Gwanggaeto the Great

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Gwanggaeto the Great
Hangul 광개토대왕
Hanja 廣開土大王
Revised Romanization Gwanggaeto-daewang
McCune–Reischauer Kwanggaet'o-daewang
Birth name
Hangul 고담덕
Hanja 高談德
Revised Romanization Go Damdeok
McCune–Reischauer Ko Tamdǒk
Posthumous name
Hangul 국강상광개토경평안호태왕
Hanja 國岡上廣開土境平安好太王
Revised Romanization Gukgangsang-gwanggaetogyeong-pyeongan-hotaewang
McCune–Reischauer Kukkangsang-kwanggaet'ogyŏng-p'yŏngan-hot'aewang

King Gwanggaeto of Goguryeo (374–413, r. 391–413)[1] was the nineteenth monarch of Goguryeo, the northernmost of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. His full posthumous name roughly means "Very Greatest King, Broad Expander of Territory, buried in Gukgangsang.", generally abbreviated to Gwanggaeto-wang (King-Broad Expander of Territory) or Hotaewang.[1] He selected Yeongnak as his era name, so is called Yeongnak Taewang (Yeongnak the Great) occasionally. The independent reign title means that Goguryeo was a vis-à-vis the dynasties in Chinese mainland.[2]

Under Gwanggaeto, Goguryeo once again became a power in East Asia, having once enjoyed such a status in the 2nd century CE. He made enormous advances against Khitan tribes in Manchuria and against other nomadic people in now Russian Maritime province of Primorsky Krai, Inner Mongolia and also the Han River valley taking two-thirds of Korean peninsula,[2][3] partly because of Xianbei’s continuous growth in west side of Goguryeo.[1]

In terms of Korean peninsula, Baekje, once-supreme power of Three Kingdoms lost Wiryeseong, present-day Seoul in 396.[2] Additionally, Silla, southerneast of Korea seek help from Goguryeo owing to massive raids of Baekje and woku (pirates from Japanese archipelago)[4] in 399, dispatching 50,000 expeditionary forces to drive them out[5] only to make Silla de-facto protectorate of Goguryeo.[1] His campaigns into far-southern part of Korea continued at early phase of 5th century and headed westward conquering Liaodong peninsula.[2]

Gwanggaeto's accomplishments are recorded on the Gwanggaeto Stele, erected in 414 at the supposed site of his tomb in Ji'an along the present-day China–North Korea border.[6] It is the largest engraved stele in the world.

Birth and background[edit]

At the time of Gwanggaeto's birth, Goguryeo was not as powerful as it once had been. Just prior to his birth, Geunchogo of Baekje had soundly defeated Goguryeo, slaying Gogukwon of Goguryeo.[6] Sosurim of Goguryeo, who succeeded Gogukwon upon the latter's death in 371, kept his foreign policy of reconciliation with Baekje[7] chiefly concentrating on internal politics to accept Buddhism and Confucianism throughout social and political system.[8] Gogukyang, after Sosurim, maintained a similar policy, opting to focus on the rehabilitation and remobilization of Goguryeo forces.[3]

After defeating Goguryeo in 371, Baekje had become one of the dominant powers in East Asia, whose influence was not limited to the Korean peninsula, but extended as far as Liaoxi in China, taking advantage of weakened Qin dynasty.[9] Baekje under Geunchogo's leadership also seems to have had a close relationship with parts of Wa (Japan) and established good relations with that archipelago's natives. Thus Goguryeo, surrounded by a powerful Baekje's forces to its south and west, was inclined to avoid conflicts with its peninsula neighbor[7] while cultivating constructive relations with Former Qin,[10] the Xianbei and Rouran, in order to defend itself from future invasions and initiate reshaping its legal structure including military reforms.[11]

Rise to power and campaigns against Baekje[edit]

Goguryeo at zenith under Gwanggaeto and Jangsu.

Gwanggaeto succeeded his father, King Gogukyang, upon his death in 391. Upon his coronation Gwanggaeto granted himself the title "Supreme King Yeongnak", affirming himself as equal to the rulers of China and to the King of Baekje.[2] He then began to rebuild and retrain Goguryeo's cavalry units and naval fleets, and they were put into action the following year against Baekje. In 392, with Gwanggaeto in personal command, Goguryeo attacked Baekje with 50,000 cavalries, taking 10 walled cities along the two countries' mutual border.[2] This offensive infuriated King Asin of Baekje and he subsequently planned a counter-offensive against Gwanggaeto, a plan he was forced to abandon when his invasion was defeated in 393. King Asin again attacked Goguryeo in 394, and again lost. After several heavy defeats, Baekje began to politically crumble and the leadership of Asin came under doubt. Baekje was defeated by Goguryeo again in 395, and was eventually pushed back to a front along the Han River, where Wiryeseong.[2][12]

