Classic Jeulmun vessel with wide mouth, c. 3500 BC. From National Museum of Korea.

Jeulmun Pottery Period

8000 BCE Jan 1 - 1503 BCE
, Korean Peninsula

The Jeulmun pottery period is an archaeological era in Korean prehistory broadly spanning the period of 8000–1500 BC. This period subsumes the Mesolithic and Neolithic cultural stages in Korea, lasting ca. 8000–3500 BC ("Incipient" to "Early" phases) and 3500–1500 BC ("Middle" and "Late" phases), respectively. Because of the early presence of pottery, the entire period has also been subsumed under a broad label of "Korean Neolithic".

The Jeulmun pottery period is named after the decorated pottery vessels that form a large part of the pottery assemblage consistently over the above period, especially 4000-2000 BC. Jeulmun (Hangul: 즐문, Hanja: 櫛文) means "Comb-patterned". A boom in the archaeological excavations of Jeulmun Period sites since the mid-1990s has increased knowledge about this important formative period in the prehistory of East Asia.

The Jeulmun was a period of hunting, gathering, and small-scale cultivation of plants. Archaeologists sometimes refer to this life-style pattern as "broad-spectrum hunting-and-gathering".



2333 BCE Jan 2 - 108 BCE
, Pyongyang

Gojoseon was the first Korean kingdom that lasted until 108 BCE. According to Korean mythology, the kingdom was established by the legendary founder named Dangun. Gojoseon possessed the most advanced culture in the Korean peninsula at the time and was an important marker in the progression towards the more centralized states of later periods. The addition of Go (고, 古), meaning "ancient", is used to distinguish the kingdom from the Joseon dynasty that emerged later in 1392 CE.

According to the Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms, Gojoseon was established in 2333 BCE by Dangun, who was said to be born between a heavenly prince Hwanung and a bear-woman Ungnyeo. While Dangun is a mythological figure from the legends for whom no concrete evidences have been found so far, some interpret the legend of Dangun as the reflections of the sociocultural situations involving the kingdom's early developments. Regardless, the account of Dangun has played an important role in the development of Korean identity. Today, the founding date of Gojoseon is officially celebrated as National Foundation Day in North Korea and South Korea.

Large Middle Mumun (c. 8th century BC storage vessel unearthed from a pit-house in or near Daepyeong, H= c. 60-70 cm.

Mumun Pottery Period

1500 BCE Jan 1 - 303 BCE
, Korea

The Mumun pottery period is an archaeological era in Korean prehistory that dates to approximately 1500-300 BC This period is named after the Korean name for undecorated or plain cooking and storage vessels that form a large part of the pottery assemblage over the entire length of the period, but especially 850-550 BC.

The Mumun period is known for the origins of intensive agriculture and complex societies in both the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Archipelago. This period or parts of it have sometimes been labelled as the "Korean Bronze Age", after Thomsen's 19th century three-age system classification of human prehistory.

People in southern Korea adopted intensive dry-field and paddy-field agriculture with a multitude of crops in the Early Mumun Period (1500–850 BC). The first societies led by big-men or chiefs emerged in the Middle Mumun (850–550 BC), and the first ostentatious elite burials can be traced to the Late Mumun (c. 550–300 BC). Bronze production began in the Middle Mumun and became increasingly important in ceremonial and political society after 700 BC. Archeological evidence from Songguk-ri, Daepyeong, Igeum-dong, and elsewhere indicate that the Mumun era was the first in which chiefdoms rose, expanded, and collapsed. The increasing presence of long-distance trade, an increase in local conflicts, and the introduction of bronze and iron metallurgy are trends denoting the end of the Mumun around 300 BC.

Jin (Korean state)

Jin (Korean state)

300 BCE Jan 1 - 103 BCE
, Korean Peninsula

The state of Jin was a confederacy of statelets which occupied some portion of the southern Korean peninsula from the 4th to 2nd centuries BCE, bordering Gojoseon to the north. Its capital was somewhere south of the Han River. It preceded the Samhan confederacies, each of which claimed to be the successor of the Jin state.

Very little is known about Jin, but it established relations with Han China and exported artifacts to the Yayoi of Japan. Around 100 BC, Jin evolved into the Samhan confederacies.

Wiman Joseon

Wiman Joseon

194 BCE Jan 1 - 111 BCE
, Korean Peninsula

Wiman Joseon (194–108 BC) was a dynasty of Gojoseon. It began with Wiman (Wei Man)'s seizure of the throne from Gojoseon's King Jun and ended with the death of King Ugeo who was a grandson of Wiman. Apart from archaeological data, the main source on this historical period comes from chapter 115 of Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian. Wiman was originally a Chinese military leader from the Kingdom of Yan under the Han dynasty.

