord of Thanh Hoá.[120] As a mandala realm, according to F. K. Lehman, its direct territories could not exceed more than 150 miles in diameter, however, the Dai Viet kingdom was able to maintain a large influence sphere due to active coastal trade and maritime activities with other Southeast Asian states.[121]

The royal court of early Dai Viet was Buddhist. Women persisted strongly in politics. The court often relied on a group of Chinese merchants for a while in classic and state affairs. For example, King Lê Hoàn appointed a Chinese name Hongjian as a political advisor and diplomat.[42] Later in 1076 king Lý Nhân Tông opened Vietnam’s first civil service examination to train Vietnamese scholars in Chinese classics, and in 1195 examination, the Three Doctrines (Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism/shamanism) knowledge were put in the test.[122] Serving the king were a chancellor (thái uý), few scholars who experts in Chinese classics, nobles, and the more important Buddhist clerics. Princes were bilinguals, and they could speak both Chinese and Old Vietnamese.[123]

Tran-Ho period[edit]

During the 13th and 14th century as the Tran dynasty ruled the kingdom, the Tran first move was preventing matrilineality clans to take over the royal family, by adopting the king-retire king relation, which the king usually abdicated in favor of his eldest son while retaining power behind the scenes, and practicing consanguine marriage. To prevent maternal families’ influences, Tran kings took only queens from their family line. The state had been more centralized, taxes and bureaucracy appeared, chronicles were written down. Most power is concentrated in the hands of the king and the royal families. In the lowland, the Tran removed all non-Tran, autonomous aristocratic clans from the power, appointed Tran princes to rule these lands, tightened up relations between the state and locals. Working in Tran princely lands were serfs-poor peasants that own no land and slaves. Large hydraulic projects that mobilized more labours such as Red River Delta’s dyke system were constructed-one that maintained and increased its particularly wet-rice-based agricultural economy and its population by diverting rivers to aid in irrigation.[124] Confucianism was ensured by the Tran monarchs as the second belief, gave rise to the literati class, which later became rivals to the established Buddhist clergies.

The Viet monarchy during this period faced a series of massive Yuan and Cham invasions, political unrests, famines, disasters, and diseases, and was led to a nearly collapse in the late 1300s. Hồ Quý Ly as the minister had tried to fix the troubles by eliminating the Tran aristocrats, limiting monks, and promote Chinese classic learning, however, resulted in political catastrophe.[125]

Early modern period[edit]

Painting depicts king Lê Hy Tông (r. 1675–1705) giving an audience, c. 1685.
Steles inscribe names of graduated scholars in Quoc Tu Giam of Hanoi

From Le Thanh Tong’s 1463 reforms onward, the Vietnamese state’s structure was modeled after the Ming dynasty of China. He established six Ministries and six Courts. The government had been centralized. By 1471, Dai Viet was divided into 12 provinces and one capital city (Hanoi), each governed by a provincial government consisted of military commanders, civil administrators, and judicial officers.[126] Thanh Tong employed 5,300 officials into the bureaucracy. A new legal code called the Le Code was published in 1462 and was practiced until 1803.[127]

The social hierarchy of 15th century Dai Viet comprised:[128]

Non-royal nobility:

Both the leaders of the Trịnh and clans, who de facto ruled the two-polities kingdom from the 16th to the 18th century, used the title Chúa (lord), which is outside of the classical hierarchy of nobility.[129] After ousted the Mac in 1592, the two Thanh Hoa clans divided the kingdom into two simultaneously coexist but rival militarist regimes: the northern Đàng Ngoài or Tonkin ruled by the Trịnh family while the southern Đàng Trong or Cochinchina ruled by the Nguyen family; their natural border is the city of Đồng Hới (18th parallel north).[130] Each polity had its own independent government, however, they still sought to subordinate with the Royal House of Le, which also remained under Trịnh supervision.[131]

Art and religion[edit]

Steeple of the Keo temple, timber, c. 1630.

