Mongol Invasions of Vietnam and Java

The Battle of Bạch Đằng (1288) during the Third Mongol invasion.

Map depicting Mongol campaign in Đại Việt in the north and Champa in the south.

In order to conquer south China, Mongols took the city of Yunnan and sought Trânsit via Dai Viet (modern North Vietnam), in 1257, to enter Guangxi and trap the southern Song in a pincer movement. Trân Thai Tông (r. 1225-1258) refused, so the Mongols invaded and burned the capital, Thang-long (Ha-noi). Lack of supplies, tropical climate, and a counterattack by Trân Hu’ng Đao drove them back to Yunnan. Further war was delayed by Khubilai Khan’s succession and the invasion of Korea in 1259 and Japan in 1274 and 1281. Trân Thanh-Tong (r. 1258-1278) and Nhăn Tông (r. 1279-1293) refused demands to come to the Yuan court, or to send sons and brothers as hostages and men as troops.

In 1281, Nhăn Tông reconsidered and sent a royal family member, Trân Di Ai, to the Yuan court, where he was named king and sent home with 1,000 troops. After he was killed, Mongols invaded Champa (present-day South Vietnam) in 1281 and 1283; long an enemy of Dai Viet, Champa forced the Mongol troops northward. Then, the Mongol leader Toghan and 500,000 troops invaded Dai Viet from China in 1284, sacking Thang-long and killing many people. Dai Viet’s military leader, Trân Hu’ng Đao, retaliated with a force of 200,000 troops, as King Nhăn Tông and the court fled to Thănh-hoa. While Toghan took the rich Hong delta, other Mongols advanced north. However, Trân Hu’ng Dao defeated the Mongol forces with 50,000 troops, made his way to the capital, and, by July, 1285, took more than 50,000 prisoners. Tradition says Toghan escaped by hiding in a bronze drum.

Khubilai was forced to abandon a planned third invasion of Japan in order to seek revenge against Dai Viet. In 1287, Toghan and 300,000 troops burned Thang-long, but fled when their supply ships were sunk. When a Mongol fleet of 500 ships entered the Bach Dang River, Trân Hu’ng Đao used a traditional strategy. Sharp poles put in the river bed at low tide sank 100 ships, and 400 others were captured when the tide ebbed again. Trân Hu’ng Đao put his troops’ backs to the river, and forced them to swear to defeat the Mongols or die in the effort. Toghan withdrew in 1288, and plans for a further invasion died when Khubilai died in 1294. Vietnam was the only place where the Mongols were defeated militarily.

During the same period, Mongols were also making incursions in other areas of Southeast Asia. Troops from Yunnan took the Kingdom of Pagan in Burma in v 1287. Mistreatment of Mongol envoys to Java in 1289 by King Kertanagara led to invasion in 1293. The king died before the invasion took place, and Crown Prince Vijaya joined with the Mongols to overthrow a usurper. However, Vijaya later betrayed his Mongol allies, and thus their invasion of ]ava ultimately failed.


While Vietnam was a Mongol tributary from 1258, Qubilai Khan’s effort to integrate Vietnam into the Yuan Empire resulted in a great defeat.

In 1225 Trân Thu –Dô (d. 1264) placed his nephew Trân Nhât Qu´ynh (posthumous title, Trân Thai Tông, r. 1225-58, d. 1277) on the throne, ending the Lỳ dynasty (1009-1225) and beginning the Trân (1225-1400). The Trân strictly separated civil and military functions and furthered the bureaucratization of administration with an examination system based on Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist (Daoist) classics.

When the Vietnamese imprisoned Mongol envoys sent from YUNNAN to find a route to attack the Song, the Mongol general Uriyangqadai (1199-1271) and his son AJU invaded in December 1257 with 3,000 Mongols and 10,000 Yunnanese Yi tribesmen. After the Mongols routed the Vietnamese and massacred the inhabitants of the capital, Thănh Long (modern Hanoi), Thai Tôong abdicated in March 1258 in favor of his son Quang Bính (posthumous title, Trân Thănh Tông, r. 1258-78, d. 1291). Thănh Tông paid tribute to Uriyangqadai, who had quickly evacuated Vietnam to escape malaria.

After QUBILAI KHAN’s election as khan in 1260, Thănh Tông, enfeoffed as prince of Annam, sent tribute every three years and received a DARUGHACHI (overseer). By 1266, however, a standoff developed, as Thănh Tông sought to return to a loose tributary relationship while Qubilai demanded full submission to Mongol rule. The remoteness of communications through Yunnan, however, delayed armed conflict.

By winter 1278-79, with the conquest of South China, Qubilai ordered Mongol Yuan troops stationed along Vietnam’s borders. Vietnam’s new ruler, Trân Nhat Huyên (posthumous title, Trân Nhân Tông, r. 1278-93, d. 1308), resisted renewed Mongol demands for personal attendance at court but dispatched his uncle Trân Di Ai as hostage. In 1281 Qubilai tried to enthrone Di Ai as prince of Annam in place of Thânh Tông, but the plan failed miserably.

