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Goguryeo / Goryeo
고구려(高句麗) / 고려(高麗)

37 BC–668 AD

Goguryeo at its height in 476.
Capital Jolbon
(37 BCE – 3 CE)

Gungnae City

Languages Goguryeo language (either related to Old Korean or hypothetical Buyeo language),
Religion Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shamanism
Government Monarchy
 •  37–19 BC Dongmyeong
 •  391–413 Gwanggaeto the Great
 •  413–491 Jangsu
 •  590–618 Yeongyang
Historical era Ancient
 •  Establishment 37 BC
 •  Introduction of Buddhism 372
 •  Campaigns of Gwanggaeto the Great 391–413
 •  Goguryeo–Sui War 598–614
 •  Goguryeo–Tang War 645–668
 •  Fall of Pyongyang 668 AD
 •  476 600,768 km² (231,958 sq mi)
 •  476 est. 3,500,000 
     Density 5.8 /km²  (15.1 /sq mi)
Today part of  North Korea
 South Korea
Hangul 고구려
Hanja 高句麗
Revised Romanization Goguryeo
McCune–Reischauer Koguryŏ
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Goguryeo (Hangul고구려; hanja高句麗; RRGoguryeo; MRKoguryŏ, Korean pronunciation: , 37 BCE–668 CE), or Goryeo (Hangul고려; hanja高麗; RRGoryeo; MRKoryŏ, Korean pronunciation: ), was one of the ancient Three Kingdoms of Korea,[1][2][3][4] located in the northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula and the southern and central parts of inner and outer Manchuria. Goguryeo was an active participant in the power struggle for control of the Korean peninsula and was also associated with the foreign affairs of neighboring polities in China and Japan.

The Samguk Sagi, a 12th-century text from Goryeo, indicates that Goguryeo was founded in 37 BCE by Jumong (hanja: 朱蒙 ), a prince from the Buyeo kingdom, who was enthroned as Dongmyeong of Goguryeo. There is archaeological and textual evidence from Chinese geographic monographs that suggests that Goguryeo may have been in existence since the second century BCEm around the fall of Gojoseon, an earlier kingdom which also occupied southern Manchuria and the northern Korean Peninsula.

Goguryeo was a major dynasty in Northeast Asia until it was defeated by a Silla-Tang China alliance in 668. After its fall, its territory was divided among the states of Later Silla, Balhae and Tang China.

A shortened name for Goguryeo was adopted by the unrelated state of Goryeo (918-1392), whose territory was in the area which was once the southern portion of Goguryeo. This later name is the origin of the English word "Korea".


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Founding of Goguryeo (c. 37 BC)

Proto–Three Kingdoms, c. 1 CE.

According to the 12th century Samguk Sagi and the 13th century Samgungnyusa, a prince from the Buyeo kingdom named Jumong fled after a power struggle with other princes of the court[5] and he founded Goguryeo in 37 BCE in a region called Jolbon Buyeo, usually thought to be located in the middle Yalu and Tongjia River basin, overlapping the current China-North Korea border. In the geographic monographs of the Book of Han, the word Goguryeo (hanja: 高句麗 ) was first mentioned in 113 BCE as a region under the jurisdiction of the Xuantu Commandery, page 33 In the Old Book of Tang (945), it is recorded that Emperor Taizong of Tang refers to Goguryeo's history as being some 900 years old.

In 75 BCE, a group of Yemaek who may have originated from Goguryeo made an incursion into China's Xuantu Commandery west of the Yalu.

However, the weight of textual evidence from the Old Book of Tang, New Book of Tang, the Samguk Sagi, the Nihon Shoki as well as other ancient sources would support a 37 BCE or "middle" first century BCE foundation date for Goguryeo. Archaeological evidence would support centralized groups of Yemaek tribes in the 2nd century BC, but there is no direct evidence that would suggest these Yemaek groups were known as or would identify themselves as Goguryeo. The first mention of Goguryeo as a group label associated with Yemaek tribes is a reference in the Han Shu that discusses a Goguryeo revolt in 12 CE, during which they broke away from the influence of the Chinese at Xuantu.[5]

At its founding, the Goguryeo people are believed to be a blend of people from Buyeo and Yemaek, as leadership from Buyeo may have fled their kingdom and integrated with existing Yemaek chiefdoms.[5] The Records of the Three Kingdoms, in the section titled "Accounts of the Eastern Barbarians", implied that Buyeo and the Yemaek people were ethnically related and spoke a similar language.[6]

Jumong and the foundation myth

Image of the mythical figure from the Goguryeo-era Ohoe Tomb 4.

