History Files

Far East Kingdoms

South East Asia


Nam Viet Kingdom (Second Restoration) (Vietnam)
Early Tran Dynasty of Dai Viet (AD 1225-1400)

The modern-day nation state of Vietnam emerged out of prehistory's Early Vietnam. Various early (and partially legendary) kingdoms followed but northern Vietnam then endured a sequence of occupations and independence which began with the 'First Chinese Domination of Vietnam' and ended with the 'Third Chinese Domination of Vietnam'.

A series of revolts in the eighth century occupied province of Annam helped to feed the growing Viet sense of national consciousness. In AD 938, Ngo Quyen won a glorious victory against occupying Southern Han forces along the banks of the River Bach Dang. The victory put an end to a thousand years of near-continuous Chinese domination. That was replaced with the restored Nam Viet kingdom and a long period of national independence and sovereignty which started with the Ngo dynasty.

They were succeeded by the Dinh, who unified a still-fractured country, and then the Early Le which deflected Northern Sung attempts to invade, while laying the ground for advances south into Champa's territory. The Later Li accession was little more than a courtly formality after the death of the last viable Early Le king. This long-lived dynasty oversaw a highly successful period of military and cultural advancement. Towards its end it failed somewhat, generating rebellions and a take-over of power by the Early Tran dynasty.

The Li and Tran periods of Nam Viet's history saw a strong revival in local culture and traditions. Inspiration for this came apparently from Champa (especially after 1069), which had managed to retain its own thriving culture while the north had been under Chinese control. Now the kings of Nam Viet drew inspiration from Champa for its architecture, sculpture, music, and the creation of a very Vietnamese capital, even while the state retained outside influences.

The Tran emperors were the first to practice the art of abdicating the throne and then operating until their deaths as 'retired' emperors. They were still in control, but their nominated successor handled day-to-day procedural matters and public-interfacing duties. They were free, at least in part, to seek greater spiritual enlightenment. A similar practice was followed in Japan with its cloistered emperors, first appearing in the Heian period during the early ninth century.

Traditional House, Vietnam

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Vietnam: A New History, Christopher Goscha, from Early Mainland Southeast Asia, C Higham (River Books Co, 2014), from Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopaedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Keat Gin Ooi (ABC-Clio, 2004), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Vietnam (Countrystudies), and Vietnam from the 1st to the 10th centuries AD (Vietnam National Museum of History), and Vietnam from the 10th century AD to the mid-20th century AD (Vietnam National Museum of History), and Cultural elements of Cham Pa in Dai Viet capital and its vicinity, Nguyen Tien Dong (TiaSang.com).)

1225 - 1258

Trần Thái Tông

First Early Tran ruler, succeeding the Later Li. Abdicated.


The Mongol general, Uriyangkhadai, demands that Trần Thái Tông allows his forces passage so that they can attack the Southern Song through their weaker southern border.

The Viet ruler is not impressed by the demands, jailing three successive Mongol envoys. Uriyangkhadai invades the kingdom, defeating the native forces in two large battles over two days: at No Nguyen (today's Viet Tri on the River Hong), and at the Phu Lo bridge. The Tran nobles are forced to evacuate the capital to avoid capture.

Mongol warriors
Within just thirty years, Mongol warriors had travelled as far afield as central China and Eastern Europe, and south-west into Iran, turning the Mongol empire into the largest single controlling force in history

After nine days of mopping-up operations, the Mongols head for Song territory to attack the real target while the Tran dynasty is forced to send tribute every three years to the court of the Mongol empire. An overseer is left in place. The emperor subsequently abdicates the throne in favour of his son, but remains in power as a 'retired emperor' until his death in 1277.

1258 - 1278

Trần Thánh Tông

Son. Ruled jointly with his 'retired' father. Abdicated.

1279 - 1293

Trần Nhân Tông

Son. Ruled jointly with his 'retired' father. Abdicated.


FeatureThe Southern Song are conquered, and with that the Mongol great khans concentrate their rule almost entirely on China itself (see feature link), whilst threatening the southern kingdoms such as Dai Viet.

1284 - 1288

The second Mongol invasion of Dai Viet begins under the command of Toghan, a son of Kublai Khan and a general of his newly-formed Yuan dynasty. They advance simultaneously from the north (the main force) and south (through Champa). The Dai Viet wisely defend and retreat, rarely engaging in heavy combat until circumstances favour them.

Those circumstances turn so that the southern Mongol force is defeated in a pitched battle in April 1285, while the northern force is persuaded through gifts (including the provision of a spare princess) to hold off.

