Along with Baekje and Silla, Goguryeo was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Goguryeo was an active participant in the power struggle for control of the Korean peninsula as well as associated with the foreign affairs of peer polities in China and Japan.
The Samguk Sagi, a 12th century CE Goryeo text, indicates that Goguryeo was founded in 37 BCE by Jumong, a prince from Buyeo, although there is archaeological and textual evidence that suggests Goguryeo culture was in existence since the 2nd century BCE around the fall of Gojoseon, an earlier kingdom that also occupied southern Manchuria and northern Korea. Goguryeo was a major regional power of East Asia until it was defeated by a Silla-Tang alliance in 668 CE. After its defeat, its territory was divided between the Tang Dynasty, Unified Silla and Balhae.
However, the weight of textual evidence from the Old and New Histories of Tang, the Samguk Sagi, the Nihon Shoki as well as other ancient sources would support a 37 BCE or "middle" 1st century BCE foundation date for Goguryeo. Archaeological evidence would support centralized groups of Yemaek tribes in the 2nd century BCE, but there is no direct evidence that would suggest these Yemaek groups were known as or would identify themselves as Goguryeo. The first mention of Goguryeo as a group type associated with Yemaek tribes would be a reference in the Han Shu that discusses a Goguryo revolt in 12 CE, where they break away from Xuantu influence . It was also during this time that the Goguryeo ruler began calling himself the title of "wang", (王) or King.
At its founding, the Goguryeo people are believed to be a blend of Buyeo and Yemaek people, as leadership from Buyeo may have fled their kingdom and integrated with existing Yemaek chiefdoms . The San Guo Zhi, in the section titled "Accounts of the Eastern Barbarians", states that Buyeo and the Yemaek people were ethnically related and spoke the same language .
The Stele states that Jumong was the first king and ancestor of Goguryeo and he was the son of the king of Buyeo and a daughter of the river deity Habaek . The Samguk Sagi and Samguk Yusa paints additional detail and names Jumong's mother as Yuhwa. Jumong's biological father was said to be a man named Hae Mosu who is described as a "strong man" and "a heavenly prince." . The Samguk Sagi states that Hae Mosu was a sky deity, who had seduced Yuhwa. After the murder attempts of Daeso, the crown prince of Buyeo, Jumong fled Buyeo . The Stele and later Korean sources disagree as to which Buyeo Jumong came from. The Stele says he came from North Buyeo and the Samguk Sagi and Samguk Yusa say he came from East Buyeo. Jumong eventually made it to the Jolbon Buyeo confederacy, where he married the daughter of its ruler. He subsequently became king himself, founding Goguryeo with a small group of his followers from his native country.
Jumong's given surname was Hae (解), the name of the Buyeo rulers. According to the Samguk Yusa, Jumong changed his surname to Ko (高), in conscious reflection of his divine parentage . Jumong is recorded to have conquered the tribal states of Biryu (비류국, 沸流國) in 36 BCE, Haeng-in (행인국, 荇人國) in 33 BCE, and North Okjeo in 28 BCE.
Goguryeo developed from a league of various Yemaek tribes to an early state and rapidly expanded its power from their original basin of control in the Han river drainage. The Goguryeo homeland was said to be mountainous and lacked arable land and could barely feed its own population. Goguryeo was known for being fond of raiding their neighbors so they could expand their resource base. In the time of King Taejo of Goguryeo in 53 CE, five local tribes were reorganized into five centrally ruled districts of the kingdom. Foreign relations and the military were controlled by the king. Aggressive military activities may have allowed Goguryeo to exact tribute from their tribal neighbors and to even dominate them politically and economically .
King Taejo conquered the Okjeo tribes of Northeast Korea as well as the Eastern Ye and other tribes in Southeastern Manchuria and Northern Korea. From the increase of resources and manpower that these subjugated tribes gave him, Goguryo attacked Han China's commanderies of Lelang, Xuantu, and Liaodong in the Korean and Liaodong peninsulas, becoming fully independent from the Han commanderies .
