King Onjo ( 온조왕 ) and Sipje ( 십제 ) : ? - 18 BC
Jumong, later known as King Dongmyeong, was the founding king of Goguryeo (founded in 37 BC) and was discussed in the post on Goguryeo (interesting birth myth). Jumong had three sons named Yuri ( 유리 ), Biryu ( 빌유 ), and Onjo ( 온조 ). Yuri, whose mother was Lady Ye, was the eldest of these three and had been left behind by Jumong when he fled Dongbuyeo to found Goguryeo. Upon arriving in Jolbon (later to become Goguryeo), Jumong married Soseono ( 소서노 ), to whom Biryu and then Onjo were born. However, Jumong obviously still favored his first son and he immediately named Yuri to be the crown prince once Yuri arrived in Goguryeo. Soseono reacted to this news by leaving Goguryeo with her two sons and moving south.
Settling in Seoul
I was unable to find any specific departure date for Biryu and Onjo, but it must have been around 20 BC. After leaving Goguryeo, the two brothers settled in different areas. Biryu stopped in Michuhol ( 및우홀 ), which is modern-day Incheon, and Onjo stayed farther east in Wiryeseong ( 위례성 ), which is near modern-day Seoul. Onjo settled in 18 BC (I'm not sure about Biryu, but I would guess the same time) and named his country Sipje.
The success and failure of these two states seems to have come down to a simple matter of geography. Michuhol was located on salty marshland that was unsuitable for human habitation (conflicts with an unknown group of people called the Malgal ( 말갈 ) probably didn't help much either). Wiryeseong was located in a much more fertile area, which meant that Onjo's country thrived, while Biryu's country failed. Realizing that his country was doomed, Biryu took his people to Sipje and demanded that his brother make him ruler of the country. Understandably, Onjo refused and the dispute ended with Onjo defeating Biryu in battle. Shamed by the failure of his country and his loss in battle, Biryu committed suicide following the fight. Onjo proceeded to welcome Biryu's people into his country and rename the state Baekje.
Or, Maybe It Didn't Happen at All...
It should be noted that much of the information on the formation of Baekje comes from the Samguk Yusa, which is a mixture of history and legend. The only other information available on this time period comes from the Chinese text named San Guo Zhi, which only claims that Baekje was a state in the Mahan confederacy. The lack of information available means that we have to rely on the Samguk Yusa, but we also need to keep in mind the folklore nature of the text.
Expansion and Conflict : 18 BC - 346 AD
External Pressure During the Early Years
Little is known about the first 250 years of Baekje's existence, but the small number of records that have survived suggest a chaotic time period. King Onjo was forced to move the capital multiple times (although all of the locations were within the area of modern-day Seoul) due to conflicts with other Mahan states. There were also conflicts with an as of yet unidentified group of people called the Malgal. There were Malgal tribes in Manchuria, but they are believed to have been too far north of Baekje to have posed any threat to the state. Baekje also had multiple run-ins with the flourishing Goguryeo and Silla states during this time period.
King Goi ( 234 - 286 )
King Goi ( 고이왕 ) is one of the most well-known rulers of Baekje and is credited with centralizing power in Baekje. He developed a central military, increased royal authority and developed laws against bribery. He also expanded Baekje's control over the remaining Mahan states and had frequent battles with Silla and the Chinese commanderies.
Glory Days : 346 - 475
King Geunchogo ( 근초고왕 ) completed the work started one hundred years earlier by King Goi when he completed the centralization of power and successfully annexed the rest of the Mahan states. Geunchogo also expanded into Goguryeo territory and was actually able to capture Pyongyang and kill King Goguwon of Goguryeo in the process. He is generally considered to be the most successful of the Baekje kings and the capture of Pyongyang marked the apex of Baekje's territorial expansion.
