History Of Korea: Rise & Fall Of 3 Great Kingdoms

Being a history enthusiast, I have always been interested in knowing about the main reason why North and South Korea got separated and what happened to all those Kingdoms of Korea which we watch in dramas like Moonlover. In this article, we will brief you on the history of Korea and the rise and fall of the 3 Great Kingdoms of Korea in a fun and easy way. So let’s get started!

History Of Korea

Korea is home to many tourists and is a homogenous country with a rich traditional cultural heritage. Have you ever thought about its origin? Where Koreans are actually from? Why the peninsula was a contested region and debate about invasions? What is the story behind their historic castles? Why was North and South was divided into two countries?

Well! We are here to answer all your confusion. For the brief answers, continue reading the article below.

Korean Peninsula

The Korean Peninsula is located in northeast Asia with two Koreas; North Korea-The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and South Korea-The Republic of Korea which was established in 1948. 

Area and Populations

It covers an area of approximately 220,911 square kilometers (84,500 square miles). North Korea, 120,540 square km, and South Korea;100,210 square km

Korean Peninsula has a population of almost 68 million people. North Korea 25.78 million, and South Korea, 51.78 million

Geo-politically Importance

Korea shares a border with China from the north and Russia on the east and the Japanese Islands which are separated by 120 miles of the strait, from the south. Neighbors have played an important role in Korean history, particularly in China and Japan.

Another Pacific power, the United States, has important strategic and economic interests in South Korea, and both North and South Korea remain a fulcrum of global power politics.

Korean Peninsula has become a vital area of encounter in East Asia’s history due to the clash of political, cultural, and military forces from great powers. As a result, Korea has been invaded by several countries.

This had a formative effect on Korean cultural heritage, as well as a subtle transformational effect on the histories of their conquerors.


The Religions Of South Korea include Christianity, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Islam, which coexist peacefully with shamanism in S. Korea. North Korea is an atheist state that forbids public worship. According to current estimations, certain religions do exist, with Shamanism and Chondoism being the most prominent. There are also modest Buddhist and Christian communities. 

Below is the timeline of brief Korean History.

Pre History Of Korea: Ancient Times To Joseon Dynasty 1400 C.

The history of Korea has been marked by continual conflicts between forces of unity and division since prehistoric times.

Paleolithic Age

Various Paleolithic artifacts discovered in Korea proposed that humans first occupied the peninsula 700,000 years ago, during the Lower paleolithic period.

Paleolithic tool-making relics have been discovered in, Gyeonggi, north and south Chungcheong Provinces, South Pyongan, and North Hamgyong from 700,000 B.C. to 40,000 B.C. People lived in caves and built dwellings, cooking and heating their homes with fire. Stone tools were used to hunt, gather, and fish.

Neolithic Age

The Age of Neolithic began in Korea around 8,000 B.C. Farming of rice, as well as the cultivation of cereals such as millet, began with the use of polished stone implements. They began to establish permanent settlements and tubes or clan societies.

Comb-patterned pottery is the cultural representative element of the Neolithic Age, with specimens unearthed throughout the Korean Peninsula, including in Namgyeong, Amsadong, Pyongyang, Seoul, Gimhae, and Suga-ri.

Bronze Age

On the Korean Peninsula, the Bronze Age began around the 10th century BCE, and in Manchuria, it began around the 15th century BCE. Bronze Age sites can be discovered in China’s Jilin provinces and Liaoning, also across the Korean Peninsula.

The clan chief wielded considerable power when a society arose during the rise of Bronze Age culture. Many clans were merged into one by the greatest clan chiefs, and these groups gradually matured into early states.

Gojeoson (Old Joseon)

According to Korean history, Dangun, who is claimed to have descended from heaven, built the first kingdom of Korea-Gojoseon(later called Joseon), in 2333 B.C.E. located in the northern part of the Korean peninsula and the Manchuria, then in the south of the peninsula alongside the state of Jin.

