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Burial mound of a Silla king in Gyeongju
Korean spelling
Korean alphabet : 신라
Hanja : 新 羅
Revised Romanization : Silla
McCune-Reischauer : Silla
The four kingdoms on the Korean Peninsula at the end of the 5th century
History of Korea
to the 10th Century
Prehistoric Korea
Proto-three realms
Time of the Three Kingdoms
Northern and Southern states
Later three realms

The name Silla originally stands for one of the so-called Three Kingdoms of Korea . It is often used for the empire that lasted from 57 BC. Existed until 935. However, the history of the empire can be divided into two periods. In the first period (57 BC - 654) a tribe in the southeast of the Korean Peninsula developed into an empire. In the second period (645–935) the empire ruled over the entire southern Korean peninsula after conquering two other competing states, Baekje and Goguryeo, and Gaya . In order to distinguish the two periods of the empire, the term Tong-il Silla ( kor. 통일 신라 ) and in German United Silla , is used today for the late empire. Silla flourished during the second period. In 935 Silla was replaced by the then newly created Goryeo .


Founding time

According to traditional historiography, Hyeokgeose founded 57 BC. Chr. Silla. For the 2nd century a kind of alliance has been secured in southeast Korea , which is said to have initially consisted of six villages. In its early days, Silla may have had a form of government similar to that of its southwestern neighbor Gaya . With the introduction of the hereditary monarchy during the reign of King Naemul (356-402 AD) and the conquest of Gaya in the 6th century, Silla became an empire in the true sense of the word.

The famous monk Weon Gwang combined Buddhist and Confucian virtues into a guide for educating the young.

Conquest of Korea

Since Goguryeo's conquest of a Chinese buffer state in 313, it has been in opposition to the Koreans in the south, including Silla in the southeast.

The elite corps of the Hwarang was formed from volunteers who received training both militarily and culturally and ethically. You were the spearhead of Silla in the unification of Korea. A powerful army had been built under King Jinheung (540-576), and Silla waited for the opportunity to subdue his rivals.

For years, Goguryeo had waged war against the Chinese, who countered the attack under the Sui and Tang dynasties. Baekje and Goguryeo had allied themselves against Silla in 641, which then sought help from Tang-China, which sent 658-59 troops after three invasions 644, 645 and 655 had already been unsuccessful.

The allies Tang-China and Silla failed to capture Goguryeo. However, they were able to occupy 660 Baekje. There a revolt broke out in 661, which was supported in 662 by a Japanese army, under the command of Abe no Hirafu ( Japanese 部 比羅夫 ). Tang and Silla were able to reoccupy Baekje and destroy the Japanese base in the following year, 663, at the Battle of Baekgang , today's Geumgang . With that, the Japanese influence in Korea in general ended for a long time. The kingdom of Goguryeo was finally occupied and annexed by Tang China in 668. Because of difficulties on the Tibetan front, China withdrew its troops in 676, after which a united Silla Kingdom controlled the entire southern peninsula.

Under King Munmu (r. 661–681) and General Kim Yu-sin , famous in Silla, most of today's Korea was united for the first time, with the exception of smaller areas in the north, which belonged to the Manchurian Balhae . Silla did not seek territorial gains in Manchuria. From 671 onwards, Silla fought the formerly allied Chinese troops that were on Korean territory, and threw them back bit by bit, until 735 the last were driven out.

United Silla

Cheomseongdae Observatory

The culture reached its peak, the Silla capital, which was located on the site of the present-day city of Gyeongju , was a metropolis famous for its wealth. During this time, Silla changed the ruling structure and the political system. That stabilized both the government and society. As a result of the unification, King Muyeol (654-661) was able to strengthen the monarch's position of power due to an uninterrupted ruling dynasty. At the same time, however, the political role of the aristocracy was weakened.

From then on, the powers of the Shichung, who served as the executive branch and had to carry out both the king's orders and laws, were greater than those of the Sangdaedung ruled by the nobility. In the course of a series of social developments, many authorities and gukhak schools were established as teaching institutions for Confucianism . Buddhism was further developed and spread throughout the people. The emergence of many schools, but also the five Gyo sects and the nine Zen sects (Ogyo Gusan) testify to this.

Local administrative systems were also reorganized. During the reign of King Sinmun (681–691), nine provinces and five cities were formed. The country was thus divided into nine provinces. Counties (Gun and Hyeon) were established in each of the provinces. In the central regions of these areas, five cities with mayors at the head of administration were established. The idea behind this was to make them centers of local government and to expand them culturally.

Silla also restructured the military with the intention of strengthening the armed forces. Nine seodangs were deployed in the central headquarters. In local regions, ten cheongs were responsible for the most important areas of the nine provinces.

The end of the Silla Empire

In 892 the peasant rebel Kyonwhon proclaimed the state of Hu-Baekje (late Baekje). Meanwhile, the bandit Yanggil has created an independent zone in the northeast. His colleague is initially the former monk Kung-Ye. Kung-Ye finally takes over the rule in this area and calls himself from 901 king of the "later Goguryeo". Wanggeon (877-943), one of Kung-Yes's followers, is becoming increasingly important, among other things because he is building his own fleet for this empire. He overthrew 918 Kung-Ye and called the northern sub-kingdom Goryeo . He moves the capital to Kaesŏng , which is now in the extreme south of North Korea (i.e. in the Silla empire relatively north).

In 927 the Silla rump state is attacked and defeated by Kyonwhon of Late Baekje. He kills the king and installs the puppet king Gyeogsun. A few years later, in 935, he turns to Wanggeon for help, who beats Shin-geom, the son of Kyonwhon in 936 and reunites the parts of the empire. The capital for the whole empire is now the centrally located Kaesŏng.

