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Baekje or Paekche (Hangul: 백제; Hanja: 百濟,Korean pronunciation: [pɛk̚tɕ͈e]) (18 BCE – 660 CE) was a kingdom located in southwest Korea. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla.
Baekje was founded by Onjo, the third son of Goguryeo’s founder Jumong and So Seo-no, at Wirye-sung (around present-day Seoul). Baekje, like Goguryeo, claimed to succeed Buyeo, a state established in present-day Manchuria around the time of Gojoseon‘s fall.
Baekje alternately battled and allied with Goguryeo and Silla as the three kingdoms expanded control over the peninsula. At its peak in the 4th century, Baekje controlled some colonies in China and most of the western Korean Peninsula, as far north as Pyongyang. It became a significant regional sea power, with political and trade relations with China and Japan.
In 660, it was defeated by an alliance of Silla and China’s Tang Dynasty, submitting to Unified Silla.
According to the Samguk Sagi, Baekje was founded in 18 BCE by King Onjo, who led a group of people from Goguryeo south to the Han River basin. According to the Chinese record San Guo Zhi, during the Samhan period, one of the chiefdoms of the Mahan confederacy was called Baekje.
The Samguk Sagi provides a detailed account of Baekje’s founding. Jumong had left his son Yuri in Buyeo when he left that kingdom to establish the new kingdom of Goguryeo. Jumong became King Dongmyeongseong, and had two more sons with So Seo-no, Onjo and Biryu. When Yuri later arrived in Goguryeo, Jumong promptly made him the crown prince. Realizing Yuri would become the next king, So Seo-no left Goguryeo, taking her two sons Biryu and Onjo south to found their own kingdoms with their people, along with ten vassals. She is remembered as a key figure in the founding of both Goguryeo and Baekje.
Onjo settled in Wiryeseong (present-day Hanam), and called his country Sipje (meaning “Ten Vassals”), while Biryu settled in Michuhol (present-day Incheon), against the vassals’ advice. The salty water and marshes in Michuhol made settlement difficult, while the people of Wiryeseong lived prosperously.
Biryu then went to his brother Onjo, asking for the throne of Sipje. When Onjo refused, Biryu declared war, but lost. In shame, Biryu committed suicide, and his people moved to Wiryeseong, where King Onjo welcomed them and renamed his country Baekje (“Hundred Vassals”).
King Onjo moved the capital from the south to the north of the Han river, and then south again, probably all within present Seoul, under pressure from other Mahan states. King Gaeru is believed to have moved the capital to the Bukhan Mountain Fortress in 132, probably in present-day Gwangju, to the southeast of Seoul.
Through the early centuries of the Common Era, sometimes called the Proto-Three Kingdoms Period, Baekje gradually gained control over the other Mahan tribes.
Korea in 375, The greatest territory expansion of Baekje.
During the reign of King Goi (234–286), Baekje became a full-fledged kingdom, as it continued consolidating the Mahan confederacy. In 249, according to the ancient Japanese text Nihonshoki, Baekje’s expansion reached the Gaya confederacy to its east, around the Nakdong River valley. Baekje is first described in Chinese records as a kingdom in 345. The first diplomatic missions from Baekje reached Japan around 367 (According to the Nihon Shoki : 247).
King Geunchogo (346–375) expanded Baekje’s territory to the north through war against Goguryeo, while annexing the remaining Mahan societies in the south. During Geunchogo’s reign, the territories of Baekje included most of the western Korean Peninsula (except the two Pyeongan provinces), and in 371, Baekje defeated Goguryeo at Pyongyang. Baekje continued substantial trade with Goguryeo, and actively adopted Chinese culture and technology. Buddhism became the official state religion in 384.
Baekje also became a sea power and continued mutual goodwill relationships with the Japanese rulers of the Kofun period, transmitting continental cultural influences to Japan. Chinese writing system, Buddhism, advanced pottery, ceremonial burial, and other aspects of culture were introduced by aristocrats, artisans, scholars, and monks throughout their relationship.
During this period, the Han River basin remained the heartland of the country.
In the 5th century, Baekje retreated under the southward military threat of Goguryeo, and in 475, the Seoul region fell to Goguryeo. Baekje’s capital was located at Ungjin (present-day Gongju) from 475 to 538.
Isolated in mountainous terrain, the new capital was secure against the north but also disconnected from the outside world. It was closer to Silla than Wiryeseong had been, however, and a military alliance was forged between Silla and Baekje against Goguryeo.
