Jinheung of Silla

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Jinheung of Silla
Hangul 진흥태왕
Hanja 眞興太王
Revised Romanization Jinheung Taewang
McCune-Reischauer Chinhŭng T'aewang

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

King Jinheung the Great (533 – 576) was the twenty-fourth monarch of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. He followed King Beopheung (법흥왕 法興王 the 23rd monarch, 514–540) and was followed by King Jinji (真智王 the twenty-fifth monarch, 576–579). Jinheung was the nephew of King Beopheung. King Jinheung was one of the greatest kings of Silla. He appointed the capable general Yi Sabu (이사부 異斯夫) as Head of Military Affairs, in the year 541, and until 562, Yi conducted a number of military campaigns which expanded Silla territory and ultimately resulted in the unification of the Three Kingdoms. In 551, he allied with Baekje to attack the northern Korean empire of Goguryeo and conquered the Han river. The kingdoms of Baekje and Silla had agreed to divide the conquered territory equally between them, but in 553, Jinheing allied with Goguryeo and attacked Baekje. In 561, Jinheing sent General Yisabu to conquer Gaya, consolidating Silla's hold on southeastern Korea.

Jinheung was a patron of Ureuk, one of the three great musicians of Korean history, who composed music for the gayageum (Korean twelve-stringed zither). During his reign he established the Hwarang (Flower Youth), an organization for aristocratic youth which developed into a form of knighthood and later played an important role in unifying the Three Kingdoms.


From the second century B.C.E. until the fifth century C.E., Korea existed as a series of tribal states. In the north, the Buyeo (Puyo, or Fuyu) arose in the Sungari River basin of Manchuria. South of the Han River, in central and southern Korea, Samhan was divided into three tribal confederacies, Mahan, Jinhan, and Byeonhan. This period is generally considered a subdivision of the Three Kingdoms Period, but is sometimes called the Proto-Three Kingdoms Period or the Samhan Period. Gradually these states formed leagues, centering on a leading state, and evolved into the three rival kingdoms of Goguryeo (Koguryo), Baekje (Paekche), and Silla. According to legend, Goguryo(Koguryo) was founded by Dongmyeong of Goguryeo, (Dongmyeongseongwong, 東明聖王; or "Dongmyeongwong," 東明王; also known by his birth name Jumong, 주몽, 朱蒙), in 37 B.C.E.; Baekje (Paekche) by Onjo (溫祚王) in 18 B.C.E., and Silla, by Park Hyeokgeose (Pak Hyokkose 朴赫居世居西干) in 57 B.C.E.

The Three Kingdoms shared several common characteristics. All three expanded into states through frequent wars, organized centralized military systems, and established training institutions such as kyongdang in Goguryeo, and hwarangdo in Silla. Each state was ruled by a hereditary monarchy of kings. In each state, tribal chiefs gravitated to the capital and formed a powerful aristocracy, which was stratified into several social classes with specific privileges. Silla's Council of Nobles (Hwabaek), whose members were all men of chin'gol (“true-bone”) class, the highest level of the kolp'um (“bone-rank”) system was typical. In all three kingdoms, power was centralized. Each state was divided into administrative units that controlled many castles; the largest was called pu in Goguryeo (Koguryo); pang in Baekje (Paekche); and chu in Silla. Officials from the central government were sent to supervise the collection of taxes and the organization of corvée labor. Each of the Three Kingdoms developed a rich culture, and each complied its own history. Buddhism was introduced from China, and established as the state religion.

Rise to the throne

Jinheung was the nephew of King Beopheung. King Jinheung, the twenty-fourth king of Silla, reigned from 540 and 576. His surname was Kim and given name was Sammaekjong (Simmaekbu). In his old age he became a monk, and received the Buddhist name is Beop-un. Jinheung’s grandfather was King Jijeung(眞興太王)and his father was Galmun(立宗). His mother was Madam Sikdo, a daughter of King Beopheung(法興王, and his wife was Park Sado.

King Jinheung rose to the throne as a child of seven when his predecessor and uncle, Beopheung, died. Since, he was too young to rule a kingdom at the time, his mother acted as regent. When he became of age, he began to rule independently. One of his first acts as true king of Silla was to appoint Yi Sabu (이사부 異斯夫) as Head of Military Affairs, in the year 541. General Yi (I) Sabu, frequently referred to as "Isabu" or "Yi Sabu" (his family name is written as Kim in the Samguk Sagi)[1], had been a soldier and general on the front line during the expansion of Silla territory under Kings Jijeung and Beopheung, and had been responsible for subjugating the island nation of Usan-guk (known as Ulleung-do today). Yisabu held this position from 541 to 562, during which time he oversaw the expansion of Silla's territory into former Baekje and Goguryeo holdings, reaching as far north as present-day Hamgyong.


Jinheung adopted a policy of peace with the neighboring empire of Baekje. In 551, he allied with Baekje in order to attack the northern Korean empire of Goguryeo. The result of this allied attack on Goguryo was the conquest of the Han river. The kingdoms of Baekje and Silla had both agreed to divide the conquered territory equally between them.

