History Files
 

Far East Kingdoms

East Asia

 

Koguryo / Goguryeo (Korea)
37 BC - AD 668

The Korea of the late classical and early medieval periods was for the most part divided into three kingdoms, although others also existed. The largest of the three, Koguryo is more accurately Koguryŏ, but is also frequently shown as Goguryeo, Goryeo, or Koryŏ. The latter format, officially adopted in the fifth century AD, is claimed as the origin of the name 'Korea' in its English language form.

The kingdom is traditionally said to have been founded by its East Asian population in 37 BC: by one Chu-mong (or Tongmyong Wang in older reference works, perhaps more accurately shown as Jumong following modern revision). He seemingly led the coalescence of the state from a tribal entity which may have formed as early as the second century BC, at least a century before formalisation as a kingdom. It is first mentioned in 113 BC as Gaogouli County when this was part of the Early Han Xuantu Commandery that had been created to suppress the 'barbarians' on the north-eastern edge of Chinese territory. Chu-mong was the leader of one of the Puyŏ tribes that were native to the area of the Tongge river basin of northern Korea. The territory which once served as the heart of the Koguryo kingdom today forms part of North Korea. It incorporated people who are believed to have been a blend of groups from the older (but still extant) 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.

Although officially a kingdom from 37 BC, Koguryo seemingly remained relatively primitive in this respect. It is likely that part of this was due to the dominance of Early Han China. By the first decades of the first century AD it was strong and coordinated enough to throw off subsequent Xin dynasty dominance, albeit being subjugated once more within two decades. It was only in the fourth century that the full trappings of a centrally-dominant monarchy were assumed, largely by Gwanggaeto the Great and his successor. China at this time was fractured and at war with itself during the 'Sixteen Kingdoms' period, and Koguryo benefited from the lack of Chinese attention. Buddhism was formally accepted in AD 372, and Confucian education was also emphasised from about the same time as a way of maintaining social order. Names shown below are in their twentieth century forms first, followed by more recently revised interpretations. The use of 'wang' is in fact a title, the equivalent of 'king'.

The kingdom eventually dominated the whole of northern and central Korea before the Sui dynasty reunified China and suddenly posed a direct threat to Koguryo. That dynasty expended a great deal of time and manpower on trying to break Koguryo, but it was the subsequent Tang dynasty and the Korean kingdom of Silla which made the breakthrough in a coordinated invasion. The kingdom was destroyed in 668, with Silla benefiting greatly as it rebranded as 'Unified Silla'. Modern China repeatedly claims Koguryo as a state of its own, despite the fact that it was on the extreme periphery of contemporary Chinese borders, in a region that was still largely tribal. The claim continually infuriates South Koreans who view Koguryo as one of Korea's founding states.

South Korea's flag

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Michael Welles, from A New History of Korea, Ki-baik Lee (1984), from Pacific northeast Asia in prehistory: hunter-fisher-gatherers, farmers, and sociopolitical elites, C Melvin Aikens (WSU Press, 1992), from Military Culture in Imperial China, Nicola Di Cosmo & Robin D S Yates (Harvard University Press, 2009), from Records of the Three Kingdoms, Chen Shou (third century text which covers the period AD 184-220 and which combines individual histories of the three kingdoms), from The Origins of Northern China's Ethnicities, Zhu Xueyuan (Beijing 2004), from A History of Korea, Charles Roger Tennant (Routledge, 1996), and from External Links: Three Kingdoms (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Zizhi Tongjian: Comprehensive mirror to aid in government (ChinaKnowledge.de), and Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom (UNESCO), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and The Koguryo Controversy, National Identity, and Sino-Korean Relations Today, Peter Hays Gries (available as a PDF via ResearchGate).)

37 - 19 BC

Tongmyong Wang / Chu-mong

Of Buyeo. Formalised tribal state as a kingdom.

