Silla
Overview
 
Silla (ɕilːa) was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea
Three Kingdoms of Korea
The Three Kingdoms of Korea refer to the ancient Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, which dominated the Korean peninsula and parts of Manchuria for much of the 1st millennium...

, and one of the longest sustained dynasties
Dynasty
A dynasty is a sequence of rulers considered members of the same family. Historians traditionally consider many sovereign states' history within a framework of successive dynasties, e.g., China, Ancient Egypt and the Persian Empire...

 in Asian history. Although it was founded by King Park Hyeokgeose
Bak Hyeokgeose of Silla
Hyeokgeose of Silla , commonly called Bak Hyeokgeose, was the founding monarch of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea...

, who is also known to be the originator of the Korean family name Park (박, 朴), the dynasty was to see the Gyeongju
Gyeongju
Gyeongju is a coastal city in the far southeastern corner of North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. It is the second largest city by area in the province after Andong, covering with a population of 269,343 people according to the 2008 census. Gyeongju is southeast of Seoul, and east of the...

 Kim
Kim (Korean name)
Kim, sometimes spelled Gim, is the most common family name in Korea. The name is common in both modern-day North Korea and South Korea. The hanja used for the name means "gold," and although the character is usually pronounced 금 geum, it is pronounced 김 gim when used for the family name and...

 (김, 金) clan hold rule for most of its 992-year history. What began as a chiefdom
Chiefdom
A chiefdom is a political economy that organizes regional populations through a hierarchy of the chief.In anthropological theory, one model of human social development rooted in ideas of cultural evolution describes a chiefdom as a form of social organization more complex than a tribe or a band...

 in the Samhan
Samhan
The Samhan period of Korean history comprises confederacies of Mahan, Jinhan, and Byeonhan in central and southern Korean peninsula, during the final century BCE and the early centuries CE....

 confederacies, once allied with China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, Silla eventually conquered the other two kingdoms, Baekje
Baekje
Baekje or Paekche was a kingdom located in southwest Korea. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla....

 in 660 and Goguryeo
Goguryeo
Goguryeo or Koguryŏ was an ancient Korean kingdom located in present day northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula, southern Manchuria, and southern Russian Maritime province....

 in 668.
Encyclopedia
Silla (ɕilːa) was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea
Three Kingdoms of Korea
The Three Kingdoms of Korea refer to the ancient Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, which dominated the Korean peninsula and parts of Manchuria for much of the 1st millennium...

, and one of the longest sustained dynasties
Dynasty
A dynasty is a sequence of rulers considered members of the same family. Historians traditionally consider many sovereign states' history within a framework of successive dynasties, e.g., China, Ancient Egypt and the Persian Empire...

 in Asian history. Although it was founded by King Park Hyeokgeose
Bak Hyeokgeose of Silla
Hyeokgeose of Silla , commonly called Bak Hyeokgeose, was the founding monarch of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea...

, who is also known to be the originator of the Korean family name Park (박, 朴), the dynasty was to see the Gyeongju
Gyeongju
Gyeongju is a coastal city in the far southeastern corner of North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. It is the second largest city by area in the province after Andong, covering with a population of 269,343 people according to the 2008 census. Gyeongju is southeast of Seoul, and east of the...

 Kim
Kim (Korean name)
Kim, sometimes spelled Gim, is the most common family name in Korea. The name is common in both modern-day North Korea and South Korea. The hanja used for the name means "gold," and although the character is usually pronounced 금 geum, it is pronounced 김 gim when used for the family name and...

 (김, 金) clan hold rule for most of its 992-year history. What began as a chiefdom
Chiefdom
A chiefdom is a political economy that organizes regional populations through a hierarchy of the chief.In anthropological theory, one model of human social development rooted in ideas of cultural evolution describes a chiefdom as a form of social organization more complex than a tribe or a band...

 in the Samhan
Samhan
The Samhan period of Korean history comprises confederacies of Mahan, Jinhan, and Byeonhan in central and southern Korean peninsula, during the final century BCE and the early centuries CE....

 confederacies, once allied with China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, Silla eventually conquered the other two kingdoms, Baekje
Baekje
Baekje or Paekche was a kingdom located in southwest Korea. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla....

 in 660 and Goguryeo
Goguryeo
Goguryeo or Koguryŏ was an ancient Korean kingdom located in present day northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula, southern Manchuria, and southern Russian Maritime province....

 in 668. Thereafter, Unified Silla
Unified Silla
Unified Silla or Later Silla is the name often applied to the Korean kingdom of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, when it conquered Baekje in 660 and Goguryeo in 668, unifying the southern portion of the Korean peninsula...

 or Later Silla, as it is often referred to, occupied most of the Korean Peninsula
Korean Peninsula
The Korean Peninsula is a peninsula in East Asia. It extends southwards for about 684 miles from continental Asia into the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by the Sea of Japan to the south, and the Yellow Sea to the west, the Korea Strait connecting the first two bodies of water.Until the end of...

