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Samguk Sagi

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Ancient history sheds new light on connection between weather and war

Goguryeo armor mural, lifetime 37 BCE-668 CE. Credit: Public Domain

Data extracted from the oldest surviving document recording Korean history shows a strong correlation between extreme weather events and war.

The research, which was recently published as a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows the three states that ruled over the Korean Peninsula from 18 BCE to 660 CE were more than twice as likely to be involved in an armed conflict with a neighbor when also experiencing a weather shock such as drought or excessive rainfall.

For the study, Santa Fe Institute External Professor Rajiv Sethi (Barnard College, Columbia University) and co-author Tackseung Jun of Kyung Hee University in South Korea analyzed data extracted from detailed accounts of conflicts and extreme weather events contained in the Samguk Sagi, or History of the Three Kingdoms.

Originally commissioned by King Injong of Goryeo in the 12th century, the Samguk Sagi provides scientists access to rare historical data involving a set of stable political entities for which both weather and conflict events were recorded over several centuries.

Their analysis revealed shocks were far more likely to result in a state's invasion than for one to go on the offensive.

Additionally, they identified food insecurity as a critical source of vulnerability to invasion.

The researchers' work sheds new light on the relationship between climate change and war. It could ultimately help with efforts to identify and protect people living in the world today that are particularly vulnerable to climate-related conflict.

"Extreme weather events and military conflict over seven centuries in ancient Korea" is published in PNAS.

The battle against extreme weather set off actual war in ancient times

Sometimes, a storm that is already brewing can start a greater storm.

Horrible weather could mean the enemy storming into your city. New research on the Samguk Sagi, which are the oldest surviving records of Korean history, has revealed that people were more than twice as likely to fight each other if they were hit with extreme weather such as an epic drought or blizzard. You need food to fuel and army. Less food meant a population would be vulnerable to enemies, and because of this, people were also more susceptible to being attacked than they were to being triggered to pillage and plunder.

More Weather

“Weather shocks weakened states and made them easier to defeat in battle,” Rajiv Sethi of Barnard College at Columbia University, who co-led a study recently published in PNAS with colleague Tackseung Jun of Kyung Hee University, told SYFY WIRE. “This made affected states more cautious about initiating attack, and also made rivals more eager to attack them.”

Humans can turn violent in an instant. This has been replayed over and over throughout history, for every reason imaginable. As if that wasn’t enough, the influence of weather that we have no say over can be a deciding factor in another thing beyond our control — whether warriors armed with spears and swords and daggers are going to bust through the gates at any second. Ancient Koreans evidently knew this too well.

There was hardly anything previously known about the effect of weather on war. Sethi and Jun wanted to investigate how weather extremes sparked conflicts back in time, because with climate change threatening us, the same phenomenon could come back to haunt us.

There were two main triggers that set off an attack. Desperation was sometimes behind starving armies invading neighboring city, frantically searching for any food and resources they could find and killing everyone in their way. Opportunistic invasions were more common. In this case, opposing forces were not literally dying for food. It was the food insecurity suffered by the victims that gave them the chance to close in and take over. They found a weakness in a city that may have been taken down by drought and strategically planned an attack to take advantage of that vulnerability.

“Most conflicts at the time (and many today) were very labor intensive, fought by land armies without the kind of long-range weapons now in use,” Sethi said. “These armies had to be equipped and fed, which meant that people had to be moved out of agriculture. Food insecurity made this harder to accomplish.”

Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla were three ancient kingdoms that had conquered the Korean peninsula between 200 BC and 600 AD. That still didn’t stop battles between them or invasions from neighboring Chinese dynasties as well as Manchurian and Japanese armies. The Samguk Sagi, or History of the Three Kingdoms, documents conflicts in explicit detail, from where a battle took place to who was in combat and how long the fighting was dragged out. Some wars lasted for years. Many ancient historical accounts describe rain or famine lasting for years on end, so it should be no surprise that military conflict associated with weather that debilitated one of the entities involved lasted for the duration of hardship.

There was no such thing as a weather forecast in 77 AD, when Goguryeo was buried in a staggering 3 feet of snow. Drought was the most common misfortune to fall on all three kingdoms, but the Samguk Sagi also documents that precautions were eventually taken. The records tell of drought around 300 AD, during which a high-ranking official asked the king of Goguryeo to halt renovations to his palace, because the workers would instead be able to focus their efforts on producing crops. In 82 AD, the king of Silla worried aloud about a possible war when food and weapons were in short supply.

