The history of the Hồng Bàng period is split according to the ruling dynasty of each Hùng king. The dating of events is still a subject of research. The conservative dates are not supported by any reliable absolute date for a span of about two and a half millennia. The following is the list including the Bronze Age cultures:
The Vietnamese name is the reading of Chinese characters "鴻龐" assigned to this dynasty in early Vietnamese-written histories in Chinese. The meaning is a mythical giant bird.
Vietnam, a country situated along the eastern coast of mainland Southeast Asia, has had a long and turbulent history. The Vietnamese people represent a fusion of races, languages, and cultures, the elements of which are still being sorted out by ethnologists, linguists, and archaeologists. The Vietnamese language provides some clues to the cultural mixture of the Vietnamese people.
The area now known as Vietnam has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, with some archaeological sites in Thanh Hóa Province, reportedly dating back around half a million years ago. The prehistoric people had lived continuously in local caves since around 6000 BC, until more advanced material cultures developed. Some caves are known to have been the home of many generations of early humans. As northern Vietnam was a place with mountains, forests, and rivers, the number of tribes grew between 5000 and 3000 BC.
Prior to the beginning of the Hồng Bàng period, the land was settled by autonomous villages. Vietnamese predynastic society was anarchic and did not have any management mechanism. They lived together in groups as tribes. Archaeologists have found many images on the wall of caves which showed the daily living of ancient people.
During a few thousands years in the Late Stone Age, the inhabitant populations grew and spread to every part of Vietnam. Most ancient peoples were living near the Hồng (Red), Cả and Mã rivers. The Vietnamese tribes were the primary tribes at this time. Their territory included modern meridional territories of China to the banks of the Hồng River in the northern territory of Vietnam. Centuries of developing a civilization and economy based on the cultivation of irrigated rice encouraged the development of tribal states and communal settlements
A significant political event occurred when Lộc Tục came into power. He consolidated the other tribes and succeeded in grouping all the vassal states (or autonomous communities) within his territory into a unified nation in approximately 2879 BC. Lộc Tục proclaimed himself Kinh Dương Vương and called his newly born nation Xích Quỷ. Lộc Tục inaugurated the earliest monarchical regime as well as the first ruling family by heirdom in Vietnam's history. He is regarded as the ancestor of the Hùng kings, as the founding father of Vietnam, and as a Vietnamese cultural hero who is credited with teaching his people how to cultivate rice.
As rule was passed to the Hùng king's male heirs, Kinh Dương Vương was succeeded by his son Lạc Long Quân, who founded the second dynasty of Hùng kings in c. 2793 BC.
Starting from the third Hùng dynasty since c. 2524 BC, the kingdom was renamed Văn Lang, and the capital was set up at Phong Châu (in modern Việt Trì, Phú Thọ) at the juncture of three rivers where the Red River Delta begins from the foot of the mountains.
The evidence that the Vietnamese knew how to calculate the lunar calendar by carving on stones dates back to 2200–2000 BC. Parallel lines were carved on the stone tools as a counting instrument involving the lunar calendar.
The process of making silk has had been known by the Vietnamese since 2000 BC.
By 1500 BC, the coastal residents developed a sophisticated agricultural society.
The tidal irrigation of rice fields through an elaborate system of canals and dikes started by the sixth century BC. The Hùng ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty led the armies to conquer what is modern-day Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh Provinces. A rival people, the proto-Cham people based in modern-day Quảng Bình Province, resisted and a clash between the two sides was inevitable. The Hùng forces defeated the proto-Chams, annexing the land.
The Hồng Bàng epoch ended in the middle of the third century BC on the advent of the military leader Thục Phán's conquest of Văn Lang, dethroning the last Hùng king.
Thục Phán (An Dương Vương), the ruler of the neighboring upland Âu Việt tribes, overthrew the last Hùng king in c. 258 BC. After conquering Văn Lang, Thục Phán united the Lạc Việt tribes with the Âu Việt ones to form a new kingdom of Âu Lạc, building his capital and citadel, Cổ Loa Citadel in Hanoi's Dong Anh district.
The Lạc lords maintained their feudal influence long after demise of the Hồng Bàng era. These feudal lords faded into history only after the defeat of the Trưng Sisters in mid 1st-century AD.
The first Hùng King established the first Vietnamese state in response to the needs of co-operation in constructing hydraulic systems and in struggles against their enemies. This was a very primitive form of a sovereign state with the Hùng king on top and under him a court consisted of advisors - the lạc hầu. The country was composed of fifteen bộ "regions", each ruled by a lạc tướng; usually the lạc tướng was a member of the Hùng kings' family. Bộ comprised the agricultural hamlets and villages based on a matriarchal clan relationship and headed by a bộ chính, usually a male tribal elder.