, while the northern part re-emerged as Balhae
Balhae
Balhae was a Manchurian kingdom established after the fall of Goguryeo. After Goguryeo's capital and southern territories fell to Unified Silla, Dae Jo-yeong, a Mohe general, whose father was Dae Jung-sang, established Jin , later called Balhae.Balhae occupied southern parts of Manchuria and...

, a successor-state of Goguryeo
Goguryeo
Goguryeo or Koguryŏ was an ancient Korean kingdom located in present day northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula, southern Manchuria, and southern Russian Maritime province....

. After nearly 1000 years of rule, Silla fragmented into the brief Later Three Kingdoms
Later Three Kingdoms
The Later Three Kingdoms of Korea consisted of Silla, Hubaekje , and Hugoguryeo . The latter two were viewed as heirs to the earlier Three Kingdoms of Korea, which had been united by Silla, even though Hugoguryeo has little to do with Goguryeo...

, handing over power to its successor dynasty Goryeo
Goryeo
The Goryeo Dynasty or Koryŏ was a Korean dynasty established in 918 by Emperor Taejo. Korea gets its name from this kingdom which came to be pronounced Korea. It united the Later Three Kingdoms in 936 and ruled most of the Korean peninsula until it was removed by the Joseon dynasty in 1392...

 in 935.

Name

From its founding until its growth into a full-fledged kingdom, Silla was recorded with various hanja
Hanja
Hanja is the Korean name for the Chinese characters hanzi. More specifically, it refers to those Chinese characters borrowed from Chinese and incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation...

 phonetically approximating its native Korean name: 斯盧 (사로, Saro), 斯羅 (사라, Sara), 徐那(伐) (서나[벌], Seona[beol]), 徐耶(伐) (서야[벌], Seoya[beol]), 徐羅(伐) (서라[벌], Seora[beol]), and 徐伐 (서벌, Seobeol). In 503, King Jijeung
Jijeung of Silla
Jijeung of Silla was the 22nd ruler of the Korean kingdom of Silla. He is remembered for strengthening royal authority and building Silla into a centralized kingdom....

 standardized on the characters 新羅(신라), which in Modern Korean is pronounced "Shilla".

An etymological hypothesis (there are various other speculations) suggests that, the native name Seorabeol might have been the origin of the native word Seoul meaning "capital city" and also the name of the present capital of South Korea, a city which was previously known as Hanseong or Hanyang. The name of the Silla capital might have been changed into the Late Middle Korean form Syeobeul (셔블) meaning "royal capital city", which soon might have altered into Syeoul (셔울), and finally resulted in Seoul (서울) in the Modern Korean language.

The name of either Silla or its capital Seora-beol was also widely used throughout Northeast Asia as the ethnonym for the people of Silla, appearing as Shiragi in the language
Old Japanese
is the oldest attested stage of the Japanese language.This stage in the development of Japanese is still actively studied and debated, and key Old Japanese texts, such as the Man'yōshū, remain obscure in places.-Dating:...

 of the Yamato Japanese and as Sogol or Solho in the language of the medieval Jurchens and their later descendants, the Manchus, respectively.

Silla was also referred to as Gyerim
Gyerim
The Gyerim is a small woodland in Gyeongju National Park, Gyeongju, South Korea. The name literally means "rooster forest." The grove lies near the old site of the Silla kingdom palace in central Gyeongju. Nearby landmarks include the Banwolseong fortress, Cheomseongdae, the Gyeongju National...

(鷄林, 계림), literally "chicken forest", a name that has its origins in the forest near the Silla capital where by legend the state's founder was hatched from the egg of a cockatrice
Cockatrice
A cockatrice is a legendary creature, essentially a two-legged dragon with a rooster's head. "An ornament in the drama and poetry of the Elizabethans", Laurence Breiner described it...

 (Kor. gyeryong, 雞龍, 계룡, literally "chicken-dragon").

History


Scholars have traditionally divided Silla history into three distinct periods: Early (trad. 57 BC–654 AD), Middle (654–780), and Late (780–935).

