THE NATIONAL TREASURE: THE COLLECTION OF WEAPONS OF GIANG VO MILITARY SCHOOL
On January 30th, 2023, Deputy Prime Minister Tran Hong Ha signed Decision No. 41/QD-TTg recognizing 27 national treasures (phase 11, 2022). These include the weapons collection of Giang Vo Military School, dating back to 15th - 17th centuries and which are conserved at the Hanoi Museum.
Giang Vo Military School is an important place in Thang Long (currently Hanoi). This is the area to practice, teach military tactics, and perform high-class military exercises of feudal dynasties.
The Complete Annals of Dai Viet records the following events: In 1010, the Ly dynasty established Giang Vo palace and then Xa Dinh in 1070. In August 1253, Tran Thai Tong established Giang Vo Military School as a place for generals to study.
From the beginning of the Le Dynasty, the area west of Thang Long (including the area of Giang Vo, Kim Ma, Ngoc Khanh) became a major center of military training, testing and demonstration. The Giang Vo relic site west of Thang Long is the relic of a national military school of the Le Dynasty that lasted for more than 3 centuries (from the 15th to the 18th century).
Since the 1960s, the study of Giang Vo Military School has attracted the attention of many historical and archaeological researchers. Beginning with the sporadic discoveries of weapons artifacts at Cau Giay Intermediate School of Traffic (now the University of Transport) and archaeological findings at Ngoc Khanh lake (Ba Dinh - Ha Noi) in 1983 together with the richest collection of metal weapons of the Middle Ages, allow this area to be identified as the Giang Vo Military School of the Le Dynasty.
The collection of weapons of Giang Vo Military School includes 111 artifacts belonging to 13 groups and classified according to their function of use ie cold weapons (weapons operated by human muscles) and fire weapons (gunpowder-operated weapons).
Cold weapons are of 3 types according to use:
- Melee weapons include 06 types: spearhead, long-spearhead, long handled, trident, halberd and sword.
According to the researchers, melee weapons are often used by infantry and cavalry divisions. This type of weapon is popular in all cold weapon collections of countries and especially for the army of a country with a tradition of self-defence and close-quarter combat like ours.
Melee weapons in the collection of Giang Vo Military School have 40 artifacts, accounting for 36% of the collection.
- Ranged Weapons
Ranged weapons are cold weapons capable of damaging an opponent at a distance beyond the range of a hand weapon - the impact of the weapon is further.
The ranged weapons include 3 types: 2-pronged javelins, multi-pronk hooks and arrows with the number of 50 artifacts (42 arrows), accounting for 45% of the collection.
- Defensive Weapons
A weapon used to trap or block the retreat of the enemy. Defensive weapons in the collection of Giang Vo Military School include 2 types of stakes, each of which has only 1 artifact, accounting for 1.8% of the collection.
These are gunpowder-operated weapons. There are 2 types: a signal gun and stone bullets with the number of 19 artifacts (18 stone bullets), accounting for 17.2% of the collection.
The command gun with inscription. This is the official number issued by the imperial court in copper alloy and issued to military units. Guns are used as training weapons of the military school. When it was first discovered, there were still traces of wooden handles bolted on. The smoothbore command gun is gunpowder-operated from the muzzle and ignited with a slow-burning wire.
The collection of weapons of Giang Vo Military School discovered in 1983 was concentrated within the construction site of Ngoc Khanh lake expansion. The artifacts are made by hand and there is little change. Reference materials are limited so comparison is difficult. Therefore, we date the collection as originating in the Le So - Mac - Le Trung Hung dynasties, the 15th - 18th centuries.
The reason why Collection of weapons of Giang Vo Military School are recognized as a National Treasure
- These are original, unique artifacts
This is a unique collection of weapons with the clearest and most concentrated origin dating from the early Le - Mac - Le Trung Hung dynasties. According to Prof. Dr. Do Van Ninh, this collection is one of the most rare and precious of all the underground discoveries of Thang Long - Dong Kinh - Hanoi. Most of the weapons in the collection are listed in the military regime of the Le Dynasty by Phan Huy Chu in the "Chronicles of Past Dynasties’ Charters".
