Taejo of Goryeo

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King Taejo of Goryeo
Goryo Taejo Wangkun 2.jpg
Reign July 25, 918 – July 4, 943
Coronation July 25, 918
Predecessor Gung Ye
Successor Hyejong of Goryeo
Born (877-01-31)January 31, 877
Songak, Unified Silla
Died July 4, 943(943-07-04) (aged 66)
Spouse Queen Sin-ui,
Queen Janghwa (Mother of Goryeo's 2nd Emperor Hyejong of Goryeo)
Issue Hyejong of Goryeo,
Jeonjong of Goryeo,
Gwangjong of Goryeo
House House of Wang
Father Wang Ryung
Korean name
Hangul 태조
Hanja 太祖
Revised Romanization Taejo
McCune–Reischauer T'aejo
Birth name
Hangul 왕건
Hanja 王建
Revised Romanization Wang Geon
McCune–Reischauer Wang Kǒn
Posthumous name
Hangul 신성대왕
Hanja 神聖大王
Revised Romanization Sinseong-Daewang
McCune–Reischauer Sinsŏng Taewang

Taejo of Goryeo (January 31, 877 – July 4, 943), also known as Taejo Wang Geon (Wang Kon, 왕건), was the founder of the Goryeo Dynasty, which ruled Korea from the 10th to the 14th century. Taejo ruled from 918 to 943.[1]


Taejo was born in 877 to a prominent merchant family at Songdo (modern Kaesong), who controlled trade on the Yeseong River. His father, Wang Yung (왕륭, 王隆), gained much wealth from trade with China. His ancestors were known to have lived within the boundaries of ancient Goguryeo, thus making Wang Geon a man of Goguryeo by descent.[2] Wang Geon traced his ancestry to a noble Goguryeo clan.[3]

Rise to power[edit]

Taejo began his career in the turbulent Later Three Kingdoms (hanja: 後三國時代 ). In the later years of Silla, many local leaders and bandits rebelled against the rule of Queen Jinseong, who did not have strong enough leadership or policies to improve the condition of the people. Among those rebels, Gung Ye (궁예; 弓裔) of the northwestern region and Gyeon Hwon (견훤; 甄萱) of the southwest gained more power. They defeated and absorbed many of the other rebel groups as their troops marched against local Silla officials and bandits. In 895, Gung Ye led his forces into the far northwestern part of Silla, where Songdo was located. Taejo's father, Wang Yung (later Sejo of Goryeo), along with many local clans, quickly surrendered to Gung Ye. Wang Geon followed his father into service under Gung Ye, the future leader of Taebong, and he began his service under Gungye's command.

Wang Geon's ability as a military commander was soon recognized by Gung Ye, who promoted him to general and even regarded him as his brother. In 900, he led a successful campaign against local clans and the army of Later Baekje in the Chungju area, gaining more fame and recognition from the king. In 903, he led a famous naval campaign against the southwestern coastline of Hubaekje (Keumsung, later Naju), while Gyeon Hwon was at war against Silla. He led several more military campaigns, and also helped conquered people who lived in poverty under Silla rule. The public favored him due to his leadership and generosity.

In 913, he was appointed as prime minister of the newly renamed Taebong. Its king, Gung Ye, whose leadership helped found the kingdom but who began to refer to himself as the Buddha, began to persecute people who expressed their opposition against his religious arguments. He executed many monks, then later even his own wife and two sons, and the public began to turn away from him. His costly rituals and harsh rule caused even more opposition.

