Âu Lạc (Hán tự: 甌貉/ 甌駱/ 甌雒; Chinese pinyin: ōu luò; Wade–Giles: Wu1-lo4) was an ancient kingdom that covered parts of modern-day Guangxi and northern Vietnam to Hoành Sơn Range. Founded in 257 BCE, it was a merger of the former states of Nam Cương (Âu Việt) and Văn Lang (Lạc Việt) but succumbed to the state of Nanyue in 180 BCE, which, itself was finally conquered by the Han dynasty. Its capital was in Cổ Loa, roughly 17 kilometers north of present-day Hanoi, in the upper plain north of the Hong River.
甌貉/ 甌駱/ 甌雒
|c. 257 BCE–c. 180 BCE|
Âu Lạc locates in the southern-most of Baiyue
|Religion||possibly Shamanism, Animism and Polytheism|
• 257 BCE – 180 BCE
|An Dương Vương (first and last)|
|Historical era||Classical antiquity|
|c. 257 BCE|
|c. 180 BCE|
|Today part of||China |
Prior to the Chinese domination in the region, northern and north-central Vietnam had been ruled by Lạc kings (Hùng kings) who were served by Lạc hầu and Lạc tướng. In approximately 257 BCE, they were annexed by the Âu Việt state of Nam Cương, who inhabited in the southern part of Zuo River, the drainage basin of You River and the upstream area of Lô River, Gâm River, and Cầu River. The leader of the Âu Việt, Thục Phán, overthrew the last Hùng kings, and unified the two kingdoms under the name of Âu Lạc, proclaiming himself King An Dương (An Dương Vương).
The antecedents of this figure are "cloudy" since the only information provided by written accounts is his name, which appears to associate him with the ancient state of Shu in what is now Sichuan, conquered by Qin dynasty in 316 BCE. This was also the traditional view of Chinese and Vietnamese historians. However, there are some problems inherent in accepting this traditional view. Many chronicles including Records of the Outer Territories of the Jiao province, Đại Việt sử lược, Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư stated that he was a son of King Thục, but they were unable to describe precisely his origin. Later historians had a more nuanced view. In Khâm định Việt sử Thông giám cương mục, the writers expressed doubts about King An Dương Vương's origin, claiming it was impossible for a Shu prince to cross thousands of miles, through forests, many states to invade Văn Lang. In 1963, an oral tradition of Tày people in Cao Bằng titled "Cẩu chủa cheng vùa" was recorded.  According to this account, at the end of Hồng Bàng dynasty, there was a kingdom called Nam Cương (lit. "southern border") in modern-day Cao Bằng and Guangxi. It consisted of 10 regions, in which the King resided in the central one (present-day Cao Bằng Province).The other nine regions were under the control of nine lords. While King An Dương Vương's father (Thục Chế 蜀制) died, he was still a child; yet, his intelligence enabled him to retain the throne and all the lords surrendered. Nam Cương became more and more powerful while Văn Lang became weak. Subsequently, he invaded Văn Lang and founded the state of Âu Lạc. The tale is supported by many vestiges, relics and place names in Cao Bằng Province. The assumption about his origin as a local inhabitant has also been reflected in various fairy tales, registers, worships and folk memories.
Âu Lạc was also commonly referred as the "Western Ou" (Vietnamese: Tây Âu) and "Luo" (Vietnamese: Lạc) in some chronicles, lumped into the category of Baiyue, an exonym used by the Sinitic peoples to the north to indicate the heterogeneous populations of the south they associated with the kingdom of Yue.
Construction of Cổ Loa CitadelEdit
Kinh An Dương established the capital of Âu Lạc in Tây Vu, where a fortified citadel is constructed, known to history as Cổ Loa. It was the first political center of the Vietnamese civilization pre-Sinitic era, with an outer embankment covering 600 hectares, one of the largest prehistoric settlement sites of Southeast Asia. This name was derived from the Sino-Vietnamese 古螺, meaning "old spiral", reflecting its multi-layered structure of earthworks, moats and ditches. However, according to Dr. Lê Chí Quế, Cổ Loa is spelled of Old Vietnamese word k'la (Chinese: 雞) means chicken. It corresponds to the legend of the white chicken that stalled the construction of the citadel. Near Cổ Loa commune there is an old site that was Chicken village (Vietnamese: Thôn Kẻ La / Xóm Gà). This site coincides to the legend that belonged to one tribe's totem.