Generally, Taejo allowed the conquered tribes to retain their chieftains, but report to governors who were related to Goguryeo's royal line and were expected to provide heavy tribute. Taejo and his successors channeled these increased resources to continuing its expansion to the northwest. New laws regulated peasants and the aristocracy, as tribal leaders continued to be absorbed into the central aristocracy. Royal succession changed from fraternal to patrilineal, strengthening the royal court .
The expanding Goguryeo kingdom entered into direct military contact with the Liaodong commandery. Pressure from Liadong forced Goguryeo to move their capital in the Hun River valley to the Yalu River valley near Mt. Wandu.
The Wei armies thought they had destroyed Goguryeo and soon left the area. However, in only 70 years, Goguryeo rebuilt their capital at Mt. Wandu and again began to raid Liaodong, Lelang and Xuantu commandaries. As Goguryeo extended its reach into the Liaodong peninsula, the last Chinese commandery at Lelang was conquered and absorbed by Micheon of Goguryeo in 313, bringing the northern part of the Korean peninsula into the fold . From that point on, until the 7th century C.E., territorial control of the peninsula would be contested primarily by the Three Kingdoms of Korea.
The expansion met temporary setbacks when in 342, Former Yan, a Chinese Sixteen Kingdoms state of Xianbei ethnicity, (some Goguryeo royal family members were seized by Former Yan, and one of them, Gao Yun, briefly ruled Former Yan's successor state Northern Yan from 407 to 409) attacked Goguryeo’s capital, then at Mt. Wandu, and in 371, King Geunchogo of Baekje sacked Goguryeo’s largest city, Pyongyang, and killed King Gogukwon of Goguryeo in battle.
Turning to domestic stability and the unification of various conquered tribes, Sosurim of Goguryeo proclaimed new laws, embraced Buddhism as the national religion in 372, and established a national educational institute called the Taehak (태학, 太學). . Due to the defeats that Goguryeo had suffered under Former Yan and Baekje, Sosurim had also instituted military reforms. .
King Gwanggaeto the Great (R. 391 - 412 CE) was a highly energetic monarch that is remembered for his rapid military expansion of the kingdom.
Gwanggaeto's exploits have been recorded on a huge memorial stele located near present day Jilin in southern Manchuria, that was erected by his son, King Jangsu. Gwanggaetto is said to have conquered 64 walled cities and 1,400 villages from one campaign against Buyeo alone, destroyed Later Yan and annexed Buyeo and Mohe tribes to the north, subjugated Baekje, contributed to the dissolution of the Gaya confederacy, and turned Silla into a protectorate in wars against Gaya, Baekje and Wa (Japan). In doing so, he brought about a loose unification of Korea that lasted about 50 years. By the end of his reign, Goguryeo had achieved undisputed control of southern Manchuria, and the northern and central regions of the Korean Peninsula.
During this period, Goguryeo territory included three fourths of the Korean peninsula, including today's Seoul, and much of southern Manchuria and the southeastern end of Russian maritime province. Gwanggaeto instituted the reign name of "Yeongnak", thus signifying an equality with the major Chinese dynasties.
King Jangsu, ascending to the throne in 413, moved the capital to Pyongyang in 427, which is evidence to the intensifying rivalries between it and the other two peninsular kingdoms of Baekje and Silla to its south. Jangsu, like his father, continued Goguryeo's territorial expansion into Manchuria and reached the Eastern Songhua River, which marked Goguryeo's farthest reach to the north.
Taking advantage of Goguryeo's internal struggle, a nomadic group called the Tuchueh attacked Goguryeo's northern castles in the 550s and conquered some of Goguryeo's northern lands. Weakening Goguryeo even more, as civil war continued among feudal lords over royal succession, Baekje and Silla allied to attack Goguryeo from the south in 551.
