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
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 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 means "Supreme King, Broad Expander of Domain,[1] buried in Gukgangsang", sometimes abbreviated to Hotaewang.[2] His era name is Yeongnak and he is occasionally recorded as Yeongnak Taewang (Yeongnak the Great). Gwanggaeto's independent reign title meant that Goguryeo was on equal standing with the dynasties in the Chinese mainland.[1][3][4]

Under Gwanggaeto, Goguryeo began a golden age,[5][6][7] becoming a powerful empire and one of the great powers in East Asia.[8][9][10] Gwanggaeto made enormous advances and conquests into: Western Manchuria against Khitan tribes; Inner Mongolia and the Maritime Province of Russia against numerous tribes and nations;[11][12] and the Han River valley in central Korea to control over two-thirds of the Korean peninsula.[3][4]

In regard to the Korean peninsula, Gwanggaeto defeated Baekje, the then most powerful of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, in 396, capturing the capital city of Wiryeseong in present-day Seoul.[13] In 399, Silla, the southeastern kingdom of Korea sought aid from Goguryeo due to incursions by Baekje troops and their Wa allies from the Japanese archipelago.[4] Gwanggaeto dispatched 50,000 expeditionary troops, crushing his enemies[14] and securing Silla as a de facto protectorate of Goguryeo.[15] Gwanggaeto continued his southern campaigns in the distant part of the Korean peninsula until the beginning of the 5th century and then he resumed his western campaigns, defeating the Xianbei of the Later Yan empire and conquering the Liaodong peninsula.[3] During his rule, Gwanggaeto subdued the other Korean kingdoms, achieving a loose unification of the Korean peninsula under Goguryeo.[4][16][17]

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.[18] Constructed by his son and successor Jangsu, the monument to Gwanggaeto the Great is the largest engraved stele in the world.[19][20]

Birth and background[edit]

At the time of Gwanggaeto's birth, Goguryeo was not as powerful as it once had been. In 371, three years prior to Gwanggaeto's birth, the rival Korean kingdom of Baekje, under the great leadership of Geunchogo, soundly defeated Goguryeo, slaying the monarch Gogukwon and sacking Pyongyang.[21][22] Baekje became one of the dominant powers in East Asia. Baekje's influence was not limited to the Korean peninsula, but extended across the sea to Liaoxi and Shandong in China, taking advantage of the weakened state of Former Qin, and Kyushu in the Japanese archipelago.[23] Hence, Goguryeo was surrounded by powerful Baekje to the south and to the west, and was inclined to avoid conflicts with its ominous neighbor,[24] while cultivating constructive relations with the Former Qin,[25] the Xianbei, and the Rouran, in order to defend itself from future invasions and bide time to reshape its legal structure and initiate military reforms.[26]

Gogukwon's successor, Sosurim, adopted a foreign policy of appeasement and reconciliation with Baekje,[24] and concentrated on domestic policies to spread Buddhism and Confucianism throughout Goguryeo's social and political systems.[27] Furthermore, due to the defeats that Goguryeo had suffered at the hands of the proto-Mongol Xianbei and Baekje, Sosurim instituted military reforms aimed at preventing such defeats in the future.[26] Sosurim's internal arrangements laid the groundwork for Gwanggaeto's expansion.[1]

Sosurim's successor, Gogukyang, invaded Later Yan, the successor state of Former Yan, in 385 and Baekje in 386.[28][29]


Rise to power and campaigns against Baekje[edit]

Gwanggaeto succeeded his father, Gogukyang, upon his death in 391. Upon his coronation, Gwanggaeto adopted the era name Yeongnak (Eternal Happiness) and the title Taewang (Supreme King), affirming that he was an equal to the rulers of China and Baekje.[1][3][4]

In 392, Gwanggaeto led an attack on Baekje with 40,000 troops, capturing 10 walled cities.[30] In response, Asin, the monarch of Baekje, launched a counterattack on Goguryeo in 393 but was defeated.[30] Despite the ongoing war, during 393, Gwanggaeto established 9 Buddhist temples in Pyongyang.[31][32] Asin invaded Goguryeo once more in 394, but was defeated again.[30] After suffering multiple defeats against Goguryeo, Baekje's political stability began to crumble.[17] In 395, Baekje was defeated once more by Goguryeo and was pushed south to its capital of Wiryeseong on the Han River.[30][33] In the following year, in 396, Gwanggaeto led an assault on Wiryeseong by land and sea, using the Han River, and triumphed over Baekje.[30] Gwanggaeto captured the Baekje capital and the defeated Asin submitted to him,[4][34] surrendering a prince and 10 government ministers,[30] as the condition for retaining his rule.[35]

Conquest of the North[edit]

Goguryeo at zenith under Gwanggaeto and Jangsu.

