Anarchy of the 12 Warlords

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The map showed the area of war divided by each warlord in civil war.

The Anarchy of the 12 Warlords[1] (Vietnamese: Loạn 12 sứ quân or Loạn Thập nhị sứ quân), also the Period of the 12 Warlords,[2] was a period of chaos and civil war in the history of Vietnam, from 966 to 968 during the Ngô Dynasty, due to a conflict of succession after the death of King Ngô Quyền. This period is also sometimes simply called the Twelve Warlords[3] (Vietnamese: Thập nhị sứ quân, Hán tự: 十二使君).


According to the annals of Đại Việt sử lược, Ngô Quyền became King of Tĩnh Hải quân (as Vietnam was called then) after defeating the Southern Han in 939 and declaring independence from centuries of Chinese rule. After Ngô Quyền's death in 944, his brother-in-law Dương Tam Kha, who was to serve as regent to the king's son Prince Ngô Xương Ngập, usurped the throne and proclaimed himself king under the title Dương Bình Vương, ruling from 944 to 950. As a result, Prince Ngô Xương Ngập fled and hid in the countryside. The prince's younger brother, Prince Ngô Xương Văn became the adopted son of Dương Tam Kha.

Because of the illegitimate accession of Dương Tam Kha, many local lords rebelled by seizing power of their local government and creating conflict with the Dương court. King Dương Tam Kha sent an army led by Prince Ngô Xương Văn to suppress the rebellion. However, with the army at his command, the prince turned back and defeated the king in 950. Rather than administering a harsh punishment, Ngô Xương Văn forgave Dương Tam Kha and demoted him to the title of lord. Ngô Xương Văn was then crowned king under the title Nam Tấn Vương, and sent envoys in search for his older brother. In 951, Ngô Xương Ngập returned and was crowned king under the title Thiên Sách Vương, and with his brother became a co-ruler of the country. However, the co-rule was short-lived, as the elder brother King Ngô Xương Ngập died of illness in 954.

Despite the return of the legitimate heirs to the throne, rebellions continued to afflict the country. In 965, in an attempt to quell a rebellion, King Ngô Xương Văn was killed in Bố Hải Khẩu (now Thái Bình Province) by Lã Xử Bình, a general under his rule.[4] Prince Ngô Xưong Xí, the son of King Ngô Xương Văn, inherited the throne, but could not maintain his father's authority. He retreated to the area of Bình Kiều and established himself as a lord there. With the Ngô Dynasty gone, Vietnam was hence divided into 12 regions each administered by a warlord, converging into three main forces in the conflict: the descendants of the Ngô Dynasty including Ngô Cảnh Thạc, Ngô Xương Xí, and Ngô Nhật Khánh; Lã Xử Bình in Cổ Loa; and an alliance between Trần Lãm, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, and Phạm Phòng Át.[5]

Other lords were not directly involved in the conflict beyond defending their respective regions.

Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, adopted son of Lord Trần Lãm who ruled the region of Bố Hải Khẩu, succeeded Lãm after his death. In 968, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh defeated the other eleven lords, thereby taking control over the country. In the same year, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh ascended the throne, proclaiming himself emperor under the title Đinh Tiên Hoàng, establishing the Đinh Dynasty, and renaming the country Đại Cồ Việt. He moved the capital to Hoa Lư (modern-day Ninh Bình).

List of 12 lords[edit]

  1. Ngô Xương Xí (吳昌熾) held Bình Kiều, now Khoái Châu,(Triệu Sơn - Thanh Hóa) Thanh Hóa Province.
  2. Đỗ Cảnh Thạc (杜景碩) referred himself as the Duke Đỗ Cảnh (Đỗ Cảnh Công), held Đỗ Động Giang, now Thanh Oai, Hà Nội.
  3. Trần Lãm (陳覽) referred himself as the Duke Trần Minh, held Bố Hải Khấu, Kỳ Bố, Thái Bình Province.
  4. Kiều Công Hãn (矯公罕) referred himself as Kiều Tam Chế, held Phong Châu – Bạch Hạc, Phú Thọ Province
  5. Nguyễn Khoan (阮寬) referred himself as Nguyễn Thái Bình, held Tam Đái - Vĩnh Tường, Vĩnh Phúc Province
  6. Ngô Nhật Khánh (吳日慶) referred himself as the Duke Ngô Lãm (Ngô Lãm Công), held Đường Lâm, Sơn Tây, Hà Nội
  7. Lý Khuê (李奎) referred himself as Lý Lãng Công, held Siêu Loại - Thuận Thành, Bắc Ninh Province.
  8. Nguyễn Thủ Tiệp (阮守捷) referred himself as Nguyễn Lệnh Công, held Tiên Du, Bắc Ninh Province
  9. Lã Đường (呂唐) referred himself as the Duke Lã Tá, held Tế Giang - Văn Giang, Hưng Yên Province
  10. Nguyễn Siêu (阮超) referred himself as the Nguyễn Hữu Công, held Tây Phù Liệt - Thanh Trì, Hà Nội
  11. Kiều Thuận (矯順) referred himself as the Kiều Lệnh Công, held Hồi Hồ - Cẩm Khê, Phú Thọ province
  12. Phạm Bạch Hổ (範白虎) referred himself as Phạm Phòng Át, held Đằng Châu, Hưng Yên Province.

