본문 바로가기 주메뉴 바로가기 하위메뉴 바로가기


Revival and Development of Baekje

Transfer of the Capital to Ungjin and Revival

From the Hangang River to the Geumgang River

When the Baekje capital fell to an attack by Goguryeo troops in 475, the 22nd monarch King Munju (r. 475–477) transferred the seat of government to Ungjin (present-day Gongju) in October of the same year. The Baekje Kingdom suffered from the internal chaos surrounding the sudden demise of King Gaero and the relocation of the capital. King Munju was assassinated by the courtier Haegu, and the succeeding ruler, King Samgeun (r. 477–479), met his demise only three years after assuming the throne.

Amid the political turmoil, King Dongseong (r. 479–501) ascended to the throne as the 24th ruler of the kingdom and made extensive efforts to restore order. He hired local potentiates from the Geumgang River area as a check to the Hanseong aristocrats. Newly appointed nobles came from the Jin, Baek, Sa and Yeon clans. He married the daughter of Biji, a member of Silla’s royal family, to cement an alliance with Silla.

However, toward the later period of his reign, King Dongseong blundered in domestic politics through an excess of grand-scale construction and extravagancy. In November 501, while out hunting to Mapochon (present-day Hansan, Seocheon) he sustained an injury inflicted by an assassin dispatched by Baekga, the head of Garimseong Fortress (present-day Imcheon), and died in December of that year.

Revival of Baekje

After King Muryeong (r. 501–523) took the throne as the 25th monarch of Baekje, the kingdom began a period of recovery of its sovereign power. King Muryeong suppressed the rebellion by Baekga and launched attacks on Goguryeo territory. Upon his enthronement in 501, he set in motion an invasion of Sugokseong Fortress (present-day Singye), and in 513 led a defeat of Goguryeo troops at Wicheon. At that time, multiple battles took place around the Hangang River; Baekje won the majority and recovered territory that had previously been lost to Goguryeo. King Seong (r. 523–554) eventually succeeded King Muryeong as the 26th ruler. He reformed central and local administration and military units: the central government was reorganized into 22 bu (administrative departments); and local administration and military units were arranged according to the banggunseong system. One of the most notable achievements of King Seong was the relocation of the capital from Ungjin to Sabi, ushering in the Sabi Period as a foundation for further development. Although it served as the capital for the relatively short period of only 64 years, Ungjin, in present-day Gongju, is rich in superb cultural legacy from Baekje including the Royal Tombs in Songsan-ri and the Tomb of King Muryeong. In particular, artifacts excavated from the Tomb of King Muryeong demonstrate that Baekje was involved in active exchanges not only with China, but with Japan as well.

Transfer of the Capital to Sabi and Further Development

Opening of the Sabi Period

King Seong shifted the capital to Sabi (present-day Buyeo) in 538 and changed the name of the kingdom to Nambuyeo, but the kingdom’s official name remained Baekje. Surrounded by mountains and rivers, the former capital of Gongju had been well positioned for defense, but the site restricted external expansion. In contrast, the relocated capital of Buyeo was not only encircled by natural fortifications including the Geumgang River and steep mountains, but also featured extensive agricultural lands and therefore a great potential for economic prosperity. The location was also conducive to external exchanges: the Geumgang River served as a channel for outreach to the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula and the Gaya region, while the nearby Yellow Sea facilitated interchange with China and Japan.

After transferring the seat of government to Sabi, King Seong initiated the construction of capital fortifications. A two-layered defense system was emplaced: Busosanseong Fortress on Busosan Mountain guarded the capital from the rear, while Naseong City Wall encircled the capital. The walled capital was divided into five bu (administrative districts), each subdivided in turn into five hang (administrative districts). As for the governance system, the central government was reorganized into 22 bu (administrative departments) and local offices into five bang.

Upon restoring state power, King Seong took the initiative of recovering the lost territories around the Hangang River. He allied with King Jinheung of Silla in order to recapture the Hangang areas that had been lost to Goguryeo. Consequently, in 551 Baekje occupied six areas along the lower reaches of the Hangang River while Silla took 10 areas in the upper branches. However, in 553 Silla waged an attack on Baekje to gain control of the lower Hangang region, bringing the alliance between the two kingdoms to an end. King Seong retaliated by invading Silla in 554, but was taken hostage and killed by the enemy during the resulting battle.