In 395, while his campaign against Baekje was ongoing to the south, Gwanggaeto made an excursion to invade the Khitan Baili clan to the west on the Liao River,[36] destroying 3 tribes and 600 to 700 camps.[37] In 398, Gwanggaeto conquered the Sushen people to the northeast,[4] who were Tungusic ancestors of the Jurchens and Manchus.[38]

In 400, while Gwanggaeto was occupied with Baekje, Gaya, and Wa troops in Silla, the Xianbei state of Later Yan, founded by the Murong clan in present-day Liaoning, attacked Goguryeo.[39] Gwanggaeto repulsed the Xianbei troops.[40][41] In 402, Gwanggaeto retaliated and conquered the prominent fortress called 宿軍城 near the capital of Later Yan.[39][42] In 405 and again in 406, Later Yan troops attacked Goguryeo fortresses in Liaodong (遼東城 in 405, and 木底城 in 406), but was defeated both times.[39] Gwanggaeto conquered all of Liaodong.[1][4] By conquering Liaodong, Gwanggaeto recovered the ancient domain of Gojoseon;[4][40] Goguryeo controlled Liaodong until the late 7th century.

In 407, Gwanggaeto dispatched 50,000 troops consisting of infantry and cavalry and won a great victory, completely annihilating the enemy troops and pillaging about 10,000 armors and countless war supplies; the opponent can be interpreted as Later Yan, Baekje, or Wa.[39][43]

In 410, Gwanggaeto attacked Eastern Buyeo to the northeast.[39]

Southern campaigns[edit]

In 400, Silla, another Korean kingdom in the southeast of the Korean peninsula, requested aid from Goguryeo in repelling an allied invasion by Baekje, Gaya, and Wa. Gwanggaeto dispatched 50,000 troops and annihilated the enemy coalition.[4] Thereupon, Gwanggaeto influenced Silla as a suzerain,[15] and Gaya declined and never recovered. In 402, Gwanggaeto returned Prince Silseong,[44] who had resided in Goguryeo as a political hostage since 392, back home to Silla and appointed him as the king of Silla.

In 404, Gwanggaeto defeated an attack by the Wa from the Japanese archipelago on the southern border of what was once the Daifang commandery, inflicting enormous casualties on the enemy.[39][45][46]

Death and legacy[edit]

Detail of Gwanggaeto Stele

Gwanggaeto died of an unknown illness in 413 at the age of 39. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Jangsu, who ruled Goguryeo for 79 years until the age of 98,[1] the longest reign in East Asian history.[47]

Gwanggaeto's conquests are said to mark the zenith of Korean history, building and consolidating a great empire in Northeast Asia and uniting the Three Kingdoms of Korea under his influence.[4][17] Gwanggaeto conquered 64 walled cities and 1,400 villages.[1][4] Except for the period of 200 years beginning with Jangsu, who would build upon his father's domain, and the golden age of Balhae, Korea never before or since ruled such a vast territory. There is archaeological evidence that Goguryeo's maximum extent lay even further west in present-day Mongolia, based on discoveries of Goguryeo fortress ruins in Mongolia.[48][49][50] Gwanggaeto established his own era name, Yeongnak Eternal Rejoicing, elevating Goguryeo monarchs as equals to their Chinese counterparts.[1][3][4]

Gwanggaeto the Great is one of two rulers of Korea whose names are appended with the title "the Great", with the other being Sejong the Great of Joseon, who created Hangul the Korean alphabet, to promote literacy among the common people,[51] and made great advances in science.[52][53]

Gwanggaeto is regarded by Koreans as one of the greatest heroes in Korean history, and is often taken as a potent symbol of Korean nationalism.

The Gwanggaeto Stele, a 6.39 meter tall monument erected by Jangsu in 414, was rediscovered in the late 19th century.[18] The stele was inscribed with information about Gwanggaeto's reign and achievements, but not all the characters and passages have been preserved. Korean and Japanese scholars disagree on the interpretation in regard to passages on the Wa.

The Republic of Korea Navy operates Gwanggaeto the Great-class destroyers, built by Daewoo Heavy Industries and named in honor of the monarch.

A prominent statue of Gwanggaeto alongside a replica of the Gwanggaeto Stele were erected in the main street of Guri city in Gyeonggi province.[54][55]

Depiction in arts and media[edit]

The Legend (also known as Taewang Sasingi) is a Korean historical fantasy drama, broadcast in 2007, based in part on Gwanggaeto and in part on Dangun. The drama spans the period from the birth of Gwanggaeto to the midpoint of his reign at the end of the 4th century AD, with Yoo Seung-ho playing the child version and Bae Yong-joon the adult version of the main protagonist.

Gwanggaeto, The Great Conqueror is a KBS historical drama, broadcast in 2011, based on the life of Gwanggaeto the Great.[56]

The International Taekwon-Do Federation created a pattern, or teul, to honor Gwanggaeto the Great. The pattern's diagram represents Gwanggaeto's territorial expansion and recovery of lost territories, and the 39 movements represent the first two numbers of 391 AD, the year when Gwanggaeto came to the throne.[57]

Many novels, comics, and games about Gwanggaeto the Great have been released in Korea.

The popular[58] and award-winning[59] Korean mobile game Hero for Kakao features Gwanggaeto as a playable character.[60]

Age of Empires: World Domination, a mobile game produced in collaboration with series owner Microsoft,[61] includes Gwanggaeto as a selectable hero of the Korean civilization.[62]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

Gwanggaeto the Great
Born: 374 Died: 413
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Goguryeo
Succeeded by