The earliest mention of Jumong is in the 4th century Gwanggaeto Stele. Jumong is the modern Korean transcription of the hanja 朱蒙 Jumong, 鄒牟 Chumo, or 仲牟 Jungmo.

The Stele states that Jumong was the first king and ancestor of Goguryeo and that he was the son of the prince of Buyeo and daughter of the river deity Habaek.[7] The Samguk Sagi and Samgungnyusa paint additional detail and names Jumong's mother as Yuhwa. Jumong's biological father was said to be a man named Hae Mo-su of Buyeo who is described as a "strong man" and "a heavenly prince."[8] The river god chased Yuhwa away to the Ubal River (hanja: 優渤水 {{{Ot) due to her pregnancy, where she met and became the concubine of Geumwa of Dongbuyeo.

Jumong was well known for his exceptional archery skills. Eventually, Geumwa's sons became jealous of him, and Jumong was forced to leave Eastern Buyeo.[9] The Stele and later Korean sources disagree as to which Buyeo Jumong came from. The Stele says he came from the Buyeo kingdom and the Samgungnyusa and Samguk Sagi say he came from Eastern Buyeo. Jumong eventually made it to Jolbon, where he married Soseono, daughter of its ruler. He subsequently became king himself, founding Goguryeo with a small group of his followers from his native country.

A traditional account from the "Annals of Baekje" section in the Samguk Sagi says that Soseono was the daughter of Yeon Tabal, a wealthy influential figure in Jolbon[10] and married to Jumong. However, the same source officially states that the king of Jolbon gave his daughter to Jumong, who had escaped with his followers from Eastern Buyeo, in marriage. She gave her husband, Jumong, financial support[3] in founding the new statelet, Goguryeo. After Yuri of Goguryeo, son of Jumong and his first wife, Lady Ye, came from Dongbuyeo and succeeded Jumong, she left Goguryeo, taking her two sons Biryu and Onjo of Baekje south to found their own kingdoms, one of which was Baekje.

Jumong's given surname was "Hae" (hanja: ), the name of the Buyeo rulers. According to the Samgungnyusa, Jumong changed his surname to "Go" (hanja: ) in conscious reflection of his divine parentage.[11] Jumong is recorded to have conquered the tribal states of Biryu () in 36 BCE, Haeng-in () in 33 BCE, and North Okjeo in 28 BCE.[12][13]

Centralization and early expansion (mid-first century)

Goguryeo developed from a league of various Manchuria and northern Korea which are both very mountainous and lacking in arable land. Upon centralizing, Goguryeo might have been unable to harness enough resources from the region to feed its population and thus, following historical pastoralist tendencies, would have sought to raid and exploit neighboring societies for their land and resources. Aggressive military activities may have also aided expansion, allowing Goguryeo to exact tribute from their tribal neighbors and dominate them politically and economically.[14]

Taejo conquered the Okjeo tribes of what is now northeastern Korea as well as the Dongye and other tribes in Southeastern Manchuria and Northern Korea. From the increase of resources and manpower that these subjugated tribes gave him, Taejodae led Goguryeo in attacking the Han Commanderies of Lelang and Xuantu in the Korean and Liaodong Peninsulas, becoming fully independent from them.[15]

Generally, Taejodae allowed the conquered tribes to retain their chieftains, but required them to report to governors who were related to Goguryeo's royal line; tribes under Goguryeo's jurisdiction were expected to provide heavy tribute. Taejodae and his successors channeled these increased resources to continuing Goguryeo's expansion to the north and west. New laws regulated peasants and the aristocracy, as tribal leaders continued to be absorbed into the central aristocracy. Royal succession changed from fraternal to patrilineal, stabilizing the royal court.[16]

The expanding Goguryeo kingdom soon entered into direct military contact with the Liaodong commandery to its west. Pressure from Liadong forced Goguryeo to move their capital in the Hun River valley to the Yalu River valley near Wandu Mountain City.[17]

Goguryeo–Wei Wars

In the chaos following the fall of the Han Dynasty, the former Han commanderies had broken free of control and were ruled by various independent warlords. Surrounded by these commanderies, who were governed by aggressive warlords, Goguryeo moved to improve relations with the newly created dynasty of Cao Wei in China and sent tribute in 220. In 238, Goguryeo entered into a formal alliance with Wei to destroy the Liaodong commandery.