The war, along the middle of the Korean peninsula, had very important consequences. It effectively made Baekje the weakest player on the Korean peninsula and gave Silla an important resource and population rich area as a base for expansion. Conversely, it denied Goguryeo the use of the area, which weakened the kingdom. It also gave Silla direct access to the Yellow Sea, opening up trade and diplomatic access to the Chinese dynasties and accelerating Silla's process of sinification. Thus, Silla could rely less on Goguryeo for elements of civilization and could get culture and technology directly from China. This increasing tilt of Silla to China would result in an alliance that would prove disastrous for Goguryeo in the late 7th century.
Goguryeo's expansion conflicted with the Sui Dynasty and increased tensions. Goguryeo military offensives in the Liaoxi region provoked the Sui and resulted in the first of the Goguryeo-Sui Wars in 598. In this campaign, as with those that followed in 612, 613, and 614, Sui was unsuccessful in overrunning Goguryeo, but did gain minor concessions and promises of submission that were never fulfilled. The 613 and 614 campaigns were aborted after launch -- the 613 campaign was terminated when the Sui general Yang Xuangan rebelled against Emperor Yang of Sui, while the 614 campaign was terminated after Goguryeo offered surrender and returned Husi Zheng (斛斯政), a defecting Sui general who had fled to Goguryeo, Emperor Yang later had Husi executed. Emperor Yang planned another attack on Goguryeo in 615, but due to Sui's deteroriating internal state he was never able to launch it. Sui was weakened due to rebellions against Emperor Yang's rule. They could not attack further because the soldiers in the Sui heartland would not send logistical support.
One of Sui's most disastrous campaigns to itself was in 612, in which Sui, according to the History of the Sui Dynasty, mobilized 30 Division armies, about 1,133,800 combat troops. Pinned along Goguryeo's line of fortifications on the Liao river, a detachment of 9 Division armies, about 305,000 troops, bypassed the main defensive lines and headed towards the Goguryeo capital of Pyongyang to link up with Sui naval forces which contained reinforcements and supplies. However, Goguryeo was able to defeat the Sui navy, thus when the Sui's 9 Division armies finally reached Pyongyang, they didn't have the supplies for a lengthy siege. Sui troops retreated but General Eulji Mundeok led the Goguryeo troops to victory by luring them into an ambush outside of Pyongyang. At the Battle of Salsu River, Goguryeo soldiers released water from a dam, which split the Sui army and cut off their escape route. Of the original 305,000 soldiers, only 2,700 escaped to Sui China.
The wars depleted the national treasury of the Sui Dynasty and after revolts and political strife, the Sui Dynasty disintegrated in 618. However the wars also exhausted Goguryeo's strength and its power declined.
Goguryeo was attacked by Tang Taizong. The campaign was unsuccessful for the Chinese, failing to capture strategic points in numerous attacks.
The Tang forged an alliance with Goguryeo's rival Silla after defeating Goguryeo's western ally, the Göktürks. This, combined with Goguryeo's increasing political instability following the 642 murder of King Yeongnyu at the hands of the military general Yeon Gaesomun, increased tensions between Tang and Goguryeo, as Yeon took an increasingly provocative stance against Tang.
In 645, Tang Taizong launched another attack against Goguryeo. Goguryeo was able to repel the attack at Ansi Fortress. the central figure of the repulse was Yeon Gaesomun and Yang Manchun. In the end, Tang Taizong was not able to capture Ansi, and the Tang army withdrew after suffering large losses during the siege of Ansi and running out of food supplies. After Tang Taizong's death in 649, Tang armies were again sent to conquer Goguryeo in 661 and 662, but while Yeon Gaesomun was alive, Tang was not able to conquer Goguryeo, although the Tang attacks inflicted substantial losses.