Mongol warriors
Initial Mongol interest in Dai Viet seemed purely designed to be able to use it as a conduit for troops to outflank the Southern Song, but following their fall in 1279, invasion and permanent occupation was on the cards

The third Mongol invasion starts in 1287. This time the battle-hardened Dai Viet are ready. The invasion is decisively defeated in 1288 and Mongol ambitions for southern expansion are extinguished.

1293 - 1314

Trần Anh Tông

Son. Ruled jointly with his 'retired' father. Abdicated.


Having developed good relations during his six month stay at the Champa court in 1301, Trần Nhân Tông now offers a daughter in marriage to the Champa ruler in exchange for two Cham provinces. Dai Viet expands farther into the south.

1307 - 1312

With his Dai Viet mother having escaped a death on his father's funeral pyre, Chế Chí of Champa sets out to retake the two provinces which had been given as a price for the marriage. He fails and is captured and imprisoned in Dai Viet, where he soon dies. It is Trần Anh Tông who selects his successor.

1314 - 1329

Trần Minh Tông

Son. Ruled jointly with his 'retired' father. Abdicated.

1318 - 1326

Relations with Champa have soured since the events of 1312. Dai Viet has strengthened its southern border while maintaining cordial relations with the Yuan in the north.

Mongol horse warrior
The Mongols in China, such as this horse archer (a typical Mongol warrior) gradually became more and more Sinicised as part of the Yuan dynasty, and more distanced from their cousins in Central Asia

In 1318 a Dai Viet army campaigns into Champa, seeing significant success and destroying significant portions of the Cham armed forces. Che Nang is forced to flee to Java, although the Viet also lose an important marquis of their own. It takes until 1326 for the Cham people under Che Anan to throw off Viet overlordship.

1329 - 1341

Trần Hiến Tông

Son. Ruled jointly with his 'retired' father. Died.

1341 - 1369

Trần Dụ Tông

Brother. Ruled jointly with his 'retired' father. Died.

1341 - 1369

During this period Tran dynasty Dai Viet begins to decline, and especially following the death of Trần Minh Tông. The battles of the preceding thirty years or so have sapped the army of capable leaders, and court rivalries are beginning to spiral out of control.

The Viet are the victims of several border skirmishes with the Cham people in which they suffer casualties and discouraging setbacks. Even the kingdom of Lan Xang now finds success in battle against Dai Viet.

Champa My Son temple
The Mỹ Sơn Hindu temple was indicative of Champa's religious inclinations at this time, and also of its Indian influences, which were prevalent across much of South-East Asia

1369 - 1370

Hôn Đức Công

Adopted successor. Enraged the court. Removed.

1370 - 1372

Trần Nghệ Tông

Son of Minh Tông. Elevated as replacement. Abdicated.

1370 - 1371

Following his unofficial removal from the throne, Hôn Đức Công enrages the court by killing a mandarin who advises formal abdication. The new emperor, Trần Nghệ Tông, has him beaten to death along with his son.

His mother flees to the Champa court of Po Binasor, begging for retribution. The Cham king and his people, seeing the discord in Dai Viet, launch an attack in 1371 which enters the capital. The Cham troops loot the city before withdrawing.

1372 - 1377

Trần Duệ Tông

Brother. Dominated by 'retired' Nghệ Tông. Killed.


As the increasingly powerful court officials gain control at the expense of the relatively weak 'retired' emperor and his puppet figureheads, the emperor is forced (both internally and externally) to lead an army across the border of Champa. The campaign is a disaster, with much of the leading nobility wiped out by the forces of Po Binasor, including the emperor.

Typical Later Li and Tran dynasty imperial costume
The costume shown in this modern print was typical of that worn by the Later Li and Tran dynasty emperors of Dai Viet in today's northern part of Vietnam

1377 - 1388

Trần Phế Đế

Son. Dominated by 'retired' Nghệ Tông. Abdicated.

1388 - 1398

Trần Thuận Tông

Brother. Dominated by Nghệ Tông to 1394. Died 1399.


Despite all the courtly intrigues and manoeuvring, Trần Thuận Tông is able to find a general who can lead the beleaguered Dai Vet forces to victory against Champa. The troublesome Po Binasor is killed and the immediate threat of further invasion is removed. The Tran continue to oversee a national decline, however.

1398 - 1400

Trần Thiếu Đế

Initially dominated until 1399.


The emperors and 'retired' emperors have long been losing ground in terms of controlling the court and country, with Hồ Quý Ly most notably wielding increasing power. The death of the 'retired' Trần Thuận Tông in 1399 has provided the perfect opportunity now for Hồ Quý Ly to usurp the throne and set up his own short-lived Ho dynasty.

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