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What is Three Kingdoms Period of Korea? Dramas and movies you must see.

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Parts of the text have been adopted in full or with modification for optimal reading experience from the following sources under the CC-BY-SA license. wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Kingdoms_of_Korea, wikipedia.org/wiki/Goguryeo, wikipedia.org/wiki/Baekje, wikipedia.org/wiki/Silla


It’s a classification of the period (57 BC to 668 AD) of Korean history established on the ancient Korean Peninsula with Goguryeo in the north, Baekje in the midwest, and Silla in the southeast and other minor states.

Three Kingdoms Period of Korea
The map of history of Korea in 476, the moment of greatest territorial expansion of Goguryeo.
CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
7th century Tang Dynasty painting of envoys from the Three Kingdoms of Korea: Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla illustrates the different styles of clothes.

Three Kingdoms Period ( 57 BC – 668 )

57 BC Bak Hyeokgeose founds Silla
37 BC Jumong founds Goguryeo
18 BC Onjo founds Baekje
372 Under Sosurim, Goguryeo imports Buddhism from Former Qin of China
Chimnyu of Baekje officially adopts Buddhism
Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo begins his reign, expanding Goguryeo into a major regional power
Baekje and Silla form an alliance against Goguryeo’s aggression
Silla formally adopts Buddhism / Martyrdom of Ichadon
Silla attacks Baekje, breaking the alliance
Sui Dynasty attacks Goguryeo and Goguryeo-Sui War begins
Goguryeo repulses second Sui invasion at the Salsu
Sui Dynasty defeated
First campaign in the Goguryeo–Tang War
Silla establishes alliance with Tang
Baekje falls to the Silla-Tang forces
Goguryeo falls to the Silla-Tang forces

Unified Silla (676 – 935)

676 Silla repels Chinese alliance forces from Korean peninsula, completes unification of much of the Three Kingdoms
The founding of Balhae by former Goguryeo general Dae Joyeong
Silla, at its cultural peak, constructs Seokguram
Jang Bogo establishes Cheonghaejin, a major center of trade with China, Japan, and Vietnam
Founding of Goryeo by Taejo of Goryeo
Silla formally surrenders to Goryeo, and Goryeo controls the Korean peninsula


A mural from the 5th century CE Muyonchong (tomb) depicting a hunting scene.

Goguryeo 고구려 is said to have been founded by Jumong 주몽 in 37 BCE and was the largest of the Three Kingdoms, which became a full-fledged aristocratic state during the reign of King Sosurim 소수림왕, who promulgated various laws and decrees that helped to centralize royal authority. Like other ancient Korean kingdoms, Buddhism was the cultural backbone, while Confucian education was emphasized as a means of regulating/managing the social order. Today, some of the ruins and tombs, which became UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2004, can be found in the far southern Jilin province in China, the territories which the Kingdom covered.

RELATED : Why do Koreans dominate archery?

Jumong / Dongmyeongseongwang 주몽 / 동명성왕

Birth name is Jumong 주몽, which literally means “Holy King of the East,” was the founding monarch of the Goguryeo Kingdom, the northernmost of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. According to the founding legends, he was the son of Haemosu 해모수 and Lady Yuhwa 유화부인, who was the daughter of the god of the Amnok River 압록강. Lady Yuwha was impregnated by sunlight and gave birth to an egg, and from the egg hatched a baby boy. Jumong was known for his exceptional skill at archery, and in 37 BCE, he became the first king of Goguryeo and reunited all of the five tribes of Jolbon 졸본. Soseono 소서노, who was a daughter of a Jolbon chief, and his second wife, gave birth to his son, Onjo 온조, who later established the kingdom of Baekje. The kingdom of Goguryeo evolved into a great regional territory with considerable power and influence and stood for 705 years and was ruled in total by 28 consecutive emperors. Today, the descendants of Jumong still bear his family name “Go.”