Samhan Confederation

Samhan Confederation

108 BCE Jan 1 - 280
, Korean Peninsula

Samhan, or Three Han, is the collective name of the Byeonhan, Jinhan, and Mahan confederacies that emerged in the first century BC during the Proto–Three Kingdoms of Korea, or Samhan, period. Located in the central and southern regions of the Korean Peninsula, the Samhan confederacies eventually merged and developed into the Baekje, Gaya, and Silla kingdoms. The name "Samhan" also refers to the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

The Samhan are thought to have formed around the time of the fall of Gojoseon in northern Korea in 108 BC. Kim Bu-sik's Samguk Sagi, one of the two representative history books of Korea, mentions that people of Jin Han are migrants from Gojoseon, which suggests that early Han tribes who came to Southern Korean peninsula are originally Gojoseon people. However, the state of Jin in southern Korea, which its evidence of actual existence lacks, also disappears from written records. By the 4th century, Mahan was fully absorbed into the Baekje kingdom, Jinhan into the Silla kingdom, and Byeonhan into the Gaya confederacy, which was later annexed by Silla. Beginning in the 7th century, the name "Samhan" became synonymous with the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

The Samhan saw the systematic introduction of iron into the southern Korean peninsula. This was taken up with particular intensity by the Byeonhan states of the Nakdong River valley, which manufactured and exported iron armor and weapons throughout Northeast Asia. The introduction of iron technology also facilitated growth in agriculture, as iron tools made the clearing and cultivation of land much easier. It appears that at this time the modern-day Jeolla area emerged as a center of rice production (Kim, 1974).

Four Commanderies of Han

Four Commanderies of Han

108 BCE Jan 1 - 300
, Liaotung Peninsula

The Four Commanderies of Han were Chinese commanderies located in the north of the Korean Peninsula and part of the Liaodong Peninsula from around the end of the second century BC through the early 4th AD, for the longest lasting. The commanderies were set up to control the populace in the former Gojoseon area as far south as the Han River, with a core area at Lelang near present-day Pyongyang by Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty in early 2nd century BC after his conquest of Wiman Joseon. As such, these commanderies are seen as Chinese colonies by some scholars. Though disputed by North Korean scholars, Western sources generally describe the Lelang Commandery as existing within the Korean peninsula, and extend the rule of the four commanderies as far south as the Han River. However, South Korean scholars assumed its administrative areas to Pyongan and Hwanghae provinces.

Three of the commanderies fell or retreated westward within a few decades, but the Lelang commandery remained as a center of cultural and economic exchange with successive Chinese dynasties for four centuries. At its administrative center in Lelang, the Chinese built what was in essence a Chinese city where the governor, officials, and merchants, and Chinese colonists lived. Their administration had considerable impact on the life of the native population and ultimately the very fabric of Gojoseon society became eroded. Later, Goguryeo, founded in 37 BCE, slowly began conquering the commanderies and eventually absorbed them into its own territory.

Buyeo Kingdom | ©Angus McBride

Buyeo Kingdom

100 BCE Jan 1 - 494
, Nong'an County

Buyeo or Puyŏ was an ancient kingdom that was centered in northern Manchuria in modern-day northeast China. It is sometimes considered a Korean kingdom, and had ties to the Yemaek people, who are considered to be the ancestors of modern Koreans. Buyeo is a major predecessor of the Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo and Baekje.

According to the Book of the Later Han, Buyeo was initially placed under the jurisdiction of the Xuantu Commandery, one of Four Commanderies of Han in the later Western Han. Buyeo entered into formal diplomatic relations with the Eastern Han dynasty by the mid-1st century AD as an important ally of that empire to check the Xianbei and Goguryeo threats. Jurisdiction of Buyeo was then placed under the Liaodong Commandery of the Eastern Han. After an incapacitating Xianbei invasion in 285, Buyeo was restored with help from the Jin dynasty. This, however, marked the beginning of a period of decline. A second Xianbei invasion in 346 finally destroyed the state, except some remnants in its core region which survived as vassals of Goguryeo until their final annexation in 494.

Inhabitants of Buyeo included the Yemaek tribe. There are no scholarly consensus on the classification of the languages spoken by the Puyo, with theories including Japonic, Amuric and a separate branch of macro-Tungusic. According to the Records of the Three Kingdoms, the Buyeo language was similar to those of its southern neighbours Goguryeo and Ye, and the language of Okjeo was only slightly different from them. Both Goguryeo and Baekje, two of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, considered themselves Buyeo's successors.

7th century Tang dynasty painting of envoys from the Three Kingdoms of Korea: Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla.

Three Kingdoms of Korea

57 BCE Jan 1 - 668
, Korean Peninsula

Samhan or the Three Kingdoms of Korea refers to the three kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla. Goguryeo was later known as Goryeo, from which the modern name Korea is derived. The Three Kingdoms period is defined as being from 57 BC to 668 AD (but there existed Gaya confederacy in the southern region of the Korean Peninsula and relatively large states like Okjeo, Buyeo, and Dongye in its northern part and Manchuria of modern China).

The three kingdoms occupied the entire peninsula of Korea and roughly half of Manchuria, located mostly in present-day China, along with smaller parts from present-day Russia. The kingdoms of Baekje and Silla dominated the southern half of the Korean Peninsula and Tamna (Jeju Island), whereas Goguryeo controlled the Liaodong Peninsula, Manchuria and the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Baekje and Goguryeo shared founding myths which likely originated from Buyeo. Buddhism, which arrived in Korea in 3rd century CE from India via Tibet and China, became the state religion of all 3 constituents of the Three Kingdoms, starting with Gaya in 372 CE.

