Seong of Baekje

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Seong of Baekje
Hangul 성왕, 명왕, 성명왕
Hanja 聖王, 明王, 聖明王
Revised Romanization Seong-wang, Myeong-wang, Seongmyeong-wang
McCune-Reischauer Sŏng-wang, Myŏng-wang, Sŏngmyŏng-wang
Birth name
Hangul 명농
Hanja 明襛
Revised Romanization Myeongnong
McCune-Reischauer Myŏngnong

Seong of Baekje (성왕, 명왕, 성명왕 聖王, 明王, 聖明王?-554, r. 523-554) was the 26th king of Baekje (Paekche 백제 百濟), one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. He was a son of Muryeong of Baekje (무령왕 武寧王), and ascended the throne at a time when Baekje was struggling to survive under the pressures of the Goguryeo kingdom to the north. King Seong moved the Baekje capital south to Sabi and reorganized his administration, centralizing the government and weakening the influence of the nobility. In 528, he made Buddhism the state religion.

According to records in the Japanese classic history, Nihon Shoki (日本書紀), King Seong carried on an active alliance with Emperor Kimmei of the Yamato kingdom in Japan, sending a mission to the Japanese court in 538, with an image of Shakyamuni and several sutras, which has traditionally been considered the official introduction of Buddhism to Japan. King Seong allied with Silla and successfully reclaimed the center of the Korean Peninsula from the Koguryo, only to be betrayed by and killed in battle.

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


Before 660, Korea was divided into three kingdoms. Baekje, occupying the southwestern tip of the Korean peninsula, is traditionally said to have been founded in 18 B.C.E. by a legendary leader, Onjo (온조왕 溫祚王, d. 28 C.E.).It emerged as a fully-developed kingdom during the reign of King Goi (Koi, 234–286), and by the reign of King Geunchogo (Kunch'ogo, 346–375), it had established control over a region that included the entire Han River basin in central Korea. In 475, the north Korean kingdom of Koguryo encroached on the Han River basin, and seized their capital at Hansong (south of present-day Seoul), beheading the king and forcing Baekje to move its capital south to Ungjin (곰나루, 古莫那羅, present Kongju).

Movement of the capital

During the reign of King Seong (Song 523–554), there were further incursions into Baekje territory. Baekje struggled to survive in Ungjin, which was surrounded by mountains, and it became clear that the nation would not develop unless the capital were moved to a more favorable location. Also, the Ugjin capital had been constructed in a hurry during wartime, without a clear city plan. In 538, King Sejeong moved the capital further south to Sabi (사비 泗沘; present Puyo County, 부여군 扶餘郡), a plain on the Geum River (금강 錦江). Unlike the earlier move of the capital from the present-day Seoul region to Ungjin, forced by the military pressure of Goguryeo, the move to Sabi was directed by the king to strengthen royal power, aided by the political support of the Sa clan based in Sabi.[1]

A fortified wall eight kilometers in length was built around the city. The wall was very different from the straight lines of the walls enclosing old Chinese capitals; it wound here and there and was not built across the swampy lowlands near the Baekma River. From archaeological research, it is thought that a palace was located at the south foot of Busosan Mountain, where a mountain fortress wall was built on a hill. To the south of the palace were roads and buildings. Chinese history books and a recently-discovered woodblock indicate that there were administrative sections called Bu (capital district) and Hang (harbor).[2]

King Seong completely reorganized the administration of the country to strengthen central control, and to counteract the political power of the noble clans. He changed the name of the country to Nambuyeo, to emphasize the ancient connection to Buyeo( 부여夫餘). The kingdom was divided into five administrative districts. Officials were ranked in sixteen grades, with the top six grades forming a kind of cabinet. The highest-ranking official, called sangjwapyong, was elected every three years.

Foreign relations and Buddhism

King Seong was known as a great patron of Buddhism, building many temples and welcoming priests who brought Buddhist texts directly from India. In 528, Baekje officially adopted Buddhism as its state religion. Seong maintained his country's diplomatic ties with Liang Dynasty (梁朝) China, as well as Japan. He sent tribute missions to Liang in 534 and 541, on the second occasion requesting artisans as well as various Buddhist works and a teacher. According to Chinese records, all these requests were granted. A mission sent in 549, found the Liang capital in the hands of the rebel Hou Jing (侯景), who threw the embassy in prison for lamenting the fall of the capital.

Seong is credited with having sent a mission in 538, to Japan 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. The mission from King Seong is described in the Kinmei 13 chapter of the Nihon shoki and in the Gangooji engi.[3] According to Nihongi, King Seong of Paekche maintained an active correspondence with Kimmei (欽明天皇, Kinmei Tennō, 509-571) of the Yamato kingdom. In 545:

Paekche made an image of Buddha sixteen feet high, and drew up a written prayer, saying: I [King Seong of Paekche] understand that it is extremely meritorious to make a Buddha sixteen feet high. By the merit which I have now acquired in reverentially constructing one, I pray that the Emperor [Kimmei] may obtain exceeding virtue, and that all the land of the Miyake belonging to the Emperor may receive blessings"( Nihon Shoki, 93-95).