The question that bothers Sethi, and should also be on our minds, is whether hurricanes, tsunamis, and other cataclysmic events brought on by global warming could end in blood.

“We believe that the research is relevant for labor-intensive conflicts within states and across borders, fought at close range, where historical rivalries exist,” he said. “There are many such conflicts ongoing today.”

If history is documented for a reason, the knowledge of what happened centuries ago in Korea could be our armor against history repeating.


The Samguk Sagi is divided into 50 Books. Originally, each of them was written on a scroll (권, 卷). They are reparted as follows:

Silla's Records

12 scrolls, Nagi/Silla bongi, 나기/신라 본기, 羅紀/新羅本紀. [3]

Book 01. Geoseogan Hyeokgeose, Chachaung Namhae, Isageum Yuri, Talhae, Pasa, Jima, Ilseong Book 02. Isageum Adalla, Beolhyu, Naehae, Jobun, Cheomhae, Michu, Yurye, Girim, Heulhae Book 03. Isageum Naemul, Silseong, Maripgan Nulji, Jabi, Soji Book 04. Maripgan Jijeung, King Beopheung, Jinheung, Jinji, Jinpyeong Book 05. Queen Seondeok, Jindeok, King Taejong Muyeol Book 06. King Munmu - Part One Book 07. King Munmu - Part Two Book 08. King Sinmun, Hyoso, Seongdeok Book 09. King Hyoseong, Gyeongdeok, Hyegong, Seondeok Book 10. King Wonseong, Soseong, Aejang, Heondeok, Heungdeok, Huigang, Minae, Sinmu Book 11. King Munseong, Heonan, Gyeongmun, Heongang, Jeonggang, Queen Jinseong Book 12. King Hyogong, Sindeok, Gyeongmyeong, Gyeongae, Gyeongsun

Goguryeo's Records

10 scrolls, Yeogi/Goguryeo bongi, 여기/고구려 본기, 麗紀/高句麗本紀. [4]

Book 13. Sage King Dongmyeong, Bright King Yuri, Book 14. King Daemusin, Minjung, Mobon, Book 15. Great King Taejo, King Chadae Book 16. King Sindae, Gogukcheon, Sansang Book 17. King Dongcheon, Jungcheon, Seocheon, Bongsang, Micheon Book 18. King Gogukwon, Sosurim, Gogugyang, Gwanggaeto, Jangsu, Book 19. Illustrious King Munja, King Anjang, Anwon, Yangwon, Pyeongwon, Book 20. King Yeongyang, Yeongnyu Book 21. King Bojang - Part One Book 22. King Bojang - Part Two

Baekje's Records

6 scrolls, Jegi/Baekje bongi, 제기/백제 본기, 濟紀/百濟本紀. [5]

Chronological Tables


Book 32. Rites and music Book 33. Vehicles, clothing, and dwellings Book 34. Geography of Silla Book 35. Geography of Goguryeo + 景德王 new names Book 36. Geography of Baekje + 景德王 new names Book 37. Geography (this section is empty on http://www.khaan.net/history/samkooksagi/samkooksagi.htm) Book 38. Silla government offices. Book 39. Silla government offices. Book 40. Silla government offices.


10 scrolls, Yeoljeon, 열전, 列傳. [7]

Book 41. Kim Yusin (1) Book 42. Kim Yusin (2) Book 43. Kim Yusin (3) Book 44. Eulji Mundeok 을지문덕, Geochilbu 김거칠부 , Geodo 거도, Yi Sabu 이사부, Kim Immun 김인문, Kim Yang 김양, Heukchi Sangji 흑치상지, Jang Bogo 장보고, Jeong Nyeon 정년, Prince Sadaham 사다함공 Book 45. Eulpaso 을파소, Kim Hujik 김후직, [nog zhēn] 祿真, Milu 밀우, Nyuyu 유유 纽由, Myeongnim Dap-bu 명림답부, Seok Uro 석우로, Park Jesang 박제상, Gwisan 귀산, Ondal 온달 Book 46. Scholars. Kangsu 강수, Choe Chiwon, Seol Chong Book 47. Hwarangs. Haenon 해론, Sona 소나, Chwido 취도(驟徒), Nulchoi 눌최, Seol Gyedu 설계두, Kim Ryeong-yun 김영윤(金令胤), Gwanchang 관창, Kim Heum-un 김흠운, Yeolgi 열기(裂起), Binyeongja 비령자(丕寧子), Jukjuk 죽죽, Pilbu 필부(匹夫), Gyebaek 계백 Book 48. Meritorious. Hyangdeok (son), Seonggak (son), Silhye 실혜 (實兮) (poet), Mulgyeja 물계자 (soldier), Teacher Baekgyeol 백결 선생 (music), Prince Kim 검군, Kim Saeng 김생 (calligrapher) and Yo Gukil, Solgeo 솔거 (painter), Chiun (daughter), Seolssi (daughter), Domi (wife). [8] Book 49. Overthrows. Chang Jori 창조리, Yeon Gaesomun 연개소문 Book 50. Later Kings. Gung Ye 궁예, Gyeon Hwon 견훤


