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Far East Kingdoms

East Asia

 

Paekche / Baekje (Kudara) (Korea)
18 BC - AD 660
Incorporating Michuhol

The Korea of the late classical and early medieval periods was for the most part divided into 'Three Kingdoms', although others also existed. Largely (but not entirely) contained within today's South Korea, a widespread tribal confederation emerged in the last few centuries BC. The Jin confederacy formed out of several more minor tribal confederations or primitive states. In the second century BC this fractured into what are known as the Samhan confederacies, an umbrella term for a total of three confederacies which occupied the central and southern regions of the Korean peninsula. All three emerged during the confusion of the collapse of Wiman Choson and all three claimed to be the true successors of the Jin confederacy (according to the History of the Later Han).

Out of the Samhan confederacies, the 'Three Kingdoms' of Baekje, Gaya, and Silla emerged, although not entirely directly in most cases. Instead they began as individual city states, or a small polity of states, with attachments to the confederacies, but then strived to conquer or dominate the other cities. Despite the fact that they replaced the preceding confederacies rather than evolving directly from each of them, the 'Samhan' term remained in use in regard to them. It was even appropriated by the later Goryeo dynasty to refer to all of Korea. The Tang Chinese frequently referred to the collective Korean kingdoms as 'Samhan'. The northern kingdom of Koguryo became a 'Samhan' kingdom too, despite being located outside the former confederacy's territory.

The southern kingdom of Baekje (or Paekche in older referencing works) started out as one of the fifty-four city states of the Mahan confederacy. Its foundation legends describe how Biryu, brother of the founder of Baekje, founded his own state of Michuhol on ground which proved unsuitable. After a battle between them the followers of Biryu integrated into Baekje's early settlement area. Baekje's rulers gradually began conquering the other cities and expanding their territory until it became an established kingdom in its own right rather than a confederacy member. The process of conquest did not stop until 569, when the last of the Mahan cities could be conquered and absorbed into Baekje. The state enjoyed friendlier relations with the emerging kingdom in Japan, but constantly found Silla to be its main regional rival.

In 538, Baekje adopted the name 'Nambuyeo', meaning 'southern Buyeo', to establish its own credentials as one of Korea's founding kingdoms. Unfortunately it survived barely a century after that event, ultimately being fatally weakened by Silla and then terminated by the Tang Chinese in 660. 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'.

South Korea's flag

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Pre-Modern East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Volume I: To 1800, Patricia Ebrey & Anne Walthall (Cengage Learning, 2013), from A New History of Korea, Lee Ki-baik (1984, supplied by Michael Welles, but excluding Koguryo), from History Of Korea, Roger Tennant (Routledge, 1996), from Records of the Three Kingdoms, Chen Shou (third century text which covers the period AD 184-220 and which combines individual histories of China's 'Three Kingdoms'), from History of the Later Han, Fan Ye (fifth century compilation of older texts which covers the history of the Later Han dynasty of China), and from External Links: Ancient History Encyclopaedia, and New World Encyclopaedia, and Academic Kids Encyclopaedia, and History of Manchuria, and Kings of Korea (in Korean), and Korea Information - History (Korean Cultural Center NY), and Enacademic.)

18 BC - AD 28

Onjo Wang

Son of Chu-mong of Koguryo? Founded Baekje.

18 BC

Onjo's origins have more than one explanation, with perhaps the most popular being that he is the third son of King Dongmyeong (Chu-mong) of Koguryo to the north. This would support the idea of a southwards drift of Korean culture into the Korean peninsula where it eventually gains dominance. Confusion sets in about his parentage as his mother's first husband had been Wutae, with it not being clear which of her sons originate via which of her husbands.

Map of East Asia c.100-37 BC
The fall of Wiman Choson spawned the state of Buyeo which proved to be the founding point for Dongbuyeo, Galsa Buyeo, and Koguryo (possibly to be identified with Jolbon Buyeo), which would unify the whole of northern Korea and the Korean territories in today's Manchuria (click or tap on map to view full sized)

At this stage, and for several centuries afterwards, Baekje is a single city state within the Mahan confederacy. It is likely that this 'founding' date can be used as a more general date for the formation of the confederacy itself, which consists of fifty-four cities in total. These are focussed on the Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces in what is now western-central and south-western South Korea. The legends regarding Onjo make it very clear that he is not the dominant king of the Mahan confederacy, although additional stories seem to compress several centuries of Baekje conquests into Onjo's lifetime.

18 BC - ?

Biryu Wang

Brother. Founded Michuhol. Committed suicide.

c.10s? BC

The territory which Biryu has settled with his followers to found Michuhol (likely to be Incheon in South Korea) has proven to be unsuitable. According to Baekje's foundation legends, Biryu and his followers approach Onjo, with Biryu claiming Onjo's kingship. When faced with inevitable refusal, Biryu attacks his settlement at Hanam (possibly Seoul). The attack fails and Biryu commits suicide, but his surviving followers largely settle alongside Onjo's people.