When Liaodong was finally conquered by Wei, cooperation between Wei and Goguryeo fell apart and Goguryeo attacked the western edges of Liaodong, which incited a Wei counterattack in 244. Thus, Goguryeo initiated the Goguryeo–Wei Wars in 242, trying to cut off Chinese access to its territories in Korea by attempting to take a Chinese fort. However, the Wei state responded by invading and defeated Goguryeo. The capital at Hwando was destroyed by Wei forces in 244.[18] It is said that the Dongcheon of Goguryeo, with his army destroyed, fled for a while to the Okjeo in the east.[19]

Revival and further expansion (300 to 390)

Seated buddhas and bodhisattvas from Wono-ri, Goguryeo.
A gilt-bronze crown from Goguryeo believed to have once adorned the head of a bodhisattva image.

The Wei armies thought they had destroyed Goguryeo and soon left the area. However, in only 70 years, Goguryeo rebuilt their capital Hwando Mountain Fortress and again began to raid the Liaodong, Lelang and Xuantu commandaries. As Goguryeo extended its reach into the Liaodong peninsula, the last Chinese commandery at Lelang was conquered and absorbed by Micheon of Goguryeo in 313, bringing the northern part of the Korean peninsula into the fold.[20] This conquest resulted in the end of Chinese rule over territory in the northern Korean peninsula, which had spanned 400 years.[21][22]

From that point on, until the 7th century, territorial control of the peninsula would be contested primarily by the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

The expansion met temporary setbacks when in winter 342, the Xianbei of Former Yan, ruled by the Murong clan, attacked Goguryeo's capital, destroying the capital Hwando and forcing its King Gogukwon to flee for a while. The Xianbei used the Goguryeo people for slave labor. Buyeo was also destroyed by the Xianbei in 346, the Korean peninsula also became subject to Buyeo migration from people fleeing the Xianbei.[23] The Xianbei enslaved 50,000 men and women from Goguryeo in addition to taking the queen mother and queen prisoner after the capital was seized during their 342 invasion of Goguryeo.[24] In 371, when King Geunchogo of Baekje sacked one of Goguryeo's largest cities, Pyongyang, and killed King Gogukwon of Goguryeo in the Battle of Chiyang.[25]

Turning to domestic stability and the unification of various conquered tribes, Sosurim of Goguryeo proclaimed new laws, embraced Buddhism as the state religion in 372, and established a national educational institute called the Taehak (태학, 太學).[26] Due to the defeats that Goguryeo had suffered at the hands of Former Yan and Baekje, Sosurim also instituted military reforms aimed at preventing such defeats in the future.[27]

Zenith of Goguryeo's Power (391 to 531 AD)

Detail of a rubbing of the Gwanggaeto Stele (414 AD), one of the few surviving records made by Goguryeo, written in Classical Chinese.
A royal tomb, located in Ji'an, Jilin, was built by the Goguryeo Kingdom.
Monarchs of Korea
  1. King Chumo 37-19 BCE
  2. King Yuri 19 BCE-18 CE
  3. King Daemusin 18-44
  4. King Minjung 44-48
  5. King Mobon 48-53
  6. King Taejodae 53-146
  7. King Chadae 146-165
  8. King Sindae 165-179
  9. King Gogukcheon 179-197
  10. King Sansang 197-227
  11. King Dongcheon 227-248
  12. King Jungcheon 248-270
  13. King Seocheon 270-292
  14. King Bongsang 292-300
  15. King Micheon 300-331
  16. King Gogug-won 331-371
  17. King Sosurim 371-384
  18. King Gogug-yang 384-391
  19. King Gwanggaeto 391-413
  20. King Jangsu 413-490
  21. King Munja 491-519
  22. King Anjang 519-531
  23. King An-won 531-545
  24. King Yang-won 545-559
  25. King Pyeong-won 559-590
  26. King Yeong-yang 590-618
  27. King Yeong-nyu 618-642
  28. King Bojang 642-668

Gwanggaeto the Great (R. 391–412 AD) was a highly energetic monarch that is remembered for his rapid military expansion of the realm.[27]

Gwanggaetto is said to have conquered 64 walled cities and 1,400 villages from campaigns against Khitan and Baekje,[28] destroyed Later Yan and took the entire Liaodong Peninsula in 404. He also annexed much of Buyeo and expanded into the territory of Mohe tribes in north, subjugated northern Baekje, contributed to the dissolution of the Gaya confederacy, and coerced Silla into agreeing to become a protectorate through the Goguryeo–Yamato War. In doing so, he brought about a loose unification of the Korean peninsula that lasted about 50 years. By the end of his reign, Goguryeo had achieved undisputed control of southern Manchuria, and the northern and central regions of the Korean Peninsula.[29]

During this period, Goguryeo territory included three fourths of the Korean peninsula, including what is now Seoul, and much of southern Manchuria and the southeastern end of Russian maritime province. Gwanggaeto instituted the reign name of "Yeongnak", thus signifying his belief that he was on an equal footing with the major Chinese dynasties.[30]

Gwanggaeto's exploits have been recorded on a huge memorial stele located near present day Jilin in southern Manchuria, that was erected by his son, Jangsu.

