Abstract: The Intersection of Legend, History, and Archaeology in Ancient Vietnam


Millennia after original construction, the earthen ramparts of the Co Loa site located in northern Vietnam still remain standing today, a silent reminder of a powerful society. Believed by many to be an ancient capital of proto-Vietnamese civilization, Co Loa was purportedly founded during the closing centuries BC. Scholarship regarding its establishment as a seat of power has been based conventionally on a blend of oral traditions, legend, and historical accounts. In contrast to the legendary accounts, historical narratives produced by the Chinese Han Empire, which annexed northern Vietnam in the first century AD, claim that the local “barbarian” communities lacked sophisticated forms of civilization. In recent years, archaeological investigations have helped to enhance our understanding of the site and its society. Findings from recent archaeological fieldwork suggest that an early, state-level polity was responsible for Co Loa’s monumental system of earthen ramparts. Excavations focused on the site’s fortification features indicate significant political consolidation was necessary for construction. These findings have broad implications for both Vietnamese history as well as cross-cultural theories pertaining to the formation of ancient states.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Kim, N., Lai, V. T., and Trinh, H. (2010). Co Loa: An investigation of Vietnam’s ancient capital. Antiquity 84: 1011-1027.

O’Harrow, S. (1979). From Co-loa to the Trung sisters’ revolt: Vietnam as the Chinese found it. Asian Perspectives 22: 140-163.

Taylor, K. (1983). The Birth of Vietnam, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Tessitore, J. (1989). View from the east mountain: An examination of the relationship between the Dong Son and Lake Tien civilizations in the first millennium BC. Asian Perspectives 28: 31-44.

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