- These are artifacts with unique forms
The weapons collection of Giang Vo Military school includes 111 artifacts, belonging to 13 groups classified according to their function of use, including cold weapons and fire weapons. Various cold weapons, mainly melee and ranged, account for 83% of the collection compared to fire weapons (only command guns and bullets). Defensive weapons account for just 1.8%.
Materials: the vast majority of weapons in the collection are made from iron metal (signal gun is cast in copper alloy with stone bullets). We have not been able to analyze the iron composition.
Manufacturing techniques: made by hand forging, (arrows and signal guns are cast) so they do not overlap with any other weapons collection in Vietnam. In addition to the weapons collection, archaeologists have discovered remains of furnaces, lumps of iron, and sketches of unfinished weapons, indicating that the weapons were cast on site and as evidence that Giang Vo Military School is not only a place for training soldiers, but also a place for manufacture of weapons and military equipment. In particular, when it was discovered that most of the weapons had bamboo or wooden handles, it also showed that the weapons were used as training tools to fight for the defence of the Fatherland.
- Artifacts of history, culture and military science.
+ Evidence for the existence of Giang Vo Military school in the Le - Mac - Le Trung Hung dynasties.
The Thang Long - Hanoi culture is also known for the Temple of Literature - the first university in Vietnam and the cradle of mandarin training for dynasties from the Ly dynasty to the end of the Le Trung Hung dynasty. With the discovery of the weapons collection at Ngoc Khanh lake, researchers have confirmed the existence of Giang Vo Military School, in accordance with historical records, as an agency specializing in training military mandarins and soldiers to protect the country. Giang Vo school no longer exists, but we have determined without doubt that this relic once existed in Ngoc Khanh area, west of Thang Long citadel.
+ Weapons collection of Giang Vo school with military historical value
During the Ly - Tran - Le dynasties, our country never forgot to maintain its military equipment to strengthen its ability to fight foreign invaders. Even in peacetime, many kings remind generals not to neglect national defence, to take care of training soldiers, build warships and forge weapons.
By the middle of the 20th century, cold weapons were still commonly used weapons in the struggle against the French colonialists and were mentioned in the Call for National Resistance (December 19th, 1946) by President Ho Chi Minh: “To every man, woman, old or young, regardless of religion, party, or ethnicity. If you are Vietnamese, you must stand up and fight against the French to save the country. Whoever has a gun, use the gun. Those who have a sword, use the sword, and those who do not have a sword use a pickaxe, a spade, or a club. Everyone must make every effort to fight against the French colonialists to save the country”.
The collection of weapons of Giang Vo Military School are typical representatives of weapons of the 15th - 18th centuries, with many links to the history, culture and military science of Vietnam.
Together with 4 groups of artifacts (total 24 artifacts) they have been recognized as national treasures in Decisions No. 53/QD-TTg dated January 14th, 2015 and Decision No. 2382/QD-TTg dated January 25th, 2015. On December 2015 the Prime Minister recognised other National Treasures including: Co Loa bronze drum and bronze plowshares discovered in Ma Tre (1982), Thanh Mai bell, grayish-blue glazed ceramic lampstand and ceramic Long dinh from Bat Trang. These will all be an important highlight in the display of the Hanoi Museum. In the coming time, visitors and researchers can learn about this rare collection, contributing to traditional education and raising national pride for the people of the country.
Planning map of Ho Ngoc Khanh in 1982, starting construction and locations of artifacts collection in 1983
© Dr. Nguyễn Thị Dơn
Map of Thang Long drawn in 1490 and the location of Giang Vo Military school
© Institute of Sino - Nom Studies