History Files
 

Far East Kingdoms

East Asia

 

Silla (Korea)
57 BC - AD 935

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. 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.

Silla (pronounced she-lla) emerged in or around the first century BC, and was the longest lasting of any of the Korean kingdoms. The modern territory which formed Silla today is part of South Korea, and even now Silla is referred to as the millennium kingdom because it lasted (officially) from 95 BC to AD 935.

Kyongju was its capital. The city was famous for its wide streets that were laid out in a grid. All the houses, palaces, and Buddhist temples had tiled roofs, a sign of wealth and sophistication. Lesser houses would still have had thatched roofs. Decorated roof tiles started to become widespread around AD 688, when this small Korean kingdom, with support from Tang China, conquered two other Korean kingdoms and gained territory that stretched somewhat to the north of modern Pyongyang, although it never gained the far north of Korea. Kyongju became the capital of the unified Korean kingdom rather than just Silla alone, and this unity ushered in an age of prosperity and cultural unity in the Korean peninsula, with the rich and famous no doubt emulating Chinese symbols of wealth and power. Now Silla had to balance the requirements of maintaining the unified kingdom against Chinese ambitions to control Korea directly.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Jane Portal (Matsutaro Shoriki Chair, Art of Asia, Oceania and Africa, Museum of Fine Arts Boston), from the BBC Radio 4 series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, Part 4 Korean Roof Tile - The Silk Road and Beyond (AD 400-700), broadcast on 31 December 2012, from Pacific northeast Asia in prehistory: hunter-fisher-gatherers, farmers, and sociopolitical elites, C Melvin Aikens (WSU Press, 1992), 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, Ki-baik Lee (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.)

57 BC - AD 4

Pak Hykkose Kosogun

4 - 24

Namhae Ch'ach'aung

AD 12

The state of Koguryo revolts against regional Chinese domination during the early days of the Xin dynasty. These Koreans are not the only ones to spot the fact that a relatively weak emperor now rules the Chinese empire to their west.

Map of Xin China c.AD 9-23
The map of China remained largely the same as it had been at the end of the Early Han period, with their conquests in northern Vietnam enduring and control of the north-western corridor towards Gaochang being expanded only a little (click or tap on map to view full sized)

23 - 36

Emperor Wang Mang faces a rebellion in China by clan members of the former ruling Han. Despite the emperor's superior number of troops, the rebels manage to breach the walls and the usurper emperor dies soon after. It takes another thirteen years before Han imperial descendant Liu Xiu can fully reunite the country as Emperor Guangwu of the Late Han dynasty.

24 - 57

Yuri Isagum

57 - 80

Sok T'arhae Isagum

63 - 64

The young city state of Baekje is constantly expanding its network of fortresses, partially to increase its territory but also as part of an ongoing process to ward off attacks by tribal barbarians from the north. 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, Baekje launches the first attack against a now-hostile opponent. Its forces are repelled. Further attacks over the years see border fortresses frequently swapping hands.

80 - 112

Pak P'asa Isagum

91

Dramatic changes in the superiority of the northern barbarians on Chinese borders is now taking place. Having been chased out of the Tarim Basin in AD 73, the Xiongnu are forced to flee into the Ili river valley region in this year, 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.

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)

112 - 134

Chima Isagum

134 - 154

Ilsong Isagum

154 - 184

Adalla Isagum

184 - 196

Sok Porhyu Isagum

196 - 230

Naehae Isagum

Map

230 - 247

Chobun Isagum

247 - 261

Ch'omhae Isagum

c.250

Silla by now is an established state in its own right, but it probably still stands only as the strongest city state within the Jinhan confederacy. That changes as the third century draws to an end and Silla becomes increasingly powerful and independent, and increasingly dominant over the remaining Jinhan city states.

262 - 284

Kim Mich'u Isagum

284 - 298

Sok Yurye Isagum

298 - 310

Kirim Isagum

310 - 356

Hurhae Isagum

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.

356 - 402

Kim Naemul Maripkan

369

The former city state member of the Mahan confederacy, Baekje, now conquers the last remnants of the confederacy. Much of its former territory in northern and central South Korea is absorbed by the kingdom.

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.

402 - 417

Silsong Maripkan

417 - 458

Nulchi Maripkan

458 - 479

Chabi Maripkan

479 - 500

Soji Maripkan

500 - 514

Chijung Wang

503

Possibly to dispel any confusion about its rising status as a regional power, the Jinhan city state of Saro now officially adopts the name 'Silla'. The other Jinhan states around this time are Bulsa (now the city of Changnyeong), Geun-gi (now either Pohang or Cheongdo), Gijeo (now Andong), Gunmi (now Sacheon), Horo (now Sangju), Juseon (now Gyeongsan), Mayeon (now Miryang), Nanmirimidong or Mirimidong (also now Miryang), U-yu (now either Cheongdo or Yeongdeok), Yeodam (now Gunwi), and Yeomhae (now Ulsan).

514 - 540

Pophung Wang

540 - 576

Chinghung Wang

551 - 552

MapThe formation of the Göktürk khaganate, to the immediate north-west of Korean territories, on the steppes of Mongolia, 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.

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. Seong of Baekje, incensed at this betrayal, gets himself killed in battle against Silla in 553. This gives Silla direct access to the Yellow Sea and trade with China which will prove vital to its development.

562

The kingdom conquers the remaining cities of the Gaya confederacy. The primary reason is the support given by the Gaya cities to Baekje in the recent war between the two major kingdoms.

576 - 579

Chinji Wang

579 - 632

Chinp'yong Wang

632 - 647

Queen Sondok Yowang

647 - 654

Queen Chindok Yowang

654 - 661

(T'aejong) Muyol Wang

660

The Tang Chinese 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.

661 - 681

Munmu Wang

Descended in part from Suro of Gaya.

667 - 676

China occupies Korea. Silla assists in conquering Koguryo in 667-668. The unified kingdom of Silla is formed with much of the state's wealth and political strength being located in the south of the peninsula.

All of the 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 could 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).

681 - 692

Sinmun Wang

692 - 702

Hyoso Wang

698

Barhae emerges. Korea is by now a major player in trade at the far end of the Silk Road.

Marco Polo on the Silk Road
Marco Polo's journey into China along the Silk Road made use of a network of east-west trade routes that had been developed since the time of Greek control of Bactria

702 - 737

Songdok Wang

737 - 742

Hyosong Wang

742 - 765

Kyongdok Wang

765 - 780

Hyegong Wang

780 - 785

Sondok Wang

785 - 798

Wonsong Wang

798 - 800

Sosong Wang

800 - 809

Aejang Wang

809 - 826

Hondok Wang

826 - 836

Hungdok Wang

836 - 838

Huigang Wang

838 - 839

Minae Wang

839

Sinmu Wang

839 - 857

Munsong Wang

857 - 861

Honan Wang

861 - 875

Kyongmun Wang

875 - 886

Hon'gang Wang

886 - 887

Chonggang Wang

887 - 897

Queen Chinsong Yowang

897 - 912

Hyogong Wang

912 - 917

Pak Sindok Wang

917 - 924

Kyongmyong Wang

924 - 927

Kyongae Wang

927 - 935

Kim Kyongsun Wang

924

The rulers of Silla are superseded by the Goryeo dynasty during the 'Late Three Kingdoms' period.