Rise to the throne and founding of Goryeo[edit]

Monarchs of Korea
  1. Taejo 918–943
  2. Hyejong 943–945
  3. Jeongjong 945–949
  4. Gwangjong 949–975
  5. Gyeongjong 975–981
  6. Seongjong 981–997
  7. Mokjong 997–1009
  8. Hyeonjong 1009–1031
  9. Deokjong 1031–1034
  10. Jeongjong II 1034–1046
  11. Munjong 1046–1083
  12. Sunjong 1083
  13. Seonjong 1083–1094
  14. Heonjong 1094–1095
  15. Sukjong 1095–1105
  16. Yejong 1105–1122
  17. Injong 1122–1146
  18. Uijong 1146–1170
  19. Myeongjong 1170–1197
  20. Sinjong 1197–1204
  21. Huijong 1204–1211
  22. Gangjong 1211–1213
  23. Gojong 1213–1259
  24. Wonjong 1259–1269
  25. Yeongjong1269
  26. Wonjong 1269–1274
  27. Chungnyeol 1274–1308
  28. Chungseon 1308–1313
  29. Chungsuk 1313–1330
  30. Chunghye 1330–1332
  31. Chungmok 1344–1348
  32. Chungjeong 1348–1351
  33. Gongmin 1351–1374
  34. U 1374–1388
  35. Chang 1388–1389
  36. Gongyang 1389–1392

In 918, four top-ranked generals of Taebong — Hong Yu (홍유; 洪儒), Bae Hyeongyeong (배현경; 裵玄慶), Shin Sung-gyeom (신숭겸; 申崇謙) and Bok Jigyeom (복지겸; 卜智謙)—met secretly and agreed to overthrow Gung Ye's rule and crown Wang Geon as their new king. Wang Geon first opposed the idea but later agreed to their plan. The same year Gung Ye was overthrown and killed near the capital, Cheorwon. The generals installed Wang Geon as the new king of this short-lived state. He renamed the kingdom Goryeo, thus beginning the Goryeo Dynasty. The next year he moved the capital back to his hometown, Gaegyeong.

He promoted Buddhism as Goryeo's national religion, and called for the reconquest of the northern parts of Korea and Manchuria, which were controlled by Balhae. Balhae's rule over vast regions of Manchuria and parts of Siberia were overthrown by the Khitan invasion in 926, and the majority of its people came to Goryeo as refugees led by Balhae's last Crown Prince Dae Gwang-hyeon. Taejo accepted them as his citizens, since Balhae and Goryeo came from common ancestry (Goguryeo),[4] and captured the old, then abandoned capital city of Goguryeo, P'yŏngyang. He also sought alliances and cooperation with local clans rather than trying to conquer and bring them under his direct control.

The War of the Later Three Kingdoms[edit]

In 927, Gyeon Hwon of Hubaekje led forces into Silla's capital, Gyeongju, capturing and executing its king, King Gyeongae. Then he established King Gyeongsun as his puppet monarch before he turned his army toward Goryeo. Hearing of the news, Taejo planned a strike with 5000 cavalrymen to attack Gyeon's troops on the way back home at Gongsan near Daegu.[5] He met Hubaekje forces and suffered disastrous defeat, losing most of his army including his generals Kim Nak and Shin Sung-gyeom, the very same man who crowned Wang as a king. However, Goryeo quickly recovered from defeat and successfully defended Hubaekje's attack on its front.

In 935, the last king of Silla, King Gyeongsun, felt there was no way to revive his kingdom and surrendered his entire land to Taejo. Taejo gladly accepted his surrender and gave him the title of prince, and accepted his daughter as one of his wives (Wang had six queens, and many more wives as he married daughters of every single local leader). It caused much disgust to Gyeon Hwon. Gyeon's father, who held his own claim to the Sangju region, also defected and surrendered to Goryeo and was received as the father of a king.

In the same year, Gyeon Hwon's oldest son, Gyeon Singeom (hanja: 甄神劍 ), led a coup with his brothers Yanggeom and Yonggeom, against their father, who favored their half-brother, Geumgang, as his successor to the throne. Gyeon Hwon was sent into exile and imprisoned in Geumsansa, but escaped to Goryeo and was treated like Taejo's father, who died just before his surrender.