Most maps of the Three Kingdoms period show Baekje occupying the Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces, the core of the country in the Ungjin and Sabi periods, although at some points in time, Baekje controlled territory in China that ringed the Bohai Sea.
In 538, King Seong moved the capital to Sabi (present-day Buyeo County), and rebuilt his kingdom into a strong state. From this time, the official name of the country was Nambuyeo (“South Buyeo”), a reference to Buyeo to which Baekje traced its origins. The Sabi Period witnessed the flowering of Baekje culture, alongside the growth of Buddhism.
Under pressure from Goguryeo to the north and Silla to the east, Seong sought to strengthen Baekje’s relationship with China. The location of Sabi, on the navigable Geum River, made contact with China much easier, and both trade and diplomacy flourished during the 6th and 7th centuries.
In the 7th century, with the growing influence of Silla in the southern and central Korean peninsula, Baekje began its decline.
Fall and restoration movement
In 660, the coalition troops of Silla and Tang of China attacked Baekje, which was then allied with Goguryeo. A heavily outmanned army led by General Gyebaek was defeated in the Battle of Hwangsanbeol near Nonsan. The capital Sabi fell almost immediately thereafter, resulting in the annexation of Baekje by Silla. King Uija and his son were sent into exile in China while at least some of the ruling class fled to Japan.
Baekje forces attempted a brief restoration movement but faced Silla-Tang joint forces of 130,000 men. General Boksin proclaimed Prince Buyeo Pung as the new king of Baekje, called King Pung (풍왕). Baekje requested Japanese aid, and King Pung returned to Baekje with a contingent of 5,000 soldiers. Before the ships from Japan arrived, his forces battled a contingent of Tang forces in Ungjin County.
In 663, Baekje revival forces and a Japanese naval fleet convened in southern Baekje to confront the Silla forces in the Battle of Baekgang. The Tang dynasty also sent 7000 soldiers and 170 ships. After five naval confrontations that took place in August 663 at Baekgang, considered the lower reaches of Geum River or Dongjin river, the Silla-Tang forces emerged victorious, and Buyeo Pung escaped to Goguryeo.
Social and political structure
The establishment of a centralized state in Baekje is usually traced to the reign of King Goi, who may have first established patrilineal succession. Like most monarchies, a great deal of power was held by the aristocracy. King Seong, for example, strengthened royal power, but after he was slain in a disastrous campaign against Silla, the nobles took much of that power away from his son.
The Hae clan and the Jin clan were the representative royal houses who had considerable power from the early period of Baekje, and they produced many queens over several generations. The Hae clan was probably the royal house before the Buyeo clan replaced them, and both clans appear descended from the lineage of Buyeo and Goguryeo. Eight clans (Sa, Yeon, Hyeop, Hae, Jin, Guk, Mok, and Baek) were powerful nobles in the Sabi era, recorded in Chinese records such as Tongdian.
Central government officials were divided into sixteen ranks, the six members of the top rank forming a type of cabinet, with the top official being elected every three years. In the Sol rank, the first (Jwapyeong) through the sixth (Naesol) officials were political, administrative, and military commanders. In the Deok rank, the seventh (Jangdeok) through the eleventh (Daedeok) officials may have headed each field. Mundok, Mudok, Jwagun, Jinmu and Geuku from the twelfth to the sixteenth, may have been military administrators.
According to the Samguk Yusa, during the Sabi period, the chief minister (Jaesang) of Baekje was chosen by a unique system. The names of several candidates were placed under a rock (Cheonjeongdae) near Hoamsa temple. After a few days, the rock was moved and the candidate whose name had a certain mark was chosen as the new chief minister. Whether this was a form of selection-by-lot or a covert selection by the elite is not clear.
Language and culture
Baekje was established by immigrants from Goguryeo who spoke what could be a Buyeo language, a hypothetical group linking the languages of Gojoseon, Buyeo, Goguryeo, and Baekje. In a case of diglossia, the indigenous Samhan people, having migrated in an earlier wave from the same region, probably spoke a variation or dialect of the same language.
Baekje artists adopted many Chinese influences and synthesized them into a unique artistic tradition. Buddhist themes are extremely strong in Baekje artwork. The beatific Baekje smile found on many Buddhist sculptures expresses the warmth typical of Baekje art. Taoist influences are also widespread. Chinese artisans were sent to the kingdom by the Liang Dynasty in 541, and this may have given rise to an increased Chinese influence in the Sabi period.