Jumong 주몽 (2006, MBC)

Gwanggaeto the Great 광개토대왕

Gwanggaeto the Great (birth name: Go Damdeok 고담덕), was the nineteenth monarch of Goguryeo Kingdom. Under Gwanggaeto, Goguryeo rose as a powerful dynasty in East Asia, making enormous advances and conquests into western Manchuria against Khitan tribes; inner Mongolia and the Maritime Province of Russia as well as the Han River valley in central Korea to control over two-thirds of the Korean Peninsula. He also defeated Baekje, which was then the most powerful kingdom of Korea. His accomplishments are recorded on the Gwanggaeto Stele, erected in 414 at the supposed site of his tomb in Jian, present-day China-North Korea border, and is still standing tall as the largest engraved stele in the world.

The Gwanggaeto Stele, standing tall at 7 meters (23 ft.) high.
Gwanggaetotaewang 광개토태왕
(Gwanggaeto, The Great Conqueror, 2011, KBS1)
The founding of Balhae by former Goguryeo general Dae Joyeong.
Daejoyoung 대조영 (2006, KBS1)

Battle of Salsu 살수대첩 (612)

Recorded as one of the most brutal battles in world history, it was an enormous victory by Goguryeo over the Sui Dynasty of China. Led by General Eulji Mundeok 을지문덕, the Sui army was lured into the Salsu River, where the Goguryeo soldiers were preparing an attack by cutting off the flow of water with a dam in advance, and when the unsuspecting Sui troops were halfway across, they opened it. Thousands drowned and the surviving troops were killed by the Goguryeo cavalry. Over 300,000 Sui troops died while only 2,700 troops were lost on Goguryeo’s side. This defeat had a major impact on the Sui Dynasty, causing them to collapse from within, leading to an eventual fall.

If you don’t want to drown like a Sui soldier, consider getting some portable oxygen cans!

4-Pack Large 10-Liter Boost Oxygen Portable Bottle for High Altitudes, Athletes, and More [Amazon]


Gilt Bronze Buddha from the Baekje Kingdom that was unearthed in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province, in 1907

Baekje 백제 is said to have been founded by  legendary leader Onjo in 18 BC in the Gwangju 광주 area. Around the 3rd century AD, it became a fully-developed kingdom. During the reign of King Goi 고이왕, and during the reign of King Geunchogo 근초고왕, it ruled a significant portion of central Korea, including the whole Han River basin. Buddhism and Confucianism were the two pillars of the kingdom, and a large number of eminent scholars were produced. One of the most famous and distinctive artworks of the era is a Buddha statue that has a subtle and mysterious smile, known as the “Baekje Smile.”

근초고왕 (The King of Legend 2010, KBS1)

King Onjo 온조

Onjo, the son of Jumong and Soseono of the Goguryeo Kingdom, was the founding monarch of Baekje which was located in the western part of the Korean Peninsula. According to the Samguksagi 삼국사기 (a historical record of the Three Kingdoms of Korea), he was the ancestor of all Baekje kings. He was the younger brother of Yuri 유리, who became Goguryeo’s second king, and younger brother of Biryu 비류 who built a small state in Michuhol 미추홀. When Biryu died, his people joined Sipje 십제, which Onjo later renamed to Baekje. Onjo was able to successfully manage and stifle sporadic rebellions from other tribes, and reigned for 46 years, laying the foundations for a powerful dynasty that would last for 678 years.

Great Gilt-bronze Incense Burner 백제금동대향로

Measuring 64 centimeters (25 inches) high and 19 centimeters (7.4 inches) in diameter, it weighs almost 12 kilograms (26.5 lbs). This three-dimensional artifact, estimated to have been made in the 6th century, features realistic ornaments of the dragon and phoenix (symbol of yin and yang) and is believed to have been used for ancestral rites or other important ceremonies.

Seodongyo 서동요 (2005, SBS)


Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple from the Silla Kingdom

Silla 신라, believed to have been founded by Bak Hyeokgeose 박혁거세 in 57 BC, developed into a full-fledged kingdom as a result of the establishment of the hereditary monarchy of the Kim family. During this time, Buddhism was adopted as the national religion and flourished. The traces? Magnificent Buddha sculptures and temples can be found everywhere in Gyeongju 경주, where the Kingdom’s capital was located. The people of Silla, especially the aristocrats, were fond of extravagant luxury. Among all, gold ornaments, such as gold crowns, belts, and various jewelry show how dexterous and artsy they were! No wonder they are called “The Golden Kingdom.”

