Muyeol of Silla

From New World Encyclopedia
Muyeol of Silla
Hangul: 태종 무열왕
Hanja: 太宗 武烈王
Revised Romanization: T'aejong Muyǒl Wang
McCune-Reischauer: Aejang wang
Birth name
Hangul: 김춘추
Hanja: 金春秋
Revised Romanization: Kim Chunchu
McCune-Reischauer: Kim Ch'un-ch'u

King Taejong Muyeol (태종 무열왕; 太宗 武烈王; 602 – 661; born Kim Chunchu; 김춘추; 金春秋), was the 29th monarch of the southern Korean kingdom of Silla and ruled from 654 to 661. He is credited with creating the foundation for the unification of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Before ascending to the throne, Kim Chunchu paid visits to Goguryeo, Wa (Japan) and the Tang dynasty in China, seeking reinforcements to defend against the incursions of the Baekje kingdom.

Though not considered a seonggol (in Silla’s “bone rank” system, a descendant of two parents of royal blood), Kim Chunchu ascended the throne as a jinggol (a royal relative with only one parent of royal blood) when Queen Seondeok, the last seonggol, died in 654. During his short rule from 654 to 661, he established a centralized government based on a legal code, defeated the rival Baekje kingdom, and forged an alliance with the Tang dynasty which later enabled his son, King Munmu, to unify the Korean peninsula for the first time.

Monarchs of Korea
Silla (Pre-Unification)
  1. Hyeokgeose 57 B.C.E.-4 C.E.
  2. Namhae 4-24
  3. Yuri 24-57
  4. Talhae 57-80
  5. Pasa 80-112
  6. Jima 112-134
  7. Ilseong 134-154
  8. Adalla 154-184
  9. Beolhyu 184-196
  10. Naehae 196-230
  11. Jobun 230-247
  12. Cheomhae 247-261
  13. Michu 262-284
  14. Yurye 284-298
  15. Girim 298-310
  16. Heulhae 310-356
  17. Naemul 356-402
  18. Silseong 402-417
  19. Nulji 417-458
  20. Jabi 458-479
  21. Soji 479-500
  22. Jijeung 500-514
  23. Beopheung 514-540
  24. Jinheung 540-576
  25. Jinji 576-579
  26. Jinpyeong 579-632
  27. Seondeok 632-647
  28. Jindeok 647-654
  29. Muyeol 654-661


Kim Chunchu (김춘추 金春秋), or King Taejong Muyeol (태종 무열왕 太宗 武烈王), was born in 602, with the "sacred blood" and the rank of seonggol. His father was Kim Youngchun (金龍春), son of King Jinji (Jingee; 진지왕; 真智王; Geomryun Kim), the twenty-fifty monarch of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. King Jinji was overthrown from his throne, making Kim Youngchun unable to succeed to the throne. However, he still was one of the few seonggols. He married a princess who was a daughter of King Jinpyeong of Silla (r. 579-632).

Historical Background of Silla

Silla was one of the Three Kingdoms of ancient Korea. In 668 the Silla kingdom unified Korea under the Unified Silla dynasty (q.v.; 668–935). According to tradition, Silla was founded by Hyokkose in 57 B.C.E. By the second century C.E., a confederation of local tribes existed in the southeastern portion of the Korean peninsula. During the reign of King Naemul (the seventeenth ruler, 356-402), the Kim family established a hereditary monarchy, state laws and decrees, and the eastern half of the Kaya state on the eastern tip of the peninsula was annexed. During the reign of King Beopheung (Pophung, 법흥태왕, 法興太王, the twenty-third monarch, r. 514-540), Silla emerged as a kingdom with a privileged aristocracy. Archaeological excavations have uncovered elaborate gold crowns and gold belts, indicating that the aristocracy was affluent. Silla sculpture and decorative arts were designed with simple, angular lines. Granite was a favorite material for both sculpture and architecture. Silla pottery was unglazed, grayish stoneware. Under state patronage, Buddhism flourished and many temples were built, including Hwangyong-sa, Pulguk-sa, and the grotto shrine of Sokkuram.

