Hong Bang period/dynasty (c. 2879–258 BC)
According to mythology, for almost three millennia — from its beginning around 2879 B.C. to its conquest by Thuc Phan in 258 B.C. — the Hong Bang period was divided into 18 dynasties, with each dynasty being based on the lineage of the kings. Throughout this era, the country encountered many changes, some being very drastic. Due to the limitation of the written evidence, the main sources of information about the Hồng Bàng period are the many vestiges, objects and artifacts that have been recovered from archaeological sites - as well as a considerable amount of legend. The land began as several tribal states, with King Kinh Dương Vương grouping all the vassal states at around 2879 BC. The ancient Vietnamese rulers of this period are collectively known as the Hung kings (Vietnamese: Hùng Vương).
- Early Hong Bang (c. 2879–1913 BC)
From time immemorial, modern northern Vietnam and southern China were peopled by many races. Lộc Tục (c. 2919 – 2794 BC) succeeded his predecessor as tribal chief and made the first attempts to incorporate all tribes around 2879 BC. As he succeeded in grouping all the vassal states within his territory, a convocation of the subdued tribes proclaimed him King Kinh Dương Vương, as the leader of the unified ancient Vietnamese nation. Kinh Dương Vương called his newly born country Xích Quỷ and reigned over the confederacy that occupied the Red River Delta in present-day Northern Vietnam and part of southeastern China, seeing the beginnings of nationhood for Vietnam under one supreme ruler, the Hùng king, also starting the Hồng Bàng period.
- Lac Long Quan's temple at Sim Hill (Phu Tho).
According to stories of the period, the First Hung dynasty only had one ruler, Kinh Dương Vương himself, and witnessed the first two capitals in Vietnamese history, at Ngan Hong and Nghia Linh. Sung Lam was Kinh Duong Vuong's successor and founded the Second Hung dynasty. The next line of kings that followed renamed the country Van Lang.
The Third Hung dynasty lasted from approximately 2524 BC to 2253 BC. The administrative rule of the Lac Tuong, Bo Chinh, and Lac Hau began.
The period of the Fourth Hung dynasty (c. 2252–1913 BC) saw the evidence for early Vietnamese calendar system recorded on stone tools and the population from the mountainous areas moved out and began to settle in the open along the rivers to join the agricultural activities.
- Mid-Hong Bang (c. 1912–1055 BC)
The Fifth Hung dynasty lasted from approximately 1912 BC to 1713 BC.
Then, during the Sixth Hung dynasty, Văn Lang was invaded by the mysterious people called the Xích Tỵ, as the king battled Văn Lang back to greatness.
The Seventh dynasty started with Lang Liêu, a son of the last king of the Sixth dynasty. Lang Lieu was a prince who won a culinary contest; he then won the throne because his creations, bánh chưng (rice cake), reflect his deep understanding of the land's vital economy: rice farming. The Seventh dynasty and well into the early first millennium BC was a period of stabilizing, saw a civilization flourishing to continue its greatness.
- Late Hong Bang (c. 1054–258 BC)
The first millennium BC, a new glamour period of ancient civilization of Viet Nam, went through the Twelfth dynasty to the Eighteenth dynasty. It was when the Vietnamese Bronze Age culture further flourished and attained an unprecedented level of realism, and finally culminated that led to the opening the stage of the Vietnamese Iron Age.
The Eighteenth dynasty was the last ruling dynasty during the Hung king epoch. It fell to the Au Viet in 258 BC after the last Hùng king was defeated in battle.
- Cultural evolution
This period contained some accounts that mixed up historical facts with legends. The Legend of Giong tells of a youth going to war to save the country, wearing iron armor, riding an armored horse, and wielding an iron staff, showed that metalworking was sophisticated. The Legend of the Magic Crossbow, about a crossbow that can deliver thousands of arrows, showed extensive use of archery in warfare.
