Korea’s Three Kingdom period and unified Silla – mythologies, poems and war stories

I previously posted about the earliest known Korean kingdom, Gojoseon:

[https://www.madghosts.com/r/history/comments/x3ot4p/korean_history_dates_back_to_a_bronze_culture/](https://www.madghosts.com/r/history/comments/x3ot4p/korean_history_dates_back_to_a_bronze_culture/)

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After the fall of Gojoseon, **a chain of kingdoms and federations of small chiefdoms sprung up** across Manchuria and the Korean peninsula, ultimately **consolidating into three** ***(Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla)***. This period is called Three Kingdom period in Korean history

**Two types of foundation myths**

* There are largely two types of foundation myths shared across these small kingdoms.
* One is what I call Northern myths – the descendants of the heaven god **come from the Northern territories** and found a kingdom (shared by Buyeo, Goguryeo, and Baekje).
* Details are in my [post](https://www.madghosts.com/r/history/comments/x3ot4p/korean_history_dates_back_to_a_bronze_culture/) about Gojoseon
* The second type is what I call Southern myths – the first king or the progenitor of a clan is **born out of an egg**. *(Silla Park clan’s* [Hyeokgeose](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyeokgeose_of_Silla)*, Silla Seok clan’s* [Talhae](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talhae_of_Silla)*, and Gaya’s* [Kim Suro](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suro_of_Geumgwan_Gaya)*)*
* Interestingly, Gaya’s Suro is said to have married an Indian princess named Ayuta. Now a Korean city and an Indian city are sister cities based on this, lol. Mysterious.

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**Ancient social customs**:

* A lot of what we know about these small kingdoms and chiefdoms come from a 3rd century Chinese historical text called “Record of the Three Kingdoms: Book of Wei – Biographies of Dongyi (“Eastern Barbarians”)
* I posted the translation of one part of this Chinese record, though not all [https://www.madghosts.com/r/korea/comments/txt1qx/ancient_chinese_records_of_korean_kingdoms_the/](https://www.madghosts.com/r/korea/comments/txt1qx/ancient_chinese_records_of_korean_kingdoms_the/)
* According to the record, most of these kingdoms had their own annual **festivals where they eat, drink, sing, and dance all day long**
* Buyeo, the northernmost ancient Koreanic kingdom, practiced sunjang – an ancient human sacrifice where they buried servants of the deceased alive. The same practice existed in ancient China too.
* Buyeo’s highest officials were named after six animals – The House of Horse, The House of Ox, The House of Pig, The House of Dog, etc.
* It seems that in the Northern states, **early arranged marriage** was common – in Okjeo (a small Northeastern kingdom), a **child-bride** would live with the child-groom’s family until adulthood, while in Goguryeo (a Northern kingdom), a **child-groom** would live with his future wife’s family to help their work
* In the small chiefdoms in the Southern part of the peninsula, each state had a sacred district called Sodo, where **spirits were worshipped through rituals using a pole attached with a rattle and drum**. The district was sacred and was independent of the boundaries of political administration. It functioned as **asylums for refugees and criminals**, a sacred place unreached by secular authority.
* A ritual song from one of the Southern chiefdoms survived. It goes:

>Turtle, turtle, stick out your head
>
>If you do not, we’ll roast and eat you

* lol this song was obviously from an era when life was simpler and more mystical. There’s also a hypothesis that the language spoken in this Southern region (Gaya) was closer to Japonic, rather than Koreanic languages.
* Other folk traditions such as **stone fight** ([https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seokjeon](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seokjeon)) and Ganggangsullae (**women dancing in a circle under the full moon**) ([https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganggangsullae](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganggangsullae)) might have originated from this ancient time

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**Wars, battles, and** ***Baekje*****’s peak**