Given its size and scale, Cổ Loa bears testimony to the ability of the economy to produce enough agricultural surplus, to plan construction and mobilise substantial labor and investment for construction, suggesting a high degree of political centralisation:
"Reinforced with guard towers and defensive works, the walls attain a height of 3 to 4 m and are complemented by extensive moat-like ditches leading to the river that are apparently intended to facilitate coordination of land and waterborne defenses. The use of kiln-fired bricks and tile in its construction, as well as considerable finds of metal weapons in the surroundings, can only reinforce the impression one gains of a people quite dissimilar to those whom the Chinese describe in their meridional contacts, even allowing for the fact that Chinese ethnographic descriptions of the period are not noted for excessive charity."— Stephen O’Harrow
The events associated with the construction of this spiral-shaped citadel have been remembered in the legend of the golden turtle. According to this legend, when the citadel was being built, all the work done during the day was mysteriously undone during the night by a group of spirits seeking to avenge for the son of the previous king. The local spirits were led by a thousand-year-old white chicken perched on nearby Mount Tam Đảo. The King then burnt incense, prayed, and evoked the gods to help him. In answer to his plea, a giant golden turtle suddenly emerged from the water, subdued the white chicken, and protected him until the citadel's completion. When he departed, he gave one of his claws and instructed the King to use it as a trigger of a crossbow, with the assurance that with it he could be invincible.
King An Dương commissioned Cao Lỗ (or Cao Thông) to construct a crossbow and christened it "Saintly Crossbow of the Supernaturally Luminous Golden Claw" (nỏ thần), which one shot could killed 300 men. According to historian K. W. Taylor, the crossbow, along with the word for it, seems to have been introduced into China from Austroasiatic peoples in the south during the third or fourth century BCE. It quickly became part of the Chinese arsenal; its trigger mechanism was capable of withstanding high pressure and of releasing an arrow with more force than any other type of bow. Two bronze trigger mechanisms have been excavated in Vietnam; most mechanisms were probably made of bamboo.
War with Nanyue and collapseEdit
In 204 BCE, in Panyu (now Guangzhou), Zhao Tuo, a native of Zhending, in the state of Zhao (modern-day Hebei), established the kingdom of Nanyue. Taylor (1983) believed during the time when Nanyue and Âu Lạc co-existed, Âu Lạc temporarily acknowledged the suzerainty of Nanyue, but rather than implying that Nanyue exerted any real authority over them, this simply represented their mutual anti-Han sentiment. As peaceful relations with Han were restored, Nanyue's influence over Âu Lạc lapsed. The army Zhao Tuo had created to oppose the Han was now available to deploy against the Âu Lạc.
The details of the campaign are not authentically recorded. Zhao Tuo's early setbacks and eventual victory against King An Dương were mentioned in Records of the Outer Territories of the Jiao province. Records of the Grand Historian mentioned neither King An Duong nor Zhao Tuo's military conquest of Âu Lạc; just that after Empress Lü's death (180 BCE), Zhao Tuo used his own troops to menace and used wealth to bribe the Minyue, the Western Ou, and the Luo into submission. However, the campaign inspired a legend whose theme is the transfer of the turtle claw-triggered crossbow from King An Duong to Zhao Tuo. According to this legend, ownership of the crossbow conferred the political power:“He who is able to hold this crossbow rules the realm; he who is not able to hold this crossbow will perish.”
Unsuccessful on the battlefield, Zhao Tuo asked for a truce and sent his son Zhong Shi to submit to King An Dương to serve him. There, he and King An Duong’s daughter, Mỵ Châu, fell in love and were married. A vestige of the matrilocal organization required the husband to live in the residence of his wife’s family. As a result, they resided at An Duong’s court until Zhong Shi managed to discover the secrets and strategies of King An Dương. Meanwhile, King An Duong treated Cao Lỗ disrespectfully, and he abandoned him.
