Three Kingdoms of Korea
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – Cite This Source
The Three Kingdoms of Korea were Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, which dominated the Korean peninsula and parts of Manchuria for much of the 1st millennium CE. The Three Kingdoms period in Korea is usually considered to run from the 1st century BCE until Silla’s triumph over Goguryeo in 668, which marked the beginning of the North and South States period of Unified Silla in the South and Balhae in the North.
The earlier part of this period, before the three states developed into full-fledged kingdoms, is sometimes called Proto-Three Kingdoms of Korea.
The name “Three Kingdoms” was used in the Korean titles of the histories Samguk Sagi (12th century) and Samguk Yusa (13th century). The three city-states were founded soon after the fall of Gojoseon, and gradually conquered and absorbed various other small states and confederacies. After the fall of Gojoseon, the Han dynasty established four commanderies in northern parts of the Korean peninsula. Three fell quickly to the Samhan, and the last was destroyed by Goguryeo in 313.
Baekje and Silla expanded within the Samhan confederacies, and Goguryeo conquered neighboring Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongye, and other statelets in northern Korea and Manchuria. The three became full-fledged kingdoms by around 300 CE, prior to which is sometimes called the Proto-Three Kingdoms period.
All three kingdoms shared a similar culture and language. Their original religions appear to have been shamanistic, but they were increasingly influenced by Chinese culture, particularly Confucianism and Taoism. In the 4th century, Buddhism was introduced to the peninsula and spread rapidly, briefly becoming the official religion of all three kingdoms.
Goguryeo emerged on the north and south banks of the Yalu (Amrok) River, in the wake of Gojoseon’s fall. The first mention of Goguryeo in Chinese records dates from 75 BCE in reference to a commandery established by the Chinese Han dynasty, although even earlier mentions of “Guri” may be of the same state. Evidence indicates Goguryeo was the most advanced, and likely the first established of the three kingdoms.
Goguryeo, eventually the largest of three kingdoms, had several capitals in alternation: Two capitals in the upper Yalu area, and later Nak-rang (樂浪: Lelang in Chinese) which is now part of Pyongyang. At the beginning, the state was located on the border with China; it gradually conquered vast territories of Manchuria and finally destroyed the Chinese Lelang commandery in 313 CE. The cultural influence of the Chinese continued as Buddhism was adopted as the official religion in 372 CE.
The kingdom was at its zenith in the fifth century when occupying the Liaodong Plains in Manchuria and today’s Seoul area. The Goguryeo kings controlled not only Koreans but also Chinese and other Tungusic tribes in Manchuria and North Korea. After the establishment of the Sui Dynasty in China, the kingdom continued to suffer from Chinese attacks until conquered by the allied Silla-Tang forces in 668 CE. Goguryeo, was, in fact, the protector of the Korean peninsula. Without Goguryeo blocking out Chinese invaders, Silla and Baekche would surely have fallen.
Baekje was founded as a member of the Mahan confederacy. Two sons of Goguryeo’s founder are recorded to have fled a succession conflict, to establish Baekje around the present-day Seoul area in 18 BC.
Baekje absorbed or conquered other Mahan chiefdoms and, at its peak in the 4th century, controlled most of western Korean peninsula. Under attack from Goguryeo, the capital moved south to Ungjin (present-day Gongju) and later further south to Sabi (present-day Buyeo).
Baekje played a fundamental role in transmitting cultural developments, including Chinese characters and Buddhism, into ancient Japan. Baekje was conquered by an alliance of Silla and Tang forces in 660.
According to Korean records, in 57 BC, Seorabeol (or Saro, later Silla) in the southeast of the peninsula unified and expanded the confederation of city-states known as Jinhan. Although Samguk-sagi records that Silla was the earliest-founded of the three kingdoms, other written and archeological records indicate that Silla was likely the last of the three to establish a centralized government.
Renamed from Saro to Silla in 503, the kingdom annexed the Gaya confederacy (which in turn had absorbed Byeonhan earlier) in the first half of the 6th Century. Goguryeo and Baekje responded by forming an alliance. To cope with invasions from Goguryeo and Baekje, Silla deepened its relations with the Tang Dynasty, with her newly-gained access to the Yellow Sea making direct contact with the Tang possible. After the conquest of Goguryeo and Baekje with her Tang allies, the Silla kingdom drove the Tang forces out of the peninsula and occupied the lands south of Pyongyang.
The capital of Silla was Seorabeol (now Gyeongju). Buddhism became the official religion in 528. The remaining material culture from the kingdom of Silla including unique gold metalwork shows influence from the northern nomadic steppes, differentiating it from the culture of Goguryeo and Baekje where Chinese influence was more pronounced.
Other smaller states existed in Korea before and during this period:
Gaya confederacy, until annexed by Silla
Dongye, Okjeo, and Buyeo, all three conquered by Goguryeo
Usan (Ulleung-do) and Tamna (Jeju-do), tributaries of Silla
Allied with China under the Tang dynasty, Silla conquered Goguryeo in 668, after having already conquered Baekje in 660, thus ushering in the period of Unified Silla to the south and Balhae to the north.