forerunners of the present-day Vietnamese who settled northern and central Vietnam from the third century B.C. to the second century A.D. Anthropologically, they belonged to the southern Mongoloid group; in terms of language, they were apparently closely related to the ancestors of the Khmers in the Mekong valley and to the Viet peoples of the northern coast of the South China Sea. Their main occupation was irrigated farming; to some extent they also engaged in fishing.
In the third century B.C., as a result of the decline of the clan structure and the movement of new groups of Viets from the north, a class society formed among the Lac Viets, a state took shape (Au Lac), and cities sprang up. The spiritual culture of the Lac Viets was basically linked to local traditions. Along with old clan animistic beliefs, ancestor worship and complex magical notions played a prominent role. At the beginning of the Common Era, Indian Buddhism began to influence Lac Viet culture. The Lac Viets stubbornly resisted the Han armies (mainly in the first century A.D.) and successfully withstood the assimilationist policies of the Chinese emperors. The Vietnamese nationality began to form on the basis of the Lac Viets in the third century A.D.