Shifting of power

The Park clan held power for three generations before being faced with a coup by the Seok clan. During the reign of the first Seok ruler, Talhae of Silla
Talhae of Silla
Talhae of Silla was the fourth king of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. He is commonly called Talhae Isageum or Seok Talhae, isageum being the royal title in early Silla.-Background:...

, the Kim clan's presence in Silla is mentioned in the form of a tale in which Kim Alji
Kim Alji
Kim Alji was a historical figure in Korean history. His descendents formed the Kim royal clan of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea....

 is born from a golden box that Hogong
Hogong
Hogong was a minister of Silla in the age of nation-building. It is recorded that he was originally from the Wa people of Japan, though his family name or clan name was unknown to the compiler of the Historical Records of the Three Kingdoms. He was called Hogong because he was putting on his...

 discovered. The Park and Seok clans constantly fight each other for power and both are eventually overthrown by the Kim clan. The Kim clan solely rules over Silla for many generations with the Park and Seok clans as nobility. The final ruler of Later Silla
Unified Silla
Unified Silla or Later Silla is the name often applied to the Korean kingdom of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, when it conquered Baekje in 660 and Goguryeo in 668, unifying the southern portion of the Korean peninsula...

, King Gyeongsun
Gyeongsun of Silla
Gyeongsun of Silla was the 56th and final ruler of the Korean kingdom of Silla. A sixth-generation descendant of King Munseong, he was the son of Hyojong by Princess Gyea, who was the daughter of King Heongang...

, was a member of the Kim clan.

Founding

During the Proto–Three Kingdoms period, the city-states of central and southern Korea were grouped into three confederacies called Samhan
Samhan
The Samhan period of Korean history comprises confederacies of Mahan, Jinhan, and Byeonhan in central and southern Korean peninsula, during the final century BCE and the early centuries CE....

. Silla began as Saro-guk, a statelet within the 12-member confederacy called Jinhan. Saro-guk consisted of six villages and six clans.

According to Korean records, Silla was founded by King Park Hyeokgeose
Bak Hyeokgeose of Silla
Hyeokgeose of Silla , commonly called Bak Hyeokgeose, was the founding monarch of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea...

 in 57 BC, around present-day Gyeongju
Gyeongju
Gyeongju is a coastal city in the far southeastern corner of North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. It is the second largest city by area in the province after Andong, covering with a population of 269,343 people according to the 2008 census. Gyeongju is southeast of Seoul, and east of the...

. Hyeokgeose is said to have been hatched from an egg laid from a white horse, and when he turned 13, six clans submitted to him as king and established Saro (or Seona). He is also the progenitor of the Park
Park (Korean name)
Park is a common and time-honoured Korean surname, founded by King Hyeokgeose. All Parks are descendants of him in principle except naturalized people...

 (박) clan, now one of the most common family names in Korea.

The earliest recording of this date is found in the Samguk Sagi
Samguk Sagi
Samguk Sagi is a historical record of the Three Kingdoms of Korea: Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. The Samguk Sagi is written in Classical Chinese and its compilation was ordered by Goryeo's King Injong Samguk Sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) is a historical record of the Three Kingdoms of...

, a 12th century Korean history. Current archeological evidence indicates that while a polity may have been established even earlier than this in the Gyeongju region, it is too early to call it a kingdom. The author of the Samguk Sagi, Kim Bu-sik
Kim Bu-sik
Kim Busik was an official and a scholar during Korea's Goryeo period. He is best known for compiling the Samguk Sagi, the oldest extant record of Korean history....

, probably attempted to legitimize Silla rule by giving it historical seniority over its rival kingdoms Baekje
Baekje
Baekje or Paekche was a kingdom located in southwest Korea. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla....

 and Goguryeo
Goguryeo
Goguryeo or Koguryŏ was an ancient Korean kingdom located in present day northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula, southern Manchuria, and southern Russian Maritime province....

.

Early Period

By the 2nd century, Silla existed as a distinct state in the southeastern area of the Korean peninsula
Korean Peninsula
The Korean Peninsula is a peninsula in East Asia. It extends southwards for about 684 miles from continental Asia into the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by the Sea of Japan to the south, and the Yellow Sea to the west, the Korea Strait connecting the first two bodies of water.Until the end of...

. It expanded its influence over neighboring Jinhan chiefdoms, but through the 3rd century, it was probably no more than the strongest city-state in a loose federation.

