Three Kingdoms of Korea

Three Kingdoms of Korea

Infobox Korean name

caption=Map of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, at the end of the 5th century.
rr=Samguk Sidae
mr=Samguk Sidae
The Three Kingdoms of Korea (Ko-hhrm|hangul=삼국시대) refer to the ancient Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, which dominated the Korean peninsula and parts of Manchuria for much of the 1st millennium CE. The Three Kingdoms period ran from 57 BC until Silla's triumph over Goguryeo in 668, which marked the beginning of the "North and South States period" (남북국시대) 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 titles of the histories "Samguk Sagi" (12th century) and "Samguk Yusa" (13th century), and should not be confused with the earlier Chinese Three Kingdoms.

The Three Kingdoms were founded 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.

The nascent precursors of Baekje and Silla expanded within the web of complex chiefdoms during the Proto Three Kingdoms Period, and Goguryeo conquered neighboring Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongye, and other complex chiefdoms in northern Korea and Manchuria. The three polities made the transition from complex chiefdom to full-fledged state-level societies in the 3rd century.

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 the three kingdoms, had several capitals in alternation: two capitals in the upper Yalu area, and later Nangrang (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 expanded into Manchuria and destroyed the Chinese Lelang commandery in 313. The cultural influence of the Chinese continued as Buddhism was adopted as the official religion in 372.

The kingdom was at its zenith in the fifth century during the rule of King Gwanggaeto and his son Jangsu in their campaign against China in Manchuria. For the next century or so, Goguryeo was the dominant kingdom in the Korean peninsula. [ Korea's Three Kingdoms ] ] Goguryeo eventually occupied the Liaodong Plains in Manchuria and today's Seoul area. Goguryeo controlled not only Koreans but also Chinese and other Tungusic tribes in Manchuria and North Korea. After the establishment of the Sui Dynasty and later the Tang Dynasty in China, the kingdom continued to suffer from Chinese attacks until conquered by an allied Silla-Tang forces in 668.


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 Seoul area.

Baekje absorbed or conquered other Mahan chiefdoms and, at its peak in the 4th century, controlled most of the 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 exerted its political influence on Tamna, a kingdom of Jeju Island. Baekje maintained a close relationship with and extracted tribute from Tamna. Baekje's religious and artistic culture influenced Goguryeo and Silla.

Buddhism was introduced to Baekje in 384 from Goguryeo, which Baekje welcomed. Later, 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 BCE, 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 archaeological 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 states

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) tributary of Silla
*Tamna (Jeju-do) tributary of Baekje

The End of the Three Kingdoms Period

Allied with China under the Tang dynasty, Silla conquered Goguryeo in 668, after having already conquered Gaya in 562 and Baekje in 660, thus ushering in the North-South states period with Later Silla to the south and Balhae to the north.

Archaeological perspectives on the Three Kingdoms of Korea

Archaeologists use theoretical guidelines derived from anthropology, ethnology, analogy, and ethnohistory to the concept of what defines a state-level society. This is different from the concept of state ("guk" or Sino ko: 國, walled-town state, etc) in the discipline of Korean History. In anthropological archaeology the presence of urban centres (especially capitals), monumental architecture, craft specialization and standardization of production, ostentatious burials, writing or recording systems, bureaucracy, demonstrated political control of geographical areas that are usually larger in area than a single river valley, etc make up some of these correlates that define states. [Rhee, S.N. and M.L. Choi. 1992. Emergence of complex society in Korea. "Journal of World Prehistory" 6(1):89-91.] Among the archaeology sites dating to the Three Kingdoms of Korea, hundreds of cemeteries with thousands of burials have been excavated. The vast majority of archaeological evidence of the Three Kingdoms Period of Korea consists of burials, but since the 1990s there has been a great increase in the archaeological excavations of ancient industrial production sites, roads, palace grounds and elite precincts, ceremonial sites, commoner households, and fortresses due to the boom in salvage archaeology in South Korea.