Goryeo victory and unification[edit]

In 936, Wang led his final campaign against Singeom of Later Baekje. Singeom fought against Taejo, but facing much disadvantage and inner conflict, he surrendered to Taejo. Wang finally occupied Hubaekje formally, and unified the nation for the second time since Unified Silla; he ruled until 943, and died from disease.

Taejo sought to bring even his enemies into his ruling coalition. He gave titles and land to rulers and nobles from the various countries he had defeated: Later Baekje, Silla, and also Balhae, which disintegrated around the same time. Thus he sought to secure stability and unity for his kingdom which had been lacking in the later years of Silla.

After the collapse of Balhae, the last crown prince fled to Goryeo, where he was warmly welcomed and included into the ruling family by Wang Geon, thus uniting the two successor nations of Goguryeo.[6]


Bust of Taejo

The unification of the Later Three Kingdoms in 936 was very important in Korean history; the unification of 668 CE by Silla was only a unification of approximately half of the peoples of the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity (who at the time largely considered themselves one people divided among many states), since the northern part was ruled by Balhae, which asserted itself as a reincarnation of Goguryeo. However, Wang Geon's unification in 936 was a more complete unification (in which only a single state emerged among the people, as opposed to the 7th century, when two, Later Silla and Balhae, emerged); the people of the Korean Peninsula thereafter remained under a single, unified state until 1948, when Korea was divided into north and south by Russian and U.S occupation forces.

As noted elsewhere in this article, the modern name of "Korea" is derived from the name "Goryeo," which itself is derived from "Goguryeo," to whose heritage (and by extension, territory) Wang Geon and his new kingdom laid claim.[4] As the first ruler to more fully unite the people of the Korean Peninsula under a single state, many modern-day Koreans look to his example for applicability to the current state of division on the Korean Peninsula.


During the early Goryeo dynasty, the title of crown prince (hanja: 太子 ) was only a peerage title for sons of the king; a separate title existed for the heir apparent (hanja: 正尹 ).

  • Ancestors
    • King Kukjo - Queen Junghwa
  • Consorts and issue:
    • Queen Sinhye (신혜왕후)
    • Queen Janghwa (장화왕후)
    • Queen Sinmyeongsunseong (신명순성왕후) [7]
      • Crown Prince Tae (태자 태), 2nd prince
      • Jeongjong, 3rd Monarch of Goryeo (정종), 3rd prince
      • Gwangjong of Goryeo (광종), 4th prince
      • Vice King Moonwon (문원대왕), 14th prince
      • Jeungtong Gooksa (증통국사)
      • Princess Naklang (낙랑공주)
      • Princess Heungbang (흥방공주)
    • Queen Sinjeong (신정왕후)
      • King Daejong (대종), 8th prince (Father of King Seongjong 6th)
      • Queen Daemok (대목왕후), (Mother of King Gyeongjong 5th)
    • Queen Sinseong (신성왕후)
      • King Ahnjong (안종), 13th prince (Father of King Hyeonjong 8th)
    • Queen Jeongdeok (정덕왕후)
      • Prince Wangwi (왕위군), 1st Son of Queen Jeongdeok.
      • Prince In-ae (인애군), 2nd Son of Queen Jeongdeok.
      • Crown Prince Wonjang (원장태자), 3rd Son of Queen Jeongdeok.
      • Prince Joh-yi (조이군)
      • Queen Munhye (문혜왕후), 1st daughter of Queen Jeongdeok.
      • Queen Seon-ui (선의왕후), 2nd daughter of Queen Jeongdeok.
      • Unknown Princess
    • Grand Lady Heonmohk (헌목대부인)
      • Crown Prince Soomyong (수명태자)
    • Lady Jeongmohk (정목부인)
      • Queen Dowager Soonahn (순안왕대비)
    • Lady Dongyangwon (동양원부인)
      • Crown Prince Hyomohk (효목태자)
      • Crown Prince Hyoeun (효은태자), 9th prince
    • Lady Sookmohk (숙목부인)
      • Crown Prince Wonnyung (원녕태자)
    • Lady Cheonanbuwon (천안부원부인)
      • Crown Prince Hyosung (효성태자)
      • Crown Prince Hyoji (효지태자)
    • Lady Heungbokwon (흥복원부인)
      • Crown Prince Jihk (태자 직)
      • Unknown Princess
    • Lady Hudaelyangwon (후대량원부인)
    • Lady Daemyongjoowon (대명주원부인)
    • Lady Gwangjoowon (광주원부인)
    • Lady Sogwangjoowon (소광주원부인)
      • Prince Gwangjoowon (광주원군), 10th prince
    • Lady Dongsanwon (동산원부인)
    • Lady Yehwa (예화부인)
    • Lady Daeseowon (대서원부인)
    • Lady Soseowon (소서원부인)
    • Lady Seojeonwon (서전원부인)
    • Lady Sinjoowon (신주원부인)
    • Lady Wolhuawon (월화원부인)
    • Lady Sohwangjoowon (소황주원부인)
    • Lady Seongmoo (성무부인)
      • Crown Prince Hyoje (효제태자)
      • Crown Prince Hyomyong (효명태자)
      • Prince Beopdeung (법등군)
      • Prince Jali (자리군)
      • Unknown Princess
    • Lady Euiseongbuon (의성부원부인)
      • Great Prince Euiseongbuwon (의성부원대군)
    • Lady Wolkyongwon (월경원부인)
    • Lady Monglyangwon (몽량원부인)
    • Lady Haelyangwon (해량원부인)