King Jangsu ascended to the throne in 413 and moved the capital to Pyongyang in 427, which is evidence of the intensifying rivalries between Goguryeo and the other two peninsular kingdoms of Baekje and Silla to its south. Jangsu, like his father, continued Goguryeo's territorial expansion into Manchuria and reached the eastern Songhua River. Goguryeo expanded its sphere of influence to Didouyu (지두우, 地豆于) located in eastern Mongolia with Rouran during his reign.

King Jangsu changed the official name of Goguryeo, to Goryeo (고려/高麗). But it was still often used in combination with Goguryeo.[31]

During the reign of Munja, Goguryeo completely annexed Buyeo, signifying Goguryeo's furthest-ever expansion north, while continuing its strong influence over the kingdoms of Silla and Baekje, and also over Mohe and Khitan tribes.

Internal strife (531 to 551)

Goguryeo reached its zenith in the 6th century. After this, however, it began a steady decline. Anjang was assassinated, and succeeded by his brother Anwon, during whose reign aristocratic factionalism increased. A political schism deepened as two factions advocated different princes for succession, until the eight-year-old Yang-won was finally crowned. But the power struggle was never resolved definitively, as renegade magistrates with private armies appointed themselves de facto rulers of their areas of control.

Taking advantage of Goguryeo's internal struggle, a nomadic group called the Tuchueh attacked Goguryeo's northern castles in the 550s and conquered some of Goguryeo's northern lands. Weakening Goguryeo even more, as civil war continued among feudal lords over royal succession, Baekje and Silla allied to attack Goguryeo from the south in 551.

Conflicts of the late 6th and 7th centuries

In the late 6th and early 7th centuries, Goguryeo was often in conflict with the Sui and Tang Dynasties of China. Its relations with Baekje and Silla were complex and alternated between alliances and enmity. A neighbor in the northwest were the Eastern Göktürk (a khanate in northwestern China and near Mongolia) which was a nominal ally of Goguryeo.

Goguryeo's loss of the Han River Valley

In 551 AD, Baekje and Silla entered into an alliance to attack Goguryeo and conquer the Han River valley, an important strategic area close to the center of the peninsula and a very rich agricultural region. After Baekje exhausted themselves with a series of costly assaults on Goguryeo fortifications, Silla troops, arriving on the pretense of offering assistance, attacked and took possession of the entire Han River valley in 553. Incensed by this betrayal, Baekje's King Seong in the following year launched a retaliatory strike against Silla's western border but was captured and killed.

The war, along the middle of the Korean peninsula, had very important consequences. It effectively made Baekje the weakest player on the Korean peninsula and gave Silla an important resource and population rich area as a base for expansion. Conversely, it denied Goguryeo the use of the area, which weakened the kingdom. It also gave Silla direct access to the Yellow Sea, opening up direct trade and diplomatic access to the Chinese dynasties and accelerating Silla's adoption of Chinese culture. Thus, Silla could rely less on Goguryeo for elements of civilization and could get culture and technology directly from China. This increasing tilt of Silla to China would result in an alliance that would prove disastrous for Goguryeo in the late 7th century.

Goguryeo–Sui War

Goguryeo's expansion conflicted with Sui China and increased tensions. Goguryeo military offensives in the western Liaoxi region provoked the Sui and resulted in the first of the Goguryeo–Sui War in 598. In this campaign, as with those that followed in 612, 613, and 614, Sui was unsuccessful in overrunning Goguryeo, but did gain minor concessions and promises of submission that were never fulfilled.

Sui's most disastrous campaigns against Goguryeo was in 612, in which Sui, according to the History of the Sui Dynasty, mobilized 30 Division armies, about 1,133,800 combat troops. Pinned along Goguryeo's line of fortifications on the Liao river, a detachment of nine division armies, about 305,000 troops, bypassed the main defensive lines and headed towards the Goguryeo capital of Pyongyang to link up with Sui naval forces, who had reinforcements and supplies.