Two years later, during the reign of King Seong of Baekje, however, King Jinheung allied with Goguryeo and launched an attack on the Han River valley. Feeling betrayed by Silla, King Seong retaliated in 554, but was caught in an ambush led by a Silla general and was assassinated along with those who were accompanying him. King Jinheung guarded the new territory with a firm hand for seven years before sending General Yisabu to conquer Daegaya in 561, effectively putting an end to the Gaya confederacy and consolidating Silla's hold on southeastern Korea. King Jinheung constructed a monument in his newly conquered territory and established provinces in the area. He subdued all rebellions and continued by developing culture in his kingdom.

Establishment of the Hwarang

In 576 B.C.E., the Hwarang Organization was established. "Hwarang" is most often translated as "Flower Knights" or "Flower Youths." Hwa is the Sino-Korean (hanja) character for flower or the act of blooming. Rang means "man," sometimes used as a suffix in Silla official titles. The term "Hwarang" does not literally indicate "youth" or "boys;" the Samguk Yusa differentiates between the male and female Hwarang through a change in the second character.

According to the Samguk Sagi and Samguk Yusa, two bands of females called Wonhwa (원화, 源花, "original flowers") preceded the Hwarang. Both sources record that during the reign of King Jinheung, groups of beautiful girls were chosen and taught filial and fraternal piety, loyalty, and sincerity. However, the leaders of the two bands of Wonhwa, Nammo (南毛) and Junjeong (俊貞), grew jealous of one another, and the groups were disbanded when Junjeong murdered her rival. At some point after this, according to the Samguk Yusa, the Silla king, "concerned about the strengthening of the country … again issued a decree and chose boys from good families who were of good morals and renamed them hwarang."[2] This suggests that the Hwarang were not originally military in character, as the Wonhwa were not soldiers.

The establishment of Hwarang was intended to assist in tightening central state control, and in increasing harmony and compromise between the king and the families of the aristocracy.[3] The Hwarang later played an important role in the unification of the three kingdoms.

Death and succession

King Jinheung died during the year 576, at the age of forty-three, after presiding over thirty-seven years of conquest and advancement. King Jinheung was succeeded by his second son, Prince Sa-Ryun, who became King Jinji of Silla (真智王; the twenty-fifth monarch, 576–579).

The musician ureuk

According to the Samguk Sagi, King Gasil of Gaya (가야; 加耶 or 伽倻; Garaguk), a confederacy of city-states in the Nakdong River valley of southern Korea which had emerged from the Byeonhan confederacy of the Samhan period, created the gayageum after he observed an old Chinese instrument from the Tang dynasty. He then ordered a musician, Ureuk from Seongyeol-hyeon, to compose twelve tunes, saying that “Since every state has its own dialect, the vocal sounds cannot be unified.” The twelve tunes composed by Ureuk were Hagarado, Sangarado, Bogi, Dalgi, Samul, Murye, Hagimul, Sajagi, Geoyeol, Saparye, Isa, and Sanggimul. The tunes have now been lost, but from the names it can be assumed that the tunes resembled local Korean folk songs. As Gaya fell into disorder and was absorbed by the Silla, Ureuk fled to Silla with the Gaya harp around 551, and found favor with King Jinheung. Later, he worked in Tan-geumdae (Geumhyupo) in Gukwonso-gyeong (modern-day Chungju).[4]

Ureuk further improved the gayageum, a zither-like instrument, with twelve strings. More recently variants have been constructed with twenty-one or other numbers of strings. Ureuk is remembered as one of three great musical artists of Korea. The Ilbonhugi (Later Chronicle of Japan) records that around 809 (the Nara period), the musicians of Silla passed on the harp to Japan. It is called “siragigoto” in Japanese. A gayageum from the Silla period is preserved in Shosoin of Nara, Japan.[5]


King Jinheung's military efforts established the basis for the later unification of the Three Kingdoms by Silla. He is remembered today by the Korean people as one of the greatest rulers of Silla.


  1. "Isabu" in Samguk Sagi, Yeoljeon 4.
  2. Richard Rutt, "The Flower Boys of Silla (Hwarang), Notes on the Sources," Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (October 1961): p. 18.
  3. Ki-dong Lee, "The Silla Society and Hwarang Corps," Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 65 (June 1987): 7-9.
  4. Samguk Sagi, (Historical Record of the Three Kingdoms), Vol. 4. and Dongguk-yeojiseunglam
  5. Cyber Museum of Daegaya, King Jinheung. Retrieved October 19, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Adams, Edward Ben. 1991. Korea's Golden Age: Cultural Spirit of Silla in Kyongju. Seoul: Seoul International Pub. House.
  • Henthorn, William E. 1971. A History of Korea. New York: Free Press.
  • 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 186189273X
  • Yi, Hong-Bae. 1996. Korean Buddhism. Seoul: Korean Buddhist Chogye Order. ISBN 8986821001
  • Yi, Ki-baek. 1984. A New History of Korea. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674615751


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