During the reign of King Jinheung ( Chinhung, 진흥태왕, 眞興太王, the twenty-fourth monarch, r. 540–576) the military system was reorganized and a unique military corps, called the Hwarang, was organized, which incorporated spiritual training, intellectual enhancement and artistic pursuits with martial arts training. In the following century, Silla allied itself with the Tang Dynasty of China (618 – 907) and, in 660, conquered the southeastern Korean state of Baekje, followed in 668 by the northern Korean state of Goguryeo. Silla then expelled the Tang Chinese and established a unified kingdom on the Korean peninsula.

Before Accession to the Throne

Silla’s rival, Baekje, was a long-standing threat, and Silla, at the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula, was easily isolated from the rest of the world. Kim Chunchu (김춘추; 金春秋) worked energetically to confront Baekje and establish international relations for Silla. In August of 642, when Baekje invaded part of Silla’s territory, Kim Chunchu went to Goguryeo to ask for reinforcements. There he was arrested and put into prison, but some sympathetic Goguryeo retainers helped him to escape just as Kim Yusin ( 김유신; 金庾信) was preparing to take the field near the border of Goguryeo with 3,000 soldiers to rescue him.

After failing to get reinforcements from Goguryeo, Kim Chunchu went to Wa ( present-day Japan) in 647. The Nihon Shoki (日本書紀, The Chronicles of Japan) documents Kim Chunchu’s visit to Wa, but Samguk Sagi (Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms), a historical record of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, never mentioned the journey he made to Wa to assess the prospects for gaining Japan’s support to restrain Baekje.

In 648, Kim Chunchu went with his son (金文王) to appeal to the Tang dynasty in China、for support in conquering Baekje. Although they could not get a precise date for the arrival of the Tang reinforcements, Emperor Taizong of Tang ( 唐太宗) issued an order to dispatch Tang’s military forces. At the same time Kim Chunchu asked Emperor Taizong of Tang for permission to change Silla’s formal dress from the style of Silla to that of Tang. After Kim Chunchu’s return to Silla in 649, Silla formal dress was changed to Tang style. Before Kim Chunchu returned to Silla, Emperor Taizong of Tang bestowed a special rank on him. Kim Chunchu left his son (金文王) in Tang, and later he sent others of his children to Tang, including Munmu (문무왕 文武王), who later became the thirtieth king of Silla. Through these diplomatic activities, Kim Chunchu strengthened Silla’s relationship with the Tang dynasty.

Ascent to the Throne

After the death of Queen Jindeok (진덕여왕 真德女王) Silla's twenty-eighth ruler, in March of 654, there were no seonggol (聖骨), or candidates of "sacred blood" lineage (a royal relative born of two royal parents). Kim Chunchu’s father, Kim Youngchun (金龍春), had been the son of the deposed King Jinji (진지왕; 真智王); his mother, Chonmyoung, was the sister of Queen Seondeok and the second daughter of King Jinpyeong, and therefore also a seonggol. Kim Youngchun had been one of the most powerful figures in the government, but had been deposed by Bekban, the younger brother of the king. In order to survive, he had accepted the lower rank of jinggol, just below seonggol, and forfeited his right to the throne.

The nature of Silla's "bone rank system" permitted only someone of “sacred bone” (seonggol) status to assume the throne. If all the seonggols were dead, somebody with the royal blood in the jinggol rank (眞骨, or "true bone" lineage, a royal relative with only one parent of royal blood) had to succeed to the throne. Though only a jinggol, restricted from assuming the throne, Kim Chunchu ascended the Silla throne with support from General Kim Yusin ( 김유신; 金庾信), bringing to an end the seonggol class of Silla.

Officials in the government wanted Alchun to become the next king. He was the son of a seonggol who had deliberately married a jinggol wife so that his sons would not suffer from the rivalry over the inheritance of the throne. However, Alchun refused the throne and both he and the general Kim Yusin supported Kim Chunchu. Kim Chunchu refused three times to succeed the throne, but finally he accepted and became King Taejong Muyeol (태종 (무열왕 太; 宗 武烈王). Kim Yusin, who had been a childhood friend, eventually married Muyeol’s sister.

Muyeol’s Reign

Soon after his accession to the throne as King Taejong Muyeol, the Tang dynasty sent an official letter addressed to “King Shilla” and “King of Lelang” (Lelang had been one of the Chinese commanderies in the Korean Peninsula for over 400 years, until Goguryeo conquered it in 313 C.E.). Because of his previous friendship with the Emperor of the Tang Dynasty, King Taejong Muyeol maintained good relationships with Tang, and he and the Emperor offered each other mutual support. This support was essential to the later unification of Korea by Muyeol’s son, King Munmu.