The eastern border of the country was the Pacific Ocean. Originally, the northern border stretched to the southern part of present-day Hunan, and the southern border stretched to the Cả River, including parts of modern Guangxi, Guangdong and Northern Vietnam. Faced with China's southward expansions, beginning in the early first millennium BC, Văn Lang gradually lost its northern territory; and by around 500 BC, its northern border was equivalent to that of the modern Vietnam state. However, simultaneously, the Hùng kings sought to expand Văn Lang's borders southward. During the last (Eighteenth) dynasty of Hùng kings, the southern border extended to northern parts of modern-day Quảng Bình Province.
The economy was based mainly on rice paddy cultivation, and also included handicrafts, hunting and gathering, husbandry and fishing. Especially, the skill of bronze casting was at a high level. The most famous relics are Đông Sơn Bronze Drums on which are depicted houses, clothing, customs, habits, and cultural activities of the Hùng era.
The Hùng Vươngs ruled Văn Lang in feudal fashion with the aid of the Lạc Tướng, who controlled the communal settlements around each irrigated area, organized construction and maintenance of the dikes, and regulated the supply of water. Besides cultivating rice, the people of Văn Lang grew other grains and beans and raised stock, mainly buffaloes, chickens, and pigs. Pottery-making and bamboo-working were highly developed crafts, as were basketry, leather-working, and the weaving of hemp, jute, and silk. Both transport and communication were provided by dugout canoes, which plied the network of rivers and canals.
The period between the end of the third millennium and the middle of the first millennium BC produced increasingly sophisticated pottery of the pre-Dong Son cultures of northern Viet Nam and the pre-Sa Huỳnh cultures of southern Vietnam. This period saw the appearance of wheel-made pottery, although the use of the paddle and anvil remained significant in manufacture. Vessel surfaces are usually smooth, often polished, and red slipping is common. Cord-marking is present in all cultures and forms a fairly high percentage of sherdage. Complex incised decoration also developed with rich ornamental designs, and it is on the basis of incised decoration that Vietnamese archaeologists distinguish the different cultures and phases one from another.
The pottery from the successive cultural developments in the Red River Valley is the most well known. Vietnamese archaeologists here discern three pre-Dong Son cultures: Phùng Nguyên, Đồng Đậu, and Gò Mun. The pottery of these three cultures, despite the use of different decorative styles, has features that suggest a continuity of cultural development in the Red River Valley. In the Ma River Valley in Thanh Hóa Province, Vietnamese archaeologists also recognize three pre-Dong Son periods of cultural development: Con Chan Tien, Dong Khoi (Bai Man) and Quy Chu. In the areas stretching from the Red to the Cả River valleys, all the local cultures eventually developed into the Đông Sơn culture, which expanded over an area much larger than that of any previous culture and Vietnamese archaeologists believe that it had multiple regional sources. For instance, while Đông Sơn bronzes are much the same in different regions of northern Viet Nam, the regional characters of the pottery are fairly marked. On the whole, Đông Sơn pottery has a high firing temperature and is varied in form, but decorative patterns are much reduced in comparison with preceding periods, and consist mainly of impressions from cord-wrapped or carved paddles. Incised decoration is virtually absent.
Contemporary Vietnamese historians have established the existence of various ethnic minorities now living in the highlands of North and Central Vietnam during the early phase of the Hồng Bàng Dynasty.
By about 1200 BC., the development of wet-rice cultivation and bronze casting in the Mã River and Red River plains led to the development of the Đông Sơn culture, notable for its elaborate bronze drums. The bronze weapons, tools, and drums of Đông Sơn sites show a Southeast Asian influence that indicates an indigenous origin for the bronze-casting technology. Many small, ancient copper mine sites have been found in northern Vietnam. Some of the similarities between the Đông Sơn sites and other Southeast Asian sites include the presence of boat-shaped coffins and burial jars, stilt dwellings, and evidence of the customs of betel-nut-chewing and teeth-blackening.
An important advancement occurred by the 6th century BC: the irrigation of rice fields (lac dien) through an elaborate system of canals and dikes. This type of sophisticated farming system would come to define Vietnamese society. It required tight-knit village communities to collectively manage their irrigation systems. These systems in turn produced crop yields that could sustain much higher population densities than competing methods of food production.
Due to the limit of written records, verifiable historical information on the history of the Hồng Bàng Dynasty largely comes from archaeological evidence – vestiges such as the Hùng kings' Temple in Phú Thọ, the agricultural implements made of stone discovered in Sơn Tây, Vĩnh Yên, Bắc Giang – as well as a considerable number of legends.