Gojoseon in 108 BC
|Common languages||Ye-Maek language (Koreanic)|
• 2333 BC - ?
• ? - 194 BC
• 194 BC - ?
• ? - 108 BC
|Wi Ugeo (last)|
• First mentioned in Chinese texts
|c. 700 BC|
• Coup by Wi Man
• Fall of Wanggeom
|Today part of|| North Korea|
Part of a series on the
|History of Korea|
|Proto–Three Kingdoms period|
|Three Kingdoms period|
|Northern and Southern States period|
|Later Three Kingdoms period|
Part of a series on the
|History of Manchuria|
Gojoseon (Korean: 고조선; Hanja: 古朝鮮), originally named Joseon (Korean: 조선; Hanja: 朝鮮), was an ancient Korean Kingdom on the Korean Peninsula. The addition of Go (고, 古), meaning "ancient", is used to distinguish it from the later Joseon kingdom (1392–1897).
According to the Samguk Yusa (1281), Gojoseon was established in 2333 BC by Dangun, who was said to be the offspring of a heavenly prince and a bear-woman. Though Dangun is a mythological figure for whom no concrete evidence has been found, the account has played an important role in developing Korean identity. Today, the founding date of Gojoseon is officially celebrated as the National Foundation Day in North Korea and South Korea.
Some of the same sources relate that in the 12th century BC the Chinese nobleman and sage Gija (also known as Jizi), a man belonging to the royal family of the Shang dynasty of China, immigrated to the Korean Peninsula and founded Gija Joseon.
Gojoseon was first mentioned in ancient Chinese records in the early 7th century BC. During its early phase, the capital of Gojoseon was in present-day Liaoning; around 400 BC it was moved to Pyongyang, and in the south of the Korean Peninsula, the Jin state arose by the 3rd century BC.
There are three different main founding myths concerning Gojoseon, which revolve around Dangun, Gija, or Wi Man.
The myths revolving around Dangun were recorded in the much-later Korean work Samguk Yusa of the 13th century. This work states that Dangun, the offspring of a heavenly prince and a bear-woman, founded Gojoseon in 2333 BC, only to be succeeded by Gija (Qizi) after King Wu of Zhou had placed him onto the throne in 1122 BC. A similar account is found in Jewang Ungi. According to the legend, the Lord of Heaven, Hwanin had a son, Hwanung, who descended to Baekdu Mountain and founded the city of Shinsi. Then a bear and a tiger came to Hwanung and said that they wanted to become people. Hwuanung said to them that if they went in a cave and lived there for 100 days while only eating mugwort and garlic he will change them into human beings. However, about halfway through the 100 days the tiger gave up and ran out of the cave. On the other hand, the bear successfully restrained herself and became a beautiful woman called Ungnyeo (웅녀, 熊女). Hwanung later married Ungnyeo, and she gave birth to Dangun.
While the Dangun story is considered to be a myth, it is believed it is a mythical synthesis of a series of historical events relating to the founding of Gojoseon. There are various theories on the origin of this myth. Seo and Kang (2002) believe the Dangun myth is based on integration of two different tribes, an invasive sky-worshipping Bronze Age tribe and a native bear-worshipping neolithic tribe, that led to the foundation of Gojoseon. Lee K. B. (1984) believes 'Dangun-wanggeom' was a title borne by successive leaders of Gojoseon.
Dangun is said to have founded Gojoseon around 2333 BC, based on the descriptions of the Samgungnyusa, Jewang Ungi, Dongguk Tonggam and the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. The date differs among historical sources, although all of them put it during the mythical Emperor Yao's reign (traditional dates: 2357 BC? – 2256 BC?). Samgungnyusa says Dangun ascended to the throne in the 50th year of the legendary Yao's reign, Annals of the King Sejong says the first year, and Dongguk Tonggam says the 25th year.
Gija, a man from the period of the Shang dynasty, allegedly fled to the Korean peninsula in 1122 BC during the fall of the Shang to the Zhou dynasty and founded Gija Joseon. In the past, the earliest surviving Chinese record, Records of the Three Kingdoms, recognized Gija Joseon. Gija's story was further developed in later Korean texts such as Samguk yusa and Jewang ungi. By the middle of Goryeo dynasty, a state cult had developed around Gija. The Dongsa Gangmok of 1778 described Gija's activities and contributions in Gojoseon. The records of Gija refer to Eight Prohibitions (Korean: 범금팔조; Hanja: 犯禁八條), that are recorded by the Book of Han and evidence a hierarchical society and legal protection of private property.
