Samguk Sagi

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Samguk Sagi
Author Kim Busik
Original title 삼국사기 (三國史記)
Country Goryeo
Language Classical Chinese
Subject History of Korea
Genre Ancient history
Publication date

Samguk Sagi (Korean pronunciation: [sʰamɡuks͈aɡi]; History of the Three Kingdoms) is a historical record of the Three Kingdoms of Korea: Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. The Samguk Sagi is written in Hanja (the written language of the literati in traditional Korea) and its compilation was ordered by Goryeo's King Injong (r. 1122-1146) and undertaken by the government official and historian Kim Busik (金富軾) and a team of junior scholars. It was completed in 1145. It is well known in Korea as the oldest surviving chronicle of Korean history.


The work's 50 volumes (gwon 권 卷, originally meaning "scroll") are composed of:

  • Records of Silla (Nagi 나기 羅紀 or Silla bongi, 신라 본기, 新羅本紀) (12 volumes)
  • Records of Goguryeo (Yeogi 여기 麗紀 or Goguryeo bongi, 고구려 본기, 高句麗本紀) (10 volumes)
  • Records of Baekje (Jegi 제기 濟紀 or Baekje bongi, 백제 본기, 百濟本紀) (6 volumes)
  • Chronological tables (Yeonpyo, 연표, 年表) (3 volumes)
  • Monographs (also translated as Treatises) (ji, 지, 志) (9 volumes): ceremonies and music (the two were intimately connected), transport and housing, geography, and official offices and ranks
  • Biographies (yeoljeon, 열전, 列傳) (10 volumes)


In taking on the task of compiling the Samguk Sagi (″compiling″ is more accurate than "writing" because much of the history is taken from earlier historical records), Kim Busik was consciously modeling his actions on Chinese Imperial traditions, just as he modeled the history’s format after its Chinese forebears.[citation needed] Specifically, he was harking back to the “Grand Historian” himself, Sima Qian (ca. 145-90 BCE)[citation needed] of the former Han Dynasty (206 BCE-24 CE), the title of whose singular history of China, the Shi ji (Korean sagi), Kim Busik adopted for his own work.[citation needed] Adopted as well from Chinese historiographical tradition was the classic four-part division of the standard dynastic history into Annals (bongi, 本紀), Tables (pyo, 表), Monographs (ji, 志), and Biographies (yeoljeon, 列傳).[citation needed]

There were various motivating factors behind the compilation of the Samguk Sagi in the 12th century. These may roughly be categorized as ideological and political. The ideological factors are made manifest in the work's preface, written by Kim Busik, where the historian states,

"Of today’s scholars and high-ranking officials, there are those who are well-versed and can discuss in detail the Five Classics 五經 and the other philosophical well as the histories of Qin and Han, but as to the events of our country, they are utterly ignorant from beginning to end. This is truly lamentable."[1]

In this quote can be discerned two clear motives. One was to fill the vast gap in knowledge concerning Korea's Three Kingdom Era. Though each of the three kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla had apparently produced their own histories, these were largely lost in the continual wars, the fall of Goguryeo and Baekje, and the dispersal of their records. The other motive was to produce a history that would serve to educate native Korean literati in native history, and provide them with Korean exemplars of Confucian virtues. This was especially important in mid-Goryeo as that dynasty became increasingly Confucianized.[citation needed]

But there were other factors not so clearly discerned. In Chinese tradition, the compilation of a dynastic history also served political ends. The dynastic history was written by the succeeding dynasty and the very act of writing it served to illustrate that the succeeding dynasty had inherited the mandate to rule from its predecessor. In this context, it should be remembered that the compilation of the Samguk Sagi was an officially sponsored undertaking, commissioned by the Goryeo king, with the members of its compilation staff approved by the central bureaucracy. As stated earlier, one aspect of its purpose would be to educate scholars and officials of the Confucianized bureaucracy in their native heritage, and native potential for attaining Confucian virtue. However, the fact that "native heritage" is primarily interpreted by the Samguk Sagi to mean "Three Kingdoms heritage" brings us to the work’s ostensibly broader purpose, and that was to promote Three Kingdoms (in contrast to the competing neighbors like Buyeo, Mahan, and Gaya, which were absorbed into the Three Kingdoms) as the orthodox ruling kingdoms of Korea, and to thus solidify the legitimacy and prestige of the Goryeo state, as the Three Kingdoms’ rightful successor. In this way it helped to confer the idea of zhengtong 正統, or "orthodox line of succession", upon the new dynasty. Though this objective was not directly stated in the memorial Kim Busik submitted in 1145, the intent was clearly understood. It was with just such intent that Goryeo's King Injong tapped Kim Busik to compile the history of the Three Kingdoms.[citation needed] Goryeo’s quest, through the writing of the Samguk Sagi, to secure its legitimacy and establish its continuation of the "mantle of authority" (or Mandate of Heaven) from the Three Kingdoms, meant as a necessary consequence that the compilers of the Samguk Sagi, unlike those of the Jewang Ungi or the Goryeo Dogyeong (高麗圖經), emphasized United Silla, the last survivor among the Three Kingdoms, and ignored Balhae.

