Battle of Vijaya Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The decisive Vietnamese victory over the Kingdom of Champa at the Battle of Vijaya effectively ended Champa’s power as a dominant force in Southeast Asia and added much new land to the expanding Vietnamese Empire.

Summary of Event

The Battle of Vijaya was part of a long history of fighting between the Cham and Vietnamese, which had endured for more than fifteen hundred years. Indeed, from the moment the Cham people entered the historical record at the end of the second century b.c.e., they found themselves in conflict with the Vietnamese to their north, a conflict over the coast of what is now Vietnam. Vijaya, Battle of (1471) Champa Vietnam Le Thanh Tong Ban La Tra Toan Bo Tri Tri Bo Tri Tri

The Vietnamese considered the Cham fierce barbarians and pirates who raided and plundered the Vietnamese coastal villages and who refused to make peace. No records survive, however, to tell the Cham point of view.

The Cham and Vietnamese were allies in the thirteenth century, but only because Southeast Asia was being threatened by the Mongols from the north. Soon after, however, the Vietnamese and the Cham continued to fight fierce battles, and Vietnam would conquer a large part of Cham territory as the balance between the two warring states shifted in favor of the Vietnamese. Their empire, called Dai Viet, reached south to just beyond Da Nang. Yet the Cham continued to resist. In fighting back, the Cham plundered the Vietnamese capital (what is now Hanoi) and killed a Vietnamese king in 1377 before being expelled.

In 1469, Cham king Ban La Tra Toan raided the Vietnamese province of Hoa Chau (near modern Quang Tri). This convinced the young and energetic Vietnamese emperor, Le Thanh Tong, that war was inevitable. He began to recruit and train fresh soldiers for the Vietnamese army. In October, 1470, King Tra Toan invaded Hoa Chau again, this time with a combined land and sea force. Traditional Vietnamese accounts speak of 100,000 enemy soldiers, but this number may be too high. Le Thanh Tong resolved to fight the invading Cham. A mission to China in October/November of 1470 ensured that China would remain neutral in the coming war, thus Dai Viet’s northern border would be protected. Le Thanh Tong declared war on the Kingdom of Champa on November 28, 1470.

The declaration of war began first with an attack on the legitimacy of King Tra Toan. Because Tra Toan’s brother had murdered a previous king of Champa, the Vietnamese claimed to be liberators who would restore order. Second, Le Thanh Tong charged Tra Toan with the invasion of Dai Viet and with attempts to inflame China against the Vietnamese. Le Thanh Tong believed his retaliatory attack was fully vindicated.

In early December of 1470, the Vietnamese army and navy of between 100,000 and 150,000 men were ready to cross on foot and aboard 1,700 warships into Cham territory. One anecdote relates that on the day the emperor left for the campaign, fine rain had been falling under soft northern winds, prompting the emperor to compose a poem about the sound of the raindrops softening the steps of the warriors as they embarked their ships.

Personally led by their emperor Le Thanh Tong, who had studied the maps of the enemy territory intensely, the main body of the Vietnamese forces advanced over a pass into Quang Nam province. On December 28, some local Cham rulers submitted to the Vietnamese.

On January 8, 1471, the Vietnamese navy arrived in the waters of Champa. To stop the Vietnamese advance, Tra Toan ordered his younger brother to attack the invaders with elephant cavalry. The Cham planned a surprise, having assembled a force supported by five thousand war elephants near the River Sa Ky (central Vietnam) on February 24, 1471. However, Le Thanh Tong learned of this development. Based on his study of the land, he prepared an effective defense that would prove to be a deadly trap for the Cham. When the Cham attacked on February 26, they were surprised by the vigor and skill of the waiting Vietnamese army. The Cham attack stopped, but when they attempted to leave the field of battle, the Cham discovered that Le Thanh Tong had positioned his troops to block all escape routes. The Vietnamese soldiers struck fiercely, also attacking the elephants. The Cham fled in disorder.

