Muryeong of Baekje

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Muryeong of Baekje
Hangul: 무령왕, 무녕왕, 무영왕
Hanja: 武寧王
Revised Romanization: Muryeong-wang, Munyeong-wang, Muyeong-wang
McCune-Reischauer: Muryǒng-wang, Munyǒng-wang, Muyǒng-wang
Birth name
Hangul: 사마, 여융
Hanja: 斯摩, 餘隆
Revised Romanization: Sama, Yeo Yung

Muryeong of Baekje (462 – 523, r. 501 – 523) was the twenty-fifth king of Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Muryeong ascended the Baekje throne in 501 after his father, King Dongseong, was assassinated by a court official, Baekga. During Muryeong’s reign, Baekje remained allied with Silla against Goguryeo. In 501, he sent an army to attack Goguryeo's Sugok-seong, and in 503 and 507, he repelled attacks by the Goguryeo and the Mohe (靺鞨; Malgal, Mogher), a Tungusic people in ancient Manchuria. In 512, Goguryeo conquered two castles, but Muryeong personally led 3,000 men to destroy the Goguryeo army. In 523, he ordered the building of a fortified wall to defend the northern border. According to both historical and archaeological sources, contact and trade between China and Baekje increased during Muryeong's reign. Muryeong sent missions to the Liang Dynasty in 512, and 521, when the Liang emperor bestowed various titles on him, including "Great General Tranquilizing the East" and "King of Baekje." In 503, he sent a bronze mirror to Japan, and in 513 and 516, he sent Confucian scholars to Japan to officially introduce Confucianism there.

According to the Shoku Nihongi (續日本紀), Emperor Kammu's (桓武天皇, 737–806) mother, Takano no Niigasa (高野新笠) is a descendant of prince Junda (淳陀太子), son of Muryeong, who died in Japan in 513 (Nihon Shoki Chapter 17). The Tomb of King Muryeong, discovered intact and excavated in 1971, contains valuable inscriptions corroborating the dates of the Samguk Sagi and the identity of the tombs.

Monarchs of Korea
  1. Onjo 18 B.C.E.-29 C.E.
  2. Daru 29-77
  3. Giru 77-128
  4. Gaeru 128-166
  5. Chogo 166-214
  6. Gusu 214-234
  7. Saban 234
  8. Goi 234-286
  9. Chaekgye 286-298
  10. Bunseo 298-304
  11. Biryu 304-344
  12. Gye 344-346
  13. Geunchogo 346-375
  14. Geungusu 375-384
  15. Chimnyu 384-385
  16. Jinsa 385-392
  17. Asin 392-405
  18. Jeonji 405-420
  19. Guisin 420-427
  20. Biyu 427-455
  21. Gaero 455-475
  22. Munju 475-477
  23. Samgeun 477-479
  24. Dongseong 479-501
  25. Muryeong 501-523
  26. Seong 523-554
  27. Wideok 554-598
  28. Hye 598-599
  29. Beop 599-600
  30. Mu 600-641
  31. Uija 641-660

Baekje (Paekche)

Occupying the southwestern tip of the Korean peninsula, Baekje is traditionally said to have been founded in 18 B.C.E. in the Kwangju area by a legendary leader named Onjo (온조왕; 溫祚王) who, according to the Samguk Sagi, was the ancestor of all Baekje kings. He was the third son of King Dongmyeong (Jumong), the founder of the northern Korean kingdom Goguryeo; the younger half-brother of Yuri, Goguryeo's second king; and the younger brother of Biryu, said by some records to be the founder of Baekje. By the third century C.E., during the reign of King Goi (Koi; 고이왕; 古爾王; 8th king 234–286), Paekche emerged as a fully developed kingdom. By the reign of King Geunchogo (Kunch'ogo; 근초고왕; 近肖古王; 13th king; 346–375), it had established control over a region that included the whole Han River basin in central Korea.

During the late fifth century, the northern Korean kingdom of Goguryeo encroached on Baekje territory in the Han River basin, During the reign of King Muryeong, Baekje clashed with Silla over Gaya, (가야; 加耶 or 伽倻) a confederacy of City-states in the Nakdong River valley of southern Korea. To strengthen their position, Baekje made an alliance with the Japanese Yamato Dynasty. Muryeong’s son, King Seong, moved the Baekje capital south to Ungjin (古莫那羅; 곰나루; present Gongju; 공주시; 公州市), to protect it from Goguryeo.