Buddhism had penetrated to modern-day Vietnam around the first century AD, during the Han occupation.[132] By the 8th century, Mahayana Buddhism had become the dominant belief of the Vietnamese. The epigraphy of Thanh Mai inscription (c. 798) indicates that a Chinese-influenced Buddhist sect was widely practiced among the Red River dwellers during the Tang. Buddhist scriptures claim that in 580, an Indian monk named Vinītaruci arrived northern Vietnam and founded the Thiền patriarch (Vietnamese Zen Buddhism).[133] In 820, a Chinese monk named Wu Yantong arrived northern Vietnam and found the second Thiền sect,[134] which lasted to the 13th century. In 1293, king Trần Nhân Tông personally opened a new Thiền patriarch called Trúc Lâm,[135] which is still operating today.

Arhat sculptures of Tay Phuong Temple, ca. 18th century.[136]

Vietnamese Buddhism gained an apex during the medieval period. The king, the court, and society were deeply Buddhist. According to Dinh Lien's Ratnaketu Dhāraṇī inscriptions (c. 973), Mahayana Buddhism and some elements of Tantric Buddhism were promoted by the king and the royals, who devoutly Buddhists. Mahayana sutras were inscribed along with the Prince's speech on these pillars.[137] The inscription of king Lê Hoàn (c. 995) however mentioned Thiền Buddhism as the royal religion. By the early 11th century, Mahayana, Hinduism, folk beliefs, and spiritual worship was fused and formed into a new religion by Ly royals, who frequently performed Buddhist rituals, blood oaths, and prayed for spiritual deities, Buddha, Indra and Brahma.[138][139] The Ly dynasty religion later was absorbed into Vietnamese folk religion. The kings built temples and statues delicate for Indra and Brahma in 1016, 1057, and 1134,[140] along with temples for Vietnamese legends. At the funeral, the king’s body was put on a pyre to be burned, according to Buddhist tradition. The main characteristics of Vietnamese Buddhists were largely influenced by Chinese Chan Buddhists.[141] A temple inscription dated from 1226 in Hanoi describes a Vietnamese Buddhist altar: "the Buddha statue was flanked by an Apsara, one of the Hindu water and cloud nymphs, and a Bodhisattva with a clenched fist. Before the altar stood statues of a Guardian of the Dharma flanked by Mỹ Âm, king of the Gandharvas, mythical musician husbands of the Apsaras, and Kauṇḍinya, the Buddha’s leading early disciple."[142] The Buddhist sangha sponsored by the royals, owned the majority of farmlands and the kingdom’s wealth. A stele erected in 1209 records that the royal family had donated 126 acres of land to a pagoda.[143] A Vietnamese Buddhist temple often consists of a temple built by timber, and pagoda/stupas made of bricks or granite rocks. Viet Buddhist art notably shares similarities with Cham art, especially at sculptures.[144] The dragon bodhi leaf sculpture symbolizes the king, while the phoenix bodhi leaf stands for the queen.[145] Buddhism shaped the society and the laws during the Ly dynasty Dai Viet. Princes and royals were raised in Buddhist monasteries and monkhood. A Buddhist Arhat Assembly was instituted to legislate monastic and temple affairs generated relatively tolerant laws.[146]

Vietnamese Buddhism declined in the 15th century due to the Ming Chinese Neo-Confucianism anti-Buddhist agenda and later Le monarchs downplaying of Buddhism, but was revived in the 16th–18th century when the royal family's efforts to restore Buddhism's role in society, which resulted in today Vietnam's majority Buddhist country.[147] In the south, thanked the effort of Chinese monk Shilian Dashan in 1694–1695, the whole Nguyen family converted themselves from secularism to Buddhism. The Nguyen also incorporated local Cham deities into Southern Vietnamese Buddhism.[148] The Đình–village temples–persisted from the 15th century are the centre of village administration and prohibited Buddhist-based cults and local deities.[149]

Catholicism was introduced by European missionaries to Dai Viet in the 16th and 17th centuries mostly thanked for the efforts of Portuguese and Italian Jesuits. Despite being prohibited from both north and south regimes, Catholicism spread rapidly especially in the Red River Delta, and the Vietnamese Catholic Church managed to maintain as a strong and independent force. By 1655, northern Dai Viet had over 250,000 Catholic Christians. Since the 1630s, Jesuit members, most importantly Alexandre de Rhodes, and Vietnamese Catholics had developed the modern Vietnamese alphabets that later became the official written script in Vietnam two hundred years later, in the 1870s.[150] The Jesuits heavily influenced Vietnamese politics, which resulted in the expulsion of the Jesuits by both Trinh and Nguyen lords in the 1660s.[151]