The tomb of King Muryeong (501–523), although modeled on Chinese brick tombs and yielding some imported Chinese objects, also contained many funerary objects of the Baekje tradition, such as the gold crown ornaments, gold belts, and gold earrings. Mortuary practices also followed the unique tradition of Baekje. This tomb is seen as a representative tomb of the Ungjin period.
Delicate lotus designs of the roof-tiles, intricate brick patterns, curves of the pottery style, and flowing and elegant epitaph writing characterize Baekje culture. The Buddhist sculptures and refined pagodas reflect religion-inspired creativity. A splendid gilt-bronze incense burner (백제금동대향로 Baekjegeumdongdaehyeongno) excavated from an ancient Buddhist temple site at Neungsan-ri, Buyeo County, exemplifies Baekje art.
Little is known of Baekje music, but local musicians were sent with tribute missions to China in the 7th century, indicating that a distinctive musical tradition had developed by that time.
Relations with China
Embassador of Baekje in China
In 372, King Geunchogo paid tribute to the Jin Dynasty of China, located in the basin of the Yangtze River. After the fall of Jin and the establishment of Song Dynasty in 420, Baekje sent envoys seeking cultural goods and technologies.
Baekje sent an envoy to Northern Wei of Northern Dynasties for the first time in 472, and King Gaero asked for military aid to attack Goguryeo. Kings Muryeong and Seong sent envoys to Liang several times and received titles of nobility.
Tomb of King Muryeong is built with bricks according with Liang’s tomb style.
Baekje’s presence on the continent
Although controversial, some Chinese and Korean records indicate that Baekje territory included parts of present-day China, across the Yellow Sea.
According to the Book of Song, “Goguryeo came to conquer and occupy Liaodong, and Baekje came to occupy Liaoxi (遼西) (in modern Tangshan, Hebei); the place that came to be governed by Baekje was called the Jinping District, Jinping Province.” The records of Book of Jin on Murong Huang states that the alliance of Goguryeo, Baekje, and a Xianbei tribe took military action. The Samguk Sagi records that these battles occurred during the reign of King Micheon of Goguryeo (309-331).
According to the Book of Liang, “during the time of Jin Dynasty (265-420), Goguryeo conquered Liaodong, and Baekje also occupied Liaoxi and Jinping, and established the Baekje provinces.”
The Zizhi Tongjian, compiled by Sima Guang (1019–1086) of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), states that in 346, Baekje invaded Buyeo, located at Lushan, and as a result the people of the country were scattered westward toward Yan. That year was the first year of the King Geunchogo’s reign (346-375) in Baekje.
The nearly contemporary record of the Book of Qi, as well as the later Zizhi Tongjian, state that a Northern Wei (386-534) army, composed of 100,000 cavalry, attacked Baekje but were defeated in 488. This account is confirmed by the Samguk-sagi records on the tenth year of King Dongseong’s reign (488). Since such an army could not have travelled from northern China to the southwestern corner of the Korean peninsula without passing through the hostile and powerful Goguryeo (in the reign of King Jangsu of Goguryeo (413-491)), without being recorded in contemporary chronicles, the “Baekje” in those records must refer to Baekje presence on the other side of Goguryeo, in Liaoxi.
The Book of Qi also records that in 495 Baekje’s King Dongseong requested honorary titles for the generals who repulsed the Wei attack. The titles given by the Southern Qi court carried the names of their domains that sounded like some Liaoxi areas, such as Guangling, Qinghe, Chengyang, etc.
The Territory Section of Mǎnzhōu Yuánliú Kǎo (满洲源流考, “Considerations on the Origin of Manchu“) also summarizes Baekje’s territories, obviously including a portion of Liaoxi:
The boundary of Baekje begins from the present-day Guangning and Jinyi provinces in the northwest and then crosses the sea in an easterly direction to arrive at the Joseon’s Hwanghae, Chungcheong, Jeolla, etc. provinces. Running east to west, Baekje’s territory is narrow; running north to south, it is long. Thus it occurs that if one looks at Baekje’s territory from the Liucheng and Beiping area, Silla is located in the southeast of Baekje, but if one looks from the Gyeongsang and Ungjin area of Baekje, Silla is located in the northeast. Baekje also borders Mohe in the north. Its royal capital has two castles at two different places in the east and west. Both castles are called “Goma.” The Book of Song says that the place governed by Baekje was called the Jinping district of the Jinping province. Tong-gao says that the Jinping province was located between Liucheng and Beiping of the Tang period.