Zhong Shi had Mỵ Châu show him the sacred crossbow, at with point he secretly changed its trigger, neutralizing its special powers and rendering it useless. He then asked to return to his father, who thereupon launched new attack on Âu Lạc and this time defeated King An Dương. History records that, in his defeat, the King jumped into the ocean to commit suicide. In some versions, he was told by the turtle about his daughter's betrayal and killed his daughter for her treachery before killing himself. A legend, however, discloses that a golden turtle emerged from the water and guided him into the watery realm. There is also a tradition that King fled south to the modern-day Nghệ An Province, building a new citadel and ruled until his death.
From the archaeological findings of Cổ Loa, it is posible that military technologies from the Warring States had been transferred to the region with a range of weapons analogous to contemporary armies in China, suggesting that the supernatural crossbow may have been a type of “new model army” trained and commanded by Cao Thông, which was "no longer effective" without his instruction.
Zhao Tuo subsequently incorporated the regions into Nanyue, but left the indigenous chiefs in control of the population with the royal court in Cổ Loa. He posted two legates to supervise the Âu Lạc lords, one in the Red River Delta, which was named Giao Chỉ, and one in the Mã and Cả River, which was named Cửu Chân. For the first time, the region formed part of a polity headed by a Chinese ruler, although it is not yet certain as to whether the inhabitants concurred with this nomenclature or whether, indeed, they were even aware of it. Some records suggest that he also installed a king at Cổ Loa who continued to preside over the Âu Lạc nobles. The legates seemed to have been chiefly interested in trade routes and commercial outposts; and their influence was limited outside of imperial outposts.
In 111 BC, the Han dynasty conquered Nanyue and ruled it for the next several hundred years. Local Lạc lords, just as under Nanyue, acknowledged the suzerainty of Han dynasty, bestowed imperial “seals and ribbons” as symbols of their status in return for what they viewed as “tribute to a suzerain” but which Han officials viewed as taxes. It was not until the fourth decade of the first century CE that more direct rule and greater efforts at Sinicization were imposed by the Han dynasty. K. W. Taylor believed:"Local society and the people who ruled it do not appear to have experienced any major disruption as Han officials garrisoned headquarters at a few strategic locations and began to attract immigrants from the north. As years went by, however, contradictions between imperial policy and local practice grew ever more apparent and eventually led to the violence of the 40s CE." The Han fully consolidated their control, replacing tribute system and ruling the region directly as provinces. It is worth noting that a number of historians expressed doubt or believed that no Chinese polity was actually in control of the region during the second or first centuries BC; certain accounts are relatively misleading as to the nature of Proto-Vietnamese society before the "real, later imposition of full Chinese power", given the Sinocentric nature of them, and "to the best of our knowledge no archaelogical remnants have come to light which would support any assumption of large-scale Chinese-style occupation or enterprise in northern Vietnam at this date".
Government and organizationEdit
The local organization of society and politics apparently remained fundamentally unchanged compared to Văn Lang. The size of Cổ Loa and the requisite manpower to construct implied "a strong military force and significant centralised, state-like control" and "a high population density". Similar to Văn Lang, the country was headed by the King, who was assisted by advisors called the Lạc hầu. The country was composed of various regions, each ruled by a Lạc tướng. They then subdivided their domains among the lower nobility, whose members were the chiefs of villages or of groups of villages. Their charges and privileges were hereditary, administering justice, leading in war, presiding over local festivals and religious ceremonies.
According to Joseph Buttinger, in such a society, the most important interpersonal relationship is one of vassalage, or dependence of the lower classes on the next higher of smaller size, going through various stages from the great numbers at the bottom to the head of the feudal order, the King. This dependence is rooted in the power of the upper ranks to dispose of the land available, a power that is always formalized as a prerogative, with the claim to a supernatural sanction. Among the early Vietnamese, all land, albeit theoretically owned by the people, was in the trust of the king.
