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Far East Kingdoms

East Asia


Incorporating Dongye, Okjeo, and the Yemaek

The Korean peninsula in East Asia rarely witnessed occupation by a single unified state. Only towards the later centuries of the Silla kingdom of the first millennium AD did a unified kingdom form and, even though that was destroyed, a replacement single kingdom emerged soon afterwards, lasting until the beginning of the twentieth century.

At most other times the country has been fragmented into several warring kingdoms. In the early days, during the Korean peninsula's Jeulman and Mumun pottery periods, there were many smaller independent states which often fought one another for domination, sometimes for several centuries.

Even today, the peninsula is divided between North Korea and South Korea. Territory which was occupied by Korean states before the first few centuries AD stretched farther to the north than North Korea does today, with the possible nucleus of Korean cultural and national identity being formed in the areas immediately north of today's northernmost border, somewhat to the south of the Tungusic homeland around the River Amur.

The Korea of the late classical and early medieval periods was for the most part divided into 'Three Kingdoms', although others also existed. Amongst the earliest states to appear were Old Choson (largely legendary during the Early Korea phase but emerging into history towards its end in the second century BC), Buyeo, and Koguryo (both of which emerged from the break-up of Wiman Choson in the first centuries BC and AD.

FeatureThese largely appeared in or around the territory which was home to the proto-Korean Seo Dansan culture in what today is Manchuria in the far north-eastern corner of China, and perhaps straddling the border with modern North Korea (see feature link for additional chronology notes). In the southern half of the peninsula the Jin confederacy formed during the fourth century BC, but this does not feature in the early Korean historical record.

The territory at the heart of the Koguryo kingdom now forms part of North Korea. It incorporated people who are believed to have been a blend of groups from the older kingdom of Buyeo to its north, and also from the Yemaek groups in the same region who are thought to be ancestral to many of the early Korean kingdoms.

Having formed their own tribal confederation during the break-up of Old Choson, the Okjeo people of the northern end of the Korean peninsula also became incorporated into the Koguryo kingdom during its phases of expansion. Their tribal state was conquered in AD 56.

The Dongye confederacy was similar to that of the Okjeo, being formed from tribal beginnings in north-eastern Korea and north-western China. This also emerged during the break-up of Old Choson, making it likely that this semi-historical kingdom had dominated large tribal areas outside of its own developing civilised centre. Its collapse allowed them to develop localised attempts at recreating such a regionally-advanced state.

The Dongye confederation was able to retain its independence for quite some time, forcing strangers to pay a tax on their goods and using the local mountains and water bodies to strengthen their defences.

South Korea's flag

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A New History of Korea, Lee Ki-baik (1984, supplied by Michael Welles, but excluding Koguryo), from Pre-Modern East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Volume I: To 1800, Patricia Ebrey & Anne Walthall (Cengage Learning, 2013), from In State Formation in Korea: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives (Introducing Kaya History and Archaeology), Gina L Barnes (Curzon, 2001), Relations between Kaya and Wa in the third to fourth centuries, K C Sin (Journal of East Asian Archaeology, 2(3-4), 2000), and from External Links: History of Manchuria, and Buyeo Kingdom Artifacts (Koreatrack.com).)


King list Gojoseon / Old Choson
(2333 - 194 BC)

Gojoseon was an ancient Korean state, shown as 'Choson' in some interpretations, with the 'Old' prefix added to differentiate it from later versions of the name.

King list Jin Confederacy
(4th - 1st century BC)

To the south of legendary Gojoseon, a widespread tribal confederation had already formed in the Korean peninsula, possibly as early as the fourth century BC.

King list Wiman Choson
(194 - 108 BC)

Wiman Choson directly succeeded the legendary state of Gojoseon, taking its territory, its traditions, and its ruling nobility, but not its stability.

King list Buyeo
(c.140 BC - AD 494)

According to legend it was Hae Mo-su of Joseon who founded Buyeo, presumably being remembered because he forged one or more tribal entities into a kingdom.

King list Samhan Confederacies
(c.100 BC - AD 400s)

In the second century BC the Jin confederacy fractured into what are known as the Samhan confederacies of Byeonhan, Jinhan, and Mahan.

King list Three Kingdoms
(86 BC - AD 668)

The Korean south saw the long-established Jin confederacy give rise to the Samhan confederacies, and then the Silla kingdom, starting the 'Thee Kingdoms' period.

King list Dongbuyeo
(86? BC - AD 68)

The general foundation story for Buyeo as given in many modern sources actually concerns neighbouring Dongbuyeo, while Buyeo is much more vague.

King list Silla
(57 BC - AD 935)

Out of the Samhan confederacies, the 'Three Kingdoms' of Baekje, Gaya, and Silla emerged, although not entirely directly in most cases.

King list Koguryo
(37 BC - AD 668)

This is first mentioned in 113 BC as Gaogouli County when it was part of the Early Han Xuantu Commandery which had been created to suppress the 'barbarians'.

King list Baekje
(18 BC - AD 660)

Baekje foundation legends describe how Biryu, brother of Baekje's founder, founded his own state of Michuhol on ground which proved unsuitable.

King list Nakrang
(First century AD)

Nakrang's very existence is contentious, with some modern scholars suggesting confusion between the use of 'kingdom' and that of a Chinese commandery.

King list Gaya
(AD 42 - 532)

The Gaya confederacy of city states may have formed in the first century AD as an evolution of the Byeonhan confederation, although its origins are legendary.

King list Barhae
(AD 669 - 926)

Dae Joyeong founded Barhae (initially known as Zhen), and in time it encompassed much of central and northern Koguryo, but also stretched far to the north of that.

King list Hubaekje
(AD 892 - 936)

Hubaekje was created by Gyeon Hwon as a recreation of the former Baekje kingdom, thereby splitting Unified Silla into the 'Later Three Kingdoms'.

King list Hugoguryeo / Jo seon
(AD 901 - 1910)

General Gung Ye increased his own power to the level that he was able to break away and found his own state after 889, becoming king in 901.

King list Dongdan
(AD 926 - 936)

In 926 the Liao invaded Barhae and captured the capital following a ten day siege, and then they established the short-lived puppet Dongdan kingdom.

King list Later Barhae
(AD 927 - 986)

When ordered to move their capital by the Liao dynasty, the east immediately rose up to create the Later Barhae enclave, a free territory while it lasted.

King list Heungyo
(AD 1029 - 1030)

The fact that a resistance movement of sorts survived is evidenced by the creation of Heungyo in 1029 along the western edge of Barhae's former territory.

King list North Korea
(AD 1948 - Present)

Russia insisted that North Korea was sovereign over all of Korea but when that proved not to be the case, the north invaded the south to start the Korean War.

King list South Korea
(AD 1948 - Present)

The dividing line between the two post-war Koreas has remained heavily militarised, possibly one of the most militarised borders in the world.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.