* [Samguk Sagi](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samguk_Sagi) (History of Three Kingdoms – ***Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla***), compiled in 1145 by a Korean scholar based on previous records (which are lost now), provides quite detailed stories of wars and battles. According to this, the small Korean kingdoms were **constantly warring with each other**, as well as Chinese, northern nomadic, and Japanese kingdoms.
* [The founder of Baekje](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onjo_of_Baekje), the son of a *Goguryoe* king, went to the **southwestern part of the peninsula** and conquered the pre-existing smaller kingdoms. A king **committed suicide**, asking his enemy to take care of his people with **kindness and mercy**.
* Around 350 AD, *Baekje* thrived from **triangle trade** between Liao peninsula of China, Kyushu island of Japan, and the Korean peninsula.
* At the same time, the northern kingdom *Goguryeo* moved its capital southwards to modern-day **Pyongyang** because of the attacks from Northern nomadic tribes. This caused a conflict with *Baekje* in the south, and ultimately the *Goguryeo* king **was killed** at Pyongyang castle.
* *Baekje* also engaged in constant small battles with *Silla*, stealing and being stolen castles.
* *Baekje* had **a close tie with the emerging ancient kingdom in Japan**. It is said that *Baekje*’s scholar [Wang-in/Wani](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wani_(scholar)) introduced the Chinese writing system and Confucian classics to Japan. *Baekje*’s king also gave a [seven-branched ceremonial sword](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven-Branched_Sword) to Japan’s ruler
* Japan claims that this was a tribute from *Baekje* to Japan, while Korea claims that this was a generous gift from *Baekje*’s king. East Asian ancient history is funny – a 1,700 years old artifact is still the subject of intense emotional debates.
* Around 380 AD, **an** [**Indian Buddhist monk**](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marananta) came to *Baekje* via China. *Baekje*’s king welcomed him in the palace, and soon **adopted Buddhism** and constructed a Buddhist temple.

** Around this time, *Silla* was still not much more than a federation of small city-states, ruled by three clans in turn – *Park, Seok, and Kim* clans. The early records of *Silla* implies a close (both [friendly](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talhae_of_Silla) and hostile) relationship with Japan. Its early ruler exchanged envoys with [Queen Himiko](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adalla_of_Silla), but later Japan frequently [invaded](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heulhae_of_Silla) Silla

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**The rise of** ***Goguryeo*****, and decline of** ***Baekje***

* Around 370 AD, *Goguryeo* was seriously weakened. In order to suppress tribalism that weakened the kingdom, a [new king](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sosurim_of_Goguryeo) integrated Confucian ideologies into political institutions – by (1) establishing **schools** for the children of nobility (2) i**ntroducing** [**Confucian laws**](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritsury%C5%8D) **and codifying regional customs** (3) adopting Buddhism for religious life.
* The next king successfully attacked *Baekje* and formed an alliance with *Baekje*’s neighbor, *Silla*, which was still a small emerging state.
* The next king, [**Gwanggaeto the Great**](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwanggaeto_the_Great)**,** significantly **expanded the territory into Manchuria** and **into the southern part of the Korean peninsula**, conquering present-day Seoul.
* He defeated proto-Mongolic kingdoms and **regained the ancient territory of Gojoseon**. He also annexed the remainder of *Buyeo*, the northernmost Koreanic kingdom. He built a large empire, and left [**the largest engraved stele**](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwanggaeto_Stele) in the world.
* He also protected *Silla* from the attack of *Baekje-*Japan alliance. He made hostage a *Silla* prince, and made him the king of *Silla* later on.
* *Gwanggaeto the Great* died at the age of 39, but his son *Jangsu* **reigned for 79 years until the age of 98** – **the longest reign** in East Asian history. He changed the name of the country to **Goryeo, from which Korea originated**.
* He successfully managed complicated diplomatic relationships with Chinese, Mongolic, and Tungusic dynasties that were warring with each other (* There was no unified Chinese state at this time.) Now he tried to conquer *Baekje, Silla, and Gaya* (a small federation of city-states between Baekje and Silla) in the southern part of the peninsula
* By this time, *Baekje* was significantly weakened. It already lost a big part of its former territory to *Gugoryeo*. It was put in a weaker position vis-a-vis its old ally Japan. Political chaos ensued, and [brothers killed each other](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeonji_of_Baekje) for the throne
* The *Goguryeo* king sent a **Buddhist monk as a spy** to *Baekje*’s palace in modern-day Seoul. The Buddhist monk **played** ***go*** with t*he Baekje king* every day, and talked him into spending money in expensive construction projects.
* With the information from the monk, the *Goguryeo* king invaded *Baekje*, **conquered the capital (modern-day Seoul), burned it to the ground,** and **slew the** ***Baekje*** **king**. The whole *Baekje* nobles ran southwards, retaining a small territory in Southwestern Korea