In the 7th century, allied with China under the Tang dynasty, Silla unified the Korean Peninsula for the first time in Korean history, allowing for the first united Korean national identity. After the fall of Baekje and Goguryeo, the Tang dynasty established a short-lived military government to administer parts of the Korean Peninsula. However, as a result of the Silla–Tang War (670–676 AD), Silla forces expelled the Protectorate armies from the peninsula in 676 AD. The following period is known as the Unified Silla or Later Silla (668–935 AD).

Subsequently, Go of Balhae, a former Goguryeo general or chief of Sumo Mohe, founded Balhae in the former territory of Goguryeo after defeating the Tang dynasty at the Battle of Tianmenling.

Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond – A Heavenly Place in Korea


57 BCE Jan 1 - 933
, Gyeongju

Silla or Shilla (57 BCE – 935 CE) was a Korean kingdom located on the southern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula. Silla, along with Baekje and Goguryeo, formed the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

Founded by Hyeokgeose of Silla, of the Park family, the Korean dynasty was ruled by the Gyeongju Gim (Kim) clan for 586 years, the Miryang Bak (Park) clan for 232 years and the Wolseong Seok clan for 172 years. It began as a chiefdom in the Samhan confederacies, once allied with Sui China and then Tang China, until it eventually conquered the other two kingdoms, Baekje in 660 and Goguryeo in 668. Thereafter, Later Silla occupied most of the Korean Peninsula, while the northern part re-emerged as Balhae, a successor-state of Goguryeo. After nearly 1,000 years of rule, Silla fragmented into the brief Later Three Kingdoms of Silla, Later Baekje, and Taebong, handing over power to Goryeo in 935.

Goguryeo soldiers


37 BCE Jan 1 - 668
, Liaoning

Goguryeo was a Korean kingdom located in the northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula and the southern and central parts of Northeast China. At its peak of power, Goguryeo controlled most of the Korean peninsula, large parts of Manchuria and parts of eastern Mongolia and Inner Mongolia.

Along with Baekje and Silla, Goguryeo was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. It was an active participant in the power struggle for control of the Korean peninsula and was also associated with the foreign affairs of neighboring polities in China and Japan. The Samguk sagi, a 12th-century text from Goryeo, indicates that Goguryeo was founded in 37 BC by Jumong, a prince from Buyeo, who was enthroned as Dongmyeong. Goguryeo was one of the great powers in East Asia, until its defeat by a Silla–Tang alliance in 668 after prolonged exhaustion and internal strife caused by the death of Yeon Gaesomun. After its fall, its territory was divided between the Tang dynasty, Later Silla and Balhae.

The name Goryeo, a shortened form of Goguryeo, was adopted as the official name in the 5th century, and is the origin of the English name "Korea".



18 BCE Jan 1 - 660
, Incheon

Baekje or Paekche was a Korean kingdom located in southwestern Korea from 18 BC to 660 AD. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla. Baekje was founded by Onjo, the third son of Goguryeo's founder Jumong and So Seo-no, at Wiryeseong (present-day southern Seoul). Baekje, like Goguryeo, claimed to succeed Buyeo, a state established in present-day Manchuria around the time of Gojoseon's fall.

Baekje alternately battled and allied with Goguryeo and Silla as the three kingdoms expanded control over the peninsula. At its peak in the 4th century, Baekje controlled most of the western Korean peninsula, as far north as Pyongyang, and may have even held territories in China, such as in Liaoxi, though this view is controversial. It became a significant regional sea power, with political and trade relations with China and Japan.

Baekje was a great maritime power; its nautical skill, which made it the Phoenicia of East Asia, was instrumental in the dissemination of Buddhism throughout East Asia and continental culture to Japan. In 660, it was defeated by the Tang Dynasty and Silla, and was ultimately submitted to Unified Silla.

Gaya Confederacy

Gaya Confederacy

42 Jan 1 - 562
, Nakdong River

Gaya was a Korean 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 AD 42–532. According to archaeological evidence in the third and fourth centuries some of the city-states of Byeonhan evolved into the Gaya confederacy, which was later annexed by Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. The individual polities that made up the Gaya confederacy have been characterized as small city-states. The material culture remains of Gaya culture mainly consist of burials and their contents of mortuary goods that have been excavated by archaeologists. Archaeologists interpret mounded burial cemeteries of the late third and early fourth centuries such as Daeseong-dong in Gimhae and Bokcheon-dong in Busan as the royal burial grounds of Gaya polities.

Hanji (Korean paper) introduced

Hanji (Korean paper) introduced

300 Jan 1
, Korean Peninsula

In Korea, papermaking started not long after its birth in China. At first, made crudely out of hemp and ramie scraps (called maji; Korean: 마지). Its origins in Korea are believed to fall somewhere between the 3rd century and the end of the 6th century. In 1931, a piece of hanji was found at an archeological dig at a tomb site from the Lelang period (108 BCE–313 CE).

During the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE–668 CE), each kingdom used paper to record their official histories. In 610, The Buddhist monk Damjing whom Goguryeo presented to Japan was able to make the production method of paper and ink.

