offer insight into early military strategy
Painter Le Dang The depicts the famed Bach Dang battle with
smaller boats carrying the Viet army, which defeated the much
larger Yuan-Mongol boats. Oil on canvas.
Map of Bach Dang in 1288. File courtesy of the Archaeology
Ngo Dong Son points to the wooden spears discovered in the 1959
excavation, now on display at Hung Yen Province museum.
Workers dig around the spears, first excavated in 1959, which
provide insight into the battle of Bach Dang. — VNS Photos
years after Viet Nam’s historic victory against the Yuan-Mongols at Bach Dang,
archaeologists continue to find remnants of the famous spears hidden underwater
to snag enemy vessels, which provide a tangible link to one of the country’s
most fascinating periods. Nguyen Minh Huong reports.
Looking out over a vast
field of water with carefully built embankments for fish farming called Van Muoi
in Nam Hoa Village of Quang Ninh Province, everything looked normal. However,
when the tide recedes, remnants of a vast field of spears protrude—what
archaeologists have decided were used to help the Dai Viet army destroy the
Yuan-Mongol troops invading from the north in the 13th century.
Paddling around the pond
in a small boat, Ngo Dong Son, head of Yen Hung District’s culture department,
pointed at the defensive weapons lurking under the surface.
According to the Viet Nam
Archaeology Institute’s latest excavation, General Tran Hung Dao in the 13th
century sent troops to drive the spears into the riverbed of the Bach Dang River
at a 45-degree angle to mangle the enemy’s wooden boats as they came down the
In a drained field about
one kilometre in the same district is a previously excavated field from an
earlier search of Yen Giang Village. A large hole in the ground revealed some
one hundred logs pointing skyward. It looks like a burnt forest.
The 20-33cm in diameter
spears were meant to stick out of the water about 40-50cm, and, according to
historians, had iron tips, none of which survived the nearly 700 years since
they were placed in the river. The Van Muoi field in Nam Hoa Village today was
reportedly the primary field of spears that defended against the powerful ships
of the Yuan-Mongols.
In 1288, about 300,000
Yuan-Mongol troops from China invaded Viet Nam for the third time following two
failed attempts in 1258 and 1285. The failures only increased their will to
defeat the Vietnamese Tran Dynasty.
approached the capital, Thang Long (present day Ha Noi), in full strength by
land from the border via Lang Son norther region and by water from Quang Ninh
The Tran Dynasty adopted
guerrilla strategies. General Tran Hung Dao led his troops and people in an
evacuation from Thang Long, while in Quang Ninh, another outstanding general,
Tran Khanh Du, defeated the invaders’ fleet carrying supplies from China
through Quang Ninh Province’s Van Don – Cua Luc estuary.
General Tran Hung Dao
figured that, after finding no one to attack in the capital and no possessions
to pillage, the invaders would likely withdraw by water. When this happened the
general deployed the army to fight the enemy on the rivers leading out of the
Based on his studies of
General Ngo Quyen’s victory at the Bach Dang River in 938, General Tran Hung
Dao had ordered his troops and the locals to drive spears into the Chanh and Coc
branches of the Bach Dang River to trap the invaders as they widrew.
One of the spears hidden under the river.
In September and December
of 2005, archaeologists and officials of Quang Ninh Province’s Culture and
Information Department discovered 38 spears in a new area of Yen Hung District:
Van Muoi Field in Nam Hoa Village.
The spears turned up as
farmers began cultivating the land, and added to the body of research on Bach
Dang in Yen Giang Commune from 1959, district culture department chief Son said.
It was amazing, Son
commented, that 700 years after the historic victory at Bach Dang, and years
full of changes in the rivers and surrounding areas, that the objects were still
The once large rivers in
which the Yuan-Mongols perished are now small canals, fish farming ponds and
rice fields used daily by local farmers.
Son said there were
people, especially foreigners, who did not believe that the artefacts in Yen
Hung District were real. "However, after we show them pictures of our digs,
they believe and are impressed by such a victory," Son said.
Lien, deputy head of the
archaeology office of the institute, said after locals informed the office, they
checked the site and discovered the spears were arranged in an area of 100m by
Based on records of the
terrain from the period and the newly discovered spears, experts initially
thought the artefacts were put in the river banks to prevent invaders from
escaping from their boats to land. The spears found in Van Muoi differed from
those in Yen Giang Commune in that they were driven in at 45 degree angles. Son
said it was inconclusive if these newly discovered ones were used in the
Yuan-Mongol invasion, but said it was extremely likely because they weren’t
easily made or put into place.
A farmer, he concluded,
would have no reason to place spears in such dangerous positions as landmarks in
the river, adding that the diameter (40-60cm and 10-30cm) indicated the spears’
utility value was clearly a passive attack against an oncoming ship.
The only unanswered
question was whether these spears were from the wars in 938 or 1288, because
Tran Hung Dao like King Ngo Quyen in the 10th century also used the same method
in the same river, said Lien. More time and research were needed to reach a
conclusion, Lien said.
recently found another field near Van Muoi while digging a fish pond in Mong
Ngua (in the same commune). As far as the researchers knew, Son said, it would
be the last field of the battle in the river. The researchers were in the
process of preparing to check the authenticity of the farmers’ claim, Son
He added that the district
would draw up a project proposal to submit to the Ministry of Culture and
Information to recognise the collection of fields as a national historical site.
"We should also think of a way to protect the spears that are still
submerged in Yen Hung District," he said.
The historical site is
presently a marshland suitable for aquaculture products and rice cultivation.
The local farmers’ production increases had boosted the amount of organic
waste, thus providing more fodder for decomposition that could damage the
artefacts, Lien said.
Son revealed a plan for
the second quarter of the year to build up the already recognised Yen Giang
Spear Field as site for tourism. The plan was drafted by the Ministry of
Cultural and Information and the Quang Ninh People’s Committee and will
require spending more than VND4billion (US$250,000).
Construction works would
not only help protect the artefacts, but would attract tourists.
However, Lien thought that
before any project went forward the locals should cease all agriculture, in
order to protect the site.
Local farmer Nguyen Thi
Hoa said that she knew she had to stop raising fish to protect the historical
site. Hoa said: "The commune will give us other land after revoking the
land we now use, so I don’t think we’ll face many difficulties in the
With the new site in Van
Muoi and archaeologists checking on another area in Mong Ngua, evidence for this
study of the nation’s history is mounting, and slowly the historians are
piecing it all together. — VNS