Bring on Buddha
Buddhism was adopted under the rule of King Chimnyu ( 침뉴왕 ) in 384. The king was very accepting of the new religion and ordered the construction of a temple in the capitol the following year. This change ushered in a new value system to the Baekje Kingdom.
|Pedestal of Buddha|
The following years saw numerous battles between Baekje and its neighboring states. In particular, Goguryeo began regaining some of the territory it had lost when Baekje expanded north to Pyongyang. Baekje formed an alliance with Silla and attempted to get help from the Chinese state of Wei in response to the continuing threat from Goguryeo. Unfortunately, in 475 Goguryeo attacked the Baekje capitol at Hansong (south of modern-day Seoul) and took the city in seven days. Silla didn't even have time to respond before Goguryeo had captured King Gaero ( 개로왕 ) and beheaded him.
|Baekje Incense Burner|
Capital Moved to Ungjin
A safe and secluded capitol was sought after the embarrassing defeat at Hansong. Ungjin ( 웅진 ), at modern-day Gongju, seemed to fit the bill and it served its purpose very well for 60 or so years. The defense provided by the mountainous capitol of Ungjin was essential following the downfall of Hansong, but it eventually proved to be a detriment to actually ruling a kingdom.
|Gongsanseong Fortress in Gongju|
|Mural in one of the Baekje royal tombs at Gongju|
With the thought of expansion in mind, King Seong ( 성왕 ) moved the capitol to Sabi ( 사비 ), which is in modern-day Buyeo county, in 538. Raids against Gorgouryeo were launched from this capitol in an effort to regain some of the land lost to Goguryeo's invasion in 475. With the help of Silla and the Gaya confederacy, Baekje was able to regain its former capitol. However, Silla had expansionist plans of their own and took advantage of the weakened Baekje military to take the recently repossessed Baekje lands. For this reason, Baekje now switched sides to become allies with Goguryeo in an attempt to punish Silla for its betrayal. Baekje's retaliation didn't end well, as 30,000 Baekje troops were killed, including King Seong. King Wideok ( 위덕왕 ), who succeeded King Seoung, continued aggression toward Silla as well as Goguryeo. The chief allies for Baekje during this time were China and the Wa kingdom in Japan.
Capitol Moved to Iksan?
There isn't any written record available to support this, but archeological evidence suggests that King Mu ( 무왕 ) at least briefly moved the capitol to Iksan. The tombs of King Mu and his wife have been discovered in Iksan.
Decline, Fall and Attempted Revival : 641 - 663
King Uija ( 의자왕 ) succeeded King Mu and was the last king of Baekje. King Uija took advantage of Silla's preoccupation with Goguryeo in the early part of his reign and was able to conquer some of Silla's territory. However, the combination of internal disarray and the power of the newly formed Silla-Tang alliance proved to be too much for the weakening Baekje state. The ultimate goal of the Silla-Tang alliance was the defeat of Goguryeo, but they decided that the easiest method for doing this would be to first eliminate Goguryeo's ally, Baekje. In 660, Baekje faced a naval assault from Tang in the west and a ground attack by Silla in the east. Baekje fell the same year when the king was captured after taking refuge in the old mountainous capitol of Ungjin. This marked the official end of the Baekje Kingdom.
Gwisil Boksin ( 휘실복신 ), who was a military leader and a cousin of King Uija, teamed with a monk named Dochim ( 도침 ) to overthrow the new rulers of their land. This movement was extremely successful for a few years, and resulted in the recapture of a number of strongpoints. Buyeo Pang ( 부여팡 ), the son of King Uija, also returned from Japan with Japanese forces during this time and was named king by the insurgents. As always seems to be the case, internal conflict led to the dissolution of this effort. Power struggles caused Boksin to kill Dochim and then resulted in Pang killing Boksin. The Silla-Tang alliance of course took advantage of this and Baekje's defeat in the Battle of Baekgang in 663 officially ended any hopes of a Baekje recovery.
The Baekje Kingdom inspired a revival movement after the fall of the Silla kingdom in a time period called the Later Three Kingdoms Period. This kingdom was called Hubaekje, which means "Later Baekje", but it only lasted for about 40 years.
Although the kingdom is somewhat overshadowed by Goguryeo and Silla, Baekje's cultural influence is still recognized in Korea today. There are numerous historical sites, museums, and festivals located in the southwest portion of Korea that are dedicated to the Baekje kingdom.
So, we have now arrived at Silla, the longest-lasting of the Three Kingdoms. I'm probably going to split Silla into two parts and write one about Silla as one of the Three Kingdoms and write another post about the Silla unification of the Korean peninsula.