To the west, Baekje
Baekje
Baekje or Paekche was a kingdom located in southwest Korea. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla....

 had centralized into a kingdom by about 250, by overtaking the Mahan confederacy
Mahan confederacy
Mahan was a loose confederacy of statelets that existed from around the 1st century BCE to 3rd century CE in the southern Korean peninsula in the Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces. Arising out of the confluence of Gojoseon migration and the Jin state federation, Mahan was one of the Samhan , along...

. To the southwest, Byeonhan
Byeonhan confederacy
Byeonhan, also known as Byeonjin, was a loose confederacy of chiefdoms that existed from around the beginning of the Common Era to the 4th century in the southern Korean peninsula...

 was being replaced by the Gaya confederacy
Gaya confederacy
Gaya was a confederacy of territorial polities in the Nakdong River basin of southern Korea, growing out of the Byeonhan confederacy of the Samhan period.The traditional period used by historians for Gaya chronology is 42–532 CE...

. In northern Korea, Goguryeo
Goguryeo
Goguryeo or Koguryŏ was an ancient Korean kingdom located in present day northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula, southern Manchuria, and southern Russian Maritime province....

, a kingdom by about 50 CE, destroyed the last Chinese commandary in 313 and had grown into a threatening regional power.

Emergence of a centralized monarchy

King Naemul
Naemul of Silla
Naemul of Silla was the 17th ruler of the Korean kingdom of Silla. He was the nephew of King Michu. He married Michu's daughter, Lady Boban. He is given the title Isageum, the same one borne by earlier rulers, in the Samguk Sagi; he is given the title Maripgan, borne by later rulers, in the...

 (356–402) of the Kim clan established a hereditary monarchy, eliminating the rotating power-sharing scheme, and the leader's now truly royal title became Maripgan (from the native Korean root Han or Gan, "leader" or "great", which was previously used for ruling princes in southern Korea, and which may have some relationship with the Mongol/Turkic title Khan
Khan (title)
Khan is an originally Altaic and subsequently Central Asian title for a sovereign or military ruler, widely used by medieval nomadic Turko-Mongol tribes living to the north of China. 'Khan' is also seen as a title in the Xianbei confederation for their chief between 283 and 289...

). In 377, it sent emissaries to China and established relations with Goguryeo
Goguryeo
Goguryeo or Koguryŏ was an ancient Korean kingdom located in present day northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula, southern Manchuria, and southern Russian Maritime province....

.

Facing pressure from Baekje
Baekje
Baekje or Paekche was a kingdom located in southwest Korea. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla....

 in the west and Japan in the south, in the later part of the 4th century, Silla allied with Goguryeo
Goguryeo
Goguryeo or Koguryŏ was an ancient Korean kingdom located in present day northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula, southern Manchuria, and southern Russian Maritime province....

. However, when Goguryeo began to expand its territory southward, moving its capital to Pyongyang
Pyongyang
Pyongyang is the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, commonly known as North Korea, and the largest city in the country. Pyongyang is located on the Taedong River and, according to preliminary results from the 2008 population census, has a population of 3,255,388. The city was...

 in 427, Nulji
Nulji of Silla
Nulji was the nineteenth king of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. He was the son of King Naemul and Lady Boban, who was the daughter of King Michu....

 was forced to ally with Baekje.

By the time of King Beopheung
Beopheung of Silla
King Beopheung was the 23rd monarch of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. He was preceded by King Jijeung and succeeded by King Jinheung....

 (514–540), Silla was a full-fledged kingdom, with Buddhism as state religion, and its own era name systems
Korean era name
Korean era names were used during the period of Silla, Goguryeo, Balhae, Taebong, Goryeo, Joseon, and the Korean Empire. Dangun-giwon, the era name originating from the foundation of Gojoseon is also widely used in Korea as an indication of long civilisation of Korea.-Goguryeo:#Yeongnak Korean era...

. Silla absorbed the Gaya confederacy during the Gaya–Silla Wars
Gaya - Silla Wars
The Gaya-Silla Wars were a series of conflicts between the ancient Korean Kingdom of Silla and the Gaya confederacy.Silla began as one of the six ruling clans of Saro. Around 80, the leadership of Saro was seized and consolidated by Talhae of Silla. The state of Saro began forming a confederation...

