The Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) (also spelled Koryŏ) was a sovereign state established in 918 by Taejo Wang Kon. It united the Later Three Kingdoms in 936 and ruled most of the Korean peninsula until it was removed by the Joseon dynasty in 1392. Goryeo expanded its borders to present-day Wonsan in the north-east(936~943) and the Amnok River(993).

Two of this period's most notable products are Goryeo celadon pottery and the Tripitaka Koreana — the Buddhist scriptures (Tripitaka) carved onto roughly 80,000 woodblocks and stored, and still in, Haeinsa. Goryeo also created the world's first metal-based movable type printing press in 1234 and the oldest surviving movable metal type book, the Jikji, was made in 1377.

In 668, Silla conquered Baekje and Goguryeo with Tang Dynasty help, but by the late 9th century it was tottering, its monarchs being unimaginative and pressed by the power of powerful statesmen. Many burglars and outlaws bubbled and in 900 Gyeon Hwon revolted from Silla control in the Jeolla region as Hubaekje and next year Gung Ye revolted from the northern regions as Hugoguryeo(Taebong). A son-of-a regional lord, Wang Geon went into Hugoguryeo as a general.

Hugoguryeo fell when Wang Geon revolted and killed Gung Ye in 918, and the tottering Silla was too overpowered by Goryeo and Hubaekje and surrendered to Goryeo in 935. In 936 Hubaekje surrendered and Goryeo started a unbroken dynasty that ruled Korea for 474 years.

By the 14th century Goryeo was tottering under Yuan Dynasty control and general Yi Seonggye revolted and overthrew the last king of Goryeo, King Gongyang in 1392. Gongyang was killed in 1394.

The name "Goryeo" is derived from "Goguryeo," one of the ancient Three Kingdoms of Korea. The English name "Korea" derives from "Goryeo." See also Names of Korea.



Silla, which had accomplished an incomplete unification of the Three Kingdoms of Korea in 668, weakened and lost control over local lords during the end of the 9th century. The country entered a period of civil war and rebellion, led by Gung Ye, Gi Hwon, Yang Gil, and Gyeon Hwon.

Gung Ye established Hugoguryeo (meaning "Later Goguryeo", renamed Taebong and Majin ). Gyeon Hwon established Hubaekje (meaning "Later Baekje"). Together with the declining Silla, they are known as the Later Three Kingdoms.


Wang Geon, a descendant of a merchant family of Songdo (present-day Kaesŏng), joined Taebong but overthrew Gung Ye and established the Goryeo Kingdom and Dynasty in 918.

Goryeo adopted a Silla-friendly Hubaekje-hostile stage in the later Three Kingdoms, but in 927, Goryeo was defeated by Hubaekje in present-day Daegu. Wang Kon lost his best supporters in the battle. For 3 years after the battle, Hubaekje dominated the Later Three Kingdoms but after a defeat in 930, Hubaekje lost power.

The Later Three Kingdoms era ended as Goryeo annexed Silla in 935 and defeated Hubaekje in 936. Wang Kon moved the capital to his hometown Kaesǒng, and ruled the Korean peninsula as the first supreme king of Goryeo.

Political structure

The terminology used in the court of Goryeo adopted the system of an empire, not of a kingdom. The capital, Kaeseong, was called "Imperial Capital" (황도, 皇都) and the palace was referred to as "Imperial Palace" (황성, 皇城). Other terms, such as "Your (Imperial) Majesty" (폐하, 陛下), "Prince" (태자, 太子), "Empress Dowager" (태후, 太后), and "Imperial Ordinance" (詔 or 勅) also suggest that Goryeo adopted the title system of an empire. However, Goryeo usually does not use the term of an "emperor(황제, 皇帝)" for rulers, instead a supreme king (대왕, 大王) was used for the rulers. But sometimes the term of an "emperor(황제, 皇帝)" or "emperor of the east of the ocean(해동천자, 海東天子)" were used. After the Mongol invasion, these terms were prohibited by Mongolian emperors.

In order to strengthen the power of the central government, Gwangjong, the fourth supreme king made a series of laws including that of freeing slaves in 958, and one creating the exam for hiring civil officials.

The fifth supreme king Gyeongjong (hangul: 경종, hanja: 景宗), launched land-ownership reformation called Jeonsigwa (hangul: 전시과, hanja: 田柴科) and the 6th supreme king Seongjong (hangul: 성종, hanja: 成宗) appointed officials to local areas, which were previously succeeded by the lords. Between 993 and 1019, the Goryeo-Khitan Wars ravaged the northern border.

