Anarchy of the 12 Warlords

The map showed the area of war divided by each warlord in civil war.

The Anarchy of the 12 Warlords[1] (Vietnamese: Loạn 12 sứ quân or Loạn Thập nhị sứ quân), also the Period of the 12 Warlords,[2] was a period of chaos and civil war in the history of Vietnam, from 966 to 968 during the Ngô Dynasty, due to a conflict of succession after the death of King Ngô Quyền. This period is also sometimes simply called the Twelve Warlords[3] (Vietnamese: Thập nhị sứ quân, Hán tự: 十二使君).


According to the annals of Đại Việt sử lược, Ngô Quyền became King of Tĩnh Hải quân (as Vietnam was called then) after defeating the Southern Han in 939 and declaring independence from centuries of Chinese rule. After Ngô Quyền's death in 944, his brother-in-law Dương Tam Kha, who was to serve as regent to the king's son Prince Ngô Xương Ngập , usurped the throne and proclaimed himself king under the title Dương Bình Vương, ruling from 944 to 950. As a result, Prince Ngô Xương Ngập fled and hid in the countryside. The prince's younger brother, Prince Ngô Xương Văn became the adopted son of Dương Tam Kha.

Because of the illegitimate accession of Dương Tam Kha, many local lords rebelled by seizing power of their local government and creating conflict with the Dương court. King Dương Tam Kha sent an army led by Prince Ngô Xương Văn to suppress the rebellion. However, with the army at his command, the prince turned back and defeated the king in 950. Rather than administering a harsh punishment, Ngô Xương Văn forgave Dương Tam Kha and demoted him to the title of lord. Ngô Xương Văn was then crowned king under the title Nam Tấn Vương, and sent envoys in search for his older brother. In 951, Ngô Xương Ngập returned and was crowned king under the title Thiên Sách Vương, and with his brother became a co-ruler of the country. Unfortunately the co-rule would be short-lived, when in 954, the elder brother King Ngô Xương Ngập died of illness.

Despite the return of the legitimate heirs to the throne, rebellions continued to afflict the country. In 965, in an attempt to quell a rebellion, King Ngô Xương Văn was killed in Bố Hải Khẩu (now Thái Bình Province). Prince Ngô Xưong Xí, the son of King Ngô Xương Văn, inherited the throne, but could not maintain his father's authority. He retreated to the area of Bình Kiều and established himself as a lord there. With the Ngô Dynasty gone, Vietnam was hence divided into 12 regions each administered by a warlord, and the conflicts among them intensified into war as each sought to expand their rule over the entire country.

Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, adopted son of Lord Trần Lãm who ruled the region of Bố Hải Khẩu, succeeded Lãm after his death. In 968, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh defeated the other eleven lords, thereby taking control over the country. In the same year, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh ascended the throne, proclaiming himself emperor under the title Đinh Tiên Hoàng, establishing the Đinh Dynasty, and renamed the country Đại Cồ Việt. He moved the capital to Hoa Lư (now modern-day Ninh Bình).

List of 12 lords

  1. Ngô Xương Xí (吳昌熾) held Bình Kiều, now Khoái Châu, Hưng Yên Province.
  2. Đỗ Cảnh Thạc (杜景碩) referred himself as the Duke Đỗ Cảnh, held Đỗ Động Giang, now Thanh Oai, Hà Nội.
  3. Trần Lãm (陳覽) referred himself as the Duke Trần Minh, held Bố Hải Khấu, Kỳ Bố, Thái Bình Province.
  4. Kiều Công Hãn (矯公罕) referred himself as Kiều Tam Chế, held Phong Châu – Bạch Hạc, Phú Thọ Province
  5. Nguyễn Khoan (阮寬) referred himself as Nguyễn Thái Bình, held Tam Đái - Vĩnh Tường, Vĩnh Phúc Province
  6. Ngô Nhật Khánh (吳日慶) referred himself as the Duke Ngô Lãm, held Đường Lâm, Hà Nội
  7. Lý Khuê (李奎) referred himself as Lý Lãng, held Siêu Loại - Thuận Thành, Bắc Ninh Province.
  8. Nguyễn Thủ Tiệp (阮守捷) referred himself as Duke Nguyễn Lệnh, held Tiên Du, Bắc Ninh Province
  9. Lã Đường (呂唐) referred himself as the Duke Lã Tá, held Tế Giang - Văn Giang, Hưng Yên Province
  10. Nguyễn Siêu (阮超) referred himself as the Duke Nguyễn Hữu, held Tây Phù Liệt - Thanh Trì, Hà Nội
  11. Kiều Thuận (矯順) referred himself as the Duke Kiều Lệnh, held Hồi Hồ - Cẩm Khê, Hà Nội
  12. Phạm Bạch Hổ (範白虎) referred himself as Phạm Phòng Át, held Đằng Châu, Hưng Yên Province.

Of those, Ngô Xương Xí and Ngô Nhật Khánh were nobles of Ngô Dynasty, Phạm Bạch Hổ, Đỗ Cảnh Thạc, Kiều Công Hãn were officials of Ngô Dynasty. The remainders were considered local landlords or nobles from Northern nations, which was the ancient nations holding what is now China.

Đinh Bộ Lĩnh

Originally, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh emerged as an independent force, but later he followed Trần Lãm, became his subordinate general. Considering Đinh Bộ Lĩnh was most reasonable leader which could manage the circumstance, Trần Lãm retired, gave all power to him. Đinh Bộ Lĩnh led the army to occupy Hoa Lư where became the national capital under his reign afterward.[4] Some years later, one by one, other lords was defeated or succumbed or followed him to become a general under his flag such as :

  1. Phạm Bạch Hổ willingly disbanded his army and followed Đinh Bộ Lĩnh.
  2. Ngô Xương Xí and Ngô Nhật Khánh surrendered.
  3. Nguyễn Siêu, Nguyễn Thủ Tiệp, Kiều Công Hãn, Lã Đường, Kiều Thuận and Đỗ Cảnh Thạc fought to the death and were eventually killed.
  4. The armies of Nguyễn Khoan, Lý Khuê spontaneously disintegrated and the position of leader was not clarified.

Đinh Bộ Lĩnh was respected as Vạn Thắng Vương (万胜王, Wànshèng Wáng, lt. the King of Ten Thousand Victories) because of the continuous victories. In 968, the era finished and was replaced by the era of Đinh Dynasty

Preceded by
Ngô Xương Ngập - Ngô Xương Văn
'The Anarchy of the 12 Warlords'
Succeeded by
Đinh Bộ Lĩnh


  1. Anarchy of the 12 Warlords.
  2. Period of the 12 Warlords.
  3. Twelve Warlords.
  4. Hữu Ngọc Wandering through Vietnamese culture 2004- Page 393 "... and statesman who helped Đinh Bộ Lĩnh put an end to the period of anarchy of the Twelve Warlords before the Đinh Dynasty."
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