, annexing Geumgwan Gaya
Geumgwan Gaya
Geumgwan Gaya , also known as Bon-Gaya or Garakguk , was the ruling city-state of the Gaya confederacy during the Three Kingdoms Period in Korea. It is believed to have been located around the modern-day city of Gimhae, Southern Gyeongsang province, near the mouth of the Nakdong River...

 in 532 and conquering Daegaya
Daegaya
Daegaya was a city-state in the Gaya confederacy during the Korean Three Kingdoms period. Daegaya was located in present-day Goryeong County, in North Gyeongsang Province of South Korea...

 in 562, thereby expanding its borders to the Nakdong River
Nakdong River
The Nakdong River is the longest river in South Korea, and passes through major cities such as Daegu and Busan.-Geography:...

 basin.

King Jinheung
Jinheung of Silla
King Jinheung was the 24th monarch of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.He followed King Beopheung and was followed by King Jinji . Jinheung was the nephew of King Beopheung. King Jinheung was one of the greatest kings of Silla, and was responsible for expanding Silla territory immensely...

 (540–576) established a strong military force. Silla helped Baekje drive Goguryeo out of the Han River (Seoul
Seoul
Seoul , officially the Seoul Special City, is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. A megacity with a population of over 10 million, it is the largest city proper in the OECD developed world...

) territory, and then wrested control of the entire strategic region from Baekje in 553, breaching the 120-year Baekje-Silla alliance. Also, King Jinheung established the Hwarang
Hwarang
The Hwarang, or "Flower Boys"., were an elite group of male youth in Silla, an ancient Korean kingdom that lasted until the 10th century. There were educational institutions as well as social clubs where members gathered for all aspects of study, originally for arts and culture steeped mainly in...

.

The early period ended with the demise of the "hallowed bone" (seonggol
Bone rank system
The bone rank system was the system of aristocratic rank used in the ancient Korean kingdom of Silla. It was used to segregate society, and particularly the layers of the aristocracy, on the basis of their hereditary proximity to the throne and the level of authority they were permitted to wield...

) rank with the death of Queen Jindeok
Jindeok of Silla
Queen Jindeok of Silla reigned as Queen of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, from 647 to 654. She was the kingdom's 28th ruler, and its second reigning queen following her predecessor Queen Seondeok. During her reign, Silla jockeyed with Baekje for favor in the Chinese Tang court...

.


Later Silla

In the 7th century Silla allied itself with the Chinese
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 Tang dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

. In 660, under King Muyeol
Muyeol of Silla
King Taejong Muyeol , born Kim Chunchu, was the 29th monarch of the southern Korean kingdom of Silla and ruled from 654 to 661. He is credited for leading the unification of the Three Kingdoms of Korea...

 (654-661), Silla subjugated Baekje. In 668, under King Munmu (King Muyeol's successor) and the General Kim Yu-shin, Silla conquered Goguryeo to its north. Silla then fought for nearly a decade to expel Chinese forces on the peninsula intent on creating Tang colonies there to finally establish a unified kingdom as far north as modern Pyongyang. The northern region of the defunct Goguryeo state later reemerged as Balhae
Balhae
Balhae was a Manchurian kingdom established after the fall of Goguryeo. After Goguryeo's capital and southern territories fell to Unified Silla, Dae Jo-yeong, a Mohe general, whose father was Dae Jung-sang, established Jin , later called Balhae.Balhae occupied southern parts of Manchuria and...

.

Silla's middle period is characterized by the rising power of the monarchy at the expense of the jingol
Bone rank system
The bone rank system was the system of aristocratic rank used in the ancient Korean kingdom of Silla. It was used to segregate society, and particularly the layers of the aristocracy, on the basis of their hereditary proximity to the throne and the level of authority they were permitted to wield...

 nobility. This was made possible by the new wealth and prestige garnered as a result of Silla's unification of the peninsula, as well as the monarchy's successful suppression of several armed aristocratic revolts following early upon unification, which afforded the king the opportunity of purging the most powerful families and rivals to central authority. Further, for a brief period of about a century from the late 7th to late 8th centuries the monarchy made an attempt to divest aristocratic officialdom of their landed base by instituting a system of salary payments, or office land (jikjeon, 직전, 職田), in lieu of the former system whereby aristocratic officials were given grants of land to exploit as salary (the so–called tax villages, or nogeup, 녹읍, 祿邑).

By the late 8th century, however, these royal initiatives had failed to check the power of the entrenched aristocracy. The mid to late 8th century saw renewed revolts led by branches of the Kim clan which effectively limited royal authority. Most prominent of these was a revolt led by Kim Daegong that persisted for three years. One key evidence of the erosion of kingly authority was the rescinding of the office land system and the re-institution of the former tax village system as salary land for aristocratic officialdom in 757.