The main Lac tribes subjected to Au Lac spoke one Austroasiatic (Mon-Khmer-Viet) language or a variety of related dialects. K. W. Taylor suggested the majority of population in the lowland spoke Proto-Viet-Muong belonging to the Mon-Khmer language family that apparently expanded northward from the Cả River delta in modern Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh Provinces. Another plausible conjecture is that these people came from the mountainous areas north and west of the Red River Delta and spoke an ancient language analogous to modern Khmu, now spoken in the mountains of northern Vietnam and Laos. On the other hand, the Âu Việt might spoke a language related to the Tai-Kadai language family that includes modern Lao and Thai.
Ferlus (2009) showed that the inventions of pestle, oar and a pan to cook sticky rice, which is the main characteristic of the Đông Sơn culture, correspond to the creation of new lexicons for these inventions in Northern Vietic (Việt–Mường) and Central Vietic (Cuoi-Toum). The new vocabularies of these inventions were proven to be derivatives from original verbs rather than borrowed lexical items. The current distribution of Northern Vietic also correspond to the area of Đông Sơn culture. Thus, Ferệtlus concludes that the Northern Vietic (Việt–Mường) speakers are the "most direct heirs" of the Dongsonians, who have resided in Southern part of Red river delta and North Central Vietnam since the 1st millennium BCE.
Culture and societyEdit
According to O’Harrow, the Chinese may have encountered a "stable, structured, productive, populous, and relatively sophisticated" society of whose existence they were acutely aware of, if not appreciated. The locals possessed a social hierarchy in charge of regional concerns, hydraulic works, and, to some extent, military defense. The economy hinged on wet rice cultivation with draught animals, metal ploughshares, axes and other tools, as well as irrigation complexes of considerable size being used. The cultivation of irrigated rice can be traced back to the beginning of the second millennium BC, if not earlier, and the regular use of metal tools, while perhaps somewhat later in its inception, was already long established before any significant Sino-Vietic interaction. The presence of copper hooks and clay sinkers indicates the existence of line fishing while large quantities of jewelry, pans, plates, and pots were generally mass produced using kilns and potting wheels, suggesting some specialization and division of labor. Bartering developed as a result of high productivity.
Ancient Han Chinese had described the people of Âu Lạc as barbaric in need of civilizing., comparing their language to animal shrieking and had regarded them as lacking morals and modesty, although according to Olivia Milburn, the egalitarian nature of such a society now appears enlightened rather than barbaric. Chinese chronicles maintain that the native people in Hong River Delta are deficient in knowledge of agriculture, metallurgy, and politics, their civilisation was a by-product of Chinese colonisation, generally denying in situ cultural evolution or social complexity and claiming that any development arrived through imperial annexation.
A record from the 220s BCE reported "unorthodox customs" of inhabitants in parts of the region:“To crop the hair, decorate the body, rub pigment into arms and fasten garments on the left side is the way of the Bakviet. In the country of Tai-wu (Vietnamese: Tây Vu) the habit is to blacken teeth, scar cheeks and wear caps of sheat [catfish] skin stitched crudely with an awl.” Chinese writers also noted their preoccupation with aquatic life. Huainanzi, recorded in 135 BCE that in Nanyue, then including the Red River Delta, “people carry out few occupations on land and many on water.” The inhabitants even cut their hair and “tattoo their bodies in order to resemble the scaly-skinned aquatic animals.” Hou Hanshu described the region as thick with dense forests, and full of ponds and lakes, with countless wild animals like elephants, rhinoceros and tigers, while the locals earned their living by hunting and fishing, using bows propelling poisoned arrows, tattooing themselves, and wearing chignon and turbans. They also are said to know how to cast copper implements and pointed arrowheads, chewing betel nuts and blackening their teeth. However, such descriptions of the kingdom bear little resemblance to what we know: not a place of fertile cultivation or habitation on a large scale. Some of the descriptions may apply rather well to the region of present-day Guangxi and Guangdong, which remain inhospitable for many years to come, evident in census of the year 2 AD.
In Linh Nam chich quai, a 14th-century Vietnamese semi-ficional work, envoys explained to the Duke of Zhou the reasons why people from Jiaozhi had short hair, tattooed your bodies, and went bareheaded and barefooted: “Short hair is for convenience when traveling through the mountains and forests. We tattoo our bodies to look like dragons, so when we travel through the water the flood dragon will not dare to attack us. We go barefoot for convenience when climbing trees. We engage in slash and burn agriculture [and leave our heads bare] to beat the heat. We chew betel to get rid of filth, and therefore our teeth become black.”