In the following year, Gwanggaeto led an assault on Wiryeseong, approaching by sea and river. Asin was expecting a ground invasion and was caught with his defenses down. It is said Gwanggaeto's forces burnt about 58 walled fortresses under Baekje control, and defeated the forces of King Asin, making him surrender to his knees,[3][13] even handing over 10 hostages of royal lineae and ministers as condition for maintaining his own rule over Baekje.[14]

Conquest of the North[edit]

In 395, during a campaign against Baekje, the King himself also attacked and conquered Beili, a small settlement of Kitan people on the Liao River,[15] not far from the Songhua. In 400, Later Yan, founded by the Murong clan of the Xianbei in present-day Liaoning province, attacked Goguryeo. Gwanggaeto responded swiftly, recovering most of the territory seized by the Xianbei and driving most of them from Goguryeo.[1] Then in 402, he decided to launch an offensive on Later Yan, determined to protect his Kingdom from further threats. In the same year Gwanggaeto defeated the Xianbei, seizing some of their border fortresses. In 404, he invaded Liaodong and took the entire Liaodong Peninsula.[2]

The Xianbei did not watch idly as Goguryeo forces took over their lands. The forces of the Later Yan crossed the Liao River, and attacked Goguryeo but were defeated by Gwanggaeto. The Murong Xianbei invaded once again the following year, but yet again Goguryeo was able to repel them, ending long campaigns.[16]

Gwanggaeto led several more campaigns against Xianbei as well as against Kitan tribes in present-day Inner Mongolia, which he brought under his control.[16] Its control over the Liaoning region remained strong until the Tang Dynasty seized the area as a part of its war against Goguryeo in the late 7th century. Recovering this region indicated the complete occupation of lost territories after the collapse of Gojoseon in 108 B. C.[3]

In 410 Gwanggaeto began his conquest of the Dongbuyeo (Eastern Buyeo) to its eastern side, presumably current Russian-Chinese border area. Though Eastern Buyeo seemed to have taken hold of advanced political system to be supreme ruler of around kingdoms, it could not get the chance of further development into full-pledged conqueror.[17] Dongbuyeo became another vassal state of Goguryeo after series of war.

Southeastern campaigns[edit]

In 400, Silla, another Korean kingdom in the southeast of the peninsula, requested Goguryeo assistance to defend against an alliance of wako, the Baekje kingdom to the west, and the Gaya Confederacy to the southwest. In the same year, King Gwanggaeto responded with 50,000 troops, defeated both Japanese and Gaya cavalry units, and made both Silla and Gaya submit to his authority.[3][4] In exchange, Silla was forced to send one of its princes to Goguryeo court, while Gaya started to go through weakened coalition. In 402, he returned Silseong to Silla,[18] to establish peaceful relationship with the kingdom while he continued the conquest of the north, but Goguryeo forces remained and continued to influence Silla.[1]

Death and legacy[edit]

Entrance to King Gwanggaeto's burial chamber

King Gwanggaeto died of unknown disease in 413, at the age of thirty-nine. His conquests are said to mark the zenith of Korean history, loosely unifying Korean peninsula.[3] Under his hegemony, Goguryeo conquered sixty-four walled cities and more than 1,400 villages, completing the firm subjugation of northern people.[17] Except for the period of 200 years beginning with his son and next successor, King Jangsu, and far later kingdom of Balhae, Korea never before or since ruled such a vast territory. There is evidence that Goguryeo's maximum extent lay even further west, in present-day Mongolia, bordered by the Rouran and Göktürks. Gwanggaeto is also given credit for establishing the reign titles that were recorded for the first time in Korean history, a symbolic gesture elevating Goguryeo monarchs as equals to their Chinese counterparts.[3]

Today, King Gwanggaeto the Great is one of two rulers of Korea who were given the title 'Great' after their name (the other one being King Sejong the Great of Joseon, who created the Hangul). He is regarded by Koreans as one of the greatest heroes of their history, and is often taken as a potent symbol of Korean nationalism.

The Gwanggaeto Stele, a six-meter monument erected by his son, Jangsu in 414, was rediscovered in 1875 by a Chinese scholar.[6] The stele was inscribed with information about his reign, but not all characters are preserved. Korean and Japanese scholars disagree as to their interpretation in regards to the Wa (Japan).

