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“Barbarians” and Bronzes: The Origins of Civilization in Ancient Vietnam

September 15, 2022 @ 7:30 pm CDT

Alumni Hall 302 (“Trustees Room’), Knox College
Galesburg, IL 61401 United States

Lecturer: Nam C. Kim

Two thousand years ago, China’s Han Empire stretched its imperial grasp beyond the mountains far to the south of the Central Plains, reaching into the domains of “barbarians”. Along its southernmost periphery lay the Red River Valley (RRV) of present-day Vietnam. In their chronicles, the Han claimed that they “civilized” the RRV’s “barbarians”. In contrast, many Vietnamese believe this time and location represents the birthplace of an indigenous, Vietnamese civilization that predates Han arrival. This view has been traditionally based on colorful tales and legends. One of the most enduring accounts tells of the Au Lac Kingdom and its capital city, known as Co Loa. Thus, at the heart of ongoing, intense, and sometimes nationalistic debates are two contrasting views. One sees “civilization” as a byproduct of Han arrival, while the other sees it as the outcome of local, indigenous cultural traditions. This lecture presents new and ongoing archaeological research that addresses these themes and questions. Specifically, it highlights recent investigations at the Co Loa site, considered to be the first capital and earliest city of ancient Vietnam.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Kim, Nam. 2015. The Origins of Ancient Vietnam. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

“Vietnam’s First City”, by Lauren Hilgers, Archaeology Magazine (July/August 2016), pp. 48-53.

2020. Legendary Cổ Loa: Vietnam’s Ancient Capital. Interview with Tristan Hughes, part of History Hit TV’s podcast series The Ancients (

Joukowsky Lecture

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September 15, 2022
7:30 pm CDT
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Alumni Hall 302 (“Trustees Room’), Knox College
Galesburg, IL 61401 United States
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