** *Silla* was still a small peripheral country in the southeastern part of the Korean peninsula, protected by the [mountain ranges](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sobaek_Mountains) that surround it. Initially starting as the federation of three clans, their royal blood got concentrated by [**marriage between cousins**](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naemul_of_Silla)**.**

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***Baekje-Silla*** **alliance, betrayal, and** **the rise of** ***Silla***

* After the death of the successful *Goguryeo* king (*Jangsu*) at the age 98, *Goguryeo* gradually sled into succession problems and political instability
* In the meantime, *Baekje and Silla* formed an [alliance by marriage](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dongseong_of_Baekje) against the powerful *Goguryeo*.
* *Baekje* still maintained their tie with Japan – one of the female descendants of a [Baekje king](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muryeong_of_Baekje) **gave birth to a Japanese emperor**
* In the meantime, two kings in *Silla* quietly led a reform that would stabilize *Silla* as a kingdom beyond the federation of tribes. They (1) took the Chinese royal title ‘wang’ (=king), (2) adopted Buddhism
* In a famous legend, a Buddhist monk named I cha-don sacrificed his life, **with white blood spurting from his throat**. After this miracle, *Silla* aristocrats got terrified and accepted Buddhism
* With the help of their ally *Silla*, [a new Baekje king](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seong_of_Baekje) was able to restore the central part of Korea. However, a Silla king [Jin-heung](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinheung_of_Silla), under a secret agreement with *Goguryeo*, attacked unexpecting *Baekje* army and took the central part of Korea. **Furious with the betrayal**, the *Baekje king* attacked *Silla*, but it turned out to be a disastrous battle – the ***baekje*** **king and 30,000 of soldiers got killed**.
* After this, *Baekje* got almost irreversibly weak. The **slain king’s two brothers, one son, and two grandsons all left to Japan** at some point, starting their own clan there.
* [One of these men](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Asa) became the teacher of [Prince Shotoku](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Sh%C5%8Dtoku), a famous, semi-legendary Japanese **regent** who systemized Japanese administration and promoted Buddhism. It is said that he made a portrait of Prince Shotoku at Horyu-ji temple, an important temple in the old Japanese capital. [A brother of his](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Imseong) became the ancestor of [Ouchi clan](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Cuchi_clan) in Western Japan
* The *Silla* king erected an engraved stele for himself, and organized a youth warrior group called **”**[**Flowering nights**](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hwarang)**”**
* Which is often associated with Greek-style homosexuality later on
* For a while, both *Baekje and Silla* had a weird phase. A Buddhist *Baekje* king announced complete ban on all killings, hunting, and butchering. A *Silla* king was dethroned by his mother because he refused to marry his aunt (his mother’s sister).
* [A Baekje king](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu_of_Baekje) is known to have married a *Silla* princess, despite the intense rivalry between the two kingdoms. The legend says that when the young prince fell in love with the princess, he disguised as a commoner in *Silla*, and **taught** ***Silla*****’s children a song**, handing them out **(edible) sweet kudzu**. The song survived as a poem:

>Princess Seonhwa, after a secret affair,
>
>Steals away at night, with Seodong in her arms

* The legend says that the children **spread this song in** ***Silla*****’s capital**, and the angry father of the princess kicked her out. Then the *Baekje* prince married her.

** During the similar time period, *Goguryeo*’s Princess [Pyongyang](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Pyeonggang) also married an unconventional suitor – an “ugly, dumb” commoner called On-dal who became a general later. They’re also common household folktale names in Korea.