An image of Gautama Buddha at Seokguram Grotto, Gyeongju, in South Korea

Korean Buddhism

372 Jan 1
, Korean Peninsula

Centuries after Buddhism originated in Nepal, the Mahayana tradition arrived in China through the Silk Road in the 1st century CE via Tibet; it then entered the Korean peninsula in the 3rd century during the Three Kingdoms Period, from where it was transmitted to Japan. In Korea, it was adopted as the state religion of 3 constituent polities of the Three Kingdoms Period, first by the Goguryeo (also known as Goryeo) in 372 CE, by the Silla (Gaya) in 528 CE, and by the Baekje in 552 CE.

한국어: 유곽쟁웅 | ©Yu Suk

Bone-rank System

520 Jan 1
, Korean Peninsula

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. The idea of royal blood in other societies is a close analogue to the idea of "sacred bone" in Silla thought.

Bone rank was strictly hereditary, and thus acted as a caste system. The scholar, Lee Ki-baik (1984, p. 43) considers it to have probably been adopted as part of the administrative law introduced from China and promulgated by King Beopheung in 520. However, this likely did nothing but institute in legal fact what was already a society segregated by bloodline and lineage. Although only two of the five known ranks were referred to as "bone" (골, 骨), the term "bone rank" has become widely used to describe the whole system.

A person's bone rank status governed not only official status and marriage rights, but also the color of one's garments and the maximum dimensions of one's dwelling and carriage. These criteria are described in detail in the 12th century Korean history Samguk Sagi, particularly its Monographs (ji 志), book 2 (ranks and offices).

Goguryeo–Sui War | ©Angus McBride

Goguryeo–Sui War

598 Jan 1 - 614
, Liaoning

The Goguryeo–Sui War were a series of invasions launched by the Sui dynasty of China against Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, between AD 598 and AD 614. It resulted in the defeat of the Sui and was one of the pivotal factors in the collapse of the dynasty, which led to its overthrow by the Tang dynasty in AD 618.

Goguryeo–Tang War

Goguryeo–Tang War

645 Jan 1 - 668
, Korean Peninsula

The Goguryeo–Tang War occurred from 645 to 668 and was fought between Goguryeo and the Tang dynasty. During the course of the war, the two sides allied with various other states. Goguryeo successfully repulsed the invading Tang armies during the first Tang invasions of 645–648. After conquering Baekje in 660, Tang and Silla armies invaded Goguryeo from the north and south in 661, but were forced to withdraw in 662. In 666, Yeon Gaesomun died and Goguryeo became plagued by violent dissension, numerous defections, and widespread demoralization. The Tang–Silla alliance mounted a fresh invasion in the following year, aided by the defector Yeon Namsaeng. In late 668, exhausted from numerous military attacks and suffering from internal political chaos, Goguryeo and the remnants of Baekje army succumbed to the numerically superior armies of the Tang dynasty and Silla.

The war marked the end of the Three Kingdoms of Korea period which had lasted since 57 BC. It also triggered the Silla–Tang War during which the Silla Kingdom and the Tang Empire fought over the spoils they had gained.

Unified Silla

Unified Silla

668 Jan 1 - 935
, Gyeongju

Unified Silla or Later Silla is the name often applied to the Korean kingdom of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, after it conquered Baekje and Goguryeo in the 7th century, unifying the central and southern regions of the Korean peninsula.

In 660, King Munmu ordered his armies to attack Baekje. General Kim Yu-shin, aided by Tang forces, defeated General Gyebaek and conquered Baekje. In 661, he moved on Goguryeo but was repelled. King Munmu was the first ruler ever to look upon the Korean Peninsula as a single political entity after the fall of Gojoseon. As such, the post-668 Silla kingdom is referred to as Unified Silla. Unified Silla lasted for 267 years until, under King Gyeongsun, it fell to Goryeo in 935.

Northern and Southern States Period

Northern and Southern States Period

698 Jan 1 - 920
, Korean Peninsula

The Northern and Southern States period (698–926 CE) is the period in Korean history when Unified Silla and Balhae coexisted in the south and north of the peninsula, respectively.

Buddhist relief sculpture from Balhae at the Ohara Museum of Art, Japan.[27] The inscription in Literary Chinese contains a description of the artifact's making in 834 AD, and a poem honoring the dharma.[28]


698 Jan 1 - 926
, Dunhua

Balhae was a multi-ethnic kingdom whose land extends to what is now today Northeast China, the Korean Peninsula and the Russian Far East. It was established in 698 by Dae Joyeong (Da Zuorong) and originally known as the Kingdom of Jin (Zhen) until 713 when its name was changed to Balhae.

Balhae's early history involved a rocky relationship with the Tang dynasty that saw military and political conflict, but by the end of the 8th century the relationship had become cordial and friendly. The Tang dynasty would eventually recognize Balhae as the "Prosperous Country of the East". Numerous cultural and political exchanges were made. Balhae was conquered by the Khitan-led Liao dynasty in 926. Balhae survived as a distinct population group for another three centuries in the Liao and Jin dynasties before disappearing under Mongol rule.

The history of the founding of the state, its ethnic composition, the nationality of the ruling dynasty, the reading of their names, and its borders are the subject of a historiographical dispute between Korea, China and Russia. Historical sources from both China and Korea have described Balhae's founder, Dae Joyeong, as related to the Mohe people and Goguryeo.