In May, 654, King Taejong Muyeol ordered his chief administrator to research in detail the available legal codes, and enacted approximately 60 laws aimed at establishing a centralized government in Silla based on the legal system. The new legal code attempted to strengthen the the royal prerogative.

Fall of Baekje

In January of 655, Baekje and Goguryeo combined forces to attack Silla's northern border. In 660, the Tang finally acquiesced to King Taejong Muyeol’s constant pleas for reinforcements to destroy Baekje, and sent 130,000 troops under General So Jungbang. Baekje's navy was defeated by the Tang navy, and Kim Yusin set out from Silla with 50,000 soldiers and fought a bloody battle at Hwang San Bul, defeating the Baekje army led by Gye Baek. The Baekje capital Sabi (in present-day Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do) was surrounded by the Silla-Tang allied forces. Uija and the crown prince escaped to Ungjin (in present-day Gongju), but surrendered when Sabi fell. King Uija’s surrender left only Goguryeo to face Silla as an adversary on the Korean peninsula.

In June of the following year, 661, King Muyeol died, leaving his son Kim Beopmin to assume the throne as King Munmu.

Monument of King Taejong Muyeol of Silla

Silla Taejong Muyeol Wangneung-bi (Monument of King Taejong Muyeol of Silla Period) was built in 661 in front of the royal tomb of Taejong Muyeol, the twenty-ninth King of Silla. Muyeol's tomb, 11 meters tall and 110 meters in circumference, sits in the pine forests of Mount Sondosan. There was once a ring of stones reinforcing the base of the mound, but most have disappeared over the centuries while only the larger stones remain. In front of the tomb is a tortoise pedestal dating from the original construction. It once supported a eulogy to the king supposedly written by Kim In-mun, who was the second son of King Muyeol, a well-known master calligrapher and one of the foremost poets of the time. Now deprived of its burden, the tortoise rests in a modern pavillion.

Monuments constructed during the United Silla Dynasty were influenced by Tang Dynasty of China. The Monument for Royal Tomb of Taejong Muyeol, with its tortoise-shaped pedestal and an ornamental top in the form of hornless dragon, is the first good example in such a style. The head of the tortoise is extended upwards and its legs are thrust forward, as though to proceed strongly. On its back are large honeycomb-shaped hexagonal carvings, and the part supporting the monument body is decorated with lotus flower designs. The ornamental top has three hornless dragons on each side, intertwined to support a magic stone that bestows omnipotence. The body of the monument has been lost. The stone carving is considered a masterpiece; the tortoise and the dragons seem vital and real, as though they were alive, expressing the enterprising spirit of the Silla kingdom. The monument was classified as a National Treasure on December 20, 1960. [1]

Behind the king's tomb are several smaller mounds that are believed to hold the remains of relatives of the king. Unfortunately the exact identities have been lost. Archaeologists believe that there are stone burial chambers inside the mounds, but to date none has been excavated. [2]

See also


  1. Sillataejongmuyeolwangneungbi (Monument of King Taejongmuyeol of Silla Period), National Treasures 25, Cultural Heritage Administration, Korea. Retrieved September 20, 2007.
  2. King Muyeol's Tomb, Asian Historical Architecture. Retrieved September 20, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Adams, Edward Ben, and Edward Ben Adams. 1991. Korea's golden age: cultural spirit of Silla in Kyongju. Seoul, Korea: Seoul International Pub. House.
  • Henthorn, William E. 1971. A history of Korea. New York: Free Press.
  • Lancaster, Lewis R., and Chai-Shin Yu. 1991. Assimilation of Buddhism in Korea: religious maturity and innovation in the Silla Dynasty. Studies in Korean religions and culture, v. 4. Berkeley, Calif: Asian Humanities Press. ISBN 0895818787
  • Lee, Gil-sang. 2006. Exploring Korean history through world heritage. Seongnam-si: Academy of Korean Studies. ISBN 8971055510
  • Pratt, Keith L. 2006. Everlasting flower: a history of Korea. London: Reaktion. ISBN 9781861892737
  • Yi, Ki-baek. 1984. A new history of Korea. Cambridge, Mass: Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674615755


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