Popular culture[edit]

In the year 2000, there was a new 200 episode drama, Taejo Wang Geon based on Taejo (Wang Gun)'s life. It starred Choi Soo-jong in the leading role.

"Wang Kon" King Taejo of Goryeo is a playable leader of the Korean Empire in Civilization III: Play the World and Civilization IV: Warlords. Shine or Go Crazy 2015 In 2016, South Korean TV channel SBS aired a drama series called Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, following a girl from the future and her adventure in Goryeo during the reign of Taejo and his sons, King Taejo was played by Jon Min-Ki.


  1. ^ Combining his rule of Taebong and Goryeo. He only established Goryeo in 936.
  2. ^ Ryu, Howard Jisoo. Orderly Korea Unification: With the Guarantee of Stability in East Asia. Xlibris Corporation. p. 145. ISBN 9781462803323. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  3. ^ 박, 종기. 고려사의 재발견: 한반도 역사상 가장 개방적이고 역동적인 500년 고려 역사를 만나다 (in Korean). 휴머니스트. ISBN 9788958629023. Retrieved 27 October 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Rossabi, Morris. China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries. University of California Press. p. 323. ISBN 9780520045620. Retrieved 1 August 2016. 
  5. ^ Il-yeon: Samguk Yusa: Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea, translated by Tae-Hung Ha and Grafton K. Mintz. Book Two, page 128. Silk Pagoda (2006). ISBN 1-59654-348-5
  6. ^ Lee, Ki-Baik (1984). A New History of Korea. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 103. ISBN 067461576X.  "When Parhae perished at the hands of the Khitan around this same time, much of its ruling class, who were of Koguryŏ descent, fled to Koryŏ. Wang Kŏn warmly welcomed them and generously gave them land. Along with bestowing the name Wang Kye ("Successor of the Royal Wang") on the Parhae crown prince, Tae Kwang-hyŏn, Wang Kŏn entered his name in the royal household register, thus clearly conveying the idea that they belonged to the same lineage, and also had rituals performed in honor of his progenitor. Thus Koryŏ achieved a true national unification that embraced not only the Later Three Kingdoms but even survivors of Koguryŏ lineage from the Parhae kingdom."
  7. ^ Daughter of Yu Geung-Dal

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Taejo of Goryeo
Born: 31 January 877 Died: 4 July 943
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Goryeo
Succeeded by
Political offices
New office Prime Minister of Taebong
Office abolished