37 BC

Chu-mong (or Tongmyong Wang in older reference works, possibly better shown as Jumong when allowing for modern revisions), is claimed as being a prince of the state of Buyeo. He is forced to flee along with other princes following a power struggle (his brothers resent his presence and conspire to expel him). He takes command of tribes in the Tongge river basin on the edge of the modern North Korean and Chinese border and creates his own kingdom. Tradition suggests that this is the land of Jolbon Buyeo, a sub-division of Bukbuyeo which had been granted to Chu-mong in 58 BC.

19 BC - AD 18

Yuri(myong) Wang / Yuri

Son. Militarily successful. Brother founded Baekje.

AD 12 - 30

The state of Koguryo and its largely Yemaek population revolts against regional Chinese domination under the Xuantu Commandery during the early days of the short-lived Xin dynasty. These Koreans are not the only ones to spot the fact that a relatively weak emperor now rules the Chinese empire to the west. They continue to raid the old Han commanderies in Korea until the newly-restored Eastern Han manage to bring them back under a semblance of control by AD 30.

Map of East Asia c.100-37 BC
Map of Xin China c.AD 9-23
The map of China (bottom) remained largely the same as it had been at the end of the Early Han period, with only minor expansion towards the north-west, while the top map shows the general locations of Korea's first century BC states (click or tap on either map to view full sized)

18 - 44

Taemusin Wang / Daemusin

Son. Massively expanded state.

22 - 26

The powerful north-eastern Korean kingdom of Dongbuyeo (occupying areas of modern Ryangang and Hamgyong provinces in North Korea) is annexed by Daemusin who is busy expanding the new kingdom's borders in all directions. King Daeso of Dongbuyeo is killed in the process. He later goes on to conquer two smaller states: Gaema-guk (in AD 26), which is located along the River Amnok, and then Guda-guk. While forming part of Koguryo for the remainder of the kingdom's lifetime, both will later re-emerge as small independent states.

32

Daemusin is claimed as the conqueror of the Nakrang kingdom in this year. The kingdom's very existence is contentious, with some modern scholars suggesting a confusion between the use of 'kingdom' and that of a Chinese commandery. The possibility of it being a kingdom in the first two centuries BC, however, is more likely, while Chinese control at this point in time - the first century AD - is also entirely possible.

44 - 48

Minjung Wang / Minjung

Brother. Stood in for his infant nephew. Died aged 48.

48 - 53

Mobon Wang / Mobon

Nephew. Murdered by a court official.

53

The assassination by one of his own court officials of Mobon possibly signals the end of the House of Hae in terms of kingship. It has been theorised that the first of this line, Yuri, may have usurped the throne of Chu-mong, given the latter's seemingly early death. Taejodae, son of Go Jaesa and grandson of Yuri, the possible first king from the House of Go, could rewrite the records to include all his predecessors in the same house in order to legitimise his claim.

The Trung Sisters of Vietnam
The Trưng Sisters of Chinese-dominated northern Vietnam rose up and overthrew the regional Chinese commander, probably providing Koguryo with some relief from Chinese attentions

53 - 146

T'aejo Wang / Taejodae / Gukjo

First king of the House of Go? Acceded aged 7.

56

Taejodae continues the work of previous kings in expanding the kingdom's borders in all directions. In AD 56 he conquers the eastern Okjeo tribal state, while other fall subsequently: Galsa in 68, the Jona in 72, and the Juna in 74. He also reorganises the initial 'five tribes' area of the kingdom into five provinces, each of which has its own governor.

c.90 - 112

The Kushan emperor, Kadphises II, expands the borders of his empire up to the limits of Chinese influence, and even sends ambassadors to the imperial court. The same period sees dramatic changes in the superiority of the northern barbarians on Chinese borders. Having been chased out of the Tarim Basin in AD 73, the Xiongnu are forced to flee into the Ili river valley region in AD 91, close to the gateway into Central Asia. The nomadic Xianbei rapidly expand to fill the void between Buyeo in the northern reaches of Korea to the River Ili which is dominated by the Wusun.

146 - 165

Ch'adae Wang / Chadae

Brother. Executed Taejodae's 2 sons. Murdered by minister.