By the time of eleventh supreme king Munjong (hangul: 문종, hanja: 文宗), the central government of Goryeo gained complete authority and power over local lords. Munjong and later supreme kings emphasized the importance of civilian leadership over the military.

Internal disorder and Wars

Khitan invasions (993 - 1019)

In 993, the Khitan invaded Goryeo's northwest border with an estimated 800,000 troops. The Khitan withdrew and ceded territory to the east of the Amnok River when Goryeo agreed to end its alliance with Song China. However, Goryeo continued to communicate with Song, having strengthened its position by building a fortress in the newly gained northern territories. Meanwhile, In 1009, General Gang Jo of Goryeo led a coup against King Mokjong, killing the king and establishing military rule. In 1010, The Khitan attacked again with 400,000 troops during an internal Goryeo power struggle. Gang Jo blocked the Liao invasions until his own death. The Goryeo King Hyeonjong was forced to flee the capital to Naju temporarily. Unable to establish a foothold and fearing a counterattack, the Khitan forces withdrew. In 1018, Khitan army invaded for the third time with 100,000 troops. In Heunghaejin stream, General Gang Gamchan ordered the stream to be blocked until the Khitans began to cross it, and when the Khitans were mid-way across, he ordered that the dam be destroyed so that the water would drown much of the Khitan army. The damage was great, and General Gang led a massive attack that annihilated many of the Khitan army. Barely a few thousand of the Liao troops survived after the bitter defeat at Kwiju one year later.

Power struggles

The House Yi of Inju (인주 이씨, 仁州李氏) married the supreme kings from Munjong to the 17th supreme king, Injong. Eventually the Yis gained more power than the supreme king himself. This led to the coup of Yi Ja-gyeom in 1126. The coup failed but the power of monarch was weakened; Goryeo underwent a civil war among the nobility.

In 1135, Myo Cheong argued to move the capital to Seogyeong (present day P'yŏngyang). This proposal divided the nobilities of Goryeo in half. One faction, led by Myo Cheong, believed in moving the capital to Pyongyang and expanding into Manchuria. The other one, led by Kim Bu-sik (author of the Samguk Sagi), wanted to keep the status quo. Myo Cheong failed to persuade the King and rebelled against the central government and made a country named Daebang, but failed and was killed.

In 1170, a group of army officers led by Jeong Jung-bu, Yi Ui-bang and Yi Go launched a coup d'état and succeeded. Supreme king Euijong went into exile and supreme king Myeongjong was made a king. Effective power, however, lay with a succession of generals which used an elite guard unit known as the Tobang to control the king: Military rule of Goryeo had begun. In 1179, the young general Gyeong Dae-seung rose to power and began an attempt to restore the full power of the monarch and purge the corruption of the state.

However, he died in 1183, and was succeeded by the son of a slave Yi Ui-min. His unrestrained corruption and cruelty led to a coup by a more traditionalist general, Choe Chungheon, who assassinated Yi Ui-min and took supreme power in 1197. For the next 61 years, the Choe house ruled as military dicators, maintaining the supreme kings as puppet monarchs; Choe Chungheon was succeeded in turn by his son Choe U, his grandson Choe Hang and his great-grandson Choe Ui. On taking power, Choe Chungheon forced Myeongjong off the throne and replaced him with Supreme king Sinjong, but after Sinjong died he forced two further kings off the throne until he found the pliable king Gojong.

Mongol invasions (1231 - 1350)

In 1231, Mongolians under Ögedei Khan invaded Goryeo, as part of a general campaign to conquer China. The royal court moved to Ganghwa Island in the Bay of Gyeonggi, in 1232. The military ruler of the time Choe U (최우) insisted on fighting back. Goryeo resisted for about 30 years but finally sued for peace in 1259.

Meanwhile, the Mongols began a campaign from 1231 to 1259, that ravaged parts of Gyeongsang and Jeolla provinces. There were six major campaigns : 1231, 1232, 1235, 1238, 1247, 1253; between 1253 and 1258, the Mongols under Jalairtai launched four devastating invasions in the final successful campaign against Korea, at tremendous cost to civilian lives throughout the Korean peninsula, ultimately resulting in Korea becoming a tributary of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty.

