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고조선 (古朝鮮)
2333 BC?–108 BC


Gojoseon at its decline in 108 BC
Capital Asadal, Wanggeom-seong
Languages Proto-Korean
Religion Korean shamanism
Government Monarchy
 -  194 BC - ? Wi Man
 -  ? - 108 BC King Ugeo
Historical era Ancient, legendary
 -  legendarily established 2333 BC 2333 BC?
 -  Gojoseon-Han War 109 BC
 -  Fall of Wanggeom-seong 108 BC
Today part of  North Korea
 South Korea
Hangul 고조선
Hanja 古朝鮮
Revised Romanization Gojoseon
McCune–Reischauer Kojosŏn
Part of a series on the
History of Manchuria

Gojoseon (Korean pronunciation: [kodʑosʰʌn]; Hangul: 고조선; hanja: 古朝鮮) was an ancient Korean kingdom. The addition of Go (, ), meaning "ancient", distinguishes it from one of the various names of Joseon.

During its early phase, the capital of Gojoseon was located in Liaoning; around 400 BC, and was moved to Pyongyang, while in the south of the peninsula, the Jin state arose by the 3rd century BC.[1][2]

The territory of Gojoseon was invaded by the Han Dynasty of China during the Gojoseon–Han War in 108 BC, which is said to have led to the collapse of the kingdom into many small states, until the Proto–Three Kingdoms emerged and marked their own period in Korean history.

Their language was probably a predecessor of the equally prehistoric Buyeo languages, and perhaps a form of Proto-Korean.[3]

Founding legend[edit]

Main article: Korean founding myth
Heaven Lake of Baekdu Mountain, where Dangun's father is said to have descended from heaven

Dangun Wanggeom is the legendary founder of Korea. The oldest written record of this founding myth appears in the Samguk Yusa, a 13th-century collection of legends and stories. A similar account is found in Jewang Ungi.

The Lord of Heaven Hwanin (환인, 桓因, a name which also appears in Indian Buddhist texts), had a son Hwanung (환웅) who yearned to live on the earth among the people. Hwanin relented, and Hwanung descended to Mountain Taebaek with 3,000 helpers, where he founded a city he named Sinsi (신시, 神市, "City of God" or "Holy City"). Along with his ministers of clouds, rain, and wind, he instituted laws and moral codes and taught the people various arts, medicine, and agriculture.

A tiger and a bear living in a cave prayed to Hwanung that they may become human. Upon hearing their prayers, Hwanung gave them 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort, instructing them to eat only this sacred food and remain out of the sunlight for 100 days. The tiger shortly gave up and left the cave, but the bear remained and after 21 days was transformed into a woman.

The bear-woman (Ungnyeo, 웅녀, 熊女) was very grateful and made offerings to Hwanung. She lacked a husband, however, and soon became sad and prayed beneath a Sindansu (신단수, 神檀樹, "Divine Betula") tree to be blessed with a child. Hwanung, moved by her prayers, took her for his wife and soon she gave birth to a son, Dangun Wanggeom (단군 왕검, 檀君王儉). The Dangun (단군, 檀君) was a ruler's title of Gojoseon, and it is said to a theocracy state. It is said that Gojoseon was founded at the place where many birch trees existed. At that time, people roughly called the Gojoseon as the Birchen Nation because hanja for "Dan" means a birch tree. At this time, the power of a ruler was stronger than Baedal nation so that the word "Gun" was used ("Gun" means a king). Thus, Dangun can be translated into Heavenly Regent King. Some say that the pronunciation of Korean translation for Dan(檀) is similar with the pronunciation of the Korean word "bright." So, Dangun means the king of "Bright Nation."

Gojoseon is said to have been established in 2333 BC?, based on the description of the Dongguk Tonggam (1485). The date differs among historical sources, although all of them put it during the mythical Yao's reign (traditional dates: 2357 BC? – 2256 BC?). Samguk Yusa says Dangun ascended to the throne in the 50th year of the legendary Yao's reign, Sejong Sillok says the first year, and Dongguk Tonggam says the 25th year.[4] Some historians suggested that Gojoseon was founded around 3000 BC.[5]

State formation[edit]

Gojoseon is first found in contemporaneous historical records of early 7th century BC, as located around Bohai Bay and trading with Qi (齊) of China.[6]

Some historians argue that "Dangun" may have been the title of Gojoseon's early leaders. The legitimacy of the Dangun seems to have been derived from the divine lineage of Hwanin, a religious characteristic found in other ancient fortified city-states, such as those of Ancient Greece. The Gyuwon Sahwa (1675) mentions a lineage of 47 Dangun rulers in Gojoseon, ruling from 2333 BC to around 1128 BC. But the authenticity of these books is disputed as the Hwandan Gogi.