In pre-modern Korea, Gija represented the authenticating presence of Chinese civilization, and until the 12th century, Koreans commonly believed that Dangun bestowed upon Korea its people and basic culture, while Gija gave Korea its high culture—and presumably, standing as a legitimate civilisation.
Many modern experts have denied Gija Joseon's existence for various reasons, mainly due to contradicting archaeological evidence and anachronistic historical evidence. They point to the Bamboo Annals and the Analects of Confucius, which were among the first works to mention Gija, but do not mention his migration to Gojoseon.
Wi Man was a military officer of the Yan of northeastern China, who fled to the northern Korean peninsula in 195 BC from the encroaching Han dynasty. He founded a principality with Wanggeom-seong as capital, which is thought to be on the region of present-day Pyongyang. The 3rd-century Chinese text Weilüe of the Sanguozhi recorded that Wiman usurped King Jun and thus took kingship over Gojoseon.
Gojoseon history can be divided into three phases, Dangun, Gija and Wiman Joseon.
Gojoseon is first found in contemporaneous historical records[which?] of the early 7th century BCE as located around Bohai Bay and trading with Qi (齊) of China. The Zhanguoce, Shanhaijing, and Shiji—containing some of its earliest records—refers to Joseon as a region, until the text Shiji began referring it as a country from 195 BC onwards.
By the 4th century BC, other states with defined political structures developed in the areas of the earlier Bronze Age "walled-town states"; Gojoseon was the most advanced of them in the peninsular region. The city-state expanded by incorporating other neighboring city-states by alliance or military conquest. Thus, a vast confederation of political entities between the Taedong and Liao rivers was formed. As Gojoseon evolved, so did the title and function of the leader, who came to be designated as "king" (Han), in the tradition of the Zhou dynasty, around the same time as the Yan (燕) leader. Records of that time mention the hostility between the feudal state in Northern China and the "confederated" kingdom of Gojoseon, and notably, a plan to attack the Yan beyond the Liao River frontier. The confrontation led to the decline and eventual downfall of Gojoseon, described in Yan records as "arrogant" and "cruel". But the ancient kingdom also appears as a prosperous Bronze Age civilisation, with a complex social structure, including a class of horse-riding warriors who contributed to the development of Gojoseon, particularly the northern expansion into most of the Liaodong basin.
Around 300 BC, Gojoseon lost significant western territory after a war with the Yan state, but this indicates Gojoseon was already a large enough state that it could wage war against Yan and survive the loss of 2000 li (800 kilometres) of territory. Gojoseon is thought to have relocated its capital to the Pyongyang region around this time.
In 195 BC, King Jun appointed a refugee from Yan, Wi Man, to guard the frontier. Wi Man later rebelled in 194 BC and usurped the throne of Gojoseon. King Jun fled to Jin in the south of the Korean Peninsula.
In 109 BC, Emperor Wu of Han invaded near the Liao River. A conflict would erupt in 109 BC, when Wiman's grandson King Ugeo (우거왕, hanja: 右渠王) refused to let Jin's ambassadors through his territory in order to reach the Han dynasty. When Emperor Wu sent an ambassador (涉何) to Wanggeom-seong to negotiate right of passage with King Ugeo, King Ugeo refused and had a general escort him back to Han territory—but when they got close to Han borders, he assassinated the general and claimed to Emperor Wu that he had defeated Joseon in battle, and Emperor Wu, unaware of his deception, made him the military commander of the Commandery of Liaodong. King Ugeo, offended, made a raid on Liaodong and killed him.
In response, Emperor Wu commissioned a two-pronged attack, one by land and one by sea, against Gojoseon. The two forces attacking Gojoseon were unable to coordinate well with each other and eventually suffered large losses. Eventually the commands were merged, and Wanggeom fell in 108 BC. Han took over the Gojoseon lands and established Four Commanderies of Han in the western part of former Gojoseon area.