Depiction in arts and media[edit]

In 2007, Taewang Sasingi (also known as The Legend of the King's Four Gods), a fantasy historical drama, based partly on the life of Gwanggaeto the Great and partly on that of the mythological king Tangun, broadcast in Korea. Yoo Seung-ho played the child version and Bae Yong-joon the adult version of the main protagonist. This drama became a huge success in Korea due to its high-profile lead actor, Bae Yong-joon, and its amazing CGI effects that incorporated Korean legend with the history. The drama spanned the time period from the birth of Gwanggaeto the Great, to the midpoint of his reign at the end of the 4th century AD.

The further legacy of Gwanggaeto is his immortalisation as the eponymous ITF Taekwondo Tul (pattern) created by General Choi Hong-Hi along with the creative influence of his right hand-man, Nam Tae-Hi. The diagram represents the expansion and recovery of lost territory. The 39 movements refer to the first two figures of 391 A.D., the year he came to the throne. [1]

In 2011, a drama based on his life was aired on KBS, with the title Gwanggaeto, The Great Conqueror.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Walthall, Anne; Ebrey, Patricia (2013). Pre-modern East Asia : a cultural, social, and political history. (3rd ed. ed.). Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth. p. 103. ISBN 9781133606512. Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Kim, Djun Kil (2014). The history of Korea (Second edition. ed.). ABC-CLIO. p. 32. ISBN 9781610695824. Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Kim, Jinwung (2012). A history of Korea from "Land of the Morning Calm" to states in conflict. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press. pp. 35–36. ISBN 9780253000781. Retrieved 2 February 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Turnbull, Stephen (2014). Pirate of the far east 811-1639. London: Osprey Pub. p. 4. ISBN 9781780963709. Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  5. ^ Gerrard, Jon; Park, Yeon Hwan (2013). Black belt Tae kwon do : the ultimate reference guide to the world's most popular black belt martial art. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. p. 1. ISBN 9781620875742. Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c Lee, Injae; Miller, Owen; Park, Jinhoon; Yi, Hyun-hae (2014). Korean History in Maps. Cambridge University Press. pp. 30, 49. ISBN 9781107098466. Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  7. ^ a b Middleton, John (2015). World Monarchies and Dynasties. Routledge. p. 505. ISBN 9781317451587. 
  8. ^ Kang, Jae-eun (2006). The land of scholars : two thousand years of Korean Confucianism (1st American ed. ed.). Paramus (N.J.): Homa & Sekey books. pp. 37–38. ISBN 9781931907309. Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  9. ^ Shin, Hyong Sik (2006). A brief history of Korea (2. print. ed.). Seoul, Korea: Ewha Womans University Press. p. 29. ISBN 9788973006199. Retrieved 2 February 2016. 
  10. ^ Buswell, Robert E. (2004). Encyclopedia of Buddhism: A - L. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, Thomson Gale. p. 430. ISBN 9780028657196. 
  11. ^ Kim, Jinwung (2012). A history of Korea from "Land of the Morning Calm" to states in conflict. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press. p. 34. ISBN 9780253000781. Retrieved 2 February 2016. 
  12. ^ Yi, Hyun-hui; Pak, Song-su; Yun, Nae-hyon (2005). New History of Korea. Seoul: Jimoondang. p. 170. ISBN 8988095855. 
  13. ^ Jeon ho-tae, 〈Koguryo, the origin of Korean power & pride〉, Dongbuka History Foundation, 2007. ISBN 8991448836 p.137
  14. ^ Institute of Korean Studies; Seoul National University (2004). "Korean studies". Seoul Journal of Korean Studies (17): 15–16. 
  15. ^ Bourgoin, Suzanne Michele, ed. (1998). "Kwanggaet'o". Encyclopedia of World Biography: Kilpatrick-Louis. Gale Research. p. 94. 
  16. ^ a b Walthall, Anne; Ebrey, Patricia Buckley (2014). East Asia : a cultural, social, and political history. (3rd ed. ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth. p. 103. ISBN 9781133606475. 
  17. ^ a b Yi, Hyun-hui; Pak, Song-su; Yun, Nae-hyon (2005). New History of Korea. Seoul: Jimoondang. pp. 164–168. ISBN 8988095855. 
  18. ^ "Koguryo". Journal of Northeast Asian History 4 (1-2): 57. 2007. 
  19. ^

External links[edit]

Gwanggaeto the Great
Born: 374 Died: 413
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Goguryeo
Succeeded by
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
King of Korea
Reason for succession failure:
Three Kingdoms of Korea
Succeeded by