However, Goguryeo was able to defeat the Sui navy, thus when the Sui's nine division armies finally reached Pyongyang, they didn't have the supplies for a lengthy siege. Sui troops retreated, but General Eulji Mundeok led the Goguryeo troops to victory by luring them into an ambush outside of Pyongyang. At the Battle of Salsu River, Goguryeo soldiers released water from a dam, which split the Sui army and cut off their escape route. Of the original 305,000 soldiers of Sui's nine division armies, it is said that only 2,700 escaped to Sui China.

The 613 and 614 campaigns were aborted after launch—the 613 campaign was terminated when the Sui general Yang Xuangan rebelled against Emperor Yang of Sui, while the 614 campaign was terminated after Goguryeo offered surrender and returned Husi Zheng (斛斯政), a defecting Sui general who had fled to Goguryeo, Emperor Yang later had Husi executed. Emperor Yang planned another attack on Goguryeo in 615, but due to Sui's deteroriating internal state he was never able to launch it. Sui was weakened due to rebellions against Emperor Yang's rule and Yang's failed attempts to conquer Goguryeo. They could not attack further because the provinces in the Sui heartland would not send logistical support.

The wars depleted the national treasury of the Sui and after revolts and political strife, the Sui Dynasty disintegrated in 618. However, the wars also exhausted Goguryeo's strength and its power declined.

Goguryeo-Tang War and Silla-Tang alliance

First campaign in the Goguryeo–Tang War.

In the winter 642 Yeongnyu of Goguryeo was apprehensive about his general, Yeon Gaesomun, and was plotting with his other officials to kill him. When Yeon received the news, he started a coup d'état and killed the king and the high level officials. He enthroned Yeongnyu's nephew, Go Jang, as Bojang of Goguryeo while taking power himself as generalissimo ((Korean)). Yeon took an increasingly provocative stance against Tang China. When Emperor Taizong of Tang learned of this, there were suggestions that an attack be launched against Goguryeo, suggestions that Emperor Taizong initially declined.

By summer 645, Goguryeo was attacked by a Tang army that was personally led by Taizong. Tang forces had captured Yodong (遼東, in modern Liaoyang, Liaoning), and had captured a number of Goguryeo fortresses to clear a path to Pyongyang. Anshi fortress (, in modern Anshan, Liaoning) was the last fortress that would clear the Liaoning Peninsula of significant defensive works and was promptly put under siege. However, the capable defense put up by Ansi's commanding general (whose name is controversial but traditionally is believed to be Yang Manchun) stymied Tang forces and, in late fall, with winter fast approaching and his supplies running low, Emperor Taizong withdrew. The campaign was unsuccessful for the Tang Chinese, failing to capture fortified Ansi after long time siege.[25] After Tang Taizong's death in 649, Tang armies were again sent to conquer Goguryeo in 661 and 662, but could not overcome the successful defense led by Yeon Gaesomun and was not able to conquer Goguryeo, although the Tang attacks inflicted substantial losses.[32][33]


Goguryeo's ally in the southwest, Baekje, fell to the Silla-Tang alliance in 660; the victorious allies continued their assault on Goguryeo for the next eight years.

In summer 666, Yeon Gaesomun died and was initially succeeded as Dae Mangniji by his oldest son Yeon Namsaeng. As Yeon Namsaeng subsequently carried out a tour of Goguryeo territory, however, rumors began to spread both that Yeon Namsaeng was going to kill his younger brothers Yeon Namgeon and Yeon Namsan, whom he had left in charge at Pyongyang, and that Yeon Namgeon and Yeon Namsan were planning to rebel against Yeon Namsaeng. When Yeon Namsaeng subsequently sent officials close to him back to Pyongyang to try to spy on the situation, Yeon Namgeon arrested them and declared himself Dae Mangniji, attacking his brother. Yeon Namsaeng sent his son Gwon Saseong (泉獻誠), as Yeon Namsaeng changed his family name from Yeon (淵) to Gwon (泉) observe naming taboo for Emperor Gaozu, to Tang to seek aid. Emperor Gaozong of Tang saw this as the opportunity and he sent an army to attack and destroy Goguryeo.

In 667, Chinese army crossed the Liao River and captured Sinseong (新城, in modern Fushun, Liaoning). The Tang forces thereafter fought off counterattacks by Yeon Namgeon and joined forces with Yeon Namsaeng, although they were initially unable to cross the Yalu River. In spring 668, Li Ji turned his attention to Goguryeo's northern cities, capturing the important city of Buyeo (扶餘, in modern Siping, Jilin). In fall 668, he crossed the Yalu River and put Pyongyang under siege in concert with the Silla army.