Political system

In the monarchical Silla the kings ruled with absolute power , the powers of the council consisting of aristocrats ("Hwabaek") were small.

economy and society

Seongdeok's bell

In the United Silla, the economic life dominated by the aristocrats experienced a visible boom. The aristocrats were entitled to land and therefore often owned large estates. Their land holdings included large pastures in mountain valleys and on islands. The aristocrats also owned numerous serfs. This upper class came to great wealth through usury.

The rich aristocrats lived in luxury houses. Their apparent wealth enabled them to lead an extravagant life devoted to idleness and pleasure. The consequence of this dissolute way of life was a general spiritual and moral decline of the Silla people, who had previously been filled with a strong national spirit.

In stark contrast to the excesses of the nobility was the hard life of the peasants, who were heavily indebted either to the state or to the aristocrats. These exploited and oppressed people either lived in villages or in special administrative districts called Hyang , So or Bugok.

The government had the area of ​​all usable agricultural areas, the population, the number of animals and even the number of trees recorded every three years. On this basis, the size of the total potential output and the number of available labor were then determined.


Reliquary from Silla

Silla was the last of the Three Kingdoms to make Buddhism the state religion in 528 and the only one to document its history in an official chronicle. It was there that the new religion flourished and extended its influence to all areas of life. It found its architectural and artistic expression in magnificent temples such as Hwangyongsa , Bulguksa and the temple grotto of Seokguram . In 645 the 70 m high Hwangyongsa pagoda was finished and existed until the Mongol storm in the 13th century. The first pagodas were made of wood, later they were built as stone structures.

The capital of Silla was Gyeongju , which was one of the largest metropolises in Asia in the 10th century . The tumuli of the Silla Dynasty can still be found in the city center in Daereungwon . The graves consisted of a stone chamber, which was then buried under a mound.

The burial mounds are of different sizes, the largest still rise to a height of 12 meters and have a diameter of 47 meters. Only some of the graves could be assigned to specific rulers. Some were opened and contained astonishing treasures, with the gold crowns, gold jewelry and magnificent harnesses standing out; they are among the best goldsmiths ever created. Most of the pieces can be admired in the National Museum in Seoul. One of the graves is accessible. Numerous cultural artefacts from the Silla period can be found around Gyeongju.

Everywhere, engravings that were carved into the rock by monks bear witness to the cultural flowering of Buddhism . They are particularly numerous on the Namsan and tell of the piety of their creators for centuries. In addition, magnificent bronzes were cast and Korea was famous for its mastery in casting large pieces. Almost all evidence of this craftsmanship was destroyed during the Imjin War of 1592. One of the few leftovers, King Seongdeak the Great's bronze bell is now a tourist draw. The bell produces a unique sound for which there is a legend. The Cheomseongdae Observatory near Gyeongju is the oldest in East Asia. It was possibly constructed from 365 blocks of stone, symbolic of the 365 days of the year.

Social changes at the end of the Silla period

Pagoda on the Namsan

Silla experienced prosperity for about 100 years after unification. But numerous problems arose in the second half of the 8th century. King Muyeol's dynastic line was interrupted with King Hyegong (765-780) as the last son of this royal family. The Chingol aristocrats fought over the crown.

As a result, there was such a chaos in the late Sillas period that 20 kings succeeded each other over a period of 150 years. In the country, uprisings broke out in 822, led by Gim Heon-chang . They weakened the power of the central government. When the government and society were confronted with political uncertainties because of the dispute among the Chingol aristocrats over the crown, this situation strengthened the position of sovereigns and sea captains.

A good example is the Silla general Jang Bo-go , who gained power over maritime trade in the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea between China and the Korean Peninsula. When he succeeded in monopolizing the sea trade between Tang and Japan , he became uncrowned ruler of the seas.

The local rulers, traditionally rooted in their area, had stronger ambitions to become independent. They called themselves lords of cities and generals. They placed themselves at the head of the forces that played leading roles in the softening of the royal structure of the Chingol government of Silla.

Back then, impoverished peasants became either serfs or thieves and robbers. During the reign of Queen Jinsoeng (887–897), peasant revolts broke out across the country. Silla was drawn into a vortex of civil wars and clan chiefs ruled ever larger areas. King Gyeongsun (927-935), Silla's last sovereign, transferred his sovereignty to Goryeo at the request of the people, which meant the end of the state of Silla.

It could be that later historians in particular deliberately portrayed the queens and their reigns as marked by chaos and decay, for example to justify the replacement of the dynasty ( Mandate of Heaven ). Silla's successes during this period are typically not attributed to queens but to men; Misfortune, however, is attributed to the queens.

See also


  • Marion Eggert , Jörg Plassen: Small history of Korea (=  Beck'sche series 1666 ). Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52841-4 .
  • Carter J. Eckert, Ki-Baik Lee: Korea Old and New. A history. New edition. Ilchokak, Seoul 2002, ISBN 89-337-0209-1 .
  • Harold Hakwon Sunoo: A History of Korea. Xlibris Corporation, sl 2006, ISBN 1-4257-0948-6 .

Web links

Commons : Silla  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Gina Lee Barnes: State Formation in Korea: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives . Psychology Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-7007-1323-3 , Introducing Kaya History and Archeology.
  2. Der Große Ploetz : Korea (Beginnings until 1945) , 32nd edition, Verlag Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2000, ISBN 3-8155-9484-7 , p. 3387

Coordinates: 36 °  N , 129 °  E