Muryeong ascended the Baekje throne in 501 as its twenty-fifth monarch, after the death of his father, King Dongseong. According to the Samguk Sagi, Dongseong was assassinated by the court official Baekga. The following year, Muryeong crushed a planned rebellion by Baekga. In 501, he sent an army to attack Goguryeo's Sugok-seong. In 503, he repelled an attack by the Mohe (靺鞨; Malgal, Mogher), a Tungusic people in ancient Manchuria. In 507, he successfully countered another attack by Goguryeo and Mohe forces. In 512, Goguryeo conquered two castles, but Muryeong personally led 3,000 men to destroy the Goguryeo army. In 523, he ordered the building of a fortified wall to defend the northern border.

According to both historical and archaeological sources, contact and trade between China and Baekje increased during Muryeong's reign. In 512, according to the Liang shu, Muryeong sent Baekje's first mission to the newly-established court of the Chinese Liang Dynasty. A second mission was sent in 521, announcing various victories over Goguryeo. In reply, the Liang emperor bestowed various titles on him, including "Great General Tranquilizing the East" and "King of Baekje." These titles were also found engraved on a tablet in King Muryeong's tomb.

In 503, he sent a bronze mirror, and in 513 and 516, Confucian scholars to Japan.

King Muryeong and Confucianism

“Samguk Sagi” the earliest Korean historical record, does not mention Confucianism in connection with the Baekje (Paekche), but the historical records of China and the Japanese “Nihonshoki” show that Confucianism was no less predominant in Baekje (Paekche) than it was in Goguryeo. In 513, King Muryeong sent Confucian scholars to officially introduce Confucianism to Japan. They taught the ancient Five Classics (五經; Wǔjīng), said to have been compiled or edited by Confucius himself: the Classic of Poetry or Book of Odes (詩經, Shī Jīng), The Classic of Rites (禮記 Lǐ Jì), The Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋), the I Ching (周易; "Book of Changes" or "Classic of Changes") and the Classic of History ( 書經 or尚書).

Muryeong’s son, Seong of Baekje, the twenty-sixth monarch, is credited with having sent a mission to Japan in 538 that brought an image of Shakyamuni and several sutras to the Japanese court. This has traditionally been considered the official introduction of Buddhism to Japan.

Individuals may have already introduced the private practice of Buddhism and Confucianism to Japan and other neighboring countries, but the official introduction to a nation could only take place from one royal house to another. The construction of large temples in a nation to which Buddhism was being officially introduced required large expenditures which were only possible for a sovereign. Ancient emperors and kings used Confucianism and Buddhism for political purposes, to cultivate loyalty to the emperor among their populations and establish an ethical norm which supported the validity and authority of the government. The introduction of Confucianism and Buddhism had a profound effect on the political and cultural development of Japan.

During the reign of Muryeong, Goguryeo advanced southward and encroached on Baekje territory in the Han River basin. In response, Muryeong made diplomatic alliances with Japan and the Liang Dynasty (梁朝) in China, to enlist their support in confronting Goguryeo. Emperor Wu of Liang (梁武帝), to whom Muryeong sent his emissaries bearing tribute in 521, is said to have been an enlightened monarch who established a system of Confucian scholarship and civil service examinations to support his administration. Baekje (Paekche)’s policies were probably modeled on those of the Liang Dynasty.

The Tomb of King Muryeong

The Tomb of King Muryeong, also known as Songsan-ri Tomb No. 7, is the ancient tumulus of King Muryeong, who died in 523, and his queen, who died in 525. The rarity of intact Baekje tombs makes this one of the major archaeological discoveries in Korea and a crucial source for the understanding of Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms.[1][2]

The tomb, Korean Historic Site No.13, is located in present-day Gongju in Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea. It is registered on the South Korean government's tentative list of World Heritage Sites. The tomb was accidentally discovered during water drainage work on the No.5 and 6 tombs in 1971. It had been untouched by grave robbers and thieves for over a millennia, and when it was excavated it was the first time the tomb had been opened since the bodies of the king and queen were interred there 1,500 years before.

The exterior of the tomb looks like an earthen mound, 20 meters in diameter and 7.7 meters in height. It is believed that the mound was originally larger. The tomb employed an unusual drainage system.

The tomb is based on the southern Chinese prototypes, but also incorporates Baekje and Goguryeo elements to create a Korean style. Solely Korean elements of the tomb include the arched shape of the chamber and the brick pattern. Goguryeo influence is found in the murals depicting lotus-motifs and the constellations. The style of King Muryeong's tumulus is found only in the Gongju area. While Chinese custom placed tombs in the north, this tomb was placed in the south. However, the king was placed in the east part of the tomb while the queen was placed in west, following Chinese practice.

