Three Kingdoms of Korea
Between 57 BCE and 668 CE, there were three main kingdoms occupying the Korean Peninsula.
The Goguryo Kingdom, known at the time as the Koryo Kingdom, dominated the northern half of the peninsula and much of modern day-Manchuria.
The kingdoms of Silla and Baekje occupied the southern half of the peninsula, including Jeju Island.
The term, ‘Three Kingdoms’ is not a modern term. As far back as the 7th century, the term ‘Samhan’ was used, especially in China, to refer to the Korean peninsula. ‘Samhan’ translates roughly to ‘3 Koreas’ and is a reference to the three dominant kingdoms in the region.
The Goguryo (also Goguryeo) Kingdom was the largest of the Three Kingdoms.
It originally grew around the northern and southern banks of the Amnok (Yalu) river; the river forms the modern-day North Korea-China border.
Goguryo grew into one of East Asia’s most powerful military empires. It destroyed the Lelang Commandery in 313 allowing it to expand into Manchuria. For a time, the capital of the Kingdom was located in modern-day Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
In 668, the Kingdom was conquered by an alliance between the Silla Kingdom and China’s Tang Dynasty.
The Kingdom of Silla was the smallest of the Three Kingdoms.
Rather than relying on military power, like Goguryo, the Silla Kingdom were incredibly diplomatic, forming alliances with other kingdoms on the peninsula, and eventually, with the Tang Dynasty in China to work together against the expanding Goguryo Kingdom.
The capital of Silla was modern-day Gyeongju in South Korea.
Baekje was located in the southwest of the Korean peninsula.
It was a powerful maritime power and was potentially responsible for the spread of Buddhism throughout East Asia.
The capital of Baekje was moved in the 5th century due to ongoing attacks from the highly militaristic Goguryo Kingdom to the north. It was moved first to Gongju and then further south to Buyeo. It was later conquered by the Silla Kingdom.
In the aftermath of the Silla-Tang alliance’s conquest of Goguryo, much of the peninsula fell under the control of the Silla Kingdom, known as ‘Later Silla’ or ‘Unified Silla’. The new Kingdom fought against the new Balhae Kingdom, formed in 698 by refugees from the collapsed Goguryo, for control over Korea.
By 935, all of the Three Kingdoms had, in one way or another, fallen. What followed was the Koryo Dynasty, considered by most to be the first fully unified Korean state.
Following the Koryo Dynasty was the Choson Dynasty, from which North Korea takes its name ‘Choson’.