AD 22

The Mohe people attack the fortress of Sulcheon within the Mahan confederacy. Tribal groups from Manchuria on the borders of the Koguryo kingdom which generally dominates them, they will later evolve into the Jurchen people who form the Tartar dynasty of Jin in China. Two months later, in November, they attack the fortress of Buheyon, killing over a hundred and plundering as they go. The king's mounted elite is ordered to dispel them. These people may also be the 'Malgal' who frequently attack the state under Daru's rule.

Map of East Asia AD 100
Late Han China continued to pressure the Korean states, especially to the north of the Korean peninsula, with Buyo seemingly accepting Han vassal status in AD 49 (click or tap on map to view full sized)

28 - 77

Taru Wang / Daru

Son of Onjo. Laid Baekje's state foundations.

63 - 64

Baekje is constantly expanding its network of fortresses, partially to increase its territory but also as part of an ongoing process to ward off Malgal attacks. Having established the fortress of Nangjagok in AD 63, requests are sent to the equally young state of Silla to arrange a meeting. When Silla ignores the requests, Daru launches the first attack against a now-hostile opponent. His forces are repelled. Further attacks over the years see border fortresses frequently swapping hands.

77 - 128

Kiru Wang / Giru

Son. Agreed peace with Silla in AD 105.

128 - 166

Kaeru Wang / Gaeru

Son. Warred against Silla.

145

Ajan Gilseon is discovered to be plotting against his king in Silla. He flees to Baekje which refuses to return him. A general war is the result, for the first time in a generation. The Sillan soldiers eventually withdraw due to a lack of supplies.

166 - 214

Ch'ogo Wang / Chogo

Son. Continued the war against Silla.

214 - 234

Kusu Wang / Gusu

Son.

234

Saban Wang / Saban

Child son. Involved in civil war? Removed from power.

234

The legends contain certain signs that Saban is still a child when his father dies, and that he is quickly removed from his inheritance by Goi, his great-uncle (or possibly even farther removed, thanks to the time scale involved). His fate is unknown, but certain clans of the Yamato period in Japan later claim descent from him. At the very least the stories would seem to show that lines of communication are open between the early Japanese states and at least part of Korea.

Jimmu Tenno, 'founder' of Japan
Jimmu Tenno, founder figure of modern Japan, as seen in a coloured wood engraving by Nakai Tokujiro in 1908 - early Japan and the kingdom of Baekje retained close links

234 - 286

Koi Wang / Goi

Brother (?) of Chogo. Usurped throne. Centralised power.

c.250

By this time, and possibly under the long-lived Goi, Baekje has seemingly crystallised into a kingdom in its own right, standing largely separate from the Mahan confederacy. Its continuing warfare against Silla will have made it militarily strong, too much so for the other city states of the confederacy.

286 - 298

Ch'aekkye Wang / Chaekgye

Son. Killed in battle against Yemaek.

298 - 304

Punso Wang / Bunseo

Son. Assassinated by Chinese of the Lelang commandery.

304 - 344

Piryu Wang / Biryu

Brother of Saban (probably a later descendant).

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. In Baekje itself a struggle may be taking place between two royal houses, both of which are descended from the first king. The succession in this period is certainly not direct.

344 - 346

Kye Wang / Gye

Son of Bunseo.

346 - 375

Kun Ch'ogo Wang / Geunchogo

Son of Biryu. Solidifies control over the throne.

369

What had once been a small city state of the Mahan confederacy itself to begin with, Baekje has now become a powerful kingdom. It has been systematically conquering the other city states within the confederacy until now, when that confederacy is eliminated entirely and much of its territory in northern and central South Korea is absorbed by Baekje.

371

Koguryo had invaded Baekje in 369. Now Gogukwon of Koguryo is killed at the retaliatory Battle of Chiyang by Geunchogo. The city of Pyongyang - one of the northern kingdom's largest - is attacked and sacked.

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

375 - 384

Kun Kusu Wang / Guengusu

Son.

384 - 385

Ch'imnyu Wang / Chimnyu

Son. Recognised Buddhism.

385 - 392

Chinsa Wang / Jinsa

Brother and possibly a usurper. Died or was killed.

385 - 386

Gogugyang of Koguryo now commands a kingdom 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 - 491

It is Gwanggaeto of Koguryo and his immediate successor, Jangsu, who push their kingdom's boundaries to their greatest extent. It encompasses the entire northern half of the Korean peninsula and extends into what is now China. Wedged into the southernmost third of modern Korea's territory are the three subjugated states of Baekje, Gaya, and Silla. In reaction to this dominance, Baekje seals an alliance with the Wa state (Yamoto Japan) in 397.