Rhee and Choi hypothesize that a mix of internal developments and external factors lead to the emergence of state-level societies in Korea.Rhee and Choi 1992] A number of archaeologists including Kang demonstrate the role of frequent warfare in the development of peninsular states [Kang, Bong-won. (1995). "The role of warfare in the formation of state in Korea: Historical and archaeological approaches". PhD dissertation. University of Oregon, Eugene. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms.] . [Kang, Bong-won. (2000). A test of increasing warfare in the "Samguk Sagi" against the archaeological remains in Yongnam, South Korea. "Journal of East Asian Archaeology" 2(2-4):139-197.] [Rhee and Choi 1992:90]

Formation of Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje States (c. 0 – 300/400 CE)Some individual correlates of complex societies are found in the chiefdoms of Korea that date back to c. 700 BC (e.g. see Igeum-dong, Songguk-ri). [Bale, Martin T. and Ko, Min-jung (2006). Craft Production and Social Change in Mumun Pottery Period Korea. "Asian Perspectives" 45(2):159-187.] However, the best evidence from the archaeological record in Korea indicates that states formed between 300 BCE and 300/400 CE [Barnes, Gina L. (2001). "State formation in Korea: Historical and archaeological perspectives". Richmond, Surrey: Curzon. ISBN 0-7007-1323-9] [Barnes, Gina L. (2004). The emergence and expansion of Silla from an archaeological perspective. "Korean Studies" 28:15-48.] [Kang 1995] [Kang 2000] . [Lee, Sung-joo. 1998. "Silla - Gaya Sahwoe-eui Giwon-gwa Seongjang" [The Rise and Growth of Society in Silla and Gaya] . Seoul: Hakyeon Munhwasa.] [Pai, Hyung Il. (1989). Lelang and the "interaction sphere": An alternative approach to Korean state formation. "Archaeological Review from Cambridge" 8(1):64-75.] However, archaeologists are not prepared to suggest that this means there were states in the BCE era, and so they refer to the polities that formed before the 4th century as chiefdoms. The correlates of state-level societies did not develop as a package, but rather in spurts and starts and at various points in time. It was some time in the 4th century that individual correlates of state societies had developed to a sufficient number and scale that state-level societies can be confidently identified using archaeological data.

Evidence from burials

Lee Sung-joo analyzed variability in many of the elite cemeteries of the territories of Silla and Gaya polities and found that as late as the 2nd century AD there was intra-cemetery variation in the distribution of prestige grave goods, but there was an absence of hierarchical differences on a regional scale between cemeteries. Near the end of the 2nd century CE, interior space in elite burials increased in size, and wooden chamber burial construction techniques were increasingly used by elites. In the 3rd century, a pattern developed in which single elite cemeteries that were the highest in status compared to all the other cemeteries were built. Such cemeteries were established at high elevations along ridgelines and on hilltops. Furthermore, the uppermost elite were buried in large-scale tombs established at the highest point of a given cemetery.Lee 1998] Cemeteries with 'uppermost elite' mounded burials such as Okseong-ri, Yangdong-ri, Daeseong-dong, and Bokcheon-dong display this pattern.Evidence from factory-scale production of pottery and roof-tiles

Lee Sung-joo proposed that, in addition to the development of regional political hierarchies as seen through analysis of burials, variation in types of pottery production gradually disappeared and full-time specialization was the only recognizable kind of pottery production from the end of the 4th century A.D. At the same time the production centres for pottery became highly centralized and vessels became standardized.

Centralisation and elite control of production is demonstrated by the results of the archaeological excavations at Songok-dong and Mulcheon-ni in Gyeongju. These sites are part of what was an interconnected and sprawling ancient industrial complex on the northeast outskirts of the Silla capital. Songok-dong and Mulcheon-ri are an example of the large-scale of specialized factory-style production in the Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla Periods. The site was excavated in the late 1990s, and archaeologists found the remains of many production features such as pottery kilns, roof-tile kilns, charcoal kilns, as well as the remains of buildings and workshops associated with production.