In the early 7th century BC, the historical kingdom of Gojoseon was first recorded in Chinese sources. Gojoseon grew to the point where its existence was well renowned in China by the 4th century BCE, and its capital was moved to Pyongyang around this time.

In Liaoning, China, particularly around the Daedonggang River, Gojoseon cultivated an independent civilization. King Jun and King Bu had grown powerful by the third century BCE and had left the throne to their sons. 

With the help of high-ranking retainers and military men, they constructed a firm structure of governance. The Qin dynasty in China was replaced by the Han dynasty at the end of the 3rd century BCE, resulting in social turmoil. Many individuals relocated to Gojoseon in the south. Wiman, their leader, ascended to the throne in 194 BCE, and Gojoseon’s realm grew under his control.

Iron Age, Fall Of Gojoseon, And Chinese Influence

Gojeoson had embraced Iron Age civilization, expanded agriculture and cultural items such as handicrafts, and strengthened its military. It attempted to monopolize earnings while acting as a middleman in the trading of goods between China and Korea, leveraging its geographic proximity to China. Gojoseon and the Han dynasty clashed as a result of this.

Han launched a massive ground and naval assault against Gojoseon. Gojoseon opposed the onslaught with tenacity and scored a decisive victory early in the battle, but its capital fortress-Wanggeomseong surrendered in the following year. Therefore, Gojoseon fell in 108 century of B.C.E.

Chinese Influence On Korean Peninsula

The ancient Chinese culture, such as Confucianism ideographic writing system-Chinese characters filtered into the Peninsula of Korea through this Chinese colony. The Koreans then passed on these aspects of Chinese education to the Japanese. Koreans were introduced to the monarchy, which was the center of the Chinese ruling model through the Lelang Commandery, which they quickly adopted.

Chinese cultural influence can still be found in Confucian-based legislation, political values, and bureaucratic organizations in Korea today.

The Three Kingdoms And Shaping Of Korean Identity

Few states sprouted up from former Gojoseon of the Korean peninsula. The territory included the tribes of Okjeo, Buyeo, Guda-guk, Dongye, Galsa-guk, Hangin-guk and Gaema-guk. Later Three Kingdoms of Korea descended from Buyeo and developed in the Korean peninsula: the Silla, the Koguryo (Goguryeo), and the Paekche(Baekje or Paikje).

The history of the three kingdoms indicated that all three had diverse relationships with their Chinese and Japanese neighbors. The three major kingdoms lasted into the fifth and sixth centuries, respectively.

Koguryo-First Native Korean kingdom

Chumong was the founder-Puy prince, in 37 BCE. Koguryo/Goguryeo was founded on the Yalu River’s middle reaches in southern Manchuria, more culturally and politically evolved than Paekche and Silla.

It reached a vast territory extending across the south of Manchuria and the northern region of the Korean Peninsula, in the fifth century. The encouragement of Sinicization was key to its cultural growth. 

  • Korea’s first National Confucian Academy, 372
  • Buddhism as its official religion reached its zenith during this era

Collapse Of Koguryo

Kogury’s increasingly violent attitude toward its neighbors, As a result, preemptive attacks from T’ang Dynasties and China’s Sui occurred in the late 6th and early 7th century, and Koguryo fell in 668 c.

The remaining people of former Kogury were merged into Balhae in 698, making a combined Korean-Manchurian region. A Manchurian tribe (Quadians) that created the Liao Dynasty in 947 in the north of China, destroyed Parhae in 926, leaving the province in chaos. Korea never regained control of Manchuria after the fall of Parhae.

Paekche-Second Native Korean kingdom

In 18 BCE, Puyo nobleman Onjo founded the city. Paekche (18 BCE-660 CE), was the second native Korean kingdom to arise in the century of Jesus. It was founded by Puyo aristocrat Onjo and is now the territory around Seoul.