At Vijaya, King Tra Toan heard of his brother’s defeat. He sent emissaries to the Vietnamese, asking for peace. However, Le Thanh Tong rejected this offer. Instead, he moved his combined land and sea forces against Vijaya and encircled the capital. On the morning of March 18, 1471, Emperor Le Thanh Tong launched the Battle of Vijaya. The Vietnamese navy captured the capital’s harbor, effectively preventing the Cham from escaping by sea. For the next three days, the massive army of the Vietnamese attacked the walls of Vijaya in waves. The Cham defenders put up a fierce fight. Yet, massive catapults, brought from Vietnam, supported the attacking Vietnamese infantry. The catapults hurled stones and incendiary missiles against and over the city walls of Vijaya. On March 22, the Cham defense cracked. The walls of Vijaya were breached, and the Vietnamese flooded the city, killing or capturing the last defenders.

On the order of Emperor Le Thanh Tong, King Tra Toan, his wives, and his children were captured alive and led to him as captives. According to contemporary accounts, between forty thousand and sixty thousand Cham were killed in the Battle of Vijaya. In addition to King Tra Toan, the Vietnamese captured some thirty thousand Cham. Their fate would prove difficult, as they were brought to Vietnam, physically mutilated by having their left ears cut off, and enslaved for life. Their severed ears were deposited in a temple honoring the emperor’s ancestors.

Le Thanh Tong deposed King Tra Toan and took him north as prisoner. When Tra Toan died of natural causes while traveling north, Le Thanh Tong performed a symbolic act of cruelty. He ordered Tra Toan’s corpse be decapitated and the severed head hung under the bow of the emperor’s ship. A white flag attached to it spelled out the name and former title of the dead king of Champa.

Significance

In April of 1471, Emperor Le Thanh Tong had dictated his terms to the defeated Cham. The empire of Dai Viet annexed a vast stretch of Champa land, along the coast for more than 500 miles to the cape of Hon Lon. This annexation reduced the territory of Champa drastically, by more than one half, even though Vietnamese rule was effectively enforced only up to the Cu Mong Pass, just north of the cape. The conquered territory became the new Vietnamese province of Quang Nam in June/July, 1471, and it provided for a major expansion of Vietnamese land.

The remaining lands of Champa were initially divided into three different duchies. One of the local dukes, Cham general Bo Tri Tri, submitted to Vietnamese rule in exchange for being recognized as a king. He succeeded in rebuilding a small Cham kingdom around the last remaining major cities in what is now South Vietnam. Just before his death in 1478, the Chinese empire also recognized him as king of Champa.

The Battle of Vijaya effectively eliminated Champa as a serious power in Southeast Asia. No longer fearing the Cham, the Vietnamese were quick to settle in their newly gained territory, establishing colonies and enforcing what they believed to be their cultural and military dominance.

With the fall of Vijaya, the backbone of the Cham nation had been broken. During the next 350 years their remaining lands fell to continuing Vietnamese conquests. Some Cham assimilated into Vietnamese culture but others emigrated to Cambodia. By the early twenty-first century, the Cham were a recognized minority of Vietnam.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chapuis, Oscar. A History of Vietnam. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. A well-written, detailed examination of the battle, from both Cham and Vietnamese points of view. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Guillon, Emmanuel. Cham Art. Translated by Tom White. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001. Provides Cham commentary on the battle. Richly illustrated, with maps of the region.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hall, Daniel George. A History of Southeast Asia. 4th ed. London: Macmillan Press, 1981. Still a standard work on the period. Chapter 8 surveys the history of Champa, chapter 9 explores the history of Vietnam. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Heidhues, Mary Somers. Southeast Asia: A Concise History. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Places Le Thanh Tong’s reign in the context of Vietnam’s history. Illustrations, maps, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thurgood, Graham. From Ancient Cham to Modern Dialects. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. Although primarily focused on the Cham language, this work also surveys Champa’s history using updated historical and anthropological sources.

1450’s-1471: Champa Civil Wars

1539: Jiajing Threatens Vietnam

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