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**The unified China’s attack, and the destruction of the Sui army at the Battle of Salsu**

* In the meantime, an important geopolitical change happened – China, which was divided in pieces for a few hundred years, became unified under the Sui dynasty.

(copied from [https://www.madghosts.com/r/DidYouKnowHistory/comments/demjr3/when_koreans_used_a_dammed_river_to_destroy_an/](https://www.madghosts.com/r/DidYouKnowHistory/comments/demjr3/when_koreans_used_a_dammed_river_to_destroy_an/))

* In 612, Emperor Yang of Sui **invaded** ***Goguryeo*** with well over one million men. In fact, *Goguryeo* successfully defended this. Famously, the *Goguryeo* general [Eulji Mundeok](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Salsu) defended against the Sui forces for months, **while secretly building a dam** at the Salsu River, cutting off the flow of water in the river. When the unsuspecting Sui troops were halfway across the river, Eulji opened the dam, **causing the onslaught of water to drown about 300,000 of Sui soldiers**. The *Goguryeo* cavalry then charged into the remaining Sui forces, inflicting enormous casualties. This is **one of the most legendary victories** in Korean history
* The failure of the Korean campaign brought down the short-lived Sui dynasty, to be replaced by Tang
* However, this **also weakened** ***Goguryeo***
* After this, *Goguryeo* was building its own version of the **Great Wall**, but the royalty tried to kill a [young, popular general](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeon_Gaesomun) who was in charge of this. When the young general discovered the plot, he **threw a lavish banquet** and invited one hundred royalties and aristocrats. **At the banquet he slew all of them**, went to the place and **murdered the king**. After that, he enthroend a young nephew of the king. Political instability ensued

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***Silla*****’s Queens, Flowering Knights, and the alliance with the rising Tang China**

* In the meantime, *Silla* had two **queen regnant**s due to their [micro-caste (bone rank)](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bone-rank_system) system. There was no male heir in their royal caste (**”sacred bone” caste**) anymore
* There was K[im Yu-sin](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gim_Yu-sin), a renowned *Hwarang* **(Flowering Knight) warrior,** a commander of *Silla* army at the age of 34, and a cousin of the new queen. His bloodline was noble enough, and he could have revolted and claimed the crown. Instead he **stayed loyal to the queen, and was protective of her**.
* [Queen Seondeok](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Seondeok_of_Silla) was the **second female sovereign in recorded East Asian history**. She’s considered as a decent monarch, won the heart of people, and built many important **cultural monuments** that are **still tourist attractions** in the ancient city of Gyeongju after 1,400 years. However, most importantly, she was the first *Silla* monarch who decided to **form an alliance with the rising Tang dynasty**, while dealing with the constant attacks from *Baekje and Goguryeo*
* Some say that *Baekje and Goguryeo* attacked *Silla* more because they were **more emboldened by the female ruler** of the enemy
* **The Emperor of Tang did not take her seriously either** (because she’s a woman), but with the threat from *Goguryeo*, he ultimately agreed that it was a good idea to form an alliance with *Silla*
* One of her highest officials also [plotted a rebellion](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Seondeok_of_Silla#Bidam’s_rebellion) against her because “**a woman should stop ruling.**” However, Kim Yu-shin, the loyal Flowering Knight warrior and commander, calmed down the anxious queen and excellently took care of the rebellion. There’s an interesting legend about the use of **astrology** here (if anyone’s interested, click the link above)
* After the two queens passed away, the first queen’s nephew, [Kim Chun-chu](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muyeol_of_Silla) – who used to be the highest caste “sacred bone” but was degraded to “true bone” for a political reason – was **enthroned** with the support of his brother-in-law and friend K*im Yu-shin* (the Flowering Knight guy).
* There’s an interesting [legend](https://world.kbs.co.kr/service/contents_view.htm?lang=e&menu_cate=culture&id=&board_seq=129745&page=4&board_code=akoreas_ani) about how the king married K*im Yu-shin*’s **sister**. Kim Yu-shin had two sisters, *Munhee and Bohee*. One night, Bohee, the older sister, had a dream where she urinated on the mountaintop until the urine flooded the entire capital city. Upon hearing the odd dream, Munhee instinctively knew that it was an auspicious dream, and suggested she buy the dream in exchange for a silk skirt. Bohee sold her dream immediately. Later, Munhee met and fell in love with *Kim Chun-chu*, and became the queen of unified *Silla* later on.
* There’s more interesting details in the link. Kim Yu-shin was originally very upset about his sister’s affair with *Kim Chun-chu* (because he already had a wife), and tried to burn her alive. **The queen was shocked to find it out, and saved his sister’s life**.