In compiling (this term is more accurate than "writing" because much of the history is taken from earlier historical records) the Samguk Sagi, Kim Busik was consciously following the Chinese Imperial tradition of creating dynastic histories. As a historian, he followed the format of his Chinese forebears, and adopted the title of the work of the Han Dynasty “Grand Historian” Sima Qian ( 司馬遷 ca. 145-90 B.C.E.) Shi ji (Korean sagi) for his own work. He also adopted the classic four-part division of the standard Chinese dynastic history into Annals (bongi 本紀), Tables (pyo 表), Monographs (ji 志), and Biographies (yeoljeon 列傳).

A History of the Early Korean Kingdom of Paekche, together with an annotated translation of The Paekche Annals of the Samguk sagi

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Korea with Empire: Resisting, Contesting, and Appropriating Transnational Universals

Jonathan Best, Professor Emeritus
Wesleyan University

It is becoming increasingly apparent to historians and archaeologists alike that the twelfth-century Samguk sagi’s datings for many of its early entries, especially in the Paekche Annals and the Silla Annals, are problematic. The problematic character of the dates ascribed to these entries is primarily due to the combined effect of two factors: the appropriation of the official imperial Chinese historiographic model by the Samguk sagi’s editors coupled with their acceptance of the impossibly early first-century BCE foundation dates that tradition credited to Silla and Paekche in particular. This combination of factors resulted in the creation of a chronologically grossly inflated, and therefore ahistoric, representation of the early Korean past. The Samguk sagi’s representation of Korea’s ancient history has, however, become essentially regarded as sacrosanct by both postwar Korean governments, and this manifestation of officially endorsed and underwritten nationalism has become even more pronounced in recent years as is regrettably evident from such things as the current textbook controversy in South Korea.

I will begin my presentation by briefly demonstrating how the employment of the historiographic model used in China’s so-called “dynastic histories” in the compiling of the Samguk sagi as a royally ordered history of the three previous dynasties necessitated the extensive antedating of accounts from the few peninsular records that survived from the Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla periods. I will then turn to my understanding of the causes and endemic structural supports for—and the deleterious effects of—the persistence in postwar Korea of a largely literal acceptance of the Samguk sagi’s representation of early peninsular history. I intend to illustrate this point with, in part, the example of the interpretation of some archaeological finds included in the exhibition, “Silla, Korea’s Golden Kingdom,” recently held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (November 2013–February 2014).

Home > Culture > Korean Heritage

1&2: Two sets of the “Samguk Sagi” (“History of the Three Kingdoms”) have been promoted to the status of National Treasure. (No. 322-1 and 322-2) 3: “Samguk Yusa” (“Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms”) was also elevated in status. (National Treasure No. 306-3) 4: Joseon painter Danwon Kim Hong-do’s “Legendary Scene” is now Treasure No. 1971. 5: Joseon painter Hyewon Sin Yun-bok’s “Portrait of a Beauty” is Treasure No. 1973. 6: Najeon Gyeongham, a lacquered box inlaid with mother-of-pearl that holds Buddhist texts, has been designated as Treasure No. 1975. [CULTURAL HERITAGE ADMINISTRATION]

One book of the “Samguk Yusa,” or “Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms,” and two books of “Samguk Sagi,” or “History of the Three Kingdoms,” have been designated as national treasures, according to an announcement from the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) on Wednesday. These books have previously been on the country’s Treasure list.