Of those, Ngô Xương Xí and Ngô Nhật Khánh were nobles of Ngô Dynasty, Phạm Bạch Hổ, Đỗ Cảnh Thạc, Kiều Công Hãn were officials of Ngô Dynasty. The remainders were considered local landlords or nobles from Northern nations, which was the ancient nations holding what is now China.

Recent findings suggest that there was a 13th lord that is not included in the list: Dương Huy, who ruled a region to the South-East of Cổ Loa.[6]

Đinh Bộ Lĩnh[edit]

Đinh Bộ Lĩnh used to hold some posts in Hoan Châu (Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh today), but lost his positions and went back to Hoa Lư in 950. Here, he became an adoptive son and subordinate general to Trần Lãm. Considering Đinh Bộ Lĩnh was most reasonable leader who could manage the circumstances, Trần Lãm retired and gave all power to him. Đinh Bộ Lĩnh led the army to occupy Hoa Lư, which became the national capital under his reign afterward.[7]

Đinh Bộ Lĩnh was respected as Vạn Thắng Vương (萬勝王, Wànshèng Wáng, lt. the King of Ten Thousand Victories) because of the continuous victories. In 968, the era ended and was replaced by the era of the Đinh Dynasty.

Defeating the lords[edit]

Đinh Bộ Lĩnh began by defeating Lã Xử Bình in Cổ Loa.[8]

The battle with Đỗ Cảnh Thạc in Đỗ Động Giang took over a year, until Đinh Bộ Lĩnh seized the fortress and Đỗ Cảnh Thạc was killed.

In Tây Phù Liệt, Nguyễn Siêu lost four of his generals in the first battle with Đinh Bộ Lĩnh. In the second battle, he split his army in half to seek backup. However, their ships were wrecked, upon which Đinh Bộ Lĩnh commanded his soldiers to set fire to the camps of the remaining army. Nguyễn Siêu died.[9]

By the beginning of 968, after defeating and killing Nguyễn Thủ Tiệp, Kiểu Công Hãn, Nguyễn Khoan, Kiều Thuận, Lý Khuê, Lã Đường, the war ended and Đinh Bộ Lĩnh successfully united the divided regions.[10][11]

He also convinced Phạm Bạch Hồ, Ngô Xương Xí, and Ngô Nhật Khánh to surrender and join his army.[12]


  1. ^ Anarchy of the 12 Warlords.
  2. ^ Period of the 12 Warlords.
  3. ^ Twelve Warlords.
  4. ^ Nam, Tạp chí Tia Sáng - Diễn đàn của trí thức Việt. "Có phải là loạn mười hai sứ quân?". Retrieved 2017-11-10.
  5. ^ "Loạn 12 sứ quân và sự thực lịch sử". Nghiên cứu lịch sử (in Vietnamese). 2013-08-19. Retrieved 2017-11-10.
  6. ^ Nam, Tạp chí Tia Sáng - Diễn đàn của trí thức Việt. "Có phải là loạn mười hai sứ quân?". Retrieved 2017-11-10.
  7. ^ Hữu Ngọc Wandering through Vietnamese culture 2004- Page 393 "... and statesman who helped Đinh Bộ Lĩnh put an end to the period of anarchy of the Twelve Warlords before the Đinh Dynasty."
  8. ^ Old Capital Hoa Lu. Publisher of Traditional Culture. 2008.
  9. ^ Nguyễn, Danh Phiệt (1990). The Đinh Dynasty Settle Chaos And Build The Country. Academy of Social Sciences.
  10. ^ Nguyễn, Hữu Nhàn. "In The Folk Culture Of The Fatherland". Association of Arts and Literature of Phu Tho Province.
  11. ^ According to oral legendaries in Thuận Thành (Bắc Binh Province)
  12. ^ "Bảo tàng Lịch sử quốc gia/Tin tức". Retrieved 2017-11-10.
Preceded by
Ngô Xương Ngập - Ngô Xương Văn
The Anarchy of the 12 Warlords
966 - 968
Succeeded by
Đinh Bộ Lĩnh