By the 4th century BC, other states with defined political structures developed in the areas of the earlier Bronze Age "walled-town states"; Gojoseon was the most advanced of them in the peninsular region.[2] The city-state expanded by incorporating other neighboring city-states by alliance or military conquest. Thus, a vast confederation of political entities between the Taedong and Liao rivers was formed. As Gojoseon evolved, so did the title and function of the leader, who came to be designated as "king" (Han), in the tradition of the Zhou Dynasty, around the same time as the Yan (燕) leader.[7] Records of that time mention the hostility between the feudal state in Northern China and the "confederated" kingdom of Gojoseon, and notably, a plan to attack the Yan beyond the Liao River frontier. The confrontation led to the decline and eventual downfall of Gojoseon, described in Yan records as "arrogant" and "cruel". But the ancient kingdom also appears as a prosperous Bronze Age civilization, with a complex social structure, including a class of horse-riding warriors who contributed to the development of Gojoseon, particularly the northern expansion[8] into most of the Liaodong basin.

Around 300 BC, Gojoseon lost significant western territory after a war with the Yan state, but this indicates Gojoseon was already a large enough state that could wage war against Yan and survive the loss of 2000 li (800 kilometers) of territory.[9] Gojoseon is thought to have relocated its capital to the Pyongyang region around this time.[7]

Gija Joseon and its controversy[edit]

Main article: Gija Joseon

According to Chinese records, Gija Joseon is the kingdom founded by Shang descendants led by Gija in the 12th century BC. The earliest survived Korean record, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms admitted Gija Joseon. The Korean historical record "Tongsa Kangmok" (東史綱目) in 1778 described Gija's activities and contributions in Gojoseon. The records of Gija refer to eight laws (Beomgeum Paljo, 범금팔조, 犯禁八條), that are recorded by Book of Han and evidence a hierarchical society and legal protection of private property.[9]

In the pre-modern Korea, Gija represented the authenticating presence of Chinese civilization, and until the 12th century Koreans commonly believed that Danjun bestowed upon Korea its people and basic culture, while Gija gave Korea its high culture—and presumably, standing as a legitimate civilization.[10]

However, Nationalist sentiment in the modern era has diminished Gija's place today to the point of near extinction.[10] Many Korean scholars deny its existence for various reasons.[11] They point to the book entitled Chu-shu chi-nien (竹書紀年) and Confucian Analects (論語), which were among the first works to mention Gija, but do not mention his migration to Gojoseon.[12] Some revisionist historians in Korea who believe in the existence of Gija Joseon divide Gojoseon into an eastern and western part. They argue that the western part includes areas around Hebei, Liaoning and southeast Inner Mongolia, and that it was there where Gija Joseon and Wiman Joseon were both established, while the eastern part remained under the control of Dangun's Joseon.[citation needed]

Wiman Joseon and fall[edit]

In 195 BC, King Jun appointed a refugee from Yan, Wiman. Wiman later rebelled in 194 BC, and Jun fled to southern Korean Peninsula.

In 109 BC, Emperor Wu of Han invaded near the Liao River. A conflict would erupt in 109 BC, when Wiman's grandson King Ugeo (右渠, 우거) refused to permit Jin's ambassadors to reach China through his territories. When Emperor Wei sent an ambassador She He (涉何) to Wanggeom to negotiate right of passage with King Ugeo, King Ugeo refused and had a general escort She back to Han territory — but when they got close to Han borders, She assassinated the general and claimed to Emperor Wu that he had defeated Joseon in battle, and Emperor Wu, unaware of his deception, made him the military commander of the Commandery of Liaodong. King Ugeo, offended, made a raid on Liaodong and killed She He.

In response, Emperor Wu commissioned a two-pronged attack, one by land and one by sea, against Joseon. The two forces attacking Joseon were unable to coordinate well with each other and eventually suffered large losses. Eventually the commands were merged, and Wanggeom fell in 108 BC. Han took over the Joseon lands and established Four Commanderies of Han in the western part of former Gojoseon area.

The Gojoseon disintegrated by 1st century BC as it gradually lost the control of its former fiefs. As Gojoseon lost control of its confederacy, many successor states sprang from its former territory, such as Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongye. Goguryeo and Baekje evolved from Buyeo.


Around 2000 BC, a new pottery culture of painted and chiseled design is found. These people practiced agriculture in a settled communal life, probably organized into familial clans. Rectangular huts and increasingly larger dolmen burial sites are found throughout the peninsula. Bronze daggers and mirrors have been excavated, and there is archaeological evidence of small walled-town states in this period.[8][13] Dolmens and bronze daggers found in the area are uniquely Korean and can't be found in China.

Mumun pottery[edit]

In the Mumun Pottery Period (1500–300 BC), plain coarse pottery replaced earlier comb-pattern wares, possibly as a result of the influence of new populations migrating to Korea from Manchuria and Siberia. This type of pottery typically has thicker walls and displays a wider variety of shapes, indicating improvements in kiln technology.[2] This period is sometimes called the "Korean bronze age", but bronze artifacts are relatively rare and regionalized until the 7th century BC.

