Three Confederate States of Gojoseon

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The three Gojoseon kingdoms are states noted in history texts such as Joseon Sangosa[1] (1924–25), and have been researched by several historians,[2][3][4][5] although not completely accepted by all scholars.[6]

In popular Korean history, drawing on the Korean founding myth, Gojoseon (고조선, 2333 BCE – 239 BCE) was an early state of Korea that was established around Liaoning, southern Manchuria, and the northern Korean peninsula. It was anciently known simply as Joseon, but is now referred to as Gojoseon, i.e. "Ancient Joseon" to distinguish it from the much later (14th century) Kingdom of Joseon.

According to some sources, Gojoseon was a kingdom formed by the union of three confederacies, or Samhan: Majoseon (마조선), Jinjoseon (진조선) and Beonjoseon (번조선). These three confederacies were also known as Mahan, Byeonhan, and Jinhan. In conventional Korean history, these three confederacies appeared following Gojoseon's break-up, in the central and southern Korean Peninsula, until they were fully absorbed into the Three Kingdoms of Korea around the 4th century CE. Therefore, these later Samhan must be distinguished from the "former Samhan", or Samjoseon.

Government structure[edit]

Based on Joseon Sangosa, written in 1924–25 by Sin Chaeho, Gojoseon had an organizational system of three states and 5 ministries. The three states consisted of Jinjoseon, Majoseon and Beonjoseon. Jinjoseon was ruled by the Supreme Dangun. Beonjoseon and Majoseon were ruled by two Vice-Danguns. The Five Ministries, or Ohga, included Dotga (pig), Gaeda (dog), Soga (cow), Malga (horse) and Shinga according to their areas of east, west, south, north and center. This ministry system using the name of animals was also used by Buyeo, a successor state of Gojoseon. In wartime, five military troops consisting of a central army, an advanced army, a left army and a right army were organized, according to military commands, by the general of the central army. It is said that the traditional Korean game of Yut is patterned after these five military structures. Generally, the succession system of the Supreme Dangun and the Vice-Dangun was determined by heredity, and sometimes the ruler could be succeeded by one of the Ohga, suggesting that the sovereign's power was not absolute.

Territory of Three Confederacies[edit]

Majoseon was located on the Korean peninsula, Jinjoseon was located in Manchuria, and Beojoseon was located around Liaoning.
Gojoseon was developed in the time of bronze wares, and continued to the Iron Age. The territory of the three Gojoseons is recognizable by the occurrence of their unique style of bronze sword, i.e., the mandolin-shaped dagger (비파형동검, 琵琶形銅劍). Their mandolin-shaped dagger is found around Liaoning, Manchuria, the Korean peninsula and even Hebei. The shape of the mandolin-shape daggers of Gojoseon is very different from that of those found in China. Moreover, the composition of Gojoseon's bronze contains much more tin than that of China.

Jinjoseon (2333 BCE – 239 BCE)[edit]

It is usually said that the prefixes Ma, Jin and Beon were borrowed from Chinese characters to represent the Korean language. Jin (or Shin) represents the meanings of "whole" or "general"; thus Jinjoseon refers to the central confederacy of Gojoseon. Asadal (아사달) was the capital city of Jinjoseon governed by Dangun, and the other two Joseons were governed by the vice Danguns. Joseon Sangosa says that Asadal corresponds to the current Harbin. In history books, Jinjoseon was usually called Jin. In 425 BCE, the name of Ancient Joseon was changed to Great Buyeo, and the capital city was moved to Jangdang. At this time, Jinjoseon did not have enough power to control Beonjoseon and Majoseon, and gradually Gojoseon began to disintegrate. In 239 BCE, Jinjoseon was conquered by Hae Mosu Dangun, and the state name was changed to Buyeo.

Beonjoseon (2333 BCE – 108 BCE)[edit]

Beon or sometimes Byun means a plain or a field. Because Beonjoseon was a neighbor to the Chinese states, Chinese history usually referred to Beonjoseon as Gojoseon or simply Joseon. According to Shin, Gija Joseon and Wiman Joseon were usurpations of Beonjoseon, and the Danguns allowed Gija and Wiman to rule over Beonjoseon because they were of the Dongyi race. Chinese usually referred to the ancestral Korean race as Dong-yi, meaning eastern barbarians. Dangun had assigned Chidunam (치두남, 蚩頭男) as a vice Dangun of Beonjoseon. Its capital city was "Heomdok" (험독현, 險瀆縣), also called Wanggeom-seong (왕검성, 王儉城). Chidunam was a descendant of Emperor Chi-Woo the Great of Baedalguk (치우, 蚩尤) of the Baedal royalty. Hyeomdokhyeon is currently located in Changli (昌黎) County of Hebei Province in the modern People's Republic of China.[7] According to Joseon Sangosa, the Gi family became the kings of Beonjoseon in 323 BCE, and the central authority of the Vice-Dangun became very powerful. Beonjoseon of the Gi family was usurped by Wiman in 193 BCE; it was called Wiman Joseon henceforth. The last Vice-Dangun, Gijun, fled with his nobles and a large number of people into the Korean peninsula. There, he conquered Majoseon, and established Mahan.

Majoseon (2333 BCE – ?)[edit]

Ma is generally used to represent "south", and Majoseon was located to the south of Jinjoseon. Dangun assigned Ungbaekda (웅백다, 熊伯多) as Vice Dangun of Majoseon. Its capital city was Pyongyang. It is uncertain how long Majoseon endured, but it is thought to have been conquered by Gijun when he fled from Wiman, and then changed the name of the state to Mahan — one of the confederacies of the later Samhan. It seems that Mahan continued until it was conquered by Baekje.

Disintegration of Three Gojoseon[edit]

According to Joseon Sangosa, the disintegration of the three Gojoseon started around 400 BCE, when Yan attacked Gojoseon, and Gihu became the king of Beonjoseon. At this time, it seems that Gihu did not fall under the jurisdiction of Jinjoseon, and Beonjoseon under the Gi family became independent of Jinjoseon. Thereafter, the influence of Jinjoseon over Beonjoseon and Majoseon being greatly weakened, the disintegration of Gojoseon became inevitable.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joseon Sangosa. Sin Chaeho. (1931) ISBN 8947210331
  2. ^ 김정배, 고조선 연구의 사적 고찰 (Historical Survey on Research of Kochosun), 단군학연구, 7, 185–206 (2002)
  3. ^ 이정복, 논점 한국사 사료집성 (The Collection of Korean History Controversy), 국학자료원, ISBN 8982064729
  4. ^ 신채호, 조선민족의 전성시대 (The Prosperity Age of Joseon People), 삼천리, 7(1), 59–67 (1935)
  5. ^ 강경구, 고대의 삼조선과 낙랑 (Three Gojoseon and Nangnang Nation), 기린원 (1991)
  6. ^ The theory is even mentioned in most canonical history texts, including Lee Ki-baek's A New History of Korea and the Korean National Commission's Korean History: Discovery of its characteristics and developments (Seoul:Hollym, 2004).
  7. ^ Shihchi jijie(史記集解), Chapter 115 Records of Joseon

External links[edit]