Civilian resistance was strong, and the Imperial Court at Ganghwa attempted to strengthen its fortress. Korea won several victories but the Korean military could not withstand the waves of invasions. In 1236, Gojong ordered the re-creation of the Tripitaka Koreana, destroyed during the 1232 invasion. This collection of Buddhist scriptures took 15 years to carve on some 81,000 wooden blocks, and is preserved to this day. In March 1258, the dictator Choe U was assassinated by Kim Jun. Thus, dictatorship by his military group was ended, and the scholars who had insisted on peace with Mongolia gained power. Eventually, the scholars sent an envoy to Mongol, and a peace treaty was contracted between Mongol and Goryeo. Some military officials who refused to surrender formed the Sambyeolcho Rebellion and resisted in the islands off the southern shore of the Korean peninsula..

The treaty permitted the sovereign power and traditional cultures of Goryeo, and implied that the Mongols gave up controlling Goryeo under Mongolia's direct rule Mongolia had annexed the northern provinces of Korea after the invasions and incorporated them into their empire. After the peace treaty with Goryeo, the Mongols planned to conquer Japan by allying with Goryeo troops; in 1274 and 1281 the Japan Campaign took place, however, failed due to a heavy storm (called the Kamikaze) and strong military resistance.

Beginning with King Wonjong, Korea was tributary of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. The Goryeo Dynasty survived under Mongolian influences until King Gongmin began to push Mongolian garrisons back around 1350. By the 1350s Goryeo regained its independence, although the Chinese Ming Dynasty garrisoned a large number of troops in the north-east of Goryeo, effectively occupying part of the country.

Last reform

Goryeo was dominated by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty when King Gongmin took over the throne. He was forced to spend many years in the Yuan court, being sent there in 1341 as a virtual prisoner before becoming a king. He married the Mongol princess Queen Noguk (노국대장공주, 魯國大長公主). But in the mid-14th century Yuan was beginning to crumble, soon to be replaced by the Ming dynasty in 1368. Gongmin began efforts to reform Goryeo government. His first act was to remove all pro-Mongol aristocrats and military officers from their positions. Mongols had annexed the northern provinces of Korea after the invasions and incorporated them into their empire as Ssangseong (쌍성총관부, 雙城摠管府) and Dongnyeong (동녕부, 東寧府). The Goryeo army retook these province partly thanks to defection from Yi Ja-chun, a minor Korean official in service of Mongols in Ssangseong, and his son Yi Seonggye. In addition, Generals Yi Seonggye and Ji Yongsu led a campaign into Liaoyang. But after the death of Gongmin's wife Queen Noguk in 1365, he got depressed in sadness. In the end, he became indifferent to politics and entrusted with a great task to a monk Sin Don (신돈, 辛旽). but after six years, Shin Don lost his position. In the end, Gongmin was killed by his favorite young men, shattering his dream and putting Goryeo on the road to collapse.


In 1388, King U (son of King Gongmin and a palace slave girl) and general Choe Yeong planned a campaign to invade present-day Liaoning of China. King U put the general Yi Seong-gye (later Taejo) in charge, but he stopped at the border and rebelled.

Goryeo fell to General Yi Seong-gye, a son of a (Korean ethnic) Yi ja-chun, who put to death the last three Goryeo Kings, usurped the throne and established in 1392 the Joseon Dynasty.

Foreign relations

In the start of the state, the Jurchens sent many ambassadors and 40 camels to Goryeo, but Taejo refused them and starved the camels to death. in 951, when the state of Huju was established in China, Goryeo made a turn to that side and 9 years later, to the Song dynasty. After about 30 years of peace, the Jurchens invaded Goryeo. It failed and after two other failed attempts, a state of peace was established in the Far East. For around 100 years, the Far East was relatively peaceful and Munjong strengthened the Liao-Song-Goryeo line. At 1102, the Jin Dynasty threatened and another crisis emerged. But after Yejong agreed to a tributary relationship, peace was maintained and Jin never actually did invade Goryeo. Tension continued through the 12th dynasty, but when the Yuan dynasty completely destroyed the relation tension exploded and a 40-year-long war started. Inevitably Goryeo lost and for another 100 years, Goryeo was a substate of Yuan. In this period, Goryeo power and identity was severely lost and became tottering.