In summer 1284 Qubilai appointed his son Toghan to conquer Cham-pa, south of Vietnam. That December the Yuan general Sodu (d. 1284), defeated in Cham-pa, proposed the occupation of Vietnam as the key to pacifying all Southeast Asia, and Toghan was ordered to implement this plan. While Nhân Tông considered surrender, Prince Hu’ng Đao (1213-1300) rallied his troops, who all tattooed their arms with “Death to the Mongols.” After defeating Prince Hu’ng Đao ‘s army, Toghan, with Sodu and Li Heng and naval forces under `Umar Ba’atur, reoccupied Thânh Long in June 1285, while the Vietnamese court fled. As the Yuan troops advanced down the Hong (Red) River, however, Prince Quang Khai counterattacked at Chu’o’ng Du’o’ng, forcing Toghan to evacuate Vietnam, while Prince Hu’ng -Dao’s armies annihilated the isolated vanguard at Tăy Ket (near modern Hu’ng Yên), killing Sodu and Li Heng. The next March Qubilai enfeoffed Nhân Tông’s younger brother Trân Ích Tăc, who had defected to the Yuan, as prince of Annam, but hardship in the Yuan’s Hunan supply base aborted Qubilai’s planned invasion. Finally, in 1287 Toghan invaded with 70,000 regular troops, 21,000 tribal auxiliaries from Yunnan and Hainan, a 1,000-man vanguard under Abachi, and 500 ships under `Umar and Fan Ji. Toghan reoccupied Thănh Long, but the Vietnamese captured the Mongol supply fleet and defeated the navy at Bach- Đang River (near modern Haiphong), forcing Toghan to evacuate in March 1288. Abachi and Fan Ji died in the bloody retreat, and `Umar was captured. Qubilai angrily banished Toghan to Yangzhou for life.

While Nhăn Tông was willing to pay tribute to the Yuan, relations again foundered on the question of attendance at the Yuan court, and invasion plans continued. Qubilai’s successor, Emperor Temür (1294-1307), finally recognized the futility of these plans and released all detained envoys, settling for Vietnam’s traditional loose tributary relationship, which continued to the end of the Yuan. Prince Hu’ng Đao’s command of the resistance – became legendary in Vietnamese history.

Mongol invasion of Java


With the conquest of South China, the Mongols entered actively into the commerce, diplomacy, and wars of the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. In 1278 QUBILAI KHAN (1260-94) appointed Mangghudai (d. 1290) of the TATARS, a general in the conquest of the Song, to handle overseas trade. As head of the Maritime Trade Supervisorate in Zaytun (modern Quanzhou), which MARCO POLO called perhaps the world’s most flourishing port, Mangghudai followed the Song regulations, levying a 10 percent tax on high-priced commodities and 6.7 percent on bulk goods. Merchants going abroad had to register their ships and declare their destinations, with deviations allowed only in emergencies. By 1293 six additional ports, from Shanghai in the north to Canton in the south, had Maritime Trade Supervisorates.

The court actively funded overseas expeditions, issuing government capital to privileged ORTOQ merchants. However, mercantilist anxieties showed in the prohibition on the export of metals, both precious and base; foreign merchants had to sell their goods for paper currency (chao). Foreign policy and prestige considerations prohibited the export of slaves and weapons and occasioned temporary embargoes against hostile states. Desire to profit by a government-carrier monopoly and vague worries over luxury exports led in 1285, 1303, and 1320 to prohibitions on all foreign trade by private domestic merchants. None lasted long, and in any case foreign merchants were never affected.

In 1278 Mangghudai’s colleague Sodu (d. 1284) of the JALAYIR dispatched edicts to 10 South Seas kingdoms, from Cham-pa in present-day south-central VIETNAM to Quilon on India’s southwest coast, demanding submission. By long-standing practice the South Seas realms were accustomed to paying nominal tribute to China, receiving investitures and gifts in return. Now, demanding that their rulers attend his court, Qubilai in January 1280 dispatched Sodu to Cham-pa and a Canton DARUGHACHI (overseer), Yang Tingbi, to Quilon. By 1286 Yang Tingbi had reached India’s Maabar and Quilon coasts several times, collecting eager professions of nominal submission of rulers from Kerala to Malaya. Cham-pa had, however, turned hostile, and in December 1282 Sodu led a maritime invasion with 5,000 men. The Yuan troops occupied the capital, Vijaya (near modern Qui Nho’n), but the king, Jaya Indravarman IV (1266-c. 90), retreated to the mountains. Stymied by this withdrawal, Sodu eventually sailed home in March 1284, just as AqTaghai (1235-90) embarked with another 5,000 men on a fruitless mission to reinforce him. Sodu’s subsequent plan to invade Cham-pa through Vietnam resulted only in his death and a 10-year quagmire for the Mongol YUAN DYNASTY. In 1293 Ighmish (fl. 1266-1311), an Uighur envoy and Fujian high official with experience in Champa (1281), Vietnam (1284), and Maabar (1287), led an expedition against Java with 20,000 men. Ighmish occupied the capital, Kediri, but was soon driven out.

Qubilai’s successor, Temür (1294-1307), abandoned the aim of conquering the South Seas and, content with only nominal tribute, received envoys from previously hostile Siam and Cambodia. The account of the Yuan’s 1296 envoy to Cambodia by the envoy Zhou Daguan (Chou Ta-kuan), is a major source on Cambodian history and society.

The Mongol IL-KHANATE in Persia also bordered the Indian Ocean. Trade between India and the Middle East passed through Hormoz, a port city theoretically tributary to the Il-Khans but effectively independent. From the reign of Abagha on (1265-81) the sea route from Zaytun to Hormoz was favored for embassies between the Il-Khans and the Yuan. Marco Polo and MUHAMMAD ABU-`ABDULLAH IBN BATTUTA left vivid accounts of the South Seas commerce and diplomacy

BIBLIOGRAPHY Kim, Trân-trong. Viet-Nam Su-Luoc. Saigon: Tan-Viet, 1964. Le, Thanh Khoi. Histoire du Vietnam: Des origines a 1858. Paris: Sudestasie, 1981. Masson, Andre. Histoire du Vietnam. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967. Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A. D. 1250-1350 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); David Bade, Khubilai Khan and the Beautiful Princess of Tumapel (Ulaanbaatar: A. Chuluunbat, 2002).


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