165 - 179

Sindae Wang / Sindae

Brother or son. Died aged 91.

179 - 196

Kogukch'on Wang / Gogukcheon

Son.

196 - 227

Sansang Wang / Sansang

Brother. Temporarily a vassal to Later Han China.

220

The 'Three Kingdoms' period of Chinese history sees the state of Cao Wei continue to claim the title of emperor when it is formed. Xuchang is initially its capital but its ruler, Cao Pi, almost immediately moves it to Luoyang, the former imperial capital of the Late Han. Seeking improved relations with at least one part of a fractured China, Sansang sends tribute.

Map of Three Kingdoms China AD 220-263
In AD 220 the Late Han Chinese empire was officially transferred to the Wei or Cao Wei dynasty, and their opponents simply had to respond, while Koguryo was initially a Wei ally (click or tap on map to view full sized)

227 - 248

Tongch'on Wang / Dongcheon

Grandson of Sindae.

244

An alliance between Koguryo and Cao Wei falls apart once the Wei have taken their main objective. This had been the Eastern Han commandery of the warlord Gongsun Yuan, whose clan had now been independent of Chinese control for three generations. His defeat, however, soon creates disharmony between the erstwhile allies, and the Wei are forced to capture Koguryo's capital to end the matter.

248 - 270

Chungch'on Wang / Jungcheon

Son.

270 - 292

Soch'on Wang / Seocheon

Son. Killed younger brothers following insurrection.

292 - 300

Pongsang Wang / Bongsang

Son. Committed suicide during a popular coup.

300 - 331

Mich'on Wang / Micheon

Grandson of Seocheon.

313

The Western Jin are finally driven out of Korean territory when the last of their commanderies, that of Liaodong, falls to Koguryo. The kingdom now rules the entirety of northern Korea, opposed only in the far south by Baekje and Silla.

316

With the fall of the impoverished and poorly-defended town of Chang'an, Emperor Min of the Western Jin is captured by the forces of Han Zhao. He is briefly held captive before the decision to execute him is taken. Prince Sima Rui inherits the Jin title and ensures the continuity of the dynasty by withdrawing south of the River Huai. There it survives as the Eastern Jin while Han Zhao governs a large swathe of the north. The period of collapse and division known as the 'Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians' has begun.

Emperor Wu Ti (Sima Yan)
As Emperor Wu Ti, Sima Yan of the Western Jin had been able to complete his father's work and reunite China under one ruler, but his descendants could not find unity amongst themselves and instead started a long-running civil war

331 - 371

Kogugwon Wang / Gogugwon

Son. Killed in battle.

342

In a winter campaign the Xianbei ruler, Murong Ke of (Former) Yan, attacks Koguryo. Its capital, Hwando, is destroyed during the attack and fifty thousand prisoners are taken to be used as slaves. In addition, the queen and dowager queen are both taken prisoner and the king, Gogugwon, is forced to temporarily flee the city. Buyeo is similarly attacked and ransacked, which increases the flow of Koreans from this northernmost state southwards into Koguryo and the Korean peninsula.

346

The territory of the state of Buyeo is largely absorbed by Koguryo following a second invasion of Xianbei which destroys its cohesion. A core Buyeo state survives as a vassal of Koguryo until 494 when the rising power of the Wuji forces the surviving royal court to move south into Koguryo where it is absorbed into the nobility.

371

Gogukwon is killed at the Battle of Chiyang by Geunchogo of Baekje. The city of Pyongyang - one of the kingdom's largest - is attacked and sacked. His successor, Sosurim, faces the task of rebuilding the kingdom following the disasters of Gogukwon's reign which, to his credit, he does.

371 - 384

Sosurim Wang / Sosurim

Son. Rebuilt kingdom.