788 Jan 1
, Korea

The first national examinations were administered in the kingdom of Silla beginning in 788, after the Confucian scholar Choe Chiwon submitted the Ten Urgent Points of Reform to Queen Jinseong, the ruler of Silla at the time. However, due to Silla's entrenched bone rank system, which dictated that appointments be made on the basis of birth, these examinations did not have a strong effect on the government.

Later Three Kingdoms

Later Three Kingdoms

889 Jan 1 - 935
, Korean Peninsula

The Later Three Kingdoms period (889-935 AD) of ancient Korea saw a partial revival of the old three kingdoms which had dominated the peninsula from the 1st century BCE to the 7th century AD. After the Unified Silla kingdom had ruled Korea alone from 668 CE, it slowly began to decline and the power vacuum this created led to several rebellious states rising up and taking on the old historical names of Korea's ancient kingdoms. A messy period of alliances and in-fighting followed, but one state would once again establish a dominant position – Goryeo, itself named in homage to the earlier northern Goguryeo kingdom – and form a unified Korean state and a dynasty which would last for over 500 years.

A Goryeo painting which depicts the Goryeo nobility.

Goryeo Kingdom

918 Jan 2 - 1392
, Korean Peninsula

Goryeo was a Korean kingdom founded in 918, during a time of national division called the Later Three Kingdoms period, that unified and ruled the Korean Peninsula until 1392. Goryeo achieved what has been called a "true national unification" by Korean historians as it not only unified the Later Three Kingdoms but also incorporated much of the ruling class of the northern kingdom of Balhae, who had origins in Goguryeo of the earlier Three Kingdoms of Korea. The name "Korea" is derived from the name of Goryeo, also spelled Koryŏ, which was first used in the early 5th century by Goguryeo. Korean historians evaluate that the time of Goryeo was whence individual identities of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla were successfully merged into a single entity that would later be the premise of the modern day 'Korean' identity.

Throughout its existence, Goryeo, alongside Unified Silla, was known to be the "Golden Age of Buddhism" in Korea. As the state religion, Buddhism achieved its highest level of influence in Korean history, with 70 temples in the capital alone in the 11th century. Commerce flourished in Goryeo, with merchants coming from as far as the Middle East. The capital in modern-day Kaesong, North Korea was a center of trade and industry. Goryeo was a period of great achievements in Korean art and culture.

During its heyday, Goryeo constantly wrestled with northern empires such as Liao (Khitans), Jin (Jurchens). It also attacked the Mongol-Yuan dynasty and reclaimed territories as the Yuan declined. This is considered by modern Korean scholars to be Goryeo's the Northern Expansion Doctrine (Korean: 북진 정책) to reclaim ancestral lands formerly owned by Goguryeo. As much as it valued education and culture, Goryeo was able to mobilize sizable military might during times of war. It fended off massive armies of the Red Turban Rebels from China and professional Japanese pirates in its twilight years of the 14th century. A final attack against the Ming dynasty resulted in a coup d'état by General Yi Seong-gye and ended the Goryeo dynasty.



992 Jan 1
, Kaesŏng

The Gukjagam, known at times as Gukhak or Seonggyungwan, was the highest educational institution of the Korean Goryeo dynasty. It was located at the capital, Gaegyeong (modern-day Kaesong), and provided advanced training in the Chinese classics. It was established in 992 during the reign of Seongjong. Its name has been changed to Songgyungam in 1298 and to Songgyungwan in 1308. Its current name is Koryo (/Goryeo) Songgyungwan University/University of Light Industry. A similar institution, known as the Gukhak, had been established under Unified Silla, but it was not successful.

The Gukjagam was part of Seongjong's general program of Confucian reform, together with the gwageo civil service examinations and the hyanggyo provincial schools. It formed the cornerstone of the Confucian educational system he envisioned. In the waning days of Goryeo, the Gukjagam again became a centerpiece of reform through the policies of the early Neo-Confucian scholar An Hyang.

Khitan Warrior | © Joel Chaim Holtzman

Goryeo–Khitan War

993 Jan 1 - 1019
, Korean Peninsula

The Goryeo–Khitan War (Chinese: 遼麗戰爭; Korean: 고려-거란 전쟁) was a series of 10th- and 11th-century conflicts between the Goryeo dynasty of Korea and the Khitan-led Liao dynasty of China near the present-day border between China and North Korea.

Cheolli Jangseong

Cheolli Jangseong

1033 Jan 1
, Hamhung

Cheolli Jangseong (lit. "Thousand Li Wall") in Korean history usually refers to the 11th-century northern defense structure built during the Goryeo dynasty in present-day North Korea, though it also refers to a 7th-century network of military garrisons in present-day Northeast China, built by Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

Portrait of Gim Busik | ©Sin Yun-bok

Samguk Sagi

1145 Jan 1
, Korean Peninsula

Samguk Sagi is a historical record of the Three Kingdoms of Korea: Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. The Samguk Sagi is written in Classical Chinese, the written language of the literati of ancient Korea, and its compilation was ordered by King Injong of Goryeo (r. 1122-1146) and undertaken by the government official and historian Kim Busik and a team of junior scholars. Completed in 1145, it is well known in Korea as the oldest surviving chronicle of Korean history. The document has been digitized by the National Institute of Korean History and available online with Modern Korean translation in Hangul and original text in Classical Chinese.