The “Samguk Sagi,” designated as National Treasure No. 322-1, was written by Kim Bu-sik (1075-1151) around 1145, the 23rd year of the reign of King Injong. It is a copy that was printed in Gyeongju in 1573 and sent to Oksanseowon Confucian Academy, where it is currently housed. According to the CHA, it is a combination of the original edition written in the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and a version reprinted in early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Another set of “Samguk Sagi,” including volumes 44 to 50, has also been designated as National Treasure No. 322-2, and is said to be of high value, as the two sets are evidence of the woodblock printing technique of the time.

“Samguk Yusa Volumes 1-2,” which was Treasure No. 1866, is now National Treasure No. 306-3. It is a woodblock-printed-book of the early Joseon Dynasty. Some scholars insisted it as too limited to be recognized as meaningful study material, as only two volumes among five remain today. However, many others viewed it valuable as it helped decipher the Imsin Edition (1512), which contained many indecipherable characters.

This is the third set of the “Samguk Yusa” to be a part of the National Treasure list. However, it is the first time that a scroll of “Samguk Sagi” has been designated as a National Treasure.

Meanwhile, eight paintings and a craft work have also made it to the Treasure list, including three paintings from the famous Joseon painter Danwon Kim Hong-do (1745-?). The new treasures include “Hearing a Birdsong on Horseback,” “Legendary Scene” and “Old Man Backwards on A Donkey.” Another famous Joseon painter Hyewon Sin Yun-bok’s (1758-?) “Portrait of a Beauty” also made it on the Treasure list.

“Diamond Sutra,” which was written in 1370, and the Najeon Gyeongham, a lacquered box inlaid with mother-of-pearl that was made during the Goryeo Dynasty to hold Buddhist texts, are also two of Korea’s new treasures.

Home > Culture > Arts & Design

Dean Edward Shultz’s translation of the Goguryeo Annals of the “Samguk Sagi” was recently published in English. [JoongAng Ilbo]

Dean Edward Shultz became interested in Korean history when he was in Busan as a Peace Corps volunteer more than 40 years ago. Today, he is a recognized expert in the field and his co-translation of the Goguryeo Annals of the Samguk Sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla) was recently published by the Academy of Korean Studies and released here in April.

Shultz is a professor at the School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He completed the translation with Hugh Kang, a professor at the same school and Shultz’s former advisor.

The original “Samguk Sagi” was published in 1145 during the Goyreo Dynasty (918-1392) and is known as the oldest surviving book on Korean history. The Korea JoongAng Daily interviewed Shultz via e-mail last week, when he talked about the translation work and shared his insights into studying history.

Q.What was the translation process like?

A. To translate required lots of time to search and discover. You have to understand the context of the material. You cannot just go word for word or even sentence by sentence when translating but must seek to understand the entire concept and then the passages begin to make sense. Hugh Kang and I started working on the Goguryeo Annals about eight years ago. There were a lot of things we did not understand at first. Classical Korean scholars often made allusion to the Chinese classics in their writings and we had to track down what these references were.

Why was it important to translate the Samguk Sagi into English?

It is a primary source, which means it is about as direct a window we can get into the past as anything. It is important to read primary as opposed to secondary material to gain first-hand insights into the past. To me, the most interesting sections were when descriptions were made of family relations and social life. For example, Goguryeo’s 10th king Sansang (?-227) had no children and he was worried that he had no one who would succeed him. Once, his aides were chasing a pig, and then a beautiful woman appeared and captured the pig for them. This led the king to her house and soon he had a son who succeeded him on the throne.

Some Koreans say Korea may have had more territory if Goguryeo, not Silla, had united the Three Kingdoms. What do you think?

History in the conditional - that is “What if this happened?” - is intriguing but really not a good use of time. Goguryeo lost for a number of reasons, including proximity to China. But Silla also won for a number of reasons, such as a better leadership system. The fact that Silla was more isolated from China gave it natural protection. Also, Silla climatically was much more blessed and this enabled it to build a stronger state based on a rich agricultural center. Silla was able to bring its traditions as a kingdom, its strong class delineations, which brought a strong sense of stability in times of uncertainty, as well as a rich agricultural base. Silla unified much of the peninsula and it is Silla traditions that became the new foundation for what we call Korea today.

What made you interested in ancient Korean history?

I first took an interest in Korean history when I came to Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1966. I was assigned to Busan and the principal of the school I taught at was interested in Korean history and we used to talk about Korea’s past. Then I visited Gyeongju and could sense an undiscovered past and I guess that is when my interest grew. When I entered the University of Hawaii as a grad student, my advisor, Hugh Kang, encouraged me to take an interest in early history.