Although a royal system of hereditary rule had been established under T'aejo of the first century AD, it is Sosurim who who promulgates various laws and decrees which aim to centralise royal authority. Koguryo can now truly be said to be a fully-fledged aristocratic state. Various conquered tribes are formally unified within the kingdom's borders and Buddhism is also officially introduced, in 372, thanks to influence from a China that is divided under the 'Sixteen Kingdoms' period. One of those divided states, (Former) Yan, abuts Koguryo itself until its fall in 370.

Map of Sixten Kingdoms China AD 350
By the early fourth century AD China had fractured once again, with the north splintering into the 'Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians' and the Jin imperial dynasty having retreated south of the River Huai to retain their claim of imperial superiority in the form of the Eastern Jin (click or tap on map to view full sized)

384 - 391

Kogugyang Wang / Gogugyang

Brother.

385 - 386

Gogugyang now commands a Koguryo that is strong once again. In 385 he invades the territory of the state of (Later) Yan which borders Koguryo to the west. In the following year he repays Baekje for its attack in 371 with an invasive attack of his own.

391 - 412

Kwanggaet'o Wang / Gwanggaeto

Son. Expanded kingdom.

It is Gwanggaeto (nicknamed 'the great') and his immediate successor, Jangsu, who push the kingdom's boundaries to their greatest extent. It encompasses the entire northern half of the Korean peninsula and extends into what is now China to take in the Liaodong Peninsula (the western half of today's Liaoning Province in China) and a fair chunk of Manchuria (much of the north-eastern corner of China to Korea's immediate north). Wedged into the southernmost third of modern Korea's territory are the three subjugated states of Baekje, Gaya, and Silla.

The kingdom also controls, protects, and utilises the services of several border tribal groups, many of which are still semi-nomadic in nature or temperament, if perhaps not so much in recent fact. The Mohe people of Manchuria are one such group. They will later evolve into the Jurchen people who form the Tartar dynasty of Kin. The Okjeo people of the northern end of the Korean peninsula are another such group.

Horse-riding and archery in Koguryo
Shown here is an exhibition from the kingdom of Koguryo of horse-riding excellence and archery skills, seemingly as part of a family day out for those who could expect to be able to attend such gatherings

413 - 491

Changsu Wang / Jangsu

Son. Moved capital to Pyongyang.

491 - 519

Munjamyong Wang / Munja

Grandson.

494

Having already largely absorbed Buyeo's territory following a second invasion of Xianbei in 346, a core Buyeo state has still survived as a vassal of Koguryo. Now, the rising power of the Wuji (Mohe) forces the surviving royal court of Buyeo to move south into Koguryo where it is absorbed into the nobility. The Wuji, however, are subjugated by Koguryo.

519 - 531

Anjang Wang / Anjang

Son. Assassinated during internal feuding.

531 - 545

Anwon Wang / Anwon

Brother. Assassinated during internal feuding.

545 - 559

Yangwon Wang / Yang-won

Son. Acceded aged 8.

551 - 552

MapThe formation to the immediate west of the Göktürk khaganate on the steppes of Mongolia seems not to impact upon affairs in Koguryo or the Silla kingdom to the south. Instead, the Göktürk empire focuses its attention primarily on Sui China (which becomes a common cause and a source of at least nominal alliance with Koguryo) and on expanding across the steppeland towards Europe.

However, Koguryo's increasingly bitter internal feuding over the succession allows the Tuchueh nomads to capture several northern border strongholds. Both Baekje and Silla have also spotted an opportunity to strike back, launching attacks in 551. Baekje goes first, attacking forts in the fertile and strategically important Han river valley in central Korea. Having exhausted its efforts for little reward, its supposed ally, Silla, now 'offers' assistance. Silla defeats the strained fortress defenders and captures the entire river valley for itself.

Koguryo kingdom graves and cities
Now located in north-eastern China, the archaeological remains have been detected of three cities and forty tombs from the Koguryo kingdom which was extinguished in AD 668

559 - 590

P'yongwon Wang / Pyeongwon

Son.

598

Koguryo launches an attack on north-eastern Sui Chinese territory around Liaoxi. Emperor Wen of the Sui retaliates strongly, but is defeated both on land and at sea. The Goguryeo-Sui War has begun.