Yeon Namsan and King Bojang surrendered, and while Yeon Namgeon continued to resist in the inner city, his general, the Buddhist monk Shin Seong (信誠) turned against him and surrendered the inner city to Tang forces. Yeon Namgeon tried to commit suicide, but was seized and treated. This was the end of Goguryeo, and Tang annexed Goguryeo into its territory, with Xue Rengui being put initially in charge of former Goguryeo territory as protector general.

However, there was much resistance to Tang rule (fanned by Silla, which was displeased that Tang did not give it Goguryeo or Baekje's territory), and in 669, following Emperor Gaozong's order, a part of the Goguryeo people were forced to move to the region between the Yangtze River and the Huai River, as well as the regions south of the Qinling Mountains and west of Chang'an, only leaving old and weak inhabitants in the original land.

Silla thus unified most of the Korean peninsula in 668, but the kingdom's reliance on China's Tang Dynasty had its price. Tang set up the Protectorate General to Pacify the East, governed by Xue Rengui, but faced increasing problems ruling the former inhabitants of Goguryeo, as well as Silla's resistance to Tang's remaining presence on the Korean Peninsula. Silla had to forcibly resist the imposition of Chinese rule over the entire peninsula, which lead to the Silla–Tang Wars, but their own strength did not extend beyond the Taedong River.

Revival movements

After the fall of Goguryeo in 668, many Goguryeo people rebelled against the Tang and Silla by starting Goguryeo revival movements. Among these were Geom Mojam, Dae Jung-sang, and several famous generals. The Tang Dynasty tried but failed to establish several commanderies to rule over the area.

In 677, Tang crowned former king Bojang as the "King of Szechuan in 681, and died the following year.

The Protectorate General to Pacify the East was installed by the Tang government to rule and keep control over the former territories of the fallen Goguryeo. It was first put under the control of Tang General Xue Rengui, but was later replaced by King Bojang due the negative responses of the Goguryeo people. Bojang was sent into exile for assisting Goguryeo revival movements, but was succeeded by his descendants. Go Jang's descendants declared independence from the Tang during the time at which An Shi Rebellion and Yi Jeonggi's rebellion in Shandong, China.[34][35] The Protectorate General to Pacify the East was renamed "Lesser Goguryeo" until its eventual absorption into Balhae under the reign of King Seon of Balhae.

Geom Mojam and Anseung rose briefly at Hanseong, but failed, when Anseung surrendered to Silla. Go Anseung ordered the assassination of Geom Mojam, and defected to Silla, where he was given a small amount of land to rule over. There, Anseung established the Kingdom of Bodeok, incited a rebellion, which was promptly crushed by King Sinmun. Anseung was then forced to reside in the Silla capital, given a Silla bride and had to adopt the Silla Royal surname of "Kim."

Dae Jung-sang and his son Dae Joyeong, both former Goguryeo generals, regained most of Goguryeo's northern land after its downfall in 668, established the kingdom Great Jin, which was renamed to Balhae after the death of Dae Jung-sang. To the south of Balhae, Silla controlled the Korean peninsula south of the Taedong River, and Manchuria (present-day northeastern China) was conquered by Balhae. Balhae considered itself (particularly in diplomatic correspondence with Japan) the successor state to Goguryeo.

In the early 10th century, Gung-ye, a rebel general, established Hu-Goguryeo ("Later Goguryeo"), later renamed to Taebong, which briefly rose in rebellion against Silla. Taebong also considered itself to be a successor of Goguryeo, as did Goryeo, the state that replaced Taebong, unified the Later Three Kingdoms, and ruled the Korean peninsula.


The unified military of Goguryeo was actually a conglomerate of combined local garrisons and private militia. Military positions were hereditary, and there is no evidence of uniform structure or chain of command. A centralized military command structure was not instituted until the Goryeo Dynasty. Most likely in times of war manpower was hastily conscripted from local populace, and a standing army of Goguryeo of about 50,000 remained extant at any time.

A Tang treatise of 668 records a total of 675,000 displaced personnel and 176 military garrisons after the surrender of King Bojang.

Every man in Goguryeo was required to serve in the military, or could avoid conscription by paying extra grain tax.

Archeological finds over Gukne(국내성) and in the tombs of neighboring kingdoms found spiked iron bronze sandals about 11 cm long. They were probably used for military applications.