General Yun Gwan (1040–1111) and his army

Goryeo Military Regime

1170 Jan 1 - 1270
, Korean Peninsula

The Goryeo military regime was the government of the Goryeo dynasty from the time of the military coup d'état of 1170 to the Sambyeolcho Rebellion of 1270 and the definitive subordination of Korea to the Yuan dynasty. The rule of the Ubong Choe family from 1196 to 1258 is known as the "regime of the Choe clan".

Mongol invasions of Korea

Mongol Invasions of Korea

1231 Jan 1 - 1270
, Korean Peninsula

A series of campaigns were conducted between 1231 and 1270 by the Mongol Empire against the Goryeo dynasty of Korea. There were seven major campaigns at tremendous cost to civilian lives, the last campaign made Goryeo a vassal state of the Yuan dynasty for approximately 80 years. The Yuan dynasty would exact wealth and tributes from the Goryeo kings. Despite submission to the Yuan dynasty, internal struggles among Goryeo royalty and rebellions against Yuan rule would continue, the most famous being the Sambyeolcho Rebellion. A greater amount of "stubborn resistance" was put up by Korea and Song Dynasty towards the Mongol invasions than many others in Eurasia who were swiftly crushed by the Mongols at a lightning pace.

Movable Metal Type Printing invented

Movable Metal Type Printing invented

1234 Jan 1
, Korea

In 1234 the first books known to have been printed in metallic type set were published in Goryeo Dynasty Korea. They form a set of ritual books, Sangjeong Gogeum Yemun, compiled by Choe Yun-ui. While these books have not survived, the oldest book existing in the world printed in metallic movable types is Jikji, printed in Korea in 1377. The Asian Reading Room of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. displays examples of this metal type. Commenting on the invention of metallic types by Koreans, French scholar Henri-Jean Martin described this as "remely similar] to Gutenberg's". However, Korean movable metal type printing differed from European printing in the materials used for the type, punch, matrix, mould and in method of making an impression.

A "Confucian prohibition on the commercialization of printing" also obstructed the proliferation of movable type, restricting the distribution of books produced using the new method to the government. The technique was restricted to use by the royal foundry for official state publications only, where the focus was on reprinting Chinese classics lost in 1126 when Korea's libraries and palaces had perished in a conflict between dynasties.

Kublai Khan

Goryeo under Mongol Rule

1270 Jan 1 - 1356
, Korean Peninsula

Goryeo under Mongol rule refers to the rule of the Mongol Empire and the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty over the Korean Peninsula from about 1270 to 1356. After the Mongol invasions of Korea and the capitulation of the Korean Goryeo dynasty in the 13th century, Goryeo became a semi-autonomous vassal state and compulsory ally of the Yuan dynasty for about 80 years. It has been referred to as a "son-in-law kingdom in the Mongol empire." The ruling line of Goryeo, the House of Wang, was permitted to rule Korea as a vassal of the Yuan, which established the Zhengdong Province (征東行省; literally "Conquering the East") in Korea. Members of the Goryeo royal family were taken to Dadu, and typically married to spouses from the Yuan imperial house. As a result, princes who became monarchs of Goryeo during this period were effectively imperial sons in-law (khuregen). Yuan overlordship ended in the 1350s when the Yuan dynasty itself started to crumble and King Gongmin of Goryeo began to push the Yuan garrisons back.

King Taejo's portrait

Joseon Dynasty

1392 Jan 1 - 1897
, Korean Peninsula

Joseon was the last dynastic kingdom of Korea, lasting just over 500 years. It was founded by Yi Seong-gye in July 1392 and replaced by the Korean Empire in October 1897. The kingdom was founded following the aftermath of the overthrow of Goryeo in what is today the city of Kaesong. Early on, Korea was retitled and the capital was relocated to modern-day Seoul. The kingdom's northernmost borders were expanded to the natural boundaries at the rivers of Amrok and Tuman through the subjugation of the Jurchens.

During its 500-year duration, Joseon encouraged the entrenchment of Confucian ideals and doctrines in Korean society. Neo-Confucianism was installed as the new state's ideology. Buddhism was accordingly discouraged, and occasionally the practitioners faced persecutions. Joseon consolidated its effective rule over the territory of current Korea and saw the height of classical Korean culture, trade, literature, and science and technology. In the 1590s, the kingdom was severely weakened due to Japanese invasions. Several decades later, Joseon was invaded by the Later Jin dynasty and the Qing dynasty in 1627 and 1636–1637 respectively, leading to an increasingly harsh isolationist policy, for which the country became known as the "hermit kingdom" in Western literature. After the end of these invasions from Manchuria, Joseon experienced a nearly 200-year period of peace and prosperity, along with cultural and technological development. What power the kingdom recovered during its isolation waned as the 18th century came to a close. Faced with internal strife, power struggles, international pressure, and rebellions at home, the kingdom declined rapidly in the late 19th century.