Following the defection of Yeon Namsaeng, the son of Yeon Gaesomun and the surrender of numerous cities in northern Goguryeo, the Tang army bypassed the Liaodong region and captured Pyongyang, the capital of Goguryeo, while Yeon Jeong-to, the Younger brother of Yeon Gaesomun, surrendered his forces to the Silla general Kim Yushin, who was advancing from the south. In November 668 Bojang, the last king of Goguryeo, Surrendered to Tang Gaozong.
Silla-Tang eventually vanquished the weary kingdom, which had been suffering from a series of famines and internal strife. Goguryeo finally fell in 668. Goguryeo's last king Bojang was captured and taken into exile by the Tang forces.
Silla thus unified most of the Korean peninsula in 668, but the kingdom's reliance on China's Tang Dynasty had its price. Tang set up the Protectorate General to Pacify the East, or Andong protectorate, governed by Xue Rengui, but faced increasing problems ruling the former inhabitants of Goguryeo, as well as Silla's resistance to Tang's remaining presence on the Korean Peninsula. Silla had to forcibly resist the imposition of Chinese rule over the entire peninsula, but their own strength did not extend beyond the Taedong River.
In 677, Tang crowned Bojang "King of Joseon" and put him in charge of the Liaodong commandery of the Protectorate General to Pacify the East. However, King Bojang continued to ferment rebellions against Tang in an attempt to revive Goguryeo, organizing Goguryeo refugees and allying with the Mohe tribes. He was eventually exiled to Szechuan in 681, and died the following year.
The Protectorate General to Pacify the East was installed by the Tang government to rule and keep control over the former territories of the fallen Goguryeo. It was first put under the control of Tang General Xue Rengui, but was later replaced by King Bojang due the negative responses of the Goguryeo people. Bojang was sent into exile for assisting Goguryeo revival movements, but was succeeded by his descendants. Go Jang's descendants declared independence from the Tang during the time at which An Shi Rebellion and Yi Jeonggi's establishing of the Je state occurred. The Protectorate General to Pacify the East was renamed "Lesser Goguryeo" until its eventual absorption into Balhae under the reign of King Seon of Balhae.
Geom Mojam and Anseung rose briefly at Hanseong, but failed, when Anseung surrendered to Silla. Go Anseung ordered the assassination of Geom Mojam, and defected to Silla, where he was given a small amount of land to rule over. There, Anseung established the Kingdom of Bodeok. Bodeok was eventually demolished by King Sinmun, and Anseung was given the Silla Royal surname "Kim."
Dae Jung-sang and his son Dae Joyeong, both former Goguryeo generals, regained most of Goguryeo's northern land after its downfall in 668, established the kingdom Great Jin, which was renamed to Balhae after the death of Dae Jung-sang. To the south of Balhae, Silla controlled the Korean peninsula south of the Taedong River, and Manchuria(present-day northeastern China) was conquered by Balhae. Balhae considered itself the successor state to Goguryeo.
In the early 10th century, Gung-ye, a rebel general, established Taebong, later renamed to Hu-Goguryeo ("Later Goguryeo"), which briefly rose in rebellion against Silla. Taebong also considered itself to be a successor of Goguryeo, as did Goryeo, the state that replaced Silla to rule the unified Korean peninsula.
The military of Goguryeo has been known to be powerful, especially during the rule of King Gwanggaeto the Great. However, few records remain regarding the military of Goguryeo. A Tang treatise of 668 records a total of 675,000 displaced personnel and 176 military garrisons after the surrender of King Bojang.
Every man in Goguryeo was required to serve in the military, or could avoid conscription by paying extra grain tax.
Goguryeo had a significant amount of cavalry and mounted archers, and infantry were known to have horned helmets. They also had spikes attached to the bottom soles of their boots.
For more information on fortification, see Cheolli Jangseong (천리장성).
There were five armies in the capital, mostly cavalry that were personally led by the king, numbering approximately 12,500. Military units varied in number from 21,000 to 36,000 soldiers, were located in the provinces, and were led by the governors. Military colonies near the boundaries consisted mostly of soldiers and peasants. There were also private armies held by aristocrats. This system allowed Goguryeo to maintain and utilize an army of 50,000 without added expense, and 300,000 through large mobilization in special cases.