Gyeongju: The Capital of Golden Silla (Cities of the Ancient World) [Amazon] – Undeniably, Gyeongju deserves a separate book. For those of you who might learn further.

Bak Hyeokgeose 박혁거세

He was the founding monarch of Silla and the progenitor of all Bak (Park) clans in Korea. According to the Samgukyusa 삼국유사 (a collection of legends, folktales and historical accounts relating to the Three Kingdoms of Korea), leaders of chiefdoms (believed to have been refugees from Gojoseon) got together to discuss selecting a king and forming a kingdom, and at that moment in the forest, a strange light shone from the sky, and where a white horse bowed down, there was a large egg from which a boy came out of. After getting bathed, his body radiated and animals jumped with joy. The people revered him and made him king of the state named Seorabeol 서라벌 when he became 13-years-old. He married Lady Aryeong 알영부인, who is said to have been born from the ribs of a dragon. The Park clans are the third-largest group in Korea today.

Seokguram Grotto 석굴암

The Seokguram Grotto 석굴암 (man-made cave) is part of the Bulguksa Temple 불국사 complex on Toham Mountain 토함산, in Gyeongju 경주, South Korea. This awe-inspiring grotto, National Treasure No. 24, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage in 1995, along with the Bulguksa Temple complex. The grotto is situated to overlook the East Sea and rests 750 meters (2460 ft) above sea level. It’s said to have been built by Kim Daeseong 김대성 and originally called Seokbulsa 석불사 (Stone Buddha Temple) whose construction first took place in 742 when he resigned his position in the king’s court in 751 during the reign of King Gyeongdeok 경덕왕 of Silla, which is considered as the cultural peak of the Kingdom. According to a legend, Kim dedicated the Grotto to his parents from a previous life and the Temple to his parents in his present life. The construction was finished in 774, and is acknowledged as one of the finest Buddhist sculptures in the world, and is currently one of the best known cultural destinations in South Korea.

You can get a cool miniature – Seokguram Buddha Sakyamuni Miniature Korea Collectible 24K Gold Sculpture Statue [Amazon]

Golden Crowns Found in Cheonmachong

This scintillating gold crown, excavated from Cheonmachong 천마총 (Tomb No. 155, also known as “The Heavenly Horse Tomb” due to the mural of the flying horse) in 1973, is believed to have belonged to King Soji 소지왕 or King Jijeung 지증왕. The crown is 32.5 centimeters (12.8 inches) in height, and three prongs are forming the Chinese character 山 “mountain” on the front of the crown. On the back, there are two prongs in the shape of a deer antler. There are also two dangling gold chains, hanging from the end of the headband, shaped as leaves. After getting designated as the 188th National Treasure of Korea, it’s currently housed in Gyeongju National Museum.

Cheomseongdae 첨성대

National Treasure No. 31, Cheomseongdae is a Silla-era observatory located in Gyeongju. Said to have been built during the reign of Queen Seondeok 선덕여왕 of Silla in the mid-7th century, it’s the oldest existing astronomical observatory in the world and it maintains its original form without reconstruction or restoration. The use of Cheomseongdae was said to be astronomical observations, but recently different views have emerged because unlike most astronomical observatories, it was built on flat ground, and it was too narrow for people to go in and out. Therefore, some speculate that the structure may have played an astrological role in predicting the fortune of the Dynasty or served as an altar for religious ceremonies. It’s still standing tall at 9.17 meters (30 ft) and 4.93 meters (16 ft) in diameter.