Historical sources[edit]

The Samguk Sagi was written on the basis of the Gu Samguksa (舊三國史, Old history of the Three Kingdoms), and other earlier historical records such as the Hwarang Segi (花郞世記, Annals of Hwarang), most of which are no longer extant. Though Kim Busik was apparently ignorant of,[citation needed] or scorned to quote, Japanese histories, he lifts generously from the Chinese dynastic chronicles and even unofficial Chinese records,[citation needed] most prominently the Wei shu (魏書, Book of Wei), Sanguo Zhi (三國志), Jin Shu (晉書), Jiu Tangshu (舊唐書, Old history of Tang), Xin Tangshu (新唐書, New history of Tang), and the Zizhi Tongjian (資治通鑑, Comprehensive mirror for aid in government).


Kim Busik was a patrician of Silla origin, and though he himself was a practicing Buddhist, he supported Confucianism over Buddhism as the guiding principle of governance and favored presenting tributes to the Chinese emperor to prevent a conflict with China and in deference to the lofty (sadae). It thus appears that his background and tendencies would have been reflected in the Samguk Sagi.

Some Korean historians are critical of the records provided in the Samguk Sagi, citing a bias towards China and the Silla-centered view of the Three Kingdoms period.[citation needed] In the Biographies portion for instance, not only are a majority of the subjects Sillanese (68%), but the Silla biographies are filled with glorious exemplars of loyalty and bravery. Nonetheless, the formal mechanism of the Samguk Sagi was to treat the Three Kingdoms equally.[citation needed] For example, Kingdoms of Goguryeo and Baekje were referred, along with Silla, with the term "aguk (아국, 我國)" and their forces with the term "abyeong (아병, 我兵)", meaning "our nation" and "our troops" respectively. Furthermore, through the Samguk Sagi, Kim Busik praised a castellan of Goguryeo who defeated The Emperor Taizong of Tang at the Siege of Ansi Fortress and judged the Goguryeo castellan a hero.[2]

However, what all historians agree upon is that Kim Busik's history is critical to the study of Korean history during the Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla periods.[citation needed] Further, recent archaeological evidence provides verification of astronomical events, and comparison with Chinese and Japanese records have shown the Samguk Sagi to be surprisingly accurate.[citation needed]

Translations in Western languages[edit]

The only full Western language translation of the Samguk Sagi to appear to date is a Russian edition that appeared in two parts, 1959 and 2001.

However, portions of the work have appeared in various English language books and articles, notably:

  • Best, Jonathan. 2007. A History of the Early Korean Kingdom of Paekche [Baekje], together with an annotated translation of The Paekche Annals of the Samguk sagi. [A complete translation of the Baekje bongi]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard East Asian Monographs.
  • Byington, Mark E. 1992. "Samguk Sagi Volume 48 Biographies Book 8". Transactions of the Korea Branch, Royal Asiatic Society, 67:71-81.
  • Gardiner, Kenneth H.J. 1982. "Legends of Koguryǒ (I): Samguk sagi, Annals of Koguryǒ." Korea Journal, 22(1): 60-69. [part one of a translation of book one of the Goguryeo bongi].
  • Gardiner, Kenneth H.J. 1982. "Legends of Koguryǒ (II)." Korea Journal, 22(2): 31-48. [part two of a translation of book one of the Goguryeo bongi].
  • Jamieson, John Charles. 1969. “The Samguk sagi and the Unification Wars.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. [Translation of books 6 and 7 of the Silla bongi and eleven of the biographies, mostly of men of Silla].
  • Shultz, Edward J. and Hugh H.W. Kang (with Daniel C. Kane and Kenneth H.J. Gardiner). 2012. The Koguryŏ Annals of the Samguk Sagi. [A complete translation of the Goguryeo bongi]. Seongnam-si: The Academy of Korean Studies.
  • Shultz, Edward J. and Hugh H.W. Kang (with Daniel C. Kane). 2012. The Silla Annals of the Samguk Sagi. [A complete translation of the Silla bongi]. Seongnam-si: The Academy of Korean Studies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Peter H. Lee, ed., Sourcebook of Korean Civilization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 464.
  2. ^ 三國史記 高句麗本紀第九 寶藏王 四年 論曰 ... 則其城主 可謂豪傑非常者矣 ...

Other sources[edit]

  • Gardiner, K.H.J. “Samguk sagi and its Sources.” Papers on Far Eastern History, 2 (September 1970): 1-41.
  • Kim, Kichung. "Notes on the Samguk sagi and Samguk yusa". In Kichung Kim, An Introduction to Classical Korean Literature. London: M.E. Sharpe, 1996.
  • Lee, Hai-soon. "Kim Pu-sik's View of Women and Confucianism: An Analytic Study of the Lives of Women in the Samguk sagi". Seoul Journal of Korean Studies, Vol. 10 (1997):45-64.
  • McBride, Richard D. II. "Hidden Agendas in the Life Writings of Kim Yusin." Acta Koreana, 1 (August 1998): 101-142.
  • Shim, Seungja. "Plants and Animals in the Place Names of Samguk Sagi." In Proceedings of the 9th Annual Conference, 10–15 April 1985, Association for Korean Studies in Europe. Le Havre: Association for Korean Studies in Europe, 1985.
  • Shultz, Edward J. "An Introduction to the Samguk sagi." Korean Studies, 28 (2004):1–13.
  • Soloviov, Alexander V. "Kim Busik's Samguk Sagi: the 12th Century Man Viewpoint on Korean Culture". Major Issues in History of Korean Culture: Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Korean Studies, Moscow, December 17–20, 1996. Moscow: International Center for Korean Studies, 1997:71-74.
  • Yi, Chong-hang. "On the True Nature of 'Wae' in Samguk sagi." Korea Journal, 17:11 (November 1977): 51-59.