What we know about the Kingdom of Au Lac, its King An-Duong Vuong and Co-Loa (or Co-Loa Thanh) is a mixture of legend and history, according to Keith Taylor (The Birth of Vietnam, 20). An-Duong Vuong was the strongest of the overlords (north of today's Hanoi) who established a new center of power and built a citadel.

Both the headquarters and large citadel were known as Co-Loa.  

According to legend, the king was assisted by a golden turtle in his rise to power and building of the citadel. Every day the work of laborers on the walls of the fortress was undone at night by spirits allied to the son of a previous king. They were led by a thousand-year-old white chicken from a nearby mountain peak. The golden turtle defeated the white chicken and remained an ally with King An-Duong.



After completion of the citadel, the turtle left, leaving behind one of his claws. The claw was to become the trigger of the king's crossbow, making him invincible. The king assigned the task of building the crossbow to a man named Cao Lo. It was then christened "Saintly Crossbow of the Supernaturally Luminous Golden Claw." The Chinese had earlier adopted the crossbow from other Asiatic peoples. Its trigger could take great pressure and would release arrows with greater force than other types of bows.


This legend associated with this early political state in Vietnam helps scholars today in their understanding of the king, his kingdom, and Co-Loa. It identifies this center of power as military in nature, reinforces the record of conquest in its formation, and suggests maintenance of power was based on the threat of force. Co-Loa is today still an important archaeological site in northern Vietnam, and among remains found there have been pottery and bronze arrowheads.

Professor Taylor writes that the chicken is the one thousand-year-old symbol of power for China and that the turtle is a symbol of the Chinese god of war, Chen Wu. For King An-Duong Vuong, the golden turtle was symbolic of his own military supremacy over other rivals at the time. In light of later Vietnamese history, namely the one thousand years of China's domination of Vietnam, Co-Loa represented a better and greater era when Vietnam had  stronger kings. Today the site still evokes pride and memories of happier times for most Vietnamese who know the history and the legends associated with it. During the broad sweep of Vietnamese history, Vietnam has had several capitals. Co-Loa was among the first but was abandoned because of its close proximity to China and the fact it was hard to defend in the plains region where it was located.

See, in addition to Taylor: Chuyen Rua Vang (Hanoi, 1986), with illustrations and in Vietnamese and French (purchased in Hanoi, Jan 1991); and Alice M. Terada, ed., Under the Starfruit Tree: Folktales from Vietnam (1989). The latter contains several examples of juvenile literature, including "The Magic Crossbow", a variation of the Co-Loa legend. This is a required reading for the Pre-Colonial Vietnam topic (on reserve in each site's library).

Instructions for Assignment

After reading the above introduction and pages assigned in Taylor and "The Magic Crossbow" story, view the Co-Loa Tour and respond to questions there.

Go to Co-Loa Tour

Return to Pre-Colonial Vietnam Module

Return to Interactive Outline History of Vietnam