Archaeological excavations have revealed the existence of Stone Age man 300,000 years ago; cave dwellers and agriculture appeared by 10,000 BC. Patches of civilisation started to develop before 1000 BC around the Red River, central Viet Nam and the Dong Nai River Delta. These were the ancient Viet people, who began paddy farming, irrigation and developed handicraft skills in the area that evolved into the Van Lang state. By 1,000 BC, the Hung Vuong Dynasty controlled a kingdom from China to 500 km south of Hanoi.
An Duong Vuong established the Au Lac nation in the 3rd century BC, but in 207 BC Chinese General Chao To invaded and annexed the territory as far as the Red River, establishing Nam Viet. In 111 BC Chinese General Chao Chinh conquered the region and ten centuries of Chinese control began. The region developed as a prosperous trading hub. By 931, descendants of the mandarins and Viet landowners decided to revolt against the Han Chinese. The first independent Vietnamese state was established in 939.
Then for another six centuries wars succeeded other wars between the main Vietnamese dynasties (Tran, Nguyen, Trinh, etc.) and Chinese dynasties, or between the Vietnamese dynasties themselves.
In 1622 another war broke out between the southern Nguyen and the Trinh, ending in a stalemate, and peace in 1673, which divided Viet Nam in two. The Nguyen expanded south, pushing the Khmer out of Saigon in 1700 and driving towards Phnom Penh, when in 1771, the Siamese came to help expel them. This triggered three brothers from Tay Son to revolt against their Nguyen lord.
The Tay Son drove the Trinh to China, and then the brothers clashed for control. Hearing of the chaos, an exiled Nguyen ruler returned with the French and retook the country in 1802. Nguyen Anh Gia Long ascended to the throne and founded Viet Nam’s final dynasty.
In 1858, the French invaded, the Nguyens eventually gave in, and the country became a French protectorate in 1884. The French appointed all subsequent emperors from the Bao Dai, who abdicated to Ho Chi Minh after World War II. Led by Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Minh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the subsequent Geneva Accord divided the country into north and south. The Democratic Republic of Viet Nam in the north sided with China and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, while the United States backed the Republic of South Viet Nam. War between the two broke out in 1965, and raged until April 1975.
Today’s unified Socialist Republic of Viet Nam was established on 25 April 1976, with its capital in Hanoi.