Trade and commerce

In the Goryeo dynasty, trade was frequent. In the start of the dynasty, Byeokrando was the main port. Byeokrando was a port close to the Goryeo capital. Trade included:

# Trading country Import Export
1 Song dynasty Silk, pearls, tea, spices, medicine, books, instruments Gold and silver, ginseng, marble, paper, ink
2 Liao dynasty Horses, sheep, low-quality silk minerals, cotton, marble, ink and paper, ginseng
3 Jurchen Gold, horse, weapons Silver, cotton, silk
4 Japan Mercury, minerals ginseng, books
5 Abbasid dynasty Mercury, spices, tusk negligible


Tripitaka Koreana

Tripitaka Koreana(팔만대장경) is a Tripitaka with approximately 80,000 Buddhist scripts. The scripts are stored in Haeinsa, South Gyeongsang province. Made in 1251 by Gojong in an attempt to fight away the Mongol invasions by Buddhism. The scripts are kept clean by leaving them to dry outside every year.

Art and religion

Goryeo celadon

The ceramics of Goryeo are considered by some to be the finest small-scale works of ceramics in Korean history. Key-fret, foliate designs, geometric or scrolling flowerhead bands, elliptical panels, stylized fish and insects, and the use of incised designs began at this time. Glazes were usually various shades of celadon, with browned glazes to almost black glazes being used for stoneware and storage. Celadon glazes could be rendered almost transparent to show black and white inlays.

While the forms generally seen are broad-shouldered bottles, larger low bowls or shallow smaller bowls, highly decorated celadon cosmetic boxes, and small slip-inlaid cups, the Buddhist potteries also produced melon-shaped vases, chrysanthemum cups often of spectacularly architectural design on stands with lotus motifs and lotus flower heads. In-curving rimmed alms bowls have also been discovered similar to Korean metalware. Wine cups often had a tall foot which rested on dish-shaped stands.

Construction techniques

These ceramics are of a hard porcellaneous body with porcelain stone as one of the key ingredients; however, it is not to be confused with porcelain. The body is low clay, quartz rich, high potassia and virtually identical in composition to the Chinese Yueh ceramics which scholars hypothesize occasioned the first production of celadon in Korea. The glaze is an ash glaze with iron colourant, fired in a reduction atmosphere in a modified Chinese-style 'dragon' kiln. The distinctive blue-grey-green of Korean celadon is caused by the iron content of the glaze with a minimum of titanium contaminant, which modifies the color to a greener cast, as can be seen in Chinese Yueh wares. However, the Goryeo potters took the glaze in a different direction than their Chinese forebears; instead of relying solely on underglaze incised designs, they eventually developed the sanggam technique of inlaying black (magnetite) and white (quartz) which created bold contrast with the glaze. Scholars also theorize that this developed in part to an inlay tradition in Korean metalworks and lacquer, and also to the dissatisfaction with the nearly-invisible effect of incising when done under a thick celadon glaze.


In 1234, wooden movable type was supplanted by metal movable-type printing technology in Goryeo. Sangjeong Gogeum Yemun were printed with the movable metal type in 1234. Technology in Korea took a big step in Goryeo and strong relations with the Song dynasty and the Islamic world contributed to this. In the dynasty, Korean ceramics and paper, which come down to now, started to be manufactured.


King Gwangjong creating the national civil service examinations. and King Seongjong was a key figure in establishing Confucianism. King Seongjong established Gukjagam. Gukjagam was the highest educational institution of the Goryeo dynasty. This was facilitated by the establishment in 1398 of the Seonggyungwan – an academy with a Confucian curriculum – and the building of an altar at the palace, where the king would worship his ancestors.

To a great extent, two figures have lasting influence concluding the Goryeo dynasty: Jeong Dojeon (1324–1398) and the monk Gihwa (1376–1433) who assisted the transition from Buddhism to neo-Confucianism with tremendously interesting debate.

Jeong, in his Bulssi japbyeon or “Array of Critiques of Buddhism” summed up critiques of Seon Buddhism brought by Hanyu, the Cheng brothers, and Zhu Xi. Gihwa answered with his Hyeonjeongnon or “Exposition of the Correct”, a polite defence of Buddhism, but at the same time an aggressive taking to task of neo-Confucian wavering between ideal and execution. Texts are cited at length in external links below.


Initially, the new Seon schools were regarded by the established doctrinal schools as radical and dangerous upstarts. Thus, the early founders of the various "nine mountain" monasteries met with considerable resistance, repressed by the long influence in court of the Gyo schools. The struggles which ensued continued for most of the Goryeo period, but gradually the Seon argument for the possession of the true transmission of enlightenment would gain the upper hand. The position that was generally adopted in the later Seon schools, due in large part to the efforts of Jinul, did not claim clear superiority of Seon meditational methods, but rather declared the intrinsic unity and similarities of the Seon and Gyo viewpoints. Although all these schools are mentioned in historical records, toward the end of the dynasty, Seon became dominant in its effect on the government and society, and the production of noteworthy scholars and adepts. During the Goryeo period, Seon thoroughly became a "religion of the state," receiving extensive support and privileges through connections with the ruling family and powerful members of the court.