Are you planning to translate other annals of Korean history?

Hugh Kang and I are just about finished with the Silla Annals of the Samguk Sagi. Once that is over I am trying to finish a translation of part of the “Goryeosa Choryo,” which is one of the dynastic histories of the Goryeo kingdom. I am working on the period from 1146 to about 1260, which was the so-called military period.

Korean history is not a required class for high school students. What are your thoughts about this?

If Koreans do not study Korean history who should? By learning about your country’s past you learn about the successes and failures your country has faced. To me, history empowers the student.

By knowing of your country’s past you are better able to make intelligent decisions about yourself and your country.

What is a good way to study history? Many students think that history is a boring subject.

One needs to make history pertinent to the individual. It can be linked to heroes or villains, or to travel, or to issues that confront people. I often use art as a window into history. For example, you can look at a magnificent Goguryeo tomb mural and talk about what it represents, and then talk about the people who produced it. Certainly when studying history, you need to be aware of a general chronology but you should try to make history come alive through people or key events.

By Lee Sun-min [[email protected]]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
‘국사 필수과목’ 홍보대사『삼국사기』 영어로 번역한 슐츠 하와이대 교수
"역사를 알아야 국민 힘 더 강해져”
미 하와이대 에드워드 슐츠(66) 교수가 『삼국사기』 ‘고구려 본기’를 영어로 번역해 한국학중앙연구원(원장 정정길)에서 펴냈다. 지난 10년간 휴 강(한국명 강희웅) 하와이대 명예교수와 공동 작업한 성과다. ‘신라 본기’ 영역(英譯)도 마쳐 연내 출판할 예정이다. ‘백제 본기’ 영역은 2005년 조너선 베스트 웨슬리안대 교수가 해낸 바 있다. 『삼국사기』의 고구려·백제·신라 본기가 완역된 셈이다. ‘고구려 본기’ 영문판 발간에 맞춰 방한한 슐츠 교수를 만나 한국사에 대해 이야기를 나눴다.

“10년 전 중국이 고구려를 중국사에 포함시키려는 문제가 불거졌을 때다. 당시 정신문화연구원(현 한국학중앙연구원) 장을병 원장이 저의 하와이대 스승인 휴 강 교수에게 『삼국사기』‘고구려 본기’를 영어로 번역할 수 있겠느냐고 문의해 왔다. 중국의 동북공정에 대응하기 위한 거였다. 『삼국사기』를 읽어보면 고구려는 중국사가 아니다. 중국의 여러 국가와 싸움을 너무 많이 했다. 고구려왕들은 전략을 잘 세워서 대개 이겼다.”

-『삼국사기』는 고려시대에 쓰였다. 고구려와 고려의 관계는.

“고구려에서 ‘구’ 자가 없으면 바로 고려다. 고려가 신라 영향만 받은 게 아니라 고구려 영향도 받았다. 평양을 서경으로 했고, 경주는 동경으로 한 것만 봐도 고구려를 중시했음을 알 수 있다.”

“뉴욕 유니언대에서 정치학을 공부하던 64∼65년 무렵 중국어를 배웠다. 이후 66년 한국에 평화봉사단으로 와서 부산 경남고 영어선생으로 1년간 있었다. 원래 중국말을 배우고 싶었는데 그때는 중국과 미국의 외교관계가 없었고, 대만하고도 평화봉사단 교류 같은 것이 없었다. 그때 한국은 한문을 많이 사용했다. 한국에 오면 중국을 좀 더 알 수 있지 않을까 하는 마음이었다. 그렇게 시작됐는데 오히려 한국을 더 알고 싶어졌고, 1년 후 귀국해선 아예 하와이대 대학원에서 한국사를 전공하게 됐다. ”

-브루스 커밍스 시카고대 교수도 비슷한 시기에 평화봉사단원으로 한국에 왔는데.

“나보다 6개월 뒤다. 요즘도 큰 학술회의가 열리면 만난다.”

-20세기 한국사에서 중요한 리더는 누구라고 보나.

“20세기 다 합쳐서 보면 이승만 대통령 아닐까.”

“민주주의를 위해서, 시민 이 원하지 않으니까 그만하겠다고 한 거다. 대통령이 된 후 나중에 잘못한 일도 있었지만 항상 민주주의와 한국 민족의 정체성을 지키려고 했다.”