The Joseon period has left a substantial legacy to modern Korea; much of modern Korean culture, etiquette, norms, and societal attitudes toward current issues, along with the modern Korean language and its dialects, derive from the culture and traditions of Joseon. Modern Korean bureaucracy and administrative divisions were also established during the Joseon period.



1443 Jan 1
, Korean Peninsula

Hangul was created in 1443 CE by King Sejong the Great in an attempt to increase literacy by serving as a complement (or alternative) to the logographic Sino-Korean Hanja, which had been used by Koreans as its primary script to write the Korean language since as early as the Gojoseon period (spanning more than a thousand years and ending around 108 BCE), along with the usage of Classical Chinese. As a result, Hangul was initially denounced and disparaged by the Korean educated class. The script became known as eonmun and became the primary Korean script only in the decades after Korea's independence from Japan in the mid-20th century.

The Imjin War

Japanese Invasions of Korea

1592 May 23 - 1598 Dec 16
, Korean Peninsula

The Japanese invasions of Korea of 1592–1598 or Imjin War involved two separate yet linked invasions: an initial invasion in 1592 (Imjin Disturbance), a brief truce in 1596, and a second invasion in 1597 (Chongyu War). The conflict ended in 1598 with the withdrawal of Japanese forces from the Korean Peninsula after a military stalemate in Korea's southern provinces.

The invasions were launched by Toyotomi Hideyoshi with the intent of conquering the Korean Peninsula and China proper, which were respectively ruled by the Joseon and Ming dynasties. Japan quickly succeeded in occupying large portions of the Korean Peninsula, but the contribution of reinforcements by the Ming, as well as the disruption of Japanese supply fleets along the western and southern coasts by the Joseon navy under the command of Yi Sun-sin, and the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi forced a withdrawal of Japanese forces from Pyongyang and the northern provinces to the south in Busan and nearby regions. Afterwards, with righteous armies (Joseon civilian militias) launching guerrilla warfare against the Japanese and supply difficulties hampering both sides, neither were able to mount a successful offensive or gain any additional territory, resulting in a military stalemate. The first phase of the invasion lasted from 1592 until 1596, and was followed by ultimately unsuccessful peace negotiations between Japan and the Ming between 1596 and 1597.

A Korean painting depicting two Jurchen warriors and their horses

Later Jin Invasion of Joseon

1627 Jan 1 - Mar 1
, Korean Peninsula

The Later Jin invasion of Joseon occurred in early 1627 when the Later Jin prince Amin led an invasion of the Joseon Dynasty. The war ended after three months with the Later Jin establishing itself as sovereign tributary overlord over Joseon. However Joseon continued its relationship with the Ming Dynasty and showed defiance in solidifying its tributary relationship with the Later Jin. It was followed by the Qing invasion of Joseon in 1636.

Qing Invasion of Joseon

Qing Invasion of Joseon

1636 Dec 9 - 1637 Jan 30
, Korean Peninsula

The Qing invasion of Joseon occurred in the winter of 1636 when the newly-established Qing dynasty invaded the Joseon dynasty, establishing the former's status as the hegemon in the Imperial Chinese Tributary System and formally severing Joseon's relationship with the Ming dynasty. The invasion was preceded by the Later Jin invasion of Joseon in 1627.

It resulted in a complete Qing victory over Joseon. After the War, Joseon became a subordinate of the Qing empire and was forced to cut ties with the declining Ming dynasty. Several members of the Joseon royal family were taken hostages and killed as Joseon recognized the Qing dynasty as their new overlord.

Donghak Rebellion

Donghak Rebellion

1894 Jan 11 - 1895 Dec 25
, Korean Peninsula

The Donghak Peasant Revolution was an armed rebellion in Korea led by peasants and followers of the Donghak religion, a pantheistic religion viewed by many rebels as a political ideology.

In 1894, the magistrate of Gobu, Jo Byeonggap, had created various oppressive laws and forced the peasants to build reservoirs and settle in unowned lands in order to get rich from taxes and fines. In March, angered peasants allied under Jeon Bongjun and Kim Gaenam, beginning the Gobu Revolt. However, the Gobu revolt was suppressed by Yi Yongtae, and Jeon Bongjun fled to Taein. In April, Jeon gathered an army in Mount Baek and recaptured Gobu. The rebels then proceeded to defeat governmental forces in Battle of Hwangtojae and Battle of the Hwangryong River. Jeon then captured Jeonju Fortress and fought in a siege with Hong Gyehun's Joseon forces.

The frightened government asked the Qing dynasty for help, and it sent 2,700 soldiers to Korea. Japan, angered that the Qing government had not informed Japan (as promised in the Convention of Tientsin), started the First Sino-Japanese War. The war resulted in an expulsion of Chinese influence in Korea and also signaled an end for the Self-Strengthening Movement in China itself.

Growing Japanese dominance in the Korean Peninsula had caused anxiety amongst the rebels. After a number of battles, the rebel army was decisively defeated in the Battle of Ugeumchi, and the rebels were again defeated in the Battle of Taein. Hostility continued deep into the spring of 1895. The rebel leaders were captured in various locations in the Honam Region, and most were executed by a mass hanging in March.