The main projectile weapon used in Goguryeo was the bow. The bows were modified to be more composite and increase throwing ability on par with crossbows. To a lesser extent, stone-throwing machines and crossbows were also used. Polearms, used against the cavalry and in open order, were mostly spears. Two types of swords were used by Goguryeo warriors. The first was a shorter double-edged variant mostly used for throwing. The other was longer single-edged sword with minimal hilt and ring pommel, of obvious eastern han influence. The helmets were similar to helmets used by Central Asian peoples, decorated with wings, leathers and horsetails. The shield was the main protection, which covered most of the soldier's body. These cavalry were called Gaemamusa (개마무사, 鎧馬武士), loosely translated as "Iron Horse Warriors"..


The most common form of the Goguryeo fortress was one made in the shape of the moon, located between a river and its tributary. Ditches and ground walls between the shores formed an extra defense line. The walls were made from huge stone blocks fixed with clay, and even Chinese artillery had difficulty to break through them. Walls were surrounded by a ditch to prevent an underground attack, and equipped with guard towers. All fortresses had sources of water and enough equipment for a protracted siege. If rivers and mountains were absent, extra defense lines were added.

For more information on fortification, see Cheolli Jangseong (천리장성).


Two hunts per year, led by the king himself, maneuvers exercises, hunt-maneuvers and parades were conducted to give the Goguryeo soldier a high level of individual training.

There were five armies in the capital, mostly cavalry that were personally led by the king, numbering approximately 12,500. Military units varied in number from 21,000 to 36,000 soldiers, were located in the provinces, and were led by the governors. Military colonies near the boundaries consisted mostly of soldiers and peasants. There were also private armies held by aristocrats. This system allowed Goguryeo to maintain and utilize an army of 50,000 without added expense, and 300,000 through large mobilization in special cases.

Goguryeo units were divided according to major weapons: spearmen, axemen, archers composed of those on foot and horseback, and heavy cavalry that included armored and heavy spear divisions. Other groups like the catapult units, wall-climbers, and storm units were part of the special units and were added to the common. The advantage of this functional division is highly specialized combat units, while the disadvantage is that it was impossible for one unit to make complex, tactical actions.


The military formation had the general and his staff with guards in the middle of the army. The archers were defended by axemen. In front of the general were the main infantry forces, and on the flanks were rows of heavy cavalry ready to counterattack in case of a flank attack by the enemy. In the very front and rear was the light cavalry, used for intelligence, pursuit, and for weakening the enemy's strike. Around the main troops were small groups of heavy cavalrymen and infantry. Each unit was prepared to defend the other by providing mutual support.

Goguryeo implemented a strategy of active defense based on cities. Besides the walled cities and fortified camps, this active defense system used small units of light cavalry to continuously harass the enemy, de-blockade units and strong reserves, consisting of the best soldiers, to strike hard at the end.

Goguryeo also employed military intelligence and special tactics as an important part of the strategy. Goguryeo was good at disinformation, such as sending only stone spearheads as tribute to the Chinese court when they were in the Iron Age. Goguryeo had developed its system of espionage. One of the most famous spies, Baekseok, mentioned in the Samguk yusa, was able to infiltrate the Hwarangs of Silla.


Goguryeo roof-tile

The culture of Goguryeo was shaped by its climate, religion, and the tense society that people dealt with due to the numerous wars Goguryeo waged. Not much is known about Goguryeo culture, as many records have been lost.


The inhabitants of Goguryeo wore a predecessor of the modern hanbok, just as the other cultures of the three kingdoms. There are murals and artifacts that depict dancers wearing elaborate white dresses.

Festivals and pastimes

Common pastimes among Goguryeo people were drinking, singing, or dancing. Games such as wrestling attracted curious spectators.

Every October, the Dongmaeng Festival was held. The Dongmaeng Festival was practiced to worship the gods. The ceremonies were followed by huge celebratory feasts, games, and other activities. Often, the king performed rites to his ancestors.

Hunting was a male activity and also served as an appropriate means to train young men for the military. Hunting parties rode on horses and hunted deer and other game with bows-and-arrows. Archery contests also occurred.


A Goguryeo tomb mural.
A mural of a three-legged bird in a Goguryeo tomb.

Goguryeo people worshipped ancestors and considered them to be supernatural.[36] Jumong, the founder of Goguryeo, was worshipped and respected among the people. There was even a temple in Pyeongyang dedicated to Jumong. At the annual Dongmaeng Festival, a religious rite was performed for Jumong, ancestors, and gods.

Mythical beasts and animals were also considered to be sacred in Goguryeo. The phoenix and dragon were both worshipped, while the Samjogo, the three-legged crow that represented the sun, was considered the most powerful of the three. Paintings of mythical beasts exist in Goguryeo king tombs today.