“맞다. 좀 심했다. 좋지 않은 행동도 있었으나, 그 이전 이승만의 행적에서 특히 한국의 정체성을 지켜낸 점을 평가해야 한다.”

-중앙일보가 올해 1월 한국사를 고교 필수로 배우자는 어젠다를 제시했다.

“한국 사람이 한국사 안 배우면 누가 배우나. 한국 사람도 자기 나라 역사 안 배우는데 우리 외국인들이 왜 한국사를 배우겠나. 조상의 역사를 알고, 선조의 훌륭한 전통을 알면 그들도 조금 더 힘이 생길 것이다. 임파워먼트(empowerment)라 할까, ‘강하게 한다(make one strong)’라는 뜻이다. 정신적 파워를 길러주는 것이다.”

“보통 중학교 1학년, 고등학교 1학년에 미국사가 필수다. 그리고 주마다 주 역사를 배운다. 예컨대 뉴욕주라면 미국사, 뉴욕사가 필수과목이다. 세계사도 고1때 보통 필수다. 우수한 학생은 고3 때 동양사·라틴사·캐나다사 등을 선택해 더 공부한다. 대학에서도 학교마다 다르지만 미국사를 해야 한다.”

Ancient Relations between Japan and Korea: from prehistory through the Eighth Century

The tragic late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries has obscured one of the most last influence s in the history of two great nations of East Asia : Japan and Korea. The relationship between Japan and Korea had been dramatically different in the centuries before 1870, with the exception of Hidyoshi’s invasions in the 1590s. Tokugawa Japan maintained a cordial relationship with Joseon Korea. The links between Korea and Japan become stronger the more one goes back into history. For, in the ancient period, Koreans and Japanese were allies. Specifically, the Korean Kingdom of Baekje was the closest ally of the ancient Yamato State in Japan. So much of early Japanese culture came, not from China, but from the Korea peninsula. It was from Korea that Buddhism spread to Japan. Indeed, Japan’s oldest surviving temples — most notably Horyu-ji — were almost certainly built by Korean laborers and show clear influences of architectural styles from Baekje. The Japanese and Baekje royal families intermarried. The rich and endlessly fascinating civilizations of Japan and Korea are like two offshoots from a single tree trunk.

No surviving maps exist for East Asia, from the perspectives of either Japan or Korea before the beginning of the fifteenth century. Therefore we will have to use the Kangnido Map of 1402 to gain some insights into how earlier Japanese and Koreans may have viewed the region. We can immediately see the centrality of China. We can also see that the shape of Korea is far more accurate in this map than that of Japan. Africa and the Arabian Peninsula (on the far left) are not nearly as accurate, though were at least known to fifteenth-century Koreans. We can assume that the Korean and Japanese views of East Asia from a thousand years earlier were far more limited and centered entirely on East Asia, with a vague understanding of places farther away like India.

To reconstruct a picture of what Japanese-Korean relations were like in the period from prehistory through the eighth century, I will be using the following sources: histories which cover the period (like the Nihongi and Samguk sagi), archaeological evidence, and surviving artistic and archaeological similarities between items and buildings found in Japan and Korea. Korean influence on the Japanese archipelago goes back before recorded history. This article will stop in the eighth century with the Japanese Emperor Kanmu. In 2001, then reigning Emperor Akihito made a statement about the Korean portion of his own ancestry — a subject of much controversy in Japan.

“I feel a connection to Korea through annotations made in the `Continued Record of Japan`, which stated that the mother of Emperor Kanmu was a descendant of Baekjae`s King Muryong.”

-Emperor Akihito, 2001

The controversial nature of the ethnic identity of Japan’s Imperial Family is largely a product of modern (post-1868) politics. Indeed, studying the subject is been somewhat difficult because the Japanese Imperial Household Agency has stood in the way of excavating imperial tombs from the Meiji period (1868–1912) until 2018, when it began to allow excavations. Such excavations will be essential in understanding prehistoric Japan. Most of the large, keyhole-shaped tombs in the country were constructed before writing became widespread.

The people now known as Japanese are descended from a people called the Yayoi (also a period name, from c.300 BCE — c.300 CE). The original inhabitants of the northern portion of Japanese archipelago were the Ainu, a Caucasian people who had migrated south from Siberia. Gradually, they were pushed north with an influx of immigrants from the Korean Peninsula. These immigrants brought with them wet rice agriculture and techniques in metallurgy. Chinese influences were also present, but far more common were influences from Korea.