Paekche evolved into a wealthy and cultivated kingdom in the region because it possessed some of Korea’s most fertile agricultural regions. The same Buddhism and Confucianism inspired much of Paekche’s blooming culture.

Paekche worked hard to maintain amicable ties with Yamato Japan and acted as a conduit for continental culture to reach the islands of Japan.

Collapse Of Paekche

Paekche was never able to become a strong unified state due to ethnic disparities between its governing class and the general citizenry.

Taking advantage of this, Silla joined forces with Tang China to invade the smaller Paekche Kingdom in 660. Even though Japan aided Paekche in this fight, the kingdom fell without much resistance. Former Paekche residents flocked to Japan, where they were influential in spreading Sinicized Korean culture across the Korean Strait.

The Silla-Third Native Korean Kingdom

Silla (57 BC-935 AC) was the third native Korean kingdom to emerge in the first century, a small walled-town state in the region which is today’s Kyngju, governed by an elected native chieftain Pak Hyokkose.

Silla’s political and cultural development was slow in comparison to the other two Korean kingdoms. Silla, on the other hand, was able to outperform its neighbors due to a range of institutional characteristics inherent in its political system.

The Silla rulers were also skilled in international diplomacy, as seen by their ability to create an alliance with the Chinese Tang dynasty across the Yellow Sea (between mainland China on the west and north, and the Korean Peninsula on the east and south) in 648.

Silla succeeded the Han River watershed by the year 551. Silla was able to focus on fighting and removing its rivals on the Korean peninsula after establishing a direct maritime route to China.

Silla defeated Paekche in 660 with the help of Tang China’s army, and then unified the peninsula in 668 by conquesting Kogury. Silla’s civilization and culture shaped subsequent Korean history, and as a result, present historians of South Korea see the Kingdom of Silla as a legitimate ancestor of Korean traditions.

Unified Silla Era (668-935) 

Silla had a significant expansion of territory and people following the union of the three Korean Kingdoms in 668. During the Unified Silla(North and South States period), Buddhism was declared the state religion. Unified Silla began an era of spectacular economic growth. Examples as,

  • It reconciled with Tang China. Traders, monks, and Confucian academics exchanged ideas freely between the two countries.
  • Silla imported literature, garments, ceramic ware, satin silk fabric, and craftwork products from Tang, as well as gold and silver handicrafts and ginseng.
  • Central Asian goods were brought to Silla via sea routes and Silk Route

Fall Of Silla

Silla, Korea’s longest-surviving dynasty, began to crumble in the mid-ninth century. The kingdom’s downfall was due to its bone-rank system. Silla was engulfed in civil conflict, involving a fight between three kingdoms, and eventually succumbed.

Rise Of Koryǒ Dynasty (918-1392)

Koryo (modern name Korea) founded by Wang Kn, succeeded the three major kingdoms on the peninsula in the early 10th century.

During this time, the government established a civil service structure and the court codified laws. Buddhism grew in popularity and spread across the Korean peninsula.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the celadon business grew rapidly. Goryeo’s cultural achievements are attested to by the publication of Tripitaka Koreana in the thirteenth century, as well as the world’s first metal printing technology.

Fall Of The Koryǒ Dynasty

In 1231, Mongols started campaigning against the Koryo Dynasty. However, Koryo was able to drive away from the Mongols after 125 years of the Mongols’ control in the 13th and 14th centuries, but he was unable to recreate the institutions that had been in place, giving rise to the Joseon (Yi) Dynasty.

Joseon Dynasty

King T’aejo or General Yi Song-gye became a hero after leading a series of victorious victories against Mongol predators, Chinese rebellious bandits, Japanese pirates, and Nuzhen marauders that were threatening the independence of Korea. Admiral Yi overthrew the pro-Mongol or Yuan Dynasty in 1392 and established a new Chinese kingdom (pro-Ming) known as Chosn(Jeoson) in commemoration of ancient Joseon.