There’s a miniature version of Cheomseongdae, too – Cheomseongdae Korean Ancient Astronomy Observatory Miniature Building Kyeongju Korea Sculpture Statue [Amazon]

Seondeokyeowang 선덕여왕 (Queen Seondeok 2009, MBC)
Daewangeui Kkum 대왕의 꿈 (Dream of the Emperor 2013, KBS 1)

Martyrdom of Ichadon 이차돈

Ichadon 이차돈 (501-527) was a Buddhist monk and advisor to the Silla’s King Beopheung 법흥왕, who desired to promulgate Buddhism as the state religion, but was facing opposition from the court officials. Ichadon devised a strategy to overcome the opposition. Convincing the king to make such a proclamation using the royal seal, Ichadon told the king to deny having made such a proclamation, and Ichadon would confess and accept the punishment of execution for forgery. He prophesied to the king that at his execution a miracle would convince the opposing court faction. His scheme went as planned, and when he was executed, the earth shook, the sun was darkened, beautiful flowers rained from the sky, and white blood instead of red blood sprayed 100 feet in the air from his beheaded corpse. The omen was accepted as a manifestation of heaven’s approval, making Buddhism the state religion in 527 CE. His body was then taken to the sacred Geumgang Mountains 금강산 and buried there with respect. His martyrdom led to the construction of Heungryunsa Monastery 흥륜사, Silla’s first state-sponsored temple.

Gilt-bronze Maitreya in Meditation

Better known as bangasayusang 반가사유상 (National Treasure of Korea No. 83) It’s believed to be a statue of the Maitreya, the future Buddha, in a semi-seated contemplative pose, commonly referred to as the “Contemplative Bodhisattva” or Gilt-Bronze Seated Maitreya. Recognized as one of the finest Buddhist sculptures ever produced, it’s housed in the National Museum of Korea as one of the most popular exhibits. The bodhisattva, sitting on a stool with his right leg crossed over his left knee, makes a thoughtful expression with his finger resting subtly on his face. The pose symbolizes an event occurred during Buddha’s life before his renouncement as a prince: While observing farmers on the fields, he awakened to the cyclical nature of human suffering, and the artwork depicts the posture at this moment of awakening.

If you were able to successfully resist the temptation to buy other miniature items above, good job. But can you also resist Gilt-Bronze Maitreya in Meditation Miniature Korea Collectible 24K Gold Sculpture Statue? [Amazon]

The Smile of Silla Roof-End Tile

This roof-end tile, (sumakse 수막세), which attaches to a curved tile at the edges of a roof/wall, has a smiling human face better known as “The Smile of Silla.” Contrary to other cultures where scary faces are used (e.g., goblins), the people of Silla instead used friendly smiles to soothe all bad spirits and send them back to where they originally came from. It was the inspiration behind the logo of the Korean company LG.



Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth 화랑 (KBS, 2016)

Hwarang 화랑 was a mental and physical training and education organization composed of the youth of the Silla Dynasty. It was established to recruit talented people (usually children of kings and nobles, but there were no class restrictions), and the members, called nangdo 낭도 were united under the leadership of the leader, hwarang. Among the group’s goals, the main role was to select talented people and have them appointed to key positions in Silla. At the same time, military training was of utmost importance. In fact, Silla in the 6th and 7th centuries, when hwarang was founded, continued war with neighboring countries, and national security was very unstable. For this reason, the nangdos served as a reserve force and participated in battles as soldiers. 화랑도 hwarangdo, the ideology of hwarang was to serve the nation solely through individual discipline, and it was considered an honor to die in battle.


The Three Kingdoms Period was a tempestuous time when three powerful kingdoms were holding each other in check and competing with each other. Over a long period, there were numerous battles and wars, both large and small, sometimes with a coalition with foreign forces to invade each other. In 648, Silla formed an alliance with the Chinese Tang Dynasty and Baekjae was the first of the three Kingdoms to fall in 660. In 668, Goguryeo fell to the Silla-Tang forces. When Silla repelled the Tang forces from the Korean Peninsula in 676, it finally completed the unification of the Three Kingdoms and became known as the Unified Silla. King Munmu the Great 문무대왕 was the first ruler of the expanded Dynasty, which lasted for another 260 years.

RELATED : Do Koreans wear kimono? HANBOK 한복 – Traditional Korean Clothes : Hanbok in different times – History of Hanbok

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