How Long Ago Was Vietnam? Decoding a Critical Piece of History

Have you ever wondered how long ago Vietnam was? With its rich history and culture, Vietnam has always been a topic of fascination for people around the world. Whether you are a history enthusiast or simply curious about Vietnamese history, understanding the timeline of Vietnam’s past is essential to unraveling its mysteries. In this article, we will explore the timeline of Vietnam’s history and decode this critical piece of history.

The Prehistoric Era

The prehistoric era begins at the earliest known human settlement in Vietnam, which dates back to 500,000 BC. Evidence of human existence in Vietnam includes fossils of Homo erectus, who lived in the northern part of Vietnam.

The Dong Son culture flourished around 1000 BC, characterized by advanced bronze casting and ironworking techniques. The Dong Son culture produced complex bronze objects such as drums, weapons, and tools that were traded throughout Southeast Asia.

The Hồng Bàng Dynasty (c. 2879–258 BC)

The Hồng Bàng Dynasty is the first dynasty in Vietnamese history, founded by Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ. According to legend, the king descended from a dragon, and the queen descended from a fairy. The dynasty’s capital was in Phong Châu, present-day Phú Thọ province in northern Vietnam.

The dynasty lasted for eighteen generations, and its most notable achievements include the establishment of the Vietnamese state, the introduction of agriculture, and the development of a system of laws.

The Chinese Domination Era (c. 207 BC–938 AD)

During this period, Vietnam was conquered and dominated by the Chinese for over a thousand years. The Han dynasty annexed Vietnam in 111 BC and governed it as a province called Jiaozhi. This period is characterized by forced assimilation, cultural suppression, and territorial expansion by the Chinese.

The resistance movements against Chinese domination began as early as the first century AD, but it was not until the eighth century that they coalesced into a unified Viet rebellion. The resistance culminated in the defeat of the Chinese Tang armies in 938 AD and the establishment of an independent Vietnamese state.

The Independent Era

The independent era begins with the establishment of an independent Vietnamese state under Ngô Quyền in 938 AD. The following section describes the various historical periods of the independent era.

The Đinh Dynasty (968–980 AD)

The Đinh Dynasty founded by Đinh Bộ Lĩnh after thousands of years of Chinese domination is considered as the first Vietnamese dynasty. Under the Đinh Dynasty, Vietnam’s territory expanded to include much of present-day northern Vietnam.

The Lý Dynasty (1009–1225 AD)

The Lý Dynasty founded by Lý Thái Tổ marked the emergence of a centralized Vietnamese state, with a well-established system of administration and a powerful military. The dynasty is famous for repelling Mongol invasions in 1258 and 1288 and building impressive architectural works such as the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long and the One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi.

The Trần Dynasty (1225–1400 AD)

The Trần Dynasty was a time of prosperity and stability in Vietnam, marked by the expansion of the economy, the arts, and Vietnamese culture. The dynasty is known for its resistance to the Mongol invasions in the 13th century and its victory over the Yuan Dynasty in 1288. The Trần Dynasty’s notable achievements include the establishment of a Northern Court Academy and the construction of the Văn Miếu (Temple of Literature).

The Late Lê Dynasty (1428-1788 AD)

The Late Lê Dynasty was a time of conflict and turmoil in Vietnam, marked by the declining power of the monarchy and the rise of powerful feudal lords who competed for power. During this period, the Portuguese began trading with Vietnam, and Christianity began to spread throughout the country. The dynasty ended with the reign of Emperor Lê Chiêu Thống, who was defeated by the Tây Sơn Rebellion in 1788.

The Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1945 AD)

The Nguyễn Dynasty, founded in 1802 by Emperor Gia Long, was a time of economic, cultural, and territorial expansion for Vietnam. The dynasty is known for its construction of impressive architectural works such as the Imperial City of Hue, its conquest of the Khmer Empire and Laos, and its resistance to French colonization.

The Modern Era

The Modern Era begins with the French colonization of Vietnam in 1858 and lasts until today.

The French Colonial Period (1858–1954 AD)

The French colonization of Vietnam began with the invasion of southern Vietnam in 1858 and the annexation of the country into French Indochina in 1887. The French introduced Western culture, language, and technology into Vietnam and exploited the country’s resources to fuel the colonial economy. During this period, the Vietnamese people launched multiple uprisings and resistance movements against French colonization, culminating in the August Revolution in 1945.

The Vietnam War (1955–1975 AD)

The Vietnam War was a conflict between the Communist government of North Vietnam and the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam. The war began in 1955 and ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese communist forces. The war caused immense suffering to the Vietnamese people, resulting in millions of deaths, injuries, and displacement.

The Post-War Period (1975–present)

After the war, Vietnam struggled to rebuild its economy and infrastructure, leading to a period of poverty and isolation. In 1986, the government began introducing economic reforms, known as Đổi Mới, which aimed to transition the country from a centrally planned economy to a market-based economy. Today, Vietnam is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with a vibrant culture and rich heritage.


Understanding the timeline of Vietnamese history is essential to appreciating its rich culture and heritage. The history of Vietnam spans thousands of years, from the prehistoric era to the modern era, with many twists and turns along the way.

Common questions and answers about Vietnamese history

  • Q1. What was Vietnam called before it was called Vietnam?
  • A1. Vietnam was known by different names throughout history. Some of the names include Văn Lang, Âu Lạc, Nam Việt, and Đại Việt.
  • Q2. Who colonized Vietnam?
  • A2. Vietnam was colonized by the French from 1858 to 1954.
  • Q3. Who won the Vietnam War?
  • A3. The North Vietnamese communist forces won the Vietnam War.
  • Q4. What was the August Revolution?
  • A4. The August Revolution was a political movement that culminated in the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945.
  • Q5. Who was Ho Chi Minh?
  • A5. Ho Chi Minh was the founder of the Communist Party of Vietnam and the leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
  • Q6. Who was responsible for the My Lai Massacre?
  • A6. The My Lai Massacre was committed by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War.
  • Q7. What is the significance of the Đổi Mới reforms?
  • A7. The Đổi Mới reforms were aimed at transitioning Vietnam from a centrally planned economy to a market-based economy, leading to improved economic growth and stability in the country.

References Editors. (2019, November 4). Vietnam War. History.

Nguyen, K. T. (2017). A Brief Introduction to Vietnam’s History. Asia Society.

Salter, M. B. (2019, June 11). Vietnamese history, culture, and society. Britannica.

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