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**The Fall of** ***Baekje***

* Before he became the new king of *Silla*, K*im Chun-chu* had lost his daughter and son-in-law in a *Baekje* attack. Some say that he particularly wanted a **revenge** on this. He was already a good friend of the Emperor of Tang, and he constantly pleaded the emperor to send army to destroy *Baekje*. In 660 AD, the Emperor finanlly acquiesced and sent 130,000 soldiers through the sea.
* *Kim Yu-shin*, the Flowering Knight commander, set out with his own 50,000 soldiers to *Baekje*, to rendezvous with the Tang army. *Baekje* court was **already corrupt and decadent**. Upon the news, only 5,000 soldiers and 1 general stayed to fight with the *Silla* army.
* In a famous story, [Gyebaek](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyebaek), the last *Baekje* general, **killed his wife and children with his sword a night before his last battle** to prevent them from being enslaved
* In the battle of *Hwangsanbeol*, the 5,000 *Baekje* soldiers fought so fiercely they overwhelmed the 50,000 *Silla* army for a while. [In a legend](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Hwangsanbeol), a *Silla* general sent his **young Flowering Knight** son to fight the *Baekje* army single-handedly. The young warrior got captured and killed. With this sacrifice, the *Silla* army regained morale and destroyed the last army of *Baekje*.
* There’s a very famous legend in Korea that the last king of *Baekje*, Ui-ja, **jumped off a cliff with his three thousand court maidens**. Even though the story is not historically accurate, there’s still a cliff called “Falling Flowers Rock” ([nak-hwa-am](https://folkency.nfm.go.kr/en/topic/detail/5467)) in the southewest part of Korea.

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* Lots of *Baekje* royal family and nobles fled to Japan – some already left for Japan even before the fall of *Baekje*. Some say that this mass migration impacted the language and culture of **the emerging Japanese ruling class/ aristocracy**.

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* There’s one surviving song/poem from *Baekje*, recorded in a 14th century Korean [book ](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhak_gwebeom)- it’s a song of a **peddler’s wife**, having a nocturnal thought about his safety

>[The Song of *Jeong-eup*]
>
>Moon, rise high up and beam far away.
>
>(chant) eogui ya eogangdyoli, a-heu, a-eu darong diri
>
>Are you now in the market street, I fear you may step on mud
>
>(chant) eogui ya eogangdyoli
>
>Lay your luggage down, I fear darkness may fall on you
>
>(chant) eogui ya eogangdyoli, a-eu darong diri

** *Jeong-eup* is a provincial town that still exists in the southwest part of Korea

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**The Fall of Goguryeo, and the Unified Silla’s War with Tang China**