Hence one of Baekje’s capitals was located in “Liaoxi,” and the other inside the “Joseon” provinces. It was during the reign of Emperor Wu of Liang that Baekje relocated its capital to southern Korea.
Both the Old and the New History of Tang say that the old Baekje territories were divided up and taken by Silla and Balhae. If Baekje was limited to the southwestern corner of the Korean peninsula, then it would have been impossible for the Balhae to occupy any of the old Baekje territories.
The Silla scholar and alleged Sinocentrist Choi Chi-won (857-?) wrote that “Goguryeo and Baekje at the height of their strength maintained strong armies numbering one million persons, and invaded Wu and Yue in the south and You, Yan, Qi, and Lu in the north of the mainland China, making grave nuisances to the Middle Kingdom”.
According to these records, Baekje must have held the Liao-xi province for more than a hundred years.
Relations with Japan
Baekje gave Seven-pronged Sword to Yamato.
Familial ties and Military assistance
To confront the military pressure of Goguryeo and Silla, Baekje (Kudara in Japanese) established close relations with Japan. According to the Korean chronicle Samguk Sagi, Baekje and Silla sent some princes to the Japanese court as hostages. Whether the princes sent to Japan should be interpreted as diplomats or hostages is debated. but that interpretation is questionable. Due to the confusion on the exact nature of this relationship of whether the Koreans were family to the Imperial line or hostages and the fact that the Nihon Shoki is a compilation of myth make it difficult the evaluate. The Samguk sagi can also be interpreted in various ways and it was rewritten in the 13th century. Adding to the confusion is the “Inariyama sword, as well as some other swords discovered in Japan, utilized the Korean ‘Idu‘ system of writing.” The swords “originated in Paekche and that the kings named in their inscriptions represent Paekche kings rather than Japanese kings.” The techniques for making these swords were the same styles from Korea. In Japan the hostage interpretation is dominant. Other historians like the ones who collaborated in the works for “Paekche of Korea and the origin of Yamato Japan” and Jonathan W Best who helped translate what was left of the Paekchae annals have noted that these princes setup school and took control of the Japanese Navy during the war with Koguryeo as evidence of them being diplomats with some kind of familial tie to the Japanese imperial family and not hostages. In addition, the translation of these documents are difficult because in the past the term “Wa” was derogatory meaning “midget pirate” or “dwarf pirate”. It is difficult to assess what is truly being stated it could have been a derogatory statement between 2 warring nations. Nothing definitative can be concluded. Further research have not been investigated, because in 1976 Japan stopped all foreign archaeologists from studying the Royal tombs such as Gosashi tomb which is suppose to be the resting place of Emperor Jingu. Prior to 1976 foreigners did have access where Korean artifacts were found. Recently in 2008, Japan has allowed controlled limited access to foreign archaeologists, but the international community still has many unanswered questions. National Geographic wrote Japan “has kept access to the tombs restricted, prompting rumors that officials fear excavation would reveal bloodline links between the “pure” imperial family and Korea“ In the end nothing can really be concluded without further research.
In any case, these Koreans brought to Japan knowledge of the Chinese writing system, Buddhism, iron processing for weapons, and various other technologies. In exchange, Japan provided military support.
The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms and Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms cite some of the Baekje royal family’s descendants and some nobles as dignitaries in the Japanese court, maintaining Korean influence and ensuring the continuation of the Yamato alliance, as in the time of Emperor Yomei, when the Buddhist temple of Horyuji was constructed. It is also known that Muryeong of Baekje, the twenty-fifth king, was born in Japan.
According to mythical accounts in the controversial Nihon Shoki, Empress Jingū extracted tribute and pledges of allegiance from the kings of Baekje, Silla, and Goguryeo. At the height of Japanese nationalism in the early 20th century, Japanese historians used these mythical accounts along with a passage in the Gwanggaeto Stele to establish ideological rationale to the imperialist outcry for invasion of Korea. Other historians have pointed out that there is no evidence of this Japanese account in any part of Korea, in addition to not being in any viable text in China or Korea. Regarding the Gwanggaeto Stele, because of the lack of syntax and punctuation the text can be interpreted 4 different ways, one which states that Korea crossed the water and subjugated Yamato. Due to this problem in interpretation nothing can be concluded. Also complicating the matter is that in the Nihongi a Korean named Amenohiboko is supposed to be the maternal predecessor of Empress Jingū. This is highly inconsistent and difficult to interpret correctly.