392 - 405

Asin (Ahwa) Wang / Asin

Son of Chimnyu.

405

Asin's efforts in stabilising and strengthening the kingdom in the face of Koguryo's northern dominance and Silla's continued hostility come to nothing. His three brothers fight one another for control, with their pointless conflict culminating in all their deaths and, finally, Asin's own son succeeding as king once he has returned from the Wa state (Yamoto Japan).

Daisenryo Kofun
Baekje and Yamato Japan retained close links, although at this stage Japan's history was still clouded in legend so that the tomb of Emperor Nintoku in Sakai, Osaka, cannot specifically be ascribed to him, and the emperor himself is regarded as one of the legendary emperors

405

Seollye

Brother. Briefly usurped throne until Jeonji returned.

405 - 420

Chonji Wang / Jeonji

Son of Asin.

420 - 427

Kuisin Wang / Guisin

Son. Not noted as king by Book of Song.

427 - 455

Piyu Wang / Biyu

Son. Allied with Silla against dominant Koguryo.

455 - 475

Kaero Wang / Gaero

Son. Killed in battle.

475

Gaero has been testing his strength against Koguryo, launching a surprise assault on the city of Cheongmongnyeon in 469. Now Koguryo strikes back. King Jangsu launches an attack which overruns Baekje's defences in just seven days. The capital is captured and Gaero is captured and then murdered. Silla sends an army of ten thousand men but it arrives too late to affect the outcome. Baekje continues, but without the Han river valley in which the capital city sits.

475 - 477

Munju Wang / Munju

Son. Withdrew capital to Ungjin (now Gongju). Murdered.

476

While struggling to unify the kingdom's remaining noble houses who are busy airing long-pent-up jealousies against each other, Munju does achieve a success when he subdues the Korean island kingdom of Tamna. However, General Hae Gu and the regionally native Jin clan effectively destroy the previous superiority of clans which are descended from northerners. The king is soon killed, and possibly his son too, in 479.

477 - 479

Samgun Wang / Samguen

Son. Acceded aged 13. Puppet of General Hae Gu.

479 - 501

Tongsong Wang / Dongseong

Cousin. Assassinated.

501 - 523

Muryong Wang / Muryeong

Son. Ancestor of Emperor Kammu of Japan (781).

523 - 553

Song Wang / Seong 'the Holy'

Son. Killed in battle.

551 - 552

The formation of the Göktürk khaganate, to the immediate north-west of Korean territories, on the Mongolian steppe, seems not to impact upon affairs in the Silla kingdom or upon the Koguryo state to the north. Instead, the Göktürk empire focuses its attention primarily on Sui China and on expanding across the steppeland towards Europe.

Map of Central Asia AD 550-600
As was often the case with Central Asian states that had been created by horse-borne warriors on the sweeping steppelands, the Göktürk khaganate swiftly incorporated a vast stretch of territory in its westwards expansion, whilst being hemmed in by the powerful Chinese dynasties to the south-east and Siberia's uninviting tundra to the north (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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 (central Baekje territory until its loss in 475).

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. Seong, incensed at this betrayal, gets himself killed in battle against Silla in 553. The loss of any hope of recapturing the river valley and its former capital city fatally weakens the kingdom, ultimately dooming it.

554 - 598

Widok Wang / Wideok

Son. Courted Chinese allies to offset Korean opposition.

598 - 599

Hye Wang / Hye

Brother. Lost further ground to Silla & Koguryo.

599 - 600

Pop Wang / Beop

Son. A confirmed and devout Buddhist.

600 - 641

Mu Wang / Mu

Brother of Hye. Prevented by Tang from attacking Silla.

641 - 660

Uija Wang / Uija

Son. Surrendered and shipped to Tang China.

660 - 663

The Chinese Tang invade and conquer the kingdom 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 and Buyeo Pung, the king's younger son.

Asuka period building
The Asuka period in Japan saw the ruling emperors begin to assert their authority fully, establishing themselves and their country as Nippon, the land of the rising sun, and throwing off Chinese regionalism in the form of the earlier name of Wa ('little kingdom')

An army which is made up of Japanese and Baekje troops is assembled and departs soon after the unexpected death of the aging Empress Saimei. Defeat in battle in 663 forces the Japanese to abandon the attempt and Baekje is no more. Its last king and his nominated heir are in China, essentially prisoners. Many of the nobility flee to friendly Japan.

A pocket of Baekje territory is handed by Silla's King Munmu in 670 to Anseung, king of the Korguyo rump state, under the title of the kingdom of Bodeok. That is extinguished in 683. A more powerful shadow of Baekje emerges in 892 in the form of Hubaekje or 'Later Baekje', during the break-up of 'Later Silla'. However, this lasts less than a century before it is conquered by the unifying forces of Goryeo.