Goguryeo units were divided according to major weapons: spearmen, axemen, archers composed of those on foot and horseback, and heavy cavalry that included armored and heavy spear divisions. Other groups like the catapult units, wall-climbers, and storm units were part of the special units and were added to the common. The advantage of this functional division is highly specialized combat units, while the disadvantage is that it was impossible for one unit to make complex, tactical actions.
Goguryeo implemented a strategy of active defense based on cities. Besides the walled cities and fortified camps, this active defense system used small units of light cavalry to continuously harass the enemy, de-blockade units and strong reserves, consisting of the best soldiers, to strike hard at the end.
Goguryeo also employed military intelligence and special tactics as an important part of the strategy. Goguryeo was good at disinformation, such as sending only stone spearheads as tribute to the Chinese court when they were in the Iron Age. Goguryeo had developed its system of espionage. One of the most famous spies, Baekseok, mentioned in the Samguk yusa, was able to infiltrate the Hwarangs of Silla.
The culture of Goguryeo was shaped by its climate, religion, and the tense society that people dealt with due to the numerous wars Goguryeo waged. Not much is known about Goguryeo culture, as many records have been lost.
Every October, the Dongmaeng Festival was held. The Dongmaeng Festival was practiced to worship the gods. The ceremonies were followed by huge celebratory feasts, games, and other activities. Often, the king performed rites to his ancestors.
Hunting was a male activity and also served as an appropriate means to train young men for the military. Hunting parties rode on horses and hunted deer and other game with bows-and-arrows. Archery contests also occurred. Horse riding was popular and Goguryeo developed strong military skills, as the cavalry was strong.
Goguryeo people worshipped ancestors and considered them to be supernatural. Jumong, the founder of Goguryeo, was worshipped and respected among the people. At the annual Dongmaeng Festival, a religious rite was performed for Jumong, ancestors, and gods.
Mythical beasts and animals were also considered to be sacred in Goguryeo. The phoenix and dragon were both worshipped upon, while the Samjogo or Karisae, the three-legged crow that represented the sun, was considered the most powerful of the three. Paintings of mythical beasts exist in Goguryeo king tombs today.
They also believed in the 'sashin', who were 4 mythical animals. Chung-lyong(blue dragon)guarded the east, baek-ho(white tiger)guarded the west, ju-jak(red pheonix(bird))guarded the south, and hyun-moo(black turtle(sometimes with snakes for a tail))guarded the north.
Buddhism was first introduced to Goguryeo in 372 The government recognized and encouraged the teachings of Buddhism and many monasteries and shrines were created during Goguryeo's rule, making Goguryeo the first kingdom in the region to adopt Buddhism. However, Buddhism was much more popular in Silla and Baekje, which Goguryeo passed Buddhism to.
Goguryeo art, preserved largely in tomb paintings, is noted for the vigour of its imagery. Finely detailed art can be seen in Goguryeo tombs and other murals. Many of the art pieces has an original style of painting.
Along with many other kingdoms in east Asia, Goguryeo used Chinese characters and wrote in Classical Chinese. The Goguryeo language is unknown except for a small number of words, which mostly suggests that it was similar to the language of Silla and influenced by the Tungusic languages. Supporters of the Altaic language family often classify the Goguryeo language as a member of that language family. Most Korean linguists believe that the Goguryeo language was closest to the Altaic languages out of the Three Kingdoms that followed Gojoseon.
Striking similarities between Baekje and Goguryeo can also be found, which is consistent with the legends that describe Baekje being founded by the sons of Goguryeo's founder. The Goguryeo names for government posts are mostly similar to those of Baekje and Silla.
Some words of Goguryeo origin can be found in the old Korean language (early 10th-late 14th centuries) but most were replaced by Silla-originated ones before long.