Scholars believe that the “Nihon Shoki” gives the invasion date of Silla and Baekje as the late 4th century. However, by this time, Japan was a confederation of local tribes without sophisticated iron weapons, while the Three Kingdoms of Korea were fully developed centralized powers with modern iron weapons and were already utilizing horses for warfare. It is very unlikely that a developing state such as Yamato had the capacity to cross the sea and engage in battles with Baekje and Silla.. The Nihon Shoki is widely regarded to be a unreliable and biased source of information on early relations with Korea, as it mixes heavy amounts of supposition and legend with facts.
Some Japanese scholars interpret the Gwanggaeto Stele, erected in 414 by King Jangsu of Goguryeo, as describing a Japanese invasion in the southern portion of the Korean peninsula. However, Mohan claims that Goguryeo fabricated the Japanese invasion in order to justify its conquest of Baekje. If this stele was a dedication to a Korean king, it can be argued that it would logically highlight Korea’s conquests and not dedicate it to a strange incident regarding Japan. In any case, because of these various possible interpretations, nothing can be concluded.
Chinese scholars participated in the study of the Stele during the 1980s. Wang Jianqun interviewed local farmers and decided that no intentional fabrication not occurred, adding that the lime on the Stele was pasted by local copy-making workers to enhance readability. Xu Jianxin of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences discovered the earliest rubbed copy which was made before 1881. He also concluded that there was no evidence the Japanese had intentionally damaged any of the characters on the Stele.
Today, most Chinese and Japanese scholars contradict the conspiracy theories, based on the study of the Stele itself and advocate Japanese intervention in the era, although its size and effect are disputed.
In the project of writing a common history textbook, Kim Tae-sik of Hongik University (Korea) denied Japan’s theory. But, Kosaku Hamada of Kyushu University (Japan) reported their interpretations of the Gwanggaeto Stele text, neither of them adopting the intentionally damaged stele theory in their interpretations.
The fall of Baekje and the retreat to Japan
Suda Hachiman Shrine Mirror looks like mirrors of Baekje
Some members of the Baekje nobility and royalty emigrated to Japan even before the kingdom was overthrown. In response to Baekje’s request, Japan in 663 sent the general Abe no Hirafu with 20,000 troops and 1,000 ships to revive Baekje with Buyeo Pung (known in Japanese as Hōshō), a son of Uija of Baekje who had been an emissary to Japan. Around August of 661, 10,000 soldiers and 170 ships, led by Abe no Hirafu, arrived. Additional Japanese reinforcement, including 27,000 soldiers led by Kamitsukeno no Kimi Wakako and 10,000 soldiers led by Iohara no Kimi also arrived at Baekje in 662.
This attempt, however, failed at the battle of Baekgang, and the prince escaped to Goguryeo. According to the Nihon Shoki, 400 Japanese ships were lost in the battles. Only half of the troops were able to return to Japan.
The Japanese army retreated to Japan with many Baekje refugees. The former royal family members were initially treated as “foreign guests” (蕃客) and were not incorporated into the political system of Japan for some time. Buyeo Pung’s younger brother Sun-gwang (Zenkō in Japanese) (善光 or 禅広) used the family name Kudara no Konikishi (“King of Baekje”) (百濟王) (they are also called the Kudara clan, as Baekje was called Kudara in Japanese). The mother of Emperor Kammu (737-806) was Takano no Niigasa, a descendant of King Muryeong of Baekje. Emperor Kammu treated the Kudara no Konikishi clan as his “relatives by marriage”. Baekje royalty are also the ancestors of the Ouchi clan, the Sue clan, Soga clan and others.
Baekje was briefly revived in the Later Three Kingdoms of Korea period, as Unified Silla collapsed. In 892, General Gyeon Hwon established Hubaekje (“Later Baekje”), based in Wansan (present-day Jeonju). Hubaekje was overthrown in 936 by King Taejo of Goryeo.
In contemporary South Korea, Baekje relics are often symbolic of the local cultures of the southwest, especially in Chungnam and Jeolla. The gilt-bronze incense burner, for example, is a key symbol of Buyeo County, and the Baekje-era Buddhist rock sculpture of Seosan Maaesamjonbulsang is an important symbol of Seosan City.
On 17 April 2009, Ōuchi Kimio (大內公夫) of Ōuchi clan visited Iksan, Korea to pay tribute to his Baekje ancestors.