Gojong of the Korean Empire

Korean Empire

1897 Jan 1 - 1910
, Korean Peninsula

The Korean Empire was a Korean monarchical state proclaimed in October 1897 by Emperor Gojong of the Joseon dynasty. The empire stood until Japan's annexation of Korea in August 1910.

During the Korean Empire, Emperor Gojong oversaw the Gwangmu Reform, a partial modernization and westernization of Korea's military, economy, land system, and education system, and of various industries. In 1905, the Korean Empire became a protectorate of Empire of Japan. After annexation in 1910, the Korean Empire was abolished.

Japanese marines landing from the Unyo at Yeongjong Island which is near Ganghwa

Korea under Japanese Rule

1910 Jan 1 - 1945
, Korean Peninsula

Between 1910 and 1945, Korea was ruled as a part of the Empire of Japan. Joseon Korea had come into the Japanese sphere of influence with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876; a complex coalition of the Meiji government, military, and business officials began a process of integrating Korea's politics and economy with Japan. The Korean Empire, proclaimed in 1897, became a protectorate of Japan with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905; thereafter Japan ruled the country indirectly through the Japanese Resident-General of Korea. Japan formally annexed Korean Empire with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, without the consent of the former Korean Emperor Gojong, the regent of the Emperor Sunjong. Upon its annexation, Japan declared that Korea would henceforth be officially named Chōsen. This name was recognized internationally until the end of Japanese occupation. The territory was administered by the Governor-General of Chōsen based in Keijō (Seoul).

Japanese rule prioritized Korea's Japanization, accelerated the industrialization started during the Gwangmu Reform era of 1897 to 1907, built public works, and suppressed the Korean independence movement. The public works included developing railroads (Gyeongbu Line, Gyeongui Line, Gyeongwon Line, etc.) and improving major roads and ports that supported economic development. Averages for the annual GNP growth-rate of Chōsen were comparable to those in the Japanese naichi, ranging from 2.3% to 4.2% during the 25 years preceding the Second Sino-Japanese War. By the time of the Pacific War, industrial growth and output in Chōsen approached that of the naichi.

Japanese rule over Korea ended on 15 August 1945 with the surrender of Japan in World War II. The armed forces of the United States and the Soviet Union subsequently occupied this region. Their division of Korea separated the Korean Peninsula into two different governments and economic systems: the northern Soviet Civil Administration and the southern United States Army Military Government in Korea. These post-war administrative areas were succeeded respectively by the modern independent states of North Korea and South Korea. Japan officially relinquished the claims of Korea in the signing of Treaty of San Francisco on 28 April 1952.

A column of the US 1st Marine Division move through Chinese lines during their breakout from the Chosin Reservoir.

Korean War

1950 Jun 25 - 1953 Jul 27
, Korean Peninsula

The Korean War was fought between North Korea and South Korea from 1950 to 1953. The war began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea following clashes along the border and rebellions in South Korea. North Korea was supported by China and the Soviet Union while South Korea was supported by the United Nations, principally the United States. The fighting ended with an armistice on 27 July 1953.

Moon and Kim shaking hands over the demarcation line

Division of Korea

1953 Jan 1 - 2022
, Korean Peninsula

The division of Korea began with the defeat of Japan in World War II. During the war, the Allied leaders considered the question of Korea's future after Japan's surrender in the war. The leaders reached an understanding that Korea would be liberated from Japan but would be placed under an international trusteeship until the Koreans would be deemed ready for self-rule. In the last days of the war, the U.S. proposed dividing the Korean peninsula into two occupation zones (a U.S. and Soviet one) with the 38th parallel as the dividing line. The Soviets accepted their proposal and agreed to divide Korea.

It was understood that this division was only a temporary arrangement until the trusteeship could be implemented. In December 1945, the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers resulted in an agreement on a five-year four-power Korean trusteeship. However, with the onset of the Cold War and other factors both international and domestic, including Korean opposition to the trusteeship, negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union over the next two years regarding the implementation of the trusteeship failed, thus effectively nullifying the only agreed-upon framework for the re-establishment of an independent and unified Korean state. With this, the Korean question was referred to the United Nations. In 1948, after the UN failed to produce an outcome acceptable to the Soviet Union, UN-supervised elections were held in the US-occupied south only. The American-backed Syngman Rhee won the election, while Kim Il-sung consolidated his position as the leader of Soviet-occupied northern Korea. This led to the establishment of the Republic of Korea in southern Korea on 15 August 1948, promptly followed by the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in northern Korea on 9 September 1948. The United States supported the South, the Soviet Union supported the North, and each government claimed sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula.

In 1950, after years of mutual hostilities, North Korea invaded South Korea in an attempt to re-unify the peninsula under its communist rule. The subsequent Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, ended with a stalemate and has left Korea divided by the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) up to the present day. On 27 April 2018, during the 2018 Inter-Korean Summit, the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula was adopted between Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, and Moon Jae-in, the President of South Korea. Later that same year, following the September Inter-Korean Summit, several actions were taken toward reunification along the border, such as the dismantling of guard posts and the creation of buffer zones to prevent clashes. On 12 December 2018, soldiers from both Koreas crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) into the opposition countries for the first time in history.


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