The Gojoseon disintegrated by 1st century BCE as it gradually lost the control of its former fiefs. As Gojoseon lost control of its confederacy, many successor states sprang from its former territory, such as Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongye. Goguryeo and Baekje evolved from Buyeo.
Around 2000 BCE, a new pottery culture of painted and chiselled design is found. These people practised agriculture in a settled communal life, probably organised into familial clans. Rectangular huts and increasingly larger dolmen burial sites are found throughout the peninsula. Bronze daggers and mirrors have been excavated, and there is archaeological evidence of small walled-town states in this period. Dolmens and bronze daggers found in the area are uniquely Korean and cannot be found in China. A few dolmens are found in China, mostly in the Shandong province.
In the Mumun pottery period (1500 BC – 300 BCE), plain coarse pottery replaced earlier comb-pattern wares, possibly as a result of the influence of new populations migrating to Korea from Manchuria and Siberia. This type of pottery typically has thicker walls and displays a wider variety of shapes, indicating improvements in kiln technology. This period is sometimes called the "Korean Bronze Age", but bronze artifacts are relatively rare and regionalised until the 7th century BC.
Sometime around 1200 BC to 900 BC, rice cultivation spread to Korea from China and Manchuria. The people also farmed native grains such as millet and barley, and domesticated livestock.
The beginning of the Bronze Age on the peninsula is usually said to be 1000 BC, but estimates range from the 13th to 8th centuries. Although the Korean Bronze Age culture derives from the Liaoning and Manchuria, it exhibits unique typology and styles, especially in ritual objects.
By the 7th century BC, a Bronze Age material culture with influences from Manchuria, eastern Mongolia as well as Siberia and Scythian bronze styles, flourished on the peninsula. Korean bronzes contain a higher percentage of zinc than those of the neighbouring bronze cultures. Bronze artifacts, found most frequently in burial sites, consist mainly of swords, spears, daggers, small bells, and mirrors decorated with geometric patterns.
Gojoseon's development seems linked to the adoption of bronze technology. Its singularity finds its most notable expression in the idiosyncratic type of bronze swords, or "mandolin-shaped daggers" (비파형동검, 琵琶形銅劍). The mandolin-shape dagger is found in the regions of Liaoning, Hebei, and Manchuria down to the Korean Peninsula. It suggests the existence of Gojoseon dominions. Remarkably, the shape of the "mandolin" dagger of Gojoseon differs significantly from the sword artifacts found in China.
Megalithic dolmens appear in Korean peninsula and Manchuria around 2000 BC to 400 BC. Around 900 BC, burial practices become more elaborate, a reflection of increasing social stratification. Goindol, the dolmen tombs in Korea and Manchuria, formed of upright stones supporting a horizontal slab, are more numerous in Korea than in other parts of East Asia. Other new forms of burial are stone cists (underground burial chambers lined with stone) and earthenware jar coffins. The bronze objects, pottery, and jade ornaments recovered from dolmens and stone cists indicate that such tombs were reserved for the elite class.
Around the 6th century BC, burnished red wares, made of a fine iron-rich clay and characterised by a smooth, lustrous surface, appear in dolmen tombs, as well as in domestic bowls and cups.
Around this time, the state of Jin occupied the southern part of the Korean peninsula. Very little is known about this state except it was the apparent predecessor to the Samhan confederacies.
Around 300 BC, iron technology was introduced into Korea from Yan state. Iron was produced locally in the southern part of the peninsula by the 2nd century BCE. According to Chinese accounts, iron from the lower Nakdong River in the southeast was valued throughout the peninsula and Japan.
Numerous small states and confederations arose from the remnants of Gojoseon, including Goguryeo, the Buyeo kingdom, Jeon-Joseon, Okjeo, and Dongye. Three of the Chinese commanderies fell to local resistance within a few decades, but the last, Nakrang, remained an important commercial and cultural outpost until it was destroyed by the expanding Goguryeo in 313 AD.
Jun of Gojoseon is said to have fled to the state of Jin in the southern Korean Peninsula. Jin developed into the Samhan confederacies, the beginnings of Baekje and Silla, continuing to absorb migration from the north. The Samhan confederacies were Mahan, Jinhan, and Byeonhan. King Jun ruled Mahan, which was eventually annexed by Baekje. Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla gradually grew into the Three Kingdoms of Korea that dominated the entire peninsula by around the 4th century.