Rice cultivation[edit]

Sometime around 1200 to 900 BC, rice cultivation spread to Korea from China and Manchuria. The people also farmed native grains such as millet and barley, and domesticated livestock.[14]

Bronze tools[edit]

The beginning of the Bronze Age on the peninsula is usually said to be 1000 BC, but estimates range from the 13th to 8th centuries BC.[15] Although the Korean Bronze Age culture derives from the Liaoning and Manchuria, it exhibits unique typology and styles, especially in ritual objects.[citation needed]

By the 7th century BC, a Bronze Age material culture, with influences from northeastern China as well as Siberia and Scythian bronze styles, flourishes on the peninsula. Korean bronzes contain a higher percentage of zinc than those of the neighboring bronze cultures. Bronze artifacts, found most frequently in burial sites, consist mainly of swords, spears, daggers, small bells, and mirrors decorated with geometric patterns.[2][16]

Gojoseon's development seems linked to the adoption of bronze technology. Its singularity finds its most notable expression in the idiosyncratic type of bronze swords, or "mandolin-shaped daggers" (비파형동검, 琵琶形銅劍). The mandolin-shape dagger is found in the regions of Liaoning, Hebei, and Manchuria down to the Korean peninsula. It suggest the existence of Gojoseon dominions, at least in the area shown on the map. Remarkably, the shape of the "mandolin" dagger of Gojoseon differs significantly from the sword artifacts found in China.

Dolmen tombs[edit]

Around 900 BC, burial practices become more elaborate, a reflection of increasing social stratification. Goindol, the Dolmen tombs in Korea and Manchuria, formed of upright stones supporting a horizontal slab, are more numerous in Korea than in other parts of East Asia. Other new forms of burial are stone cists (underground burial chambers lined with stone) and earthenware jar coffins. The bronze objects, pottery, and jade ornaments recovered from dolmens and stone cists indicate that such tombs were reserved for the elite class.[2][17]

Around the 6th century BC, burnished red wares, made of a fine iron-rich clay and characterized by a smooth, lustrous surface, appear in dolmen tombs, as well as in domestic bowls and cups.[2]

Iron culture[edit]

Around this time, Jin state occupied the southern part of the Korean peninsula. Very little is known about this state, except it was the apparent predecessor to the Samhan confederacies.

Around 300 BC, iron technology was introduced into Korea from Yan state. Iron was produced locally in the southern part of the peninsula by the 2nd century BC. According to Chinese accounts, iron from the lower Nakdong River valley in the southeast, was valued throughout the peninsula and Japan.[2]

Proto–Three Kingdoms[edit]

Numerous small states and confederations arose from the remnants of Gojoseon, including Goguryeo, Buyeo, JeonJoseon, Okjeo, and Dongye. Three of the Chinese commanderies fell to local resistance within a few decades, but the last, Nakrang, remained an important commercial and cultural outpost until it was destroyed by the expanding Goguryeo in 313.

King Jun of Gojoseon is said to have fled to the state of Jin in southern Korean peninsula. Jin developed into the Samhan confederacies, the beginnings of Baekje and Silla, continuing to absorb migration from the north. The Samhan confederacies were Mahan, Jinhan, and Byeonhan. King Jun ruled Mahan, which was eventually annexed by Baekje. Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla gradually grew into the Three Kingdoms of Korea that dominated the entire peninsula by around the 4th century.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Korean) "고조선(古朝鮮)". 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Timeline of Art and History, Korea, 1000 BC – 1 AD". Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
  3. ^ Jaehoon Lee (2004). "The Relatedness Between The Origin of Japanese and Korean Ethnicity". The Florida State University. p. 31. Retrieved 2007-04-11. 
  4. ^ Yoon, N.-H. (윤내현), The Location and Transfer of Go-Chosun's Capital (고조선의 도읍 위치와 그 이동), 단군학연구, 7, 207–38 (2002)
  5. ^ 허종호, 고조선력사 개관 (An Introduction to Gojoseon's History), 사회과학원 (2001) ISBN 89-89524-04-0
  6. ^ (Korean) "고조선" (in Korean). Naver/Doosan Encyclopedia. 
  7. ^ a b (Korean) http://100.naver.com/100.php?id=14543
  8. ^ a b "Korea's Place in the Sun". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ a b (Korean) Daum 백과사전 : 고조선
  10. ^ a b Kyung Moon hwang, "A History of Korea, An Episodic Narrative", 2010, pp. 4
  11. ^ http://www.dbpia.co.kr/view/ar_view.asp?pid=694&isid=30674&arid=657709&topMenu=&topMenu1=
  12. ^ 네이버 백과사전
  13. ^ North Korea - The Origins Of The Korean Nation
  14. ^ "Timeline of Art and History". Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
  15. ^ (Korean) 청동기문화 靑銅器文化 (고고학사전, 2001.12, 국립문화재연구소)
  16. ^ The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Arts of Korea, Bronze Age Objects
  17. ^ Unesco.