Development of Buddhism

Baekje absorbed a number of cultural elements from the Southern Dynasty of China and reimagined them into a new vision of art. It is Buddhist arts that best testify to the sublime, gentle aesthetic of Baekje. Buddhist culture flourished in the capital area, as illustrated by the construction of temples and pagodas. There are numerous remaining Buddhist monuments around Gongju, Buyeo, Iksan and a great number of Buddhist artifacts have been excavated. Besides temples and pagodas, there are rock-carved Buddha triads in Taean and Seosan, illustrating the characteristics of Buddhist culture in Baekje.

During the Sabi Period, fine arts and crafts flourished as well. A wide range of excavated works of art, such as the great gilt-bronze incense burner from Temple Site in Neungsan-ri and the variety of aesthetically patterned tiles, earthen roof tiles and roof-end tiles bespeak the spiritual world and level of artistic achievement of the Baekje people. The culture of Baekje disseminated into Japan, contributing to the flowering of the Asuka culture.

Governing of Iksan by King Mu

The 30th ruler, King Mu (r. 600–641), restored royal power within the kingdom and concentrated external affairs on battles with Silla. During his reign, he was engaged in somewhere around ten distinct conflicts with Silla. King Mu made an attempt to transfer the capital from Sabi to Iksan, as evidenced by the construction of a palace and the large-scale temple Mireuksa. It has been presumed that King Mu resided in Iksan for a relatively long period since cultural relics excavated from Iksan are similar to those from the walled capital of Sabi. King Mu showed a great interest in Buddhism and Taoism and had Wangheungsa Temple restored in concurrence with the construction of Mireuksa Temple. In March of the 35th year of his reign, King Mu had a pond constructed south of the palace along with an artificial mountain in the center of the pond where deities were believed to reside.

Collapse of Baekje

End of a 700-Year History

King Uija (r. 641–660) succeeded King Mu to become the 31st ruler of the kingdom. It is said that King Uija was dutiful to his parents and brotherly toward his siblings. In July of the year following his ascension, King Uija led troops in an attack on Silla, making a remarkable achievement of capturing 40 fortresses; in August he dispatched General Yunchung against Silla, leading to the fall of Daeyaseong Fortress (present-day Hapcheon). He continued his attacks on the western fringes of Silla territory with a great deal of success.

This continuous military success eventually did a disservice to King Uija: he became complacent and revealed his limitation of a dictatorial tendency. His queen was obsessed with power and at times intervened in governance. The king also failed to adequately react to changes in external conditions in terms of the power relations among the three kingdoms. Forced into a defensive posture, Silla sent envoys to the Tang Dynasty of China asking for help in suppressing Baekje. When Tang officials requested Baekje maintain a friendly attitude toward Silla, King Uija ignored the Tang request and even ceased sending emissaries to Tang in 652, severing diplomatic relations with China.

Meanwhile, Silla allied with Tang to wage an attack on Baekje. General Gyebaek of Baekje led a body of 5,000 soldiers to counter 50,000 Silla troops in the battle of Hwangsanbeol, but failed. The forces of the Silla-Tang alliance launched a full-scale attack on the walled capital of Sabi. One day after the allied troops arrived at the Sabi capital on July 12, 660, King Uija and the crown prince fled north to Gongsanseong Fortress. The Silla-Tang troops laid siege to the Sabi capital and eventually took the city. Afterwards, the king and crown prince, who had successfully escaped to Gongsanseong Fortress, surrendered. The king, crown prince, other princes, high-level officials and 12,807 other people were sent to the Tang capital, and Tang forces established five administrative offices in Baekje to ensure effective control.

Baekje Restoration Attempts

After the fall of the Sabi capital in 660, a resistance movement survived for three years throughout the kingdom until the fall of Imjonseong Fortress in November 663. The strongholds for the restoration movements were Juryuseong and Imjonseong Fortresses.

Baekje troops supported by Japanese naval forces engaged in a battle at the Baekchongang River, but sustained a crushing defeat that marked an end to the revival movement. While the naval battle was taking place at the Baekchongang River, Baekje troops also battled Silla-Tang alliance forces in Juryuseong Fortress, which ended in the surrender of Baekje troops on September 1, 663, and the fall of Juryuseong Fortress. With Juryuseong Fortress in the hands of the Silla-Tang alliance, neighboring fortresses including Duryangyunseong Fortress soon capitulated. As a result, the three-year resistance was terminated and the Baekje kingdom reached the end of its 700-year history.