590 - 618

Yongyang Wang / Yeongyang

Son.

612

Koguryo is invaded for the second time by the Sui (following the initial invasion of 598 which had served as the trigger for the Goguryeo-Sui War). Facing a determined and capable resistance and massive casualties, the Sui are defeated and are forced into ignominious flight.

613 - 614

Not at all put off by the virtual destruction of his army, Yang Kuang of the Sui dynasty launches a third invasion of Koguryo in 613. His initial efforts prove fruitless and a threatened rebellion by the prime minister's son forces him to concentrate on internal matters. The final invasion of Koguryo during the Goguryeo-Sui War takes place in 614. Again the resistance is determined and little headway is made before Yang Kuang reluctantly accepts the offer of a peace treaty.

618 - 642

Yongnyu Wang / Yeongnyu

Brother. Murdered by Yeon Gaesomun.

642

Yeongnyu determines to remove the great noble, Yeon Gaesomun, whom he does not trust at all. He has greatly underestimated the nobleman, however. Yeon Gaesomun launches a coup which sees Yeongnyu killed along with around a hundred court nobles and officers. He subsequently installs Bojang on the throne as his puppet and takes an increasingly hostile stand against the Tang Chinese.

642 - 668

Pojang Wang / Bojang

Nephew. Puppet. Later Tang deputy in Koguryo. Removed.

645 - 647

The Tang invade, with Emperor Taizong determined to succeed where the Sui had failed. A number north-western border fortresses are captured and several large armies are defeated. Then a siege against the last fortress in the region - Ansi City - turns into anything but a quick victory. Instead, with winter biting and supplies exhausted, the Tang are forced to withdraw, relinquishing their prizes. Further invasions in 647 and 648 are beaten back.

South Korean film, The Great Battle, 2019
The Tang assault on Koguryo's borders between 645-647 looked set to succeed until a siege of the fortress of Ansi City turned into a heroic tale of defence at all costs, as recreated in this South Korean film, The Great Battle, which was released in 2019

660

The Chinese Tang invade and conquer the kingdom of Baekje as part of their efforts to weaken Koguryo. Empress Saimei of Baekje's close ally and trading partner in Asuka Japan fully intends to launch an invasion of the rival Silla kingdom which is assisting the Chinese in order to support Baekje's nobility. An army that is made up of Japanese and Baekje troops is assembled and departs soon after the unexpected death of the aging empress.

667 - 668

Yeon Gaesomun, regicide, but powerful and successful defender of Koguryo, dies of natural causes. His loss leaves the kingdom rudderless, without any firm control to be offered by the puppet king. His own sons and a younger brother engage in a succession conflict. Over the course of late 667 and 668, Gaozong of the Tang Chinese invades Koguryo and defeats fort after fort, and army after army. Eventually, what's left of Koguryo's still-powerful defence crumbles and the kingdom is conquered.

Tang occupation is resisted however, with the result that forced migrations are imposed on large numbers of people, shifting them to regions around the Yangtze in China. The kingdom of Silla manages to take control of much the remnants of Koguryo at the end of 668, creating its own unified kingdom, with much of the state's wealth and political strength being located in the south of the Korean peninsula. Tang control elsewhere is perpetuated through its 'Protectorate General to Pacify the East', first under a Tang general, and then under Bojang himself. He is removed for fomenting rebellion, however. His descendants do continue to occupy this post.

Tang dynasty goods via the Silk Road
The Tang dynasty prospered greatly from the flow of goods which came in via the burgeoning Silk Road, and some of that prosperity would have reached conquered and occupied Koguryo, despite the unwillingness of the former kingdom's people to be dominated

All of the remaining aristocrats from the defeated areas of Korea are brought to Silla's capital at Kyongju and no doubt want to create houses and estates in which they can preserve the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. Tiled houses stand in long rows in the city's more affluent areas, with not a thatched roof to be seen (thatch being a constant fire hazard in any ancient city, of course).