Fishing and hunting supplemented the main rice crop. Arrowheads and spears were dipped in poison to kill larger animals such as elephants. Betel nuts were widely chewed and the lower classes rarely wore clothing more substantial than a loincloth. Every spring, a fertility festival was held which featured huge parties and sexual abandon. Religion consisted of primitive animistic cults.
Since around 2000 BC, stone hand tools and weapons improved extraordinary in both quantity and variety. Pottery reached a higher level in technique and decoration style. The Vietnamese people were mainly agriculturists, they grew the wet rice Oryza, now became their main staple diet. During later stage of the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, the first appearance of bronze tools took place despite these tools were still rare. By about 1000 BC, bronze replaced stone for about 40% of edged tools and weapons, rising to about 60%. Here, there are not only bronze weapons, axes, and personal ornaments, but also sickles and other agriculture tools. Toward the closure of the Bronze Age, bronze accounts for more than 90 percent of tools and weapons, and there are exceptionally extravagant graves – the burial places of powerful chiefdoms – contained some hundred of ritual and personal bronze artifacts such as musical instruments, bucket-shaped ladles, and ornament daggers. After 1000 BC, the ancient Vietnamese people were skilled agriculturalists as they grew rice and kept buffaloes and pigs. They were also skilled fishermen and bold sailors, whose long dug-out canoes traversed all the China sea.
Modern central and southern Vietnam were not originally part of the Vietnamese state. The peoples of those areas developed a distinct culture from the ancient Vietnamese in the Red River Delta region. For instance, the 1st millennium BC Sa Huỳnh culture in the areas of present-day central Vietnam revealed a considerable use of iron and decorative items made from glass, semi-precious and precious stones such as agate, carnelian, rock crystal, amethyst, and nephrite. The culture also showed evidence of an extensive trade network. The Sa Huỳnh people were most likely the predecessors of the Cham people, an Austronesian-speaking people and the founders of the kingdom of Champa.
Thuc dynasty (257–207 BC)
By the 3rd century BC, another Viet group, the Au Viet, emigrated from present-day southern China to the Red River delta and mixed with the indigenous Van Lang population. In 257 BC, a new kingdom, Au Lac, emerged as the union of the Au Viet and the Lac Viet, with Thuc Phan proclaiming himself "An Duong Vuong" ("King An Duong"). Some modern Vietnamese believe that Thuc Phan came upon the Au Viet territory (modern-day northernmost Vietnam, western Guangdong, and southern Guangxi province, with its capital in what is today Cao Bang Province).
After assembling an army, he defeated and overthrew the eighteenth dynasty of Hùng kings, around 258 BC. He proclaimed himself An Duong Vuong ("King An Duong"). He then renamed his newly acquired state from Van Lang to Au Lac and established the new capital at Phong Khe in the present-day Phu Tho town in northern Vietnam, where he tried to build the Co Loa Citadel (Co Loa Thành), the spiral fortress approximately ten miles north of that new capital. However, records showed that espionage resulted in the downfall of An Duong Vuong. At his capital, Cổ Loa, he built many concentric walls around the city for defensive purposes. These walls, together with skilled Au Lac archers, kept the capital safe from invaders.
Trieu dynasty (207–111 BC)
In 207 BC, Qin warlord Trieu Da (pinyin: Zhao Tuo) defeated King An Duong Vuong and annexed Au Lac into his domain located in present-day Guangdong/Guangxi area. He proclaimed his new independent kingdom as Nam Viet (pinyin: Nanyue), starting the Triệu dynasty. Trieu Da later appointed himself a commandant of central Guangdong, closing the borders and conquering neighboring districts and titled himself “King of Nam Viet”.
This period is controversial as on one side, some Vietnamese historians consider Trieu's rule as the starting point of the Chinese domination, since Trieu Da was a former Qin general, whereas others consider it still an era of Vietnamese independence as the Trieu family in Nam Việt were assimilated to local culture. They ruled independently of what then constituted Han Empire. At one point, Trieu Da even declared himself Emperor, equal to the Han Emperor in the north.