* While there are many tragic folktales about *Baekje*’s fall, there are not so many about the fall of *Goguryeo*. The once-powerful *Goguryeo* got into a downward spiral when *Yeon Gaesomun*, the despotic general who enthroned a puppet king, died. His sons and brothers got caught up in nasty power struggles, and the Emperor of Tang did not miss the opportunity. In 668 AD, the Tang army put Pyongyang under siege in concert with the Silla army. Most factions in *Goguryeo* surrendered – that was the end of the once powerful state.
* A son of a *Goguryeo* noble became an important general in Tang dynasty ([https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gao_Xianzhi](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gao_Xianzhi)), taking part in Tang’s multiple expeditions to Pamir Mountains and the border with Muslim caliphates
* After the fall of *Baekje and Goguryeo*, the new, Unified Silla’s major concern was how to push the Tang army out of the Korean peninsula, which tried to stay and set up a Protectorate. The Tang Emperor’s original intention was to create a Profectorate and to place the entire peninsula under Tang’s rule.
* [A new Silla king](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munmu_of_Silla), Kim Chun-chu’s son and Kim Yu-sin’s nephew, started a new war with Tang China. After about 7 years of struggle, the *Silla* army won a decisive victory against the Tang forces in the c[entral part](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Maeso) of Korea. Losing interest, the Tang Emperor ordered withdrawal from the Korean peninsula. This is considered the major victory in the *Unified Silla*’s history
* King Munmu, who achieved this victory, was worshipped as a deity after his death. He famously left the words at his death bed “**Cremate my remains and scatter the ashes in the sea** where the whales live. **I will become a dragon and thwart foreign invasion**” – his ash was scattered from a rock islet that overlooks the East Sea/Sea of Japan.
* Another legend says that King Munmu and the general Kim Yu-Sin (who was also worshipped as a deity in shamanism after death) appeared in the next king’s dream and said: “Blowing on a **bamboo flute** will calm the heavens and the earth.” After waking up, the king rode out to the sea, and indeed found a bamboo flute. It is said that the blowing of this bamboo flute invoked the spirits of King Munmu and General Gim Yu-sin and would push back enemy troops, cure illnesses, and bring and halt rain.

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**Surviving poems from** ***Silla***

After the fall of *Baekje* and subsequent [fall of Goguryeo](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeon_Gaesomun#Death), *Silla*’s capital *Gyeongju (Gyerim)* in the southeastern part of Korea became the center of the old Koreanic culture

There are about 25 surviving *Silla* poems, written in some [Koreanized Chinese writing system](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyangga) (e.g. Chinese writing system written in Korean word order with a few grammatical particles added)

* A common theme was the **moon, Buddhist serenity, Enlightenment, loss and grief**, and the beauty of nature
* Moon is such a typical subject, there’s even a movie titled “The Moon Night of *Silla*” (which is 90s’ comedy though, lol)

This article provides great translations of these poems: [https://www.worldhistory.org/article/970/15-complete-hyangga-songs-from-ancient-korea/](https://www.worldhistory.org/article/970/15-complete-hyangga-songs-from-ancient-korea/) I’m just copying some of them here

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>”**Prayer to Amitayus**”
>
>O moon, go to the West, and pray to Amitayus
>
>And tell that there is one who adotes the judicial throne,
>
>and longs for the Pure Land, praying before him with folded hands.
>
>Ah, would he leave me outstanding when he fulfills the forty-eight vows?

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>”**Requiem for the dead sister**”
>
>On the hard road of life and death that is near our land,
>
>You went, afraid, without words.
>
>We know not where we go
>
>Leaves blown, scattered, though fallen from the same tree, by the first winds of autumn.
>
>Ah, I will polish the path, until I meet you in the Pure Land.

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>”**Ode to Knight Kipa**”
>
>The moon that pushes her way through the thickets of clouds,
>
>Is she not pursuing the white clouds?
>
>Knight Kipa once stood by the water, reflecting his face in the Iro.
>
>Henceforth I shall seek and gather among pebbles the depth of his mind.
>
>Knight, you are the towering pine that scorns frost, ignores snow.

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>(part of a Buddhist poem)
>
>Ah, how happy is a moonlit autumn field, ripe with the fruit of knowledge.

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‘**Dedication of the Flower**’ was sung by an old herdsman. One day the herdsman meets Lady Suro, wife of Lord Sunjong, and her entourage touring the countryside. The lady asks for an azealea flower growing on a high cliff, but the only person to respond is the herdsman. Giving Lady Suro the flower he sings:

>If you would let me leave the cattle tethered to the brown rock, and feel no shame for me,
>
>I would pluck and dedicate the flowers!

