ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Mongol Invasions of Vietnam

Updated on March 17, 2015

The Mongols Enter Southeast Asia

In 1253 AD the Mongol Empire, among the largest and most militarily successful states in history, entered Southeast Asia through the conquest of the kingdom of Nanzhao (in modern Yunnan). This was all part of Mongol grand strategy, as the annexation of Nanzhao provided the Mongols with the means to outflank their stubborn Chinese opponents. Kublai Khan would later see Southeast Asia as the key to his ambitions for maritime empire and control of the Indian Ocean trade.

In 1257 the Mongols made their formal introduction to the kingdoms of modern Vietnam when Uryankhadai and his son Aju led an invasion force through the area as part of an assault upon the Song. Northern Vietnam at this time was ruled by the weak kingdom of Dai Viet (called Annam by the Chinese). Central and southern Vietnam was ruled by Champa, a non-Vietnamese kingdom heavily influenced by Indian culture. The king of Dai Viet had refused to allow the Mongols to attack through his lands, causing them to adjust their strategy.

Classic portrait of Kublai Khan.
Classic portrait of Kublai Khan. | Source

The First Invasion

Uryankhadai, marching out of Yunnan, at first met little resistance. Mongol cavalry easily achieved dominance in the flat areas of central Dai Viet, and surrounded Thang Long, the capital (modern Hanoi). Tran Thai Tong, the king, was called on to surrender. He refused and fled with his court out to sea, taking refuge on an island out of Mongol reach. Thang Long fell after a short siege in 1258, the Mongols massacring the population when they discovered one their envoys had been executed by the king. Nine days later, during the summer, they retreated back to safety. A combination of lack of sufficient manpower to hold the capital, attacks on their supply lines, and the unhospitable climate had forced the Mongol retreat.

Vietnam, with a view of Yunnan and Guangxi

Interlude and the Invasion of Champa

Tran Thai Tong returned to his capital once the Mongol retreat was confirmed. He then released the remaining Mongol envoys he held hostage and abdicated in favor his heir. Tran Thanh Tong embarked on a program of national self-strengthening, paying tribute to Kublai Khan after he came to power in 1260 to buy time. Unfortunately for the Vietnamese, the Mongols only became more powerful under the new khan’s leadership, resulting in the foundation of the Yuan dynasty in 1271 and the fall of the Southern Song five years later. By the abdication of Thanh Tong in 1278 the Yuan were Dai Viet’s only northern neighbor and exerting pressure from across the border. Promises to not aid the Song remnants were extracted from both Thanh Tong and his successor Nhan Tong. However, the successful defiance of the Kamakura Bakufu of Japan (1274 and 1281) and the Burmese Kingdom of Bagan (1277) broke the myth of Mongol invincibility, encouraging the Vietnamese. In 1281 Kublai made a Tran royal uncle heading a diplomatic party “King of Annam” and sent him back to Thang Long with an armed escort and their own envoys. The court allowed the Yuan envoys through, but arrested the errant uncle and nothing came of the attempted coup except more frustration for the khan.

In 1282, Kublai Khan demanded personal tribute and submission from Champa. The khan was convinced Champa was the lynchpin of the Indian Ocean trade and desired to control it. To ease the sending of reinforcements and supplies he demanded the use of Dai Viet territory as a base for his forces heading south. The Vietnamese stalled, keeping the Yuan diplomats occupied by endless talking. Meanwhile, the elderly Indravarman V refused to submit and fled to the mountains. The Crown Prince, Che Man, took charge of the defense. Later in the year Yuan forces under Sogetu, a leading marshal, landed at the capital of Vijaya (also called Chamapura) and occupied it. Che Man then surprised them with a fierce guerrilla war. The Chams burned their own villages and forced the Mongols to fight on unfavorable terrain, harrying the invaders through the heavy use of crossbow cavalry and of siege crossbows mounted on elephants. The marshal now found himself caught in a quagmire: On one side he was faced with guerrilla fighters. On the other a city he could not fully control, in terrain hostile to his forces. The invasion bogged down. In the spring of 1284 Sogetu abandoned his camp on the coast close to the capital and sailed for northern Champa, finding better luck in battle there and taking the opportunity to gather supplies and ask for reinforcements. Later that year, however, instead of the expected reinforcements Sogetu was ordered force for a new invasion of Dai Viet.

A shrine to Tran Nhan Tong, king during the second and third invasions.
A shrine to Tran Nhan Tong, king during the second and third invasions. | Source

The Second Invasion

The first real invasion of Dai Viet was undertaken in late 1284-early 1285. Hoping that a quick strike would eliminate Tran resistance Kublai had sent two armies south (supposedly totaling 300,000 men) under the overall command of his son Prince Togan. Taking advantage of their conquest of the Song, the invading armies marched south from Guangxi as well as Yunnan. A flotilla of warships was also accompanying the Yuan troops. The Vietnamese, under the command of a royal prince named Tran Quoc Tuan (better known as Tran Hung Dao), tried to prevent the Yuan forces from linking but failed and Thang Long fell a month into the invasion. Before long Dai Viet looked to be in danger of being crushed between Togan and Sogetu, arriving from the south. Mass defections followed. Quoc Tuan struck back with the onset of the summer rains, defeating the Yuan at modern Hung Yen and making hard for Thang Long. A series of running battles ended in Togan abandoning the capital, withdrawing to his supply depot at modern Van Kiep. The other armies fared no better, harried endlessly.

The Vietnamese played to their strengths, refusing to engage the Yuan, and especially the Mongol cavalry, on flat ground but only across rivers and streams. Ambushes were preferred to set battles and this, combined with a policy of scorched earth and the climate, forced the invaders to retreat into China. Sogetu and the Yuan naval forces were defeated separately at the battle of Tay Ket and the marshal was captured and killed. The war has lasted six months, the Mongols had been beaten back.

A statue of Tran Hung Dao (Tran Quoc Tuan) at Ho Chi Minh City.
A statue of Tran Hung Dao (Tran Quoc Tuan) at Ho Chi Minh City. | Source

The Third Invasion and the Battle of Bach Dang

But Kublai refused to accept this. Now more obsessed with Vietnam than anything else, the khan put on hold plans for a third invasion of Japan to conquer Dai Viet and Chamly. In 1287 Yuan armies re-entered Dai Viet. Togan linked with his other columns as before but lost his supply fleet at Van Don before the campaign could even begin. Thang Long fell for the third time and the Dai Viet armies retreated down the Red River. But low supplies forced the invaders to return to Thang Long while their navy searched for the supply fleet. A month later they met up again at Van Kiep, soon surrounded by the resurgent Vietnamese. After another month had passed the Yuan forces broke out, dangerously low on food, and retreated.

But Tran Quoc Tuan was not willing to allow them all to leave. At the estuary of the Bach Dang River, near modern Haiphong, he saw his chance. Hoping to repeat the success of Ngo Quyen against the Southern Han in 939, Quoc Tuan had his men line the bed of the river with short wooden poles topped with iron points. He then sent his numerically inferior navy to lure the Yuan warships into the river mouth at high tide. When the tide receded the ships became stuck and the Dai Viet forces swarmed over them, wiping out the Yuan naval forces and capturing their admiral, Omar. Togan retreated in disgrace and the Mongols would not return. Dai Viet and Champa would both resume sending tribute to Dadu, the Yuan capital, but from a position of strength instead of weakness.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)