Goguryeo has been conventionally viewed as one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, and is described as Korean by most non-Chinese sources. (, , and )
Chinese characterization of Goguryeo as a regional power of China in modern times has spawned heated disputes with both North Korea and South Korea, whose citizens view the ancient kingdom with pride. China claims Goguryeo to be a regional kingdom of China rather than a Korean kingdom.
China views Goguryeo as a part of the regional history of China rather than of being solely or uniquely Korean. Chinese historian Sun Jinji in 1986 suggested that Goguryeo is separate from the history of the Three Kingdoms in the Korean Peninsula. He argued that “the people of Buyeo and Goguryeo had the same lineage as the Chinese in the Northeast region, while the Korean people were a part of the Silla lineage.”() This view has since been supported by many other prominent Chinese historians. However, Chinese scholars are not all of one voice on this issue. There are also many Chinese historians who acknowledge Goguryeo history as being shared by both Korea and China within “a framework of the dual elements of a single history” (一史两用论, yishi liangyong lun).. More recently, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) generated new controversy through its Northeast Project study of China's three Northeast provinces. The Chinese argument for Goguryeo’s historical heritage in the Northeast Project is based on two main points: the first is that the Goguryeo state grew out of the Han Chinese commandary of Xuantu; and also the Chinese consider Goguryeo and Balhae to be founded by the Mohe (Malgal) peoples, a purported ancestor of modern day Manchus, who ruled China's Qing Dynasty. The conclusions of the CASS study have created tensions in China-South Korea relations.
A Korean state established in what is now China, Goguryeo's territories comprised of land in both Manchuria and the Korean peninsula. Goguryeo's second capital was located at Pyongyang, North Korea. Before the capital city was moved, Goguryeo territory comprised what is today North Korea and parts of Manchuria. Goguryeo is a country founded by Buyeo people, one of the major ancestors of Korean people. Both Goguryeo and Baekje are successor nations of Buyeo. After the fall of the Goguryeo kingdom, approximately 30,000 out of 700,000 Goguryeo households were assimilated to China. The Balhae received most of the Goguryeo population. Its founder was a Goguryeo noble. When the Khitans invaded Balhae, the majority of Goguryeo population fled back to Gorguyeo. In addition, the Goguryeo kingdom lasted about 700 years where it was Imperial China's tributary during some of its existence. Many Korean dynasties and kingdoms, like Sila, Gorguyeo etc., had tributary relationships with Chinese Dynasties during some time of their existence. Many of the customs (Ssireum, Taekwondo, ondol, dancing etc.) depicted in the murals are present in some form in Korean culture today. and the name "Korea" has its roots from the name "Goryeo", which in turn took its name from "Goguryeo". Goryeo is the more correct term for the Goguryeo dynasty as Goguryeo is mainly referred to Goryeo in most Chinese and Japanese historic texts after the reign of King Jangsu of Goguryeo. Goguryeo is also stated as Goryeo on the Gwanggaeto Stele The dynasty Goryeo was founded on the basis that it was the descendant dynasty of Goguryeo, therefore adopting the name of Goguryeo. The view that Goguryeo is Chinese contradicts with Chinese history records of the past Chinese dynasties and the world academia of history.
In his email to Korean studies mailing list, Mark Byington, when completing a postdoctoral program at the Korea Institute, an autonomous non-departmental entity located at Harvard University, has suggested China's official position to be "flimsy", historically speaking, though notes it "accords with current practice in the PRC" in describing "a very vaguely defined greater Chinese nation of the remote past", and that their position is "one that must exist in order to fall into line with current Chinese views of the Chinese past" .
[Note: The work "Sasse, Werner. 1976. Das Glossar Kogury o˙-pang o˙n im Kyerim-yusa" cited in this article actually is "Werner Sasse, Das Glossar Koryo-pangon im Kyerim-yusa" :-)]