The Three Kingdoms of Korea

Any time you go site seeing in Korea or watch an historical movie or drama, you might hear them talk about Shilla. Shilla is one of the old names for the first country where Seoul, the capital of S. Korea is located.  In fact, after the first period of Korean history that spanned from 2333 B. C. to 108 B. C., when Korea was called Gojeoseon, and then China came and destroyed it, there were three kingdoms in old Korea from the first century B. C. to 676 A. D.  They were called Goguryo, Baekje, and Shilla, each a distinct country with its own distinct characteristics from the others.

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Goguryo was established in 37 B. C. The people of Goguryo lived in modern day North Korea extending down close to Seoul and up into Manchuria.  They were not as cultured as the other two kingdoms. They were warriors on horseback.  If you go to the war museum, you will learn that the Mongolians were always not only going into China, but they were always coming down into Korea causing trouble too.  We can’t be certain, but because the Mongolians were barbarian warriors on horseback like the people who lived in Goguryo and the Korean language is so similar to Mongolian, there is a chance a lot of these people were from Mongolia.  Fighting on horseback became very important, and this is where the modern day sport of Gomdo evolved from because it is all about sword fighting on horseback.  The names of their major kings were King Gwang-gae-to and King Jangsu. The Chinese attacked them in the 7th century A. D., but the Chinese were unsuccessful, and Goguryo stayed in power.  They were the tough guys, the barbarians, of the time.

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Baekje was another kingdom on the Korean Peninsula during this time.  These people were living down south of Seoul, around Busan.  They were completely different from the people in Goguryo. They were extremely cultured and civilized people.  In fact, my daughter told me that when she read about them in Korean, she got the impression they were the “pretty boys” that looked so good they could be mistaken for girls like the K-Pop stars of today.  This kingdom was established in 18 B. C. They were Buddhists and were very skilled at using the Chinese characters.  If you look at the map, Busan is right across the Japan Sea or as the Koreans call it, the East Sea, from Japan.  In that particular place, the distance across the sea is so short that now a days you can take your car across on a ferry.  The Japanese and the Koreans communicated across this short distance of sea during the Baekje kingdom, and the people of the Baekje kingdom shared Chinese characters and Buddhism with the Japanese.

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The last of these three kingdoms to flourish was Shilla, where we find Seoul and the surrounding area. Seoul has been around a long, long time.  Seoul was first established during this kingdom.  The Shilla kingdom was established in 57 B. C. around the Han River.  Shilla was also considered to be very cultured, but not quite as much as the people from Baekje, around Busan. In the 7th century, the people of Shilla wanted to unite the Korean Peninsula.  They teamed up with China and attacked both the Goguryo kingdom and the Baekje kingdom and won achieving the unification they sought. Beginning in 676, because of Shilla’s efforts, all of Korea was one country again, and the whole country was called Shilla.

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When this happened, a general from Goguryo founded a nation in Manchuria called Balhae that lasted from 698 A. D. to 926 A. D.  The rest of them all became called Shilla and were united from 676 A. D. to 935 A. D. Balhae was eventually conquered by a Chinese tribe to the north. As for Shilla, they flourished with their cultural exchange with China.  Buddhism became very important, and many Buddhism temples were built during this time. There were movements trying to separate the kingdoms again, but in the end, they made progress and separated the kingdom again shortly, but not for long. The separation failed, and that is when Shilla became called Goryo, the old name from which the word Korea came from.

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The story of history is a continuing story, but I am not going to write all of Korea’s history in this blog. It is just too long. If you want to learn about the first people on the Korean Peninsula, you need to go to a previous blog, and if you want to know what happened after the three kingdoms, you will have to wait. I haven’t written any blogs about that yet, but if you are interested, there will be more, so just look for them.


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