The middle period of Silla came to an end with the assassination of King Hyegong
Hyegong of Silla
Hyegong of Silla was the 36th ruler of the Korean kingdom of Silla. He was the son of King Gyeongdeok by Lady Manwol. Hyegong was the last descendant of King Muyeol to sit on the throne. Because of this, his reign is often regarded as the end of the middle period of the Silla state.Hyegong...

 in 780, terminating the kingly line of succession of King Muyeol
Muyeol of Silla
King Taejong Muyeol , born Kim Chunchu, was the 29th monarch of the southern Korean kingdom of Silla and ruled from 654 to 661. He is credited for leading the unification of the Three Kingdoms of Korea...

, the architect of Silla's unification of the peninsula. Hyegong‘s demise was a bloody one, the culmination of an extended civil war involving most of the kingdom‘s high–ranking noble families. With Hyegong‘s death, during the remaining years of Silla the king was reduced to little more than a figurehead as powerful aristocratic families became increasingly independent of central control.

Thereafter the Silla kingship was fixed in the house of King Wonseong
Wonseong of Silla
Wonseong of Silla was the 38th to rule the Korean kingdom of Silla. He was a twelfth-generation descendant of King Naemul. His father was Kim Hyo-yang, and his mother was Lady Gye-o, the daughter of Pak Chang-do...

 (785–798), though the office itself was continually contested among various branches of the Kim lineage.

Nevertheless, the middle period of Silla witnessed the state at its zenith, the brief consolidation of royal power, and the attempt to institute a Chinese style bureaucratic system.

Decline and fall

The final century and a half of the Silla state was one of nearly constant upheaval and civil war as the king was reduced to little more than a figurehead and powerful aristocratic families rose to actual dominance outside the capital and royal court.

The tail end of this period, called the Later Three Kingdoms
Later Three Kingdoms
The Later Three Kingdoms of Korea consisted of Silla, Hubaekje , and Hugoguryeo . The latter two were viewed as heirs to the earlier Three Kingdoms of Korea, which had been united by Silla, even though Hugoguryeo has little to do with Goguryeo...

 period, briefly saw the emergence of the kingdoms of Later Baekje and Later Goguryeo, which were really composed of military forces capitalizing on their respective region's historic background, and Silla's submission to the Goryeo
Goryeo
The Goryeo Dynasty or Koryŏ was a Korean dynasty established in 918 by Emperor Taejo. Korea gets its name from this kingdom which came to be pronounced Korea. It united the Later Three Kingdoms in 936 and ruled most of the Korean peninsula until it was removed by the Joseon dynasty in 1392...

 dynasty.

Society and politics

From at least the 6th century, when Silla acquired a detailed system of law and governance, social status and official advancement were dictated by the bone rank system
Bone rank system
The bone rank system was the system of aristocratic rank used in the ancient Korean kingdom of Silla. It was used to segregate society, and particularly the layers of the aristocracy, on the basis of their hereditary proximity to the throne and the level of authority they were permitted to wield...

. This rigid lineage-based system also dictated clothing, house size and the permitted range of marriage.

Since its emergence as a centralized polity Silla society had been characterized by its strict aristocratic makeup. Silla had two royal classes: "sacred bone" (seonggol, 성골, 聖骨) and "true bone" (jingol, 진골, 眞骨). Up until the reign of King Muyeol this aristocracy had been divided into "sacred bone" and "true bone" aristocrats, with the former differentiated by their eligibility to attain the kingship. This duality had ended when Queen Jindeok, the last ruler from the "sacred bone" class, died in 654. The numbers of "sacred bone" aristocrats had been decreasing, as the title was only conferred to those whose parents were both "sacred bones", whereas children of a "sacred" and a "true bone" parent were considered as "true bones".

The king (or queen) theoretically was an absolute monarch, but royal powers were somewhat constrained by a strong aristocracy.

The "Hwabaek" (화백) served as royal council with decision-making authorities on some vital issues like succession to the throne or declarations of war. The Hwabaek was headed by a person (Sangdaedeung
Sangdaedeung
Sangdaedeung was an office of the Silla state equivalent to the European King's/Queen's Counsel. The Sangdaedeung was chosen from among those men of “true bone” lineage in Silla‘s strict aristocratic social order...

) chosen from the "sacred bone" rank. One of the key decisions of this royal council was the adoption of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 as state religion.

Following unification Silla began to rely more upon Chinese models of bureaucracy to administer its greatly expanded territory. This was a marked change from pre-unification days when the Silla monarchy stressed Buddhism, and the Silla monarch's role as a "Buddha-king". Another salient factor in post-unification politics were the increasing tensions between the Korean monarchy and aristocracy.