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“**Song of Choyong**” is perhaps the most famous of all these *Silla* poems. The title character is the son of the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea who one night after a party returns home to find his **beautiful wife being seduced by the Spirit of Smallpox**. Choyong was forgiving, though, and in return, the spirit promised **never to enter a house which had a portrait of him** on the door. Choyong has been identified as a shaman, or an epidemic god. This is the song which Choyong sang so charmingly to the spirit so that he left in peace:

>Having caroused far into the night in the moonlit capital,
>
>I returned home and in my bed – Behold four legs
>
>Two were mine *; Whose are the other two? (* my wife’s)
>
>Formerly two were mine; What shall be done now they are taken?

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[other myths]

**The myth of a husband and wife drifted to Japan**

* In Gyeong-sang province (the Southeastern part of Korea; the original territory of *Silla*), there’s a myth of a husband and wife being drifted on a mythical rock to Japan – the husband disappeared first, and then the wife discovered his shoes on the rock and got onto it, then the rock carried her to Japan too. Then they became the king and queen there. Silla lost the sun and moon when the couple disappeared into Japan. Later, the husband and wife (now the king and queen of Japan) sent a special silk cloth to Silla, so that Silla restores the sun and moon in the sky.

**The legend of the Emilee Bell**

* [The Bell of King Seongdeok](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_of_King_Seongdeok), the largest bronze bell in Korea made in 765, has a legend that a child was sacrificed in its casting. >!The bell weirdly did not ring, but a Buddhist monk had a dream that if a child is thrown into its cast, the bell would ring. He took a baby from a nearby village and threw the child into the bronze cast – then the bell made the most beautiful sound ever!<.

**Seokguram grotto**

* [https://www.madghosts.com/r/ArtefactPorn/comments/eku5ze/statue_of_buddha_and_attendants_inside_seokguram/](https://www.madghosts.com/r/ArtefactPorn/comments/eku5ze/statue_of_buddha_and_attendants_inside_seokguram/)
* [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seokguram](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seokguram)
* This might be one of the most impressive Buddhist artefacts from the *Silla* era. However, when the Japanese tried to reconstruct it in the 20th century, they made a mistake of using concrete, which caused humidity problems that further damaged the site. There was a lot of rumor that the Japanese did that on purpose

**Stonemasons**

* Stonemason skills were considered valuable in the Three Kingdoms and Silla period, with all the Buddhist art. Korean stonemasons often humbly say “each stone has its own sculpture in it, so I only carve it out that is already there”
* Another legend: *Baekje* mason Asadal lost his wife while completing the tower of Bulguksa Temple in *Silla,* and that he committed suicide with the completion of the Buddha statue and pagodas

**Magpies**

* Magpies were a bird familiar with Korean people since ancient times, and the historical records of Three Kingdoms mention little myths about magpies. Many Buddhist temples in *Silla* housed magpies, and there are little legends about [Buddhist temples and magpies](https://encykorea-aks-ac-kr.translate.goog/Contents/Item/E0011213?_x_tr_sch=http&_x_tr_sl=ko&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=sc), particularly magpies that repay the favor

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**Notable people from** ***Unified Silla***