Neo-Confucianism became the official religion of the country and the Joseon Dynasty had a social hierarchy system in place. The last Emperor was  Emperor Gojong.

Korean Alphabet

In 1443, King Sejong tasked a group of scholars with creating the Hangul written alphabet (Korean alphabet). During the last millennium, the existence of the Joseon Dynasty became the longest-lived ruling dynasty in East Asia.

South Koreans observe their national foundation on October 3 following the Gregorian calendar. “Heaven-opened Day” is what Gaecheonjeol means. The day honors the invention (1443) and proclamation (1446) of hangul, the Korean language’s native alphabet.

Modern History-Foreign Influence On The Korean Peninsula

Imjin War

From 1592 until 1598, Korea was subjected to two Japanese invasions (the Imjin War and the Seven Years’ War). Admiral Yi Sun Sin, on the other hand, used his turtle ship and hawcha to successfully resist the Japanese invaders or army.

Invasions By Qing

Korea was invaded by Qings in 1627 and 1636, and Korea eventually accepted the authority of the Qing Dynasty (winner of the warring states era) in China.

19 Century Pressure From The West And Decline Of The Joseon-Colonial Period

Capitalism originated in Europe and major firms emerged during the first Industrial Revolution in, the 18th century. West expanded their colonies in Africa, European and Asian countries.

In the mid-nineteenth century, western countries(Europeans) compelled China’s Qing dynasty and Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate to open their borders, while Joseon had rebuffed similar pleas. Joseon faced pressure from the French in the shape of marine attacks in 1866 and again in 1871 from America.

The pressure continued to build over time. Japan sent the battleship Unyo Maru to attack Yeongjongdo and Ganghwado Islands in 1875, demanding that Joseon allow foreign trade missions to enter. Under military threat, Joseon eventually signed the severely unequal, Ganghwa Treaty, with Japan on February 18, 1876.

Joseon renamed itself the Korean Empire in 1897 and modified reforms to an open-door policy, but it was too late.

20th Century Japanese Annexation And Fall Of Joseon Dynasty

After defeating the Chinese and Russians in the Sino-Japanese war in 1895 and the Russo-Japanese war from 1904 to 1905, Japan regarded Korea as a conquered land and formally annexed the country in 1910, effectively ending the Joseon dynasty also Emperor Gojong died in January 1919 with the rumors of murder through poisoning.

Following the annexation, Japan established a military rule, outlawed Korea’s important services (such as foreign affairs, military, banking, and communications), and even outlawed the Korean language and family names and adopt Japanese names.

World War I: Korea And Japanese Rule

The March First Movement in Korea was born out of the rise of nationalism during World War I (1914-1918). Millions of Koreans took part in nonviolent independence demonstrations. This uprising was violently suppressed, with around 7,000 people slain by Japanese police and soldiers. Meanwhile, Korea grew in importance as a commercial and military basis for Japan’s colonial advance.

The Exploitation Of Korean Nation During Japan’s Rule

Japan imposed harsh economic demands on Korea and dominated its economy. Examples such as exploitation of Korean’s natural resources and labor force(slave children as well), causing many Koreans to become impoverished. 

World War II And Liberation Of Korea From Japan

The Allied triumph that ended World War II in 1945 eventually liberated Korea from the Japanese. During the transition from Japanese colonial authority to Korean independence, the US administration allowed several Japanese officials to stay in power and collaborate with American officials.

As a result, the Korean people came to resent the Americans, who had been praised for being a part of the Korean liberation army. This discontent would last until today when student protestors in the South continue to demand the withdrawal of the US military from the country.

Division Of Korea? Two Koreas

Korea had become a divided country, once an agrarian monarchy and a newly independent former Japanese colony.

Southern Korea-Democracy

In 1948, the United States proposed a United Nations-sponsored referendum to determine the peninsula’s destiny. The South founded its own administration in Seoul after the North refused to join, led by the anti-communist Syngman Rhee, and formed modern South Korea.