Although most of the scholastic schools waned in activity and influence during this period of the growth of Seon, the Hwaeom school continued to be a lively source of scholarship well into the Goryeo, much of it continuing the legacy of Uisang and Wonhyo. In particular the work of Gyunyeo (均如; 923-973) prepared for the reconciliation of Hwaeom and Seon, with Hwaeom's accommodating attitude toward the latter. Gyunyeo's works are an important source for modern scholarship in identifying the distinctive nature of Korean Hwaeom.

Another important advocate of Seon/Gyo unity was Uicheon. Like most other early Goryeo monks, he began his studies in Buddhism with Hwaeom. He later traveled to China, and upon his return, actively promulgated the Cheontae (天台宗, or Tiantai in Chinese) teaching, which became recognized as another Seon school. This period thus came to be described as "five doctrinal and two meditational schools" (ogyo yangjong). Uicheon himself, however, alienated too many Seon adherents, and he died at a relatively young age without seeing a Seon-Gyo unity accomplished.

The most important figure of Seon in the Goryeo was Jinul (知訥; 1158-1210). In his time, the sangha was in a crisis of external appearance and internal issues of doctrine. Buddhism had gradually become infected by secular tendencies and involvements, such as fortune-telling and the offering of prayers and rituals for success in secular endeavors. This kind of corruption resulted in the profusion of increasingly larger numbers of monks and nuns with questionable motivations. Therefore, the correction, revival, and improvement of the quality of Buddhism were prominent issues for Buddhist leaders of the period.

Jinul sought to establish a new movement within Korean Seon, which he called the "samādhi and prajñā society", whose goal was to establish a new community of disciplined, pure-minded practitioners deep in the mountains. He eventually accomplished this mission with the founding of the Seonggwangsa monastery at Mt. Jogye (曹溪山). Jinul's works are characterized by a thorough analysis and reformulation of the methodologies of Seon study and practice. One major issue that had long fermented in Chinese Chan, and which received special focus from Jinul, was the relationship between "gradual" and "sudden" methods in practice and enlightenment. Drawing upon various Chinese treatments of this topic, most importantly those by Zongmi (780-841) and Dahui (大慧; 1089-1163), Jinul created a "sudden enlightenment followed by gradual practice" dictum, which he outlined in a few relatively concise and accessible texts. From Dahui, Jinul also incorporated the gwanhwa (觀話) method into his practice. This form of meditation is the main method taught in Korean Seon today. Jinul's philosophical resolution of the Seon-Gyo conflict brought a deep and lasting effect on Korean Buddhism.

The general trend of Buddhism in the latter half of the Goryeo was a decline due to corruption, and the rise of strong anti-Buddhist political and philosophical sentiment. However, this period of relative decadence would nevertheless produce some of Korea's most renowned Seon masters. Three important monks of this period who figured prominently in charting the future course of Korean Seon were contemporaries and friends: Gyeonghan Baeg'un (景閑白雲; 1298-1374), Taego Bou (太古普愚; 1301-1382) and Naong Hyegeun (懶翁慧勤; 1320-1376). All three went to Yuan China to learn the Linji (臨濟 or Imje in Korean) gwanhwa teaching that had been popularized by Jinul. All three returned, and established the sharp, confrontational methods of the Imje school in their own teaching. Each of the three was also said to have had hundreds of disciples, such that this new infusion into Korean Seon brought about considerable effect. Despite the Imje influence, which was generally considered to be anti-scholarly in nature, Gyeonghan and Naong, under the influence of Jinul and the traditional tong bulgyo tendency, showed an unusual interest in scriptural study, as well as a strong understanding of Confucianism and Taoism, due to the increasing influence of Chinese philosophy as the foundation of official education. From this time, a marked tendency for Korean Buddhist monks to be "three teachings" exponents appeared.

A significant historical event of the Goryeo period is the production of the first woodblock edition of the Tripitaka, called the Tripitaka Koreana. Two editions were made, the first one completed from 1210 to 1231, and the second one from 1214 to 1259. The first edition was destroyed in a fire, during an attack by Mongol invaders in 1232, but the second edition is still in existence at Haeinsa in Gyeongsang province. This edition of the Tripitaka was of high quality, and served as the standard version of the Tripitaka in East Asia for almost 700 years.


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