Military

The early Silla military was built around a small number of Silla royal guards designed to protect royalty and nobility and in times of war served as the primary military force if needed. Due to the frequency of conflicts between Baekje
Baekje
Baekje or Paekche was a kingdom located in southwest Korea. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla....

 and Goguryeo
Goguryeo
Goguryeo or Koguryŏ was an ancient Korean kingdom located in present day northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula, southern Manchuria, and southern Russian Maritime province....

 as well as Yamato
Yamato
Yamato was originally the area around today's Sakurai City in Nara Prefecture of Japan. Later the term was used as the name of the province and also as an ancient name of Japan...

 Japan, Silla created six local garrisons one for each district. The royal guards eventually morphed into "sworn banner" or Sodang units. In 625 another group of Sodang was created. Garrison soldiers were responsible for local defense and also served as a police force.

A number of Silla's greatest generals and military leaders were Hwarang
Hwarang
The Hwarang, or "Flower Boys"., were an elite group of male youth in Silla, an ancient Korean kingdom that lasted until the 10th century. There were educational institutions as well as social clubs where members gathered for all aspects of study, originally for arts and culture steeped mainly in...

 (equivalent to the Western knights or chevaliers). Originally a social group, due to the continuous military rivalry between the Three Kingdoms of Korea
Three Kingdoms of Korea
The Three Kingdoms of Korea refer to the ancient Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, which dominated the Korean peninsula and parts of Manchuria for much of the 1st millennium...

, they eventually transformed from a group of elite male aristocratic youth into soldiers and military leaders. Hwarang were key in the fall of Goguryeo (which resulted in the unification of the Korean Peninsula
Korean Peninsula
The Korean Peninsula is a peninsula in East Asia. It extends southwards for about 684 miles from continental Asia into the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by the Sea of Japan to the south, and the Yellow Sea to the west, the Korea Strait connecting the first two bodies of water.Until the end of...

 under Unified Silla
Unified Silla
Unified Silla or Later Silla is the name often applied to the Korean kingdom of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, when it conquered Baekje in 660 and Goguryeo in 668, unifying the southern portion of the Korean peninsula...

) and the Silla–Tang Wars, which expelled Tang forces in the other two Korean kingdoms.

Culture

The capital of the Silla kingdom was Gyeongju
Gyeongju
Gyeongju is a coastal city in the far southeastern corner of North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. It is the second largest city by area in the province after Andong, covering with a population of 269,343 people according to the 2008 census. Gyeongju is southeast of Seoul, and east of the...

. A great number of Silla tombs can still be found in the centre of Gyeongju. Silla tombs took the form of a stone chamber which was surrounded by a soil mound.The historic area around Gyeongju was added to the UNESCO
UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 World Heritage list in 2000. Much of it is also protected as part of Gyeongju National Park
Gyeongju National Park
Gyeongju National Park is located in the providence of Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea, and is the country's only historical national park. It was first designated a national park in 1968. The park covers many of the principal Silla historical sites in Gyeongju City...

. Additionally, two villages near Gyeongju area names of which are Hahoe and Yangdong would be submitted for UNESCO heritages in 2008 or later by related cities and the South Korean government.

The Bronze Bell of King Seongdeok the Great attracts a large number of tourists. The bell produces a distinctive sound, about which there is a legend. Cheomseongdae
Cheomseongdae
Cheomseongdae is an astronomical observatory in Gyeongju, South Korea. Cheomseongdae means star-gazing tower in Korean. Cheomseongdae is the oldest surviving observatory in East Asia, and one of the oldest scientific installations on Earth. It dates to the 7th century to the time of kingdom of...

 near Gyeongju is the oldest extant astronomical observatory in East Asia, while some disagree on its exact functions. It was built during the reign of Queen Seondeok
Queen Seondeok of Silla
Queen Seondeok of Silla reigned as Queen of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, from 632 to 647. She was Silla's twenty-seventh ruler, and its first reigning queen...

 (623–647).

Muslim traders brought the name "Silla" to the world outside the traditional East Asian sphere through the Silk Road
Silk Road
The Silk Road or Silk Route refers to a historical network of interlinking trade routes across the Afro-Eurasian landmass that connected East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean and European world, as well as parts of North and East Africa...