Northern Korea-Communism

In response to American efforts to hasten reunification, Soviet Union’s occupation forces began training Korean Communists and constructing a Communist puppet administration in the northern parts of the Korean Peninsula as a national government-present day North Korea, commanded by former communist rebel Kim Il Sung.

The stage was now prepared for the Korean War to begin.

Reunification Of South And North Korea? Korean War

The North Korean army fired a full-scale attack on the south zone on June 25, 1950. The UN, however, intervened. The UN Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution in New York City denouncing the attack of South Korea.

USSR (Soviet Union) did not impose a veto, Truman sent United States ground forces to Japan-invaded-Korea on June 30 after Seoul city fell on 28 June when most of the Korean army was destroyed. On July 4, United Nation troops arrived on the battlefield of Incheon.

The Korean War (1950-53), one of the most brutal wars of the twentieth century, was fought to reunite the peninsula and killed at least 2.5 million people. It has, however, had the opposite impact.

38 Parallel

The armistice resulted in the construction of a wide buffer zone across the middle of Korea(two zones), measuring 2.5 miles. Troops and weaponry were evacuated from the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a cease-fire line created in 1953 in place of the 38th parallel (latitude 38 N), effectively ending any possibility of a peaceful reunion.

Relations Between North And South Korea

The boundaries of the two zones were hermetically sealed after the War of Korea, which explains why North Korea and South Korea have pursued divergent paths, perpetuating the division, and there has been very little movement across the DMZ by the Korean army since 1953. Dictator Kim Jong Il succeeded his dictator father, Kim Il-sung in 1994 after his death.

Although there have been periods of instability and high tensions, there has been some progress in improving relations between South and North Korea since that time. The two Korean presidents met in Pyongyang in 2000, marking the first time since 1945 that North and South Korean leaders have met.

The gathering was viewed as the first meaningful step toward the eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula, with discussions on reconciliation and economic cooperation between the two countries.

Modern Korea’s History: War To Present

Let’s look at some modern-day’s Korean history.

South Korea: The Republic Of Korea

Under the leadership of Syngman Rhee in 1948, new constitutions along with autocratic governments in South Korea rose to power, aided and abetted by American assistance and influence. South Korea also tied diplomatic relations with Britain on 18 January 1949.

A new economic policy began with General Park Chung hee’s in 1961. Export-oriented industrialization policy was implemented by the South Korean government to boost economic development.

The government has made education (check out the top 10 Korean Universities) a top priority to create a literate population, skilled in contributing profitably to the economy for a prosperous country. Despite the frequent political disorder, the economy of Korea grew at an incredible rate for nearly four decades.

The South Korean economy eventually evolved away from low-cost, low-value light industry exports and toward surplus capital, profitable industries including IT, auto manufacture, shipbuilding, commerce, and petroleum refining.

In the last two decades, a movement called Korean Wave has swept throughout the globe, bringing South Korean pop culture with it.

North Korea: Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea

In the late 1950s, Kim Il-sung and his followers had solidified their political grip, and as a result, Kim devised and promoted a severe self-reliance strategy, as well as bolstering his country’s independence, a communist dictatorship state for three generations by a single-family.

After the war, the shattered North Korean economy was revived through agricultural collectivization and a succession of five-year programs. After the war, heavy industry was prioritized for reconstruction, while consumer goods were given a low priority; this was the polar opposite of South Korea’s growth plan.

However, as the Soviet bloc fell apart in the early 1990s, due to the oil crisis and poor planning, they were unable to make payments to their Western and Japanese creditors. North Korea’s ability to deal with the challenges of a more sophisticated economy deteriorated.

Wrapping Up!

That’s it for this article. This was a brief and quick summary of ancient eras to modern-day Korea. If you have made it here then you are a Korean history enthusiast and we would like to suggest you two more blog posts that might interest you: Korean culture and Korean map. Check out Ling App if you want to access the world of the Korean language!

Happy Learning!

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