They also believed in the 'Sasin', who were 4 mythical animals. Chungryong or Chunryonga (blue dragon) guarded the east, baek-ho (white tiger) guarded the west, jujak (red phoenix (bird)) guarded the south, and hyunmu (black turtle (sometimes with snakes for a tail)) guarded the north. These mythical animals are similar to the Azure Dragon, Vermilion Bird, White Tiger (Chinese astronomy), and Black Tortoise of the Four Symbols (Chinese constellation).

Buddhism was first introduced to Goguryeo in 372.[37] The government recognized and encouraged the teachings of Buddhism and many monasteries and shrines were created during Goguryeo's rule, making Goguryeo the first kingdom in the region to adopt Buddhism. However, Buddhism was much more popular in Silla and Baekje, which Goguryeo passed Buddhism to.[37]

Ssireum depicted on Goguryeo mural

Cultural linkage

Goguryeo art, preserved largely in tomb paintings, is noted for the vigour of its imagery. Finely detailed art can be seen in Goguryeo tombs and other murals. Many of the art pieces has an original style of painting.

Cultural legacies of Goguryeo may be found in modern Korean culture, for example, Ssireum,[38] Taekkyeon,[39][40] Korean dance, ondol, Goguryeo's floor heating system, and the hanbok.[41]


Remains of walled towns, fortresses, palaces, tombs, and artifacts have been found in North Korea and Manchuria, including ancient paintings in a Goguryeo tomb complex in Pyongyang. Some ruins are also still visible in present-day China, for example at Wǔ Nǚ Shān, suspected to be the site of Jolbon fortress, near Huanren in Liaoning province on the present border with North Korea. Ji'an is also home to a large collection of Goguryeo era tombs, including what Chinese scholars consider to be the tombs of kings Gwanggaeto and his son Jangsu, as well as perhaps the best-known Goguryeo artifact, the Gwanggaeto Stele, which is one of the primary sources for pre-5th century Goguryeo history.

World Heritage Site

UNESCO added Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom in present-day China and Complex of Goguryeo Tombs in present-day North Korea to the World Heritage Sites in 2004.


The modern English name "Korea" derives from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), which itself took one of the various names which Goguryeo had used in diplomatic language with its neighbours. Goguryeo is also referred to as Goryeo after 520 AD in Chinese and Japanese historical and diplomatic sources.[42][43]


There have been some academic attempts to reconstruct the Goguryeo words based on the fragments of toponyms, recorded in the Samguk Sagi, of the areas once possessed by Goguryeo. However, the reliability of the toponyms as linguistic evidence is still in dispute.[1] Some linguists propose the so-called "Buyeo languages" family that includes the languages of Buyeo, Goguryeo, Baekje. Chinese records also suggest that the languages of Goguryeo, Buyeo, East Okjeo, and Gojoseon were similar, while Goguryeo language differed from that of Malgal (Mohe).[44][45][46]


Goguryeo at territorial prime and modern political boundaries

The Chinese government's attempted characterization of Goguryeo as a possible regional Chinese power in recent times has received heated criticisms and complaints from both North Korea and South Korea, as well as some scholars of Goguryeo history,[47][48][49][50] including Chinese scholars.[51]

The Chinese version of Goguryeo history, which attempts to recharacterize it as a northern Chinese ethnic state rather than a Korean kingdom, has received criticism from South Korea and doubts from some scholars[52][48][53] including scholars of Goguryeo history. Mark Byington believes some Chinese historians, particularly "revisionists", have been accused of conceiving of ancient China in terms of the territorial bounds of the modern Chinese state, which, he claims, is a view unsupported by historical evidence.[54]

Online discussion regarding this topic has increased. The Internet has provided a platform for a broadening participation in the discussion of Goguryeo in both South Korea and China. Thomas Chase points out that despite the growing online discussion on this subject, this has not led to a more objective treatment of this history, nor a more critical evaluation of its relationship to national identity.[55]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b c d
  4. ^ .
  5. ^ , and references cited therein.


Further reading

  • Rhee, Song nai (1992) Secondary State Formation: The Case of Koguryo State. In
  • Asmolov, V. Konstantin. (1992). The System of Military Activity of Koguryo, Korea Journal, v. 32.2, 103–116, 1992.
  • Jeon Ho-tae Goguryeo: In Search of Its Culture and History. Hollym.

External links

  • (English) Encyclopaedia Britannica
  • (English) Encarta (Archived 2009-10-31)
  • (English) Columbia Encyclopedia
  • (Korean) Information about the ancient kingdom
  • (English) Goguryeo of Korea

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