* The reign of *Unified Silla* roughly corresponds with the reign of Tang Dynasty – the most **cosmopolitan** culture in Chinese history. Many **Sillans traveled to Tang China or even India**:
* Jang Bogo [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jang_Bogo](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jang_Bogo)
* He was a Sillan peasant, and left for Tang China to pursue a career as a military official. Seeing that many Koreans were victims of slave trades, he formed a private navy of 10,000 men to **attack slavers**, leading to the Tang Emperor issuing an edict to stop slavery and return abducted Koreans to Silla. He returned to Silla as a successful general, and headquartered his powerful **private fleets in a southern island named Wando, near his hometown**. Unfortunately, his fame and power unsettled the nobility in Silla’s capital, and they assassinated him when he tried to marry his daughter to the king.
* He’s still called “Maritime King Jang Bogo”
* Choe Chi-won [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choe_Chiwon](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choe_Chiwon)
* He was born as a nobility in Silla’s capital, and was a child prodigy. However, under the Silla’s micro-caste system (bone rank system), his caste was right below the highest “True bone ranks”, which set a limitation on how far he could achieve. **His father sent him to Tang China**, saying if he doesn’t pass the highest of Chinese civil service exam, he will not see him again. Choe indeed **became one of the highest officials in China**, but at the age of 28, he returned to Silla with the permission from the Tang Emperor, for his ageing parents. Later, he is remembered as one of the most important Korean Confucian scholars
* Wonhyo [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonhyo](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonhyo)
* [https://www.worldhistory.org/Wonhyo/](https://www.worldhistory.org/Wonhyo/)
* He was another prodigy and a Buddhist monk. He decided to **further his Buddhist study in Tang China**, and was leaving Korea. One night, he had traveled a long way and was very tired and thirsty. He **found what he thought as a cave and crawled in**. In the dark, his hand touched a **bowl that was full of rainwater**, and he drank it before going to sleep. When he woke up the next morning, he discovered that the ‘bowl’ was a decomposing **skull full of decaying old water** and that he had **slept in a tomb**. He was shocked, vomited and ran from the tomb — that was when **enlightenment came**. Upon realizing that values of things depend on individual perception, he abandoned his trip to China (“now I got enlightenment, why should I go to China”) and returned his home Silla. His philosophy “all is one and this one is empty” influenced not only Korean, but also Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. He was also famous for **singing and dancing** in the street to spread his teaching to the mass
* His friend [Uisang](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uisang), in contrast, finished elite education in China, and became the founder of Korean [Hwaeom](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hwaeom) school of Buddhism. He has a beautiful love story if anyone’s interested
* Hyecho [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyecho](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyecho)
* He’s a Sillan Buddhist monk, and made a pilgrimage all the way to India. He wrote a travelogue titled “Memoir of the **pilgrimage to the five kingdoms of India**”, containing a lot of information on the local diet, languages, climate, cultures, and political situations

** “Park” “Kim” “Choi” are still the most common Korean surnames – and they originated from Silla

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**Balhae: a multi-ethnic Northern kingdom**

* Soon after the fall of *Goguryeo*, a multi-ethnic kingdom named [Balhae](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balhae) was founded by *Goguryeo* refugees and Tunguisc (Mohe) speakers in the modern day Manchuria/North Korea
* One of their poems/proses survives. It was written by a Balhae envoy in Japan, who heard the sound of his hometown at night
* * This poem is introduced in some Korean literature textbooks, that’s how I know it
* This is beautiful, and sends you straight to an autumn night in 759

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>**I hear the sound of cloth-beating at night** [夜聽擣衣聲] (759 AD)
>
>I was thinking of returning to my home country on an autumn night, and I heard a woman beating cloth in the neighborhood
>
>Hearing the sound of cloth-beating brings up all kinds of thoughts, I thought about who the woman was and why she was doing it late at night. Wondering whether her cloth-bat was heavy or whether it is flat, I even imagined a woman working with her fragile body, sweating fragrants
>
>Cloth-beating is a custom that does not exist in Japan. She might not be necessarily from Balhae, but she must be an immigrant from her own country, so when I heard her trimming clothes, I felt a sense of affinity and I thought of my homeland.

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**The Fall of** ***Unified Silla***

* The reign of *Unified Silla* roughly corresponds to that of Tang Dynasty – when Tang collpased in 906, the economic and political system of *Unified Silla* got damaged as well. Their micro caste (bone rank) system could not absorb the political desire of the rising ruling class (called “hojok”) in provinces
* Soon, some rebels proclaimed they’re the successor of old *Baekje* and *Goguryeo*, and founded kingdoms in the old territories of those bygone countries
* This will put an end to what historans think of the “ancient” period of Korean history, opening up the new era of medieval Korea under [Goryeo dynasty](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goryeo) (which indeed borrowed its name from old *Goguryeo*)

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I just loved writing about this early era of Korean history – it’s full of mythologies, tragedies, and tranquility. [Gyeongju](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyeongju) (Silla’s capital) is still a popular tourist attraction that has the exact vibe.

#Koreas #Kingdom #period #unified #Silla #mythologies #poems #war #stories

What do you think?

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