The main chamber is rectangular and made of black brick. It is 4.2 meters north-south, 2.72 meters east-west, and 3.14 meters in height. While the north and south walls stand straight, the east and west walls curve inward, creating an arched roof. The south wall has an arch-shaped door (2.9 meters in length, 1.04 meters in width, and 1.45 meters in height) which leads to a passageway and entrance of the tomb. The east and west walls have two onion-shaped or flame-shaped niches to hold lamps, and the north wall has one such niche. The bricks, mainly with lotus motifs but incorporating other decorations as well, are placed in alternating rows of lengthwise and widthwise arrangements. From the tomb, 2,906 objects were excavated and subsequently classified into 108 categories. The most important objects include two pairs of royal diadems made for the king and queen and two stone epigraphs containing valuable inscriptions and dates. The epigraphs give the name and age of the king and queen and dates of their deaths and burials, a rarity for Korean tombs. These dates are also extremely valuable as they corroborate exactly the dates in the Korean history text Samguk Sagi, and validate that the surrounding tombs belong to the Three Kingdoms Period.

Other objects include Chinese celadon jars, a copper bowl, gold and silver bracelets and earrings, footrests, bronze mirrors, a ring-pommeled sword, and gilt-bronze shoes. The bier in the tomb was covered by the remains of the wood coffins. The grave goods were placed below the coffins while some of the most important artifacts were placed on the bodies of the king and queen, such as the sword by the king's waist and the diadem ornaments at the heads of both the king and queen.

Link with Japanese Imperial Family

In 2001, Japan's emperor Akihito told reporters "I, on my part, feel a certain kinship with Korea, given the fact that it is recorded in the Chronicles of Japan that the mother of Emperor Kammu was of the line of King Muryong of Paekche." It was the first time that a Japanese emperor publicly acknowledged the Korean blood in the imperial line.[3] According to the Shoku Nihongi (續日本紀), Emperor Kammu's (桓武天皇, 737–806) mother, Takano no Niigasa (高野新笠) is a descendant of prince Junda (淳陀太子), son of Muryeong, who died in Japan in 513 (Nihon Shoki Chapter 17).

Historical Records

The Tomb of King Muryeong refers to him as King Sama (斯麻), and records his birth year as 462. The Samguk Sagi calls him King Muryeong, with the personal name (휘) of Sama (斯摩). He is described as the second son of the twenty-fourth king Dongseong (동성왕 東城王).

China's Liang shu (梁書) gives his surname as Yeo and personal name as Yung, and states that he restored Baekje into a strong nation.

Japan's Nihonshoki (日本書紀), gives his birth year as 461, and describes him as the son of Gonji, the younger brother of the 21st king Gaero (개로왕; 蓋鹵王), making him the step-brother of Dongseong. He is said to have been born in a small island of Japan. He was called Semakishi (嶋君) and King Shima (斯麻王) in Japanese records because he was born in an island.

See also


  1. Won-yong Kim, Art and Archaeology of Ancient Korea (Taekwang Publishing Co., Seoul, 1986, 1973).
  2. Won-yong Kim and Richard J. Pearson, Three Royal Tombs: New Discoveries in Korean Archaeology, Archaeology 30(5):302-312, 1977.
  3. Jonathan Watts, The emperor's new roots, Guardian Unlimited. December 28, 2001. Retrieved October 19, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Best, Jonathan. 2007. A History of the Early Korean Kingdom of Paekche [Baekje], together with an annotated translation of The Paekche Annals of the Samguk sagi. [A complete translation of the Baekje bongi]. Harvard East Asian Monographs.
  • Buswell, Robert E. 2005. Currents and countercurrents: Korean influences on the East Asian Buddhist traditions. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824827627 ISBN 9780824827625
  • Byington, Mark E. 1992. "Samguk Sagi Volume 48 Biographies Book 8." in Transactions of the Korea Branch, Royal Asiatic Society, 67:71-81.
  • Eckert, Carter J., and Ki-baek Yi. 1990. Korea, old and new: a history. Seoul, Korea: Published for the Korea Institute, Harvard University by Ilchokak. ISBN 0962771309 ISBN 9780962771309
  • Hong, Wontack. 1994. Paekche of Korea and the origin of Yamato Japan. Seoul, Korea: Kudara International. ISBN 8985567020 ISBN 9788985567022
  • Kim Won-yong. 1986. Art and Archaeology of Ancient Korea. Taekwang Publishing Co., Seoul.
  • Kim, Won-yong and Richard J. Pearson. 1977. "Three Royal Tombs: New Discoveries in Korean Archaeology." Archaeology 30(5):302-312.
  • Pak, Sŏng-nae. 1998. Portents and politics in Korean history. Seoul, Korea: Jimoondang Pub. Co. ISBN 8988095073 ISBN 9788988095072


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