National Kyongju Museum
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Detail of Pulkuksa
Kyongju was the capital of the Shilla Kingdom (57 B.C. - 935 A.D.). It has a myriad of historic sites,
cultural relics, legendary monuments, all of which are lively reminders of the splendid Shilla's spirit and culture.
Kyongju is also a showcase of national treasures, valuable antiques and
Buddhist culture, making it a "museum without walls."
Dongsa Mountains and Jusa Mountains running from north to south are the natural boundaries
of the east and west respectively. The city itself is built on a basin composed of granite
and there are many mountains in and around the city. Some of them are; Mts. Myonghwal,
Keumo, Oknyo, Sondo and Keumkang.
As for the rivers, the In, the upper stream of the Hyongsan, flows into the West, the North
winds through the middle of the city, and the South flows by Banwol Fortress. All these
rivers join to form the main stream of the Hyongsan that flows from north to south on the
west side of the city, and flows into Yongil Bay.
History of Kyongju
Shilla was born by Saro Tribe whose main territory was Kyongju. Scholars think that Saro
established a confederation of tribes during the reign of King Naemul, AD 356-402. King
Naemul also established the hereditary monarchy of the Kim family instead of sharing the
throne with the Park and Sok families.
Saro was late in establishing a kingdom, compared to the other two countries existing on the
Korean Peninsula at that time; Koguryo and Paekche. Saro kept close ties with Kokuryo
located in the north, but the relation with Baekje located in the west was full of tension.
It was King Nulji who changed the diplomatic policy and formed an alliance with Baekje in
433. Saro started to show many characteristics of a full-fledged kingdom in 500 under the
reign of King Jijeung who changed the name of the country into Shilla.
King Pophung who ascended to the throne in 514 promulgated state laws and decrees, and
officially recognized Buddhism. He also conquered the main part of the Kaya state on the
eastern tip of the peninsula, thus securing a stepping stone to expand into the Nakdong
King Chinhung who ascended to the throne in 540 forged an alliance with King Sung of
Paekche, annexed the Han River basin to the territory of Shilla and started trade with China.
His attempt to expand the territory continued until the border was pushed up to the southern
area of Hamkyong Province of today. The expansion of Shilla achieved under the reign of King
Chinhung facilitated the unification of the three countries-Shilla, Koguryo and Paekche-by
Shilla in later years. King Chinhung built monuments in his expanded territory in order to
show off the power of Shilla, and organized a unique military corps called the Hwarangdo.
Political Situations of Shilla at the Time of Its Foundation
First Period: From the Beginning of Shilla to the Foundation of a Confederated Kingdom
Shilla was begun as a village state. Scholars think that the beginning of the Bronze Age in
Shilla triggered a series of changes which consolidated the power of tribe chiefs and finally
enabled a confederated kingdom to be established.
Shilla was composed of the descendents of six tribes which lived on the Kyongju plains;
Kupryang, Saryang, Ponpi, Morayng, Hanki and Supbi. Hyokkose Park, the founder of Shilla,
first appeared as a baby when the chiefs of the six tribes assembled to have a meeting.
But what really happened in those days is somewhat ambiguous. Scholars only guess that the
kingdom was formed after the six tribes moved from their respective dwellings in the
mountains to the plains.
The legend says that Hyokkose was from Kupryang Tribe and that he married to Alyoung Kim who
was from Saryang Tribe. This story can be interpreted to mean the formation of an alliance
between Kupryang and Saryang.
Their alliance was overwhelmed by Talhae Sok and his tribe later. But the power of Talhae's
tribe was not strong enough and the old alliance regained the power soon.
Birth of the Aristocracy
Second Period : Like in the first period, the power struggle between Park, Sok and Kim
families complicated the political situations of the second period.
But King Naemul succeeded in establishing the hereditary monarchy of the Kim family and firm
Shilla was a weak country when compared to Koguryo and Paekche. Thus, Shilla highly depended
on diplomatic relations for its survival. Shilla was originally very close to Koguryo. But
when King Jangsu of Koguryo moved the capital to P'yongyang and started to interfere more
strongly in the domestic affairs of Shilla, the country switched its alliance to Paekche and
prepared to defend itself against the possible invasion of Koguryo.
Shilla's Rapid Growth
Third Period : During this period, Shilla fully established a governing system of the
centralized aristocracy. There existed a form of silent agreement concerning power
allocation between the king and aristocrats, and they helped each other to make the country
Political and social foundation for the growth was achieved under the reign of Kings Pophung
and Jijeung. Agriculture advanced thanks to King Jijeung's encouragement.
He also institutionalized the Aristocrats Council composed of Jin-gols, the aristocrats
whose father was from the royal family.
King Pophung conquered the main part of the Kaya state and threatened other Kayas as well.
All the Kaya states were finally conquered by King Chinhung.
King Chinhung also annexed the Han River basin while Koguryo and Paekche were fighting each
Shilla continued to prosper under the reign of Queen Sunduk. But her successor, Queen Jinduk
died leaving behind the power struggle between the aristocrats supporting the queen and
other aristocrats. Using the power struggle, General Yushin Kim pushed Chunchu Kim to the
throne. And the two Kims played the greatest role in conquering Koguryo and Paekche and
unifying the Korean Peninsula.
Shilla's Golden Age
Fourth Period :During this period, Chunchu Kim, or King Taejongmuyol, established the
autocratic monarchy. Since his reign, only his family had the right to the throne. He also
forged an alliance with T'ang China and conquered Paekche in 660 and Koguryo in 668. This
was the first time in Korea's history that the peninsula had been unified under indigenous
After the unification, the country reformed its systems in accord with the Chinese model.
Chipsabu was established as a central administrative body; Confucianism was named as the
political ideology of the country, which created an environment where bureaucrats rather
than aristocrats could take control of the government; and relations between the king and
the aristocrats living far from the capital were reinforced. The government also divided the
peninsula into nine provinces and the bureaucrats of the central administration into five
All of these changes resulted in the establishment of the autocratic monarchy and the
The Decline of Shilla
Fifth Period :This period is characterized by conflicts among the aristocracy. There were
two types of aristocrats in Shilla; Jin-gols and Song-gols. The latter was those whose
parents were both from the royal family and who could be promoted in the government as high
as possible. But Jin-gols could not occupy certain positions in the government because of
Finally, Jin-gols armed themselves with their own armies and united their forces to defy the
royal family. Furthermore, powerful families in the provinces also started to revolt against
the central government.
To molify the angry aristocrats, King Wonsung established a recruiting system of public
officials called Doksosampumkwa. But the system only made the aristocrats more dissatisfied.
All these factors were strongly indicating the path toward the eventual fall of the country.
But as if they were not enough, two kings were assassinated by royalties craving the throne
and peasant uprisings were started all over the country. Shilla was truly not far from the
The Fall of Shilla
Sixth Period :According to Samkukyusa-an ancient book on the history of Shilla, Koguryo and
Paekche, many strange things happened in and out of the court during this period. Ghosts
frequently appeared and predicted the fall of Shilla and preternatural phenomena often
But apart from these strange things, there were real threats. Kyunhwon and Kungye, who
claimed themselves to be the descendent of Paekche and Koguryo respectively, established
Post-Paekche and Post-Koguryo, dividing the Korean peninsula again. But Shilla was too weak
to stand against the two countries. Shilla tried to form a friendly relation with
Post-Koguryo when Wang Gun ascended to the throne after Kungye. But King Kyungsun, the last
king of Shilla, finally surrendered to Post-Koguryo in 935.