Lạc people "organized themselves along less strict, nonnuclear lines", with women enjoying high status in society. Such a society is a matrilocal society, a societal system in which a married couple resides with or near the wife's parents. Thus, the female offspring of a mother remain living in (or near) the mother's house, thereby forming large clan-families couples after marriage would often go to live with the wife’s family. Meanwhile, unmarried couples often lived together, contrasting with Chinese society and Confucian notions of the patriarchal family, which provided a model for imperial government. It has also been said that Proto-Vietnamese society was matrilineal. The status of Lạc lords transferred through the mother's lineage while women possessed inheritance rights. In addition, they also practiced levirate, meaning that widows had a right to marry a male relative of her late husband, often his brother in order to obtain heirs. This practice provided an heir for the mother, protecting of widows’ interests and reflecting female authority although some patriarchal societies used it to keep wealth within the male family bloodline. Linguistic vestiges of female status corroborate this view with no fewer than 32 Vietnamese words for “mother” or “woman”, which also convey other important meanings, involving fertility, water, agriculture, and bronze drums, suggesting a possible Earth Mother cult and rituals associating water and fertility with bronze drums and female shamans. Women also remained prominent in indigenous religious rites, including water rituals.
The site consists of two outer sets of ramparts and a citadel on the inside, of rectangular shape. The moats consist of a series of streams, including the Hoang Giang River and a network of lakes that provided Cổ Loa with protection and navigation.
The outer rampart comprises a perimeter of 8 km and is lined with guard towers. The ramparts still stand up to 12 m high and are 25 m in width at their base. Besides, part of the inner rampart was cut through for the purpose of archaeological investigation, which was dated from 400-350 BCE. And it was suggested that this rampart was constructed by a local and indigenous society prior to the colonization of Han dynasty. The stamped earth technique or hang-tu method associated with ancient China may have been used in Cổ Loa, but studies of the defensive works are still in a preliminary stage. Also, archaeologists have estimated that over two million cubic metres of material were moved in order to construct the entire fortress, including moats that were fed by the Hoang River. Kim estimated the population of Co Loa possibly ranged from 5,000 to around 10,000 inhabitants.
In 1970, the Vietnamese carried out an investigation at a collapsed portion of the outer wall, uncovering Dong Son culture sherds stratified beneath the wall. A 72kg bronze drum was later excavated outside the inner wall in the 1980s. In 2004–05, several cultural layers were identified within the inner wall area. Various Cổ Loa artefacts represented "elite-level or royal characteristics", discovered only within the site’s enclosures, supporting the notion of centralised production and monopolisation.
Then in 2007 - 2008 another excavation took place that excavated the middle wall of Cổ Loa citadel. The excavation cut through the entire width of the rampart. The stratification showed multiple layers of construction deposits: three periods and five major phases of construction.
Excavations made by archaeologists have revealed Dong Son style pottery that had stratified over time under the walls, while a drum was found by chance by Nguyen Giang Hai and Nguyen Van Hung. The drum included a hoard of bronze objects. The rarity of such objects in Southeast Asia and the range found at Co Loa is believed to possibly be unique. The drum itself is one of the largest Bronze Age drums to have been recovered from the Red River Delta, standing 57 cm high and boasting a tympanum with a diameter of 73.6 cm. The drum itself weighs 72 kg and contains around 200 pieces of bronze, including 20 kg of scrap pieces from a range of artefacts. These include socketed hoes and ploughshares, socketed axes, and spearheads.
The artifacts are numerically dominated by the ploughshares, of which there are 96. Six hoes and a chisel were in the set. There were 32 socketed axes of various shapes, including a boat shaped axehead. This was almost a replica of a clay mound found in the grave of the bronze metalworker at Lang Ca. Sixteen spearheads, a dagger and eight arrowheads were also found. One spearhead generated special interest because it was bimetallic, with an iron blade fitting into a bronze socket.
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