. Geographers of the Arab and Persian world, including ibn Khurdadhbih, al-Masudi, Dimashiki, al-Nuwairi, and al-Maqrizi
Al-Maqrizi
Taqi al-Din Ahmad ibn 'Ali ibn 'Abd al-Qadir ibn Muhammad al-Maqrizi ; Arabic: , was an Egyptian historian more commonly known as al-Maqrizi or Makrizi...

, left records about Silla.

The current descendants to the Silla dynasty fall under the Kim name. Family records since the last ruler have been provided, but these records have yet to be fully verified.

Buddhism

Buddhism was formally adopted by Silla in 527 under King Beopheung
Beopheung of Silla
King Beopheung was the 23rd monarch of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. He was preceded by King Jijeung and succeeded by King Jinheung....

, though it had been exposed to the religion for over a century during which the faith had certainly made inroads into the native populace. It was the Buddhist monk Ado who first exposed Silla to Buddhism when he arrived to proselytize from Goguryeo in the mid 5th century. However, according to legend, the Silla monarchy was convinced to adopt the faith by the martyrdom of the Silla court noble Ichadon
Ichadon
Ichadon , also known as Geochadon or by his courtesy name Yeomchok or Yeomdo, was a Buddhist monk and advisor to the Silla king Beopheung.-Miracle:...

, who was executed for his Buddhist faith by the Silla king in 527 only to have his blood flow the color of milk.

The importance of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 in Silla society of the late early period is difficult to exaggerate. From King Beopheung and for the following six reigns Silla kings adopted Buddhist names and came to portray themselves as Buddhist–kings. Buddhism in Silla was, more so than in the case of Baekje and Goguryeo, an officially sponsored faith. Its state–protection aspects were emphasized. The Hwarang
Hwarang
The Hwarang, or "Flower Boys"., were an elite group of male youth in Silla, an ancient Korean kingdom that lasted until the 10th century. There were educational institutions as well as social clubs where members gathered for all aspects of study, originally for arts and culture steeped mainly in...

 corps, an elite corps of youthful warriors that would play a central role in Silla unification of the peninsula, had strong connections to Buddhism, particularly the worship of the Maitreya
Maitreya
Maitreya , Metteyya , or Jampa , is foretold as a future Buddha of this world in Buddhist eschatology. In some Buddhist literature, such as the Amitabha Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, he or she is referred to as Ajita Bodhisattva.Maitreya is a bodhisattva who in the Buddhist tradition is to appear on...

 Buddha. The late early period of Silla saw Buddhism‘s apogee there. A great number of temples were built, often financed and sponsored by high ranking nobility, the most notable being Hwangnyongsa
Hwangnyongsa
Hwangnyongsa, or Hwangnyong Temple, is the name of a former Buddhist temple in the city of Gyeongju, South Korea. Built in the 6th century, it was the center of state-sponsored Buddhism during the Silla and Unified Silla eras...

, Bulguksa
Bulguksa
Bulguksa is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in the North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. It is home to seven National treasures of South Korea, including Dabotap and Seokgatap stone pagodas, Cheongun-gyo , and two gilt-bronze statues of Buddha. The temple is classified as...

 and Seokguram
Seokguram
The Seokguram Grotto is a hermitage and part of the Bulguksa temple complex. It lies four kilometers east of the temple on Mt. Tohamsan, in Gyeongju, South Korea. It is classified as National Treasure No. 24 by the South Korean government and is located at 994, Jinhyeon-dong, Gyeongju-si,...

. Hwangyongsa (Imperial Dragon) temple in particular emphasized the power of the monarchy and Buddhism‘s role in state protection and aggrandizement. The nine stories of its wooden pagoda, perhaps the tallest manmade structure in East Asia of the period, were said to symbolize the nine nations destined to submit to Silla rule. Silla attached great importance to the pagoda, building them of stone as well as wood.

With Silla unification Buddhism came to play a less perceptible role in politics as the monarchy attempted to adopt Chinese Confucian institutions of statecraft to govern an enlarged state and to curb the power of the aristocratic families. Nevertheless, Buddhism still enjoyed a central place in larger Silla society. Hundreds of Silla monks traveled to Tang China in search of education and for the procurement of much needed Buddhism sutras.

Silla's strong Buddhist nature is also reflected by the thousands of remnant Buddhist stone figures and carvings, mostly importantly on Namsan
Namsan (Gyeongju)
Namsan is a 494-meter peak in the heart of Gyeongju National Park, just south of Gyeongju, South Korea. The mountain is within easy reach from the city and attracts a large number of national tourists. Namsan covers an area of about 8 km by 12 km...

.

External links

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