History of Vietnam
of Vietnam
Map of Vietnam showing the conquest of the south (the Nam tiến, 1069-1757).
2879–2524 BC Xích Quỷ
2524–258 BC Văn Lang
257–179 BC Âu Lạc
204–111 BC Nam Việt
111 BC – 40 AD Giao Chỉ
40–43 Lĩnh Nam
43–299 Giao Chỉ
299–544 Giao Châu
544–602 Vạn Xuân
602–679 Giao Châu
679–757 An Nam
757–766 Trấn Nam
766–866 An Nam
866–967 Tĩnh Hải quân
968–1054 Đại Cồ Việt
1054–1400 Đại Việt
1400–1407 Đại Ngu
1407–1427 Giao Chỉ
1428–1804 Đại Việt
1804–1839 Việt Nam
1839–1945 Đại Nam
1887–1954 Đông Dương (Bắc Kỳ,
Trung Kỳ, Nam Kỳ)
from 1945 Việt Nam
Main template
History of Vietnam

Timeline (dynasties)[edit]

Started in 968 and ended in 1804.

                Ming domination       Nam–Bắc triều * Bắc HàNam Hà     French Indochina  
Chinese domination Ngô   Đinh Early Lê Trần Hồ Later Trần   Mạc Revival Lê Tây Sơn Nguyễn Modern time
                          Trịnh lords        
                          Nguyễn lords        
939       1009 1225 1400     1427 1527 1592 1788 1858 1945

See also[edit]



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Further reading[edit]

  • Bridgman, Elijah Coleman (1840). Chronology of Tonkinese Kings. Harvard University. p. 205–212. ISBN 9781377644080.
  • Aymonier, Etienne (1893). The Imperial and Asiatic Quarterly Review and Oriental and Colonial Record. Oriental University Institute. ISBN 978-1149974148.
  • Cordier, Henri; Yule, Henry, eds. (1993). The Travels of Marco Polo: The Complete Yule-Cordier Edition : Including the Unabridged Third Edition (1903) of Henry Yule's Annotated Translation, as Revised by Henri Cordier, Together with Cordier's Later Volume of Notes and Addenda (1920). Courier Corporation. ISBN 9780486275871.
  • Harris, Peter (2008). The Travels of Marco Polo, the Venetian. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0307269133.
  • Wade, Geoff. tr. (2005). Southeast Asia in the Ming Shi-lu: an open access resource. Singapore: Asia Research Institute and the Singapore E-Press, National University of Singapore.
  • Pires, Tomé; Rodrigues, Francisco (1990). The Suma oriental of Tome Pires, books 1–5. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120605350.
  • Relazione de’ felici successi della santa fede predicata dai Padri della Compagnia di Giesu nel regno di Tunchino (Rome, 1650)
  • Tunchinesis historiae libri duo, quorum altero status temporalis hujus regni, altero mirabiles evangelicae predicationis progressus referuntur: Coepta per Patres Societatis Iesu, ab anno 1627, ad annum 1646 (Lyon, 1652)
    • Histoire du Royaume de Tunquin, et des grands progrès que la prédication de L’Évangile y a faits en la conversion des infidèles Depuis l’année 1627, jusques à l’année 1646 (Lyon, 1651), translated by Henri Albi
  • Divers voyages et missions du P. Alexandre de Rhodes en la Chine et autres royaumes de l'Orient (Paris, 1653), translated into English as Rhodes of Viet Nam: The Travels and Missions of Father Alexandre de Rhodes in China and Other Kingdoms of the Orient (1666)
  • La glorieuse mort d'André, Catéchiste (The Glorious Death of Andrew, Catechist) (pub. 1653)
  • Royal Geographical Society, The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society: Volume 7 (1837)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 21°01′N 105°51′E / 21.017°N 105.850°E / 21.017; 105.850