The earliest writings of any kind in Japan come from the 400s, with many of these being inscriptions. Japanese books were not published for another couple centuries and most of these early books are not extant. The earliest surviving historical (really mythological-historical) accounts from Japan are the Kojiki(712, ‘Record of Ancient Matters) and the Nihongi (720 Chronicles of Japan from Earliest times to 697). Both of these works are products of politics originating in the previous decades when the Yamato State, under Emperor Temmu and Empress Jito, was expanding its power. This nascent Japanese state did not control all of Japan or even all of the main island of Honshu. Instead it was built up of extended clans, growing in power and influence. Predecessors of these two mytho-historical accounts were created by order of the court in order to legitimize the power of the Yamato Clan over other clans. The Kojiki and Nihongi were ultimately the new and improved versions created just after the first permanent Japanese capital was established at Heijokyo (Nara) in 710.

The Kojiki and Nihongi both recount the lives and deeds of legendary emperors going back to Jimmu in 660 BCE. The earliest reigning emperor for which there is historical evidence is Kimmei (r.539-571). Kimmei’s immediate predecessors probably did exist however, the further back one goes, the less clear things become. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze these valuable, but problematic records, critically. The Nihongi is more helpful in painting a picture of ancient Japan as the Kojiki is far more concerned with Shinto mythology as it relates to the origins of the Japanese Imperial Family. The Nihongi mentions the Korean Kingdom of Baekje and asserts that there was a Yamato outpost on the Korean peninsula, though this latter claim is contested. In the modern period, Japanese nationalists asserted that this was a colony, though this was not likely to be the case. There could have been a diplomatic or trading post but probably not more than that. Japan did not send a military force to the Korean Peninsula until 663, and even then it was to help the Kingdom of Baekje against the Tang-Silla coalition.

In the sixth century, Buddhism was brought to Japan by emissaries from the Kingdom of Baekje. The textbook date for this is 538, when delegate sent by the King of Baekje presented the Japanese court with a Buddha statue. The integration of Buddhism into Japanese culture was far from smooth — supporters and opponents of Buddhism struggled for control at court throughout the sixth century before an amalgamation of Buddhism and Shinto began to take place. Japan’s early Buddhist temples were built with the aid of Korean labor and Korean architectural ideas imported from Baekje. This includes the buildings for Horyu-ji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the oldest freestanding wooden structures on the planet.

The oldest surviving chronicle of Korean history is called the Samguk sagi, and this text dates to 1145. Though it is much later than the Japanese records, it is still a valuable resource for understanding the Korean perspective of Japanese-Korean relations during the Three Kingdoms Period (Goguryeo, Silla, Baekje) of Korean history. Historian Gim Busik (1075–1151) compiled the Samguk sagi after analyzing a variety of historical records which existed in his own time to create a history of Korea. Recently, the Korean government recognized the Samguk sagi as a National Treasure of South Korea. In the Samguk sagi, Japan appears to be more of a peripheral state in association with Baekje. The linked account, from the 2018 Journal of Korean Studies, discounts the notion that Japan could have had anything like a colony on the Korean peninsula in ancient times. This is, in my view, quite correct. Even accounts of Japanese-Korean relations recorded in the Nihongi are likely to make Japan seem more of a dominant power than it was. Japan was the nation lucky enough to be outside the Korean peninsula when the Tang-Silla alliance defeated and conquered Baekje in 660. The Japanese had come to the aid of Baekje and were defeated in a massive naval battle. It seems quite likely that, before this battle, it was the Kingdom of Baekje that was the superior (in terms of cultural sophistication and technological innovation) nation. The Samguk sagi, however, has its shortcomings. It was written long after the events it recounts and probably makes Japan more peripheral than it really was for Baekje. After all, Baekje and Japanese royal families intermarried and Baekje refugees (including princes) fled to Japan after the defeat inflicted by the Tang-Silla alliance in 660.

Relations between Japan and Korea continued on and off over the course of the following centuries. During the Tokugawa period (1603–1868), formal diplomatic relations were maintained between the Korean Kingdom of Joseon and Japan as an important exception to the Japanese isolation policy. It was the Tokugawa Government that established a relation with Korea that would likely serve as a better example for diplomats to look back upon than practically anything that occurred between Japan and Korea during the dark decades between 1870 and about 1970.

Watch the video: Siege of Ansi - Tang Taizongs Greatest Defeat by Goguryeo - Korean 3 Kingdoms (May 2022).