Capital cities, elite precincts, and monumental architecture

Since 1976, continuing archaeological excavations concentrated in the southeastern part of modern Gyeongju have revealed parts of the so-called "Silla Wanggyeong" (Silla capital). A number of excavations over the years have revealed temples such as Hwangnyongsa, Bunhwangsa, Heungryunsa, and 30 other sites. Signs of Baekje's capitals have also been excavated at the Mongchon Fortress and the Pungnap Fortress in Seoul.

ee also

*History of Korea
*List of Korean monarchs
*Korean Pottery
*Heavenly Horse Tomb


*Best, J.W. (2003). Buddhism and polity in early sixth-century Paekche. "Korean Studies" 26(2), 165-215.
*Lee, K. (1984). "A New History of Korea". Tr. by E.W. Wagner & E.J. Schulz, based on 1979 rev. ed. Seoul: Ilchogak.
*Na H.L. (2003). Ideology and religion in ancient Korea. "Korea Journal" 43(4), 10-29. []
*Nelson, Sarah M. (1993). "The archaeology of Korea". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
*Pearson R, J.W. Lee, W.Y. Koh, and A. Underhill. (1989). "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology" 8(1):1-50.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Proto-Three Kingdoms of Korea — Infobox Korean name hangul=원삼국시대 hanja=原三國時代 rr=Wonsamguk Sidae mr=Wŏnsamguk Sidae Proto Three Kingdoms of Korea refers to the period after the fall of Gojoseon and before the maturation of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla into full fledged kingdoms.… …   Wikipedia

  • Three Kingdoms (disambiguation) — Three Kingdoms may refer to:Historical kingdoms*Three Kingdoms, Wei, Shu, and Wu of China.:* Records of Three Kingdoms , historical canon written by Chen Shou.:* Romance of the Three Kingdoms , historical novel written by Luo Guanzhong.:*Portal… …   Wikipedia

  • Three Kingdoms — The Three Kingdoms period (zh tsp|t=三國|s=三国|p=Sānguó) is a period in the history of China, part of an era of disunity called the Six Dynasties following immediately the loss of de facto power of the Han Dynasty emperors. In a strict academic… …   Wikipedia

  • Later Three Kingdoms — Infobox Korean name hangul=후삼국 시대 hanja=後三國時代 rr=Husamguk Si dae mr=Husamguk Si dae The Later Three Kingdoms of Korea (892 936) consisted of Silla, Hubaekje ( Later Baekje ), and Taebong (also known as Hugoguryeo, Later Goguryeo ). The latter two …   Wikipedia

  • Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms — The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms can refer to one of two works of literature: Sanguo Zhi, the official history of the Three Kingdoms period in China; Samguk Sagi, a history of the Three Kingdoms period in Korea. See also Romance of the Three… …   Wikipedia

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms — ▪ electronic game       statistics based strategy game series created in 1985 by Japanese electronic game developer Koei Co., Ltd. Romance features turn based play, along with many unique features that set it apart from other war and conquest… …   Universalium

  • Korea — This article is about the territory and civilization. For other uses, see Korea (disambiguation). Korea …   Wikipedia

  • Three Confederate States of Gojoseon — The Three Gojoseon kingdoms are states noted in history texts such as Joseon Sangosa [Joseon Sangosa. Sin Chaeho. (1931) ISBN : 8947210331] (1924 25), and has been researched by several historians [김정배, 고조선 연구의 사적 고찰 (Historical Survey on… …   Wikipedia

  • Korea under Japanese rule — (Chōsen (Korea), Empire of Japan) 日本統治時代の朝鮮(大日本帝国朝鮮) 일제 강점기 (日帝强占期) Japanese colony …   Wikipedia

  • Korea, South — Introduction Korea, South Background: After World War II, a republic was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula while a Communist style government was installed in the north. The Korean War (1950 53) had US and other UN forces… …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.