In 552:

King Seong-myung of Paekche sent … an image of Shaka Buddha in gold and copper, several flags and umbrellas, and a number of volumes of Sutras. Separately he presented a memorial in which he lauded the merit of diffusing abroad religious worship, saying: "… This doctrine can create religious merit and retribution without measure and without bounds, and so lead to a full appreciation of the highest wisdom…” Kimmei, “having heard to the end, leaped for joy” and inquired of his Ministers whether it ought to be worshiped. Thereby, “Soga no Oho-omi, Iname no Sukune, addressed the Emperor, saying: ‘All the Western frontier lands without exception do it worship. Shall Akitsu Yamato alone refuse to do so?’”(Nihon Shoki, 101–103).[4]

According to Nihon Shoki (日本書紀), King Seong-myung of Paekche stated in 544 that he intended to request from Emperor Kimmei of Japan, “an army with which to succor the Land of Imna” and also 3,000 troops to construct six fortresses along the frontier between Silla and a Kaya state. Nihongi records that Paekche sent envoys to Yamato “to ask for auxiliaries” in 547, and “three hundred and seventy men were sent to Paekche to assist in constructing a fortress at Toki-sin” in 548. Nihongi records that, in 553, “Uchi no Omi was sent on a mission to Paekche with a present of two good horses, two traveling barges, fifty bows, fifty sets of arrows, and an Imperial message, saying, ‘As to the troops asked for by the King, his wishes shall be complied with.’” In 553, King Seong-myung sent a memorial to Kimmei, saying that, “the lands beyond the sea are very scarce of bows and horses. From old times until now, they have received them from the Emperor, and have therewith defended themselves against their powerful enemies. I humbly pray the Celestial bounty to bestow on us a large supply of bows and horses.” In 554, “Paekche sent …to communicate with Uchi no Omi… ‘We have just heard that thou, by command of the August Emperor, hast arrived in Tsukushi in charge of the troops bestowed on us by him. Nothing could compare much more with our joy when we heard this. The campaign of this year is a much more dangerous one than the last; and we beg that the force granted to us may not be allowed to be later than the first month.’ Hereupon Uchi no Omi answered … ‘Accordingly there is being sent an auxiliary force numbering 1,000 men, 100 horses, and 40 ships …”[5]

Battle among the Three Kingdoms

Baekje had maintained a century-long alliance with its neighbor Silla, to balance the threat of the northern kingdom Goguryeo. With the aid of Silla and the Gaya confederacy( 가야 加耶 or 伽倻), Seong led a long campaign to regain the Han River valley, the former heartland of Baekje which had been lost to Goguryeo in 475. Baekje regained its original capital in 551. The campaign culminated in 553 with victories in a series of costly assaults on Goguryeo fortifications.

However, under a secret agreement with Goguryeo, Silla troops, arriving on the pretense of offering assistance, attacked the exhausted Baekje army and took possession of the entire Han River valley. Incensed by this betrayal, the following year Seong launched a retaliatory strike against Silla's western border. This attack was led by the crown prince Wideok ( 위덕왕 威德王, 554-598), the eldest son of King Seong) and supported by the Gaya, but Seong and 30,000 Baekje men were killed in the disastrous battle. Prince Wi-deok narrowly escaped from the battlefield by taking a side road. Nihon Shoki relates that at this point the Silla generals noticed that the Paekche was extremely vulnerable, and “wished to take measures for the destruction of the remainder. But there was one general who said: ‘This would be a mistake. The Emperor of Japan has frequently attacked our country on account of Imna: Much more future mischief should we certainly invite upon ourselves if we should proceed to take steps for the destruction of the Miyake of Paekche.’ This project was therefore dropped.”[6]

Baekje now allied itself with Koguryo against Silla. In 660, the Baekje kingdom was ended by the allied forces of Silla and the Chinese T'ang dynasty (618–907). Eight years later, Silla forces defeated the northern Korean state of Koguryo and united the Korean peninsula under the Unified Silla dynasty (668–935)


  1. (주)엠파스, 한국학중앙연구원, 성왕(聖王). Retrieved September 17, 2007.
  2. Cyber History Museum, Baekje. Retrieved September 17, 2007.
  3. N.M.Pankaj, Query on Paekche king Song (Myong) wan. Retrieved September 17, 2007.
  4. Wontack Hong, Coming Across the Emotive Records in Kojiki and Nihongi revelation of close kinship. Retrieved September 17, 2007.
  5. Wontack Hong, King Kwang-gae-to’s Stele yamato solideirs in the korean peninsula. Retrieved September 17, 2007.
  6. Ibid.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Best, Jonathan W. 2006. A History of the Early Korean Kingdom of Paekche: Together with an Annotated Translation of the Paekche Annals of the Samguk sagi. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Asia Center. ISBN 0674019571
  • Buswell, Robert E. 2005. Currents and Countercurrents: Korean Influences on the East Asian Buddhist Traditions. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824827627
  • Eckert, Carter J. and Ki-baek Yi. 1990. Korea, Old and New: A History. Seoul: Published for the Korea Institute, Harvard University by Ilchokak. ISBN 0962771309
  • Hong, Wontack. 1994. Paekche of Korea and the Origin of Yamato Japan. Seoul: Kudara International. ISBN 8985567020
  • Pak, Sŏng-nae. 1998. Portents and Politics in Korean History. Seoul: Jimoondang Pub. Co. ISBN 8988095073


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