Nambuyeo, also known as Baekje or Paekche in Korean, was a Korean kingdom that existed from 18 BC to 660 AD in southwestern Korea. Along with Goguryeo and Silla, it was one of Korea’s Three Kingdoms. Onjo, the third son of Goguryeo’s founder Jumong and So Seo-no, founded Baekje at Wiryeseong. Like Goguryeo, it claimed to have succeeded Buyeo, a state founded around the time of Gojoseon’s fall in modern-day Manchuria. As the three kingdoms expanded their control over the peninsula, Baekje alternated between fighting and allying with Goguryeo and Silla. Baekje ruled most of western Korea, as far north as Pyongyang, and may have even held territories in China at its peak in the 4th century.
Baekje was a great maritime power, and its nautical prowess, which earned it the title of East Asia’s Phoenicia, was instrumental in the spread of Buddhism and continental culture to Japan. The Tang Dynasty and Silla defeated it in 660, and it was eventually submitted to Unified Silla. The three kingdoms Goguryeo, Paekche, and Silla are carved in the history of Korea which paved numerous aspects of the country’s development.
The Founding of Paekche
The native Han and the Koreanic Yemaek from Goguryeo and Buyeo make up the majority of Baekje. Those from the Lelang Commandery arrived via trade and conquest, and a small number of Jin were also welcomed into Baekje’s polities. King Onjo led a group of people from Goguryeo south to the Han River basin and founded Baekje in 18 BC. According to the Chinese Records of the Three Kingdoms, one of the Mahan confederacy’s chiefdoms was already known as Baekje during the Samhan period.
The Samguk Sagi recounts Baekje’s founding in detail. When Jumong left Buyeo to establish the new kingdom of Goguryeo, he left his son Yuri behind. Jumong married So Seo-no and had two more sons, Onjo and Biryu, who became Divine King Dongmyeong. Jumong made Yuri the crown prince as soon as he arrived in Goguryeo. Knowing that Yuri would be the next king, Seo-no fled Goguryeo with her two sons Biryu and Onjo, as well as ten vassals, to find their own kingdoms with their people. She is credited with helping to establish both Goguryeo and Baekje.
Onjo chose Wiryeseong, known in modern-day as Hanam as his home and named his country Sipje, whereas Biryu chose Michuhol (modern-day Incheon) against the vassals’ advice. Michuhol’s salty water and marshes made settlement difficult, but the people of Wiryeseong prospered. Biryu then went to his brother Onjo and requested the Sipje throne. Biryu declared war on Onjo when he refused, but he lost. Biryu committed suicide out of shame, and his people fled to Wiryeseong, where King Onjo welcomed them and renamed his kingdom Baekje.
Under pressure from other Mahan states, King Onjo moved the capital from the south to the north of the Han River, then back south, most likely all within present-day Seoul. In 132, King Gaeru is said to have moved the capital north of the river to Bukhansanseong, which is now Goyang, northwest of Seoul. Early Baekje gradually gained control over the other Mahan tribes during the early centuries of the Common Era, known as the Proto–Three Kingdoms Period.
During King Goi’s reign (234–286), Baekje grew into a full-fledged kingdom, consolidating the Mahan confederacy. Baekje’s expansion reached the Gaya confederacy to the east, around the Nakdong River valley, in 249, according to the ancient Japanese text Nihonshoki. In 345, Baekje was first mentioned in Chinese records as a kingdom. Around 367, the first diplomatic missions from Baekje arrived in Japan.
King Geunchogo (346–375) used war against Goguryeo to expand Baekje’s territory to the north, while annexing the remaining Mahan societies to the south. Except for the two Pyeongan provinces, Baekje’s territories included most of the western Korean Peninsula during Geunchogo’s reign. In 371, Baekje defeated Goguryeo at Pyongyang. Baekje maintained close ties with Goguryeo and actively embraced Chinese culture and technology. In 384, Buddhism was declared the official state religion.
Baekje also developed as a sea power, maintaining good relations with the Japanese rulers of the Kofun period and bringing continental cultural influences to Japan. Aristocrats, artisans, scholars, and monks introduced the Chinese writing system, Buddhism, advanced pottery, ceremonial burial, and other aspects of culture throughout their relationship. The Han River basin remained the country’s heartland during this time.
Ungjin and Sabi Period
Under the threat of Goguryeo’s southern military, Baekje retreated in the 5th century, and the Seoul region fell to Goguryeo in 475. From 475 to 538, Baekje’s capital was Ungjin known in modern-day as Gongju.
The new capital was isolated in mountainous terrain, safe from the north but cut off from the rest of the world. However, it was closer to Silla than Wiryeseong had been, and Silla and Baekje formed a military alliance against Goguryeo. The Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces, which were the heart of the country during the Ungjin and Sabi periods, are depicted on most Three Kingdoms maps which is a major part of the history of Korea including the amazing history of Korean cuisine, language, and culture.
King Seong relocated his capital to Sabi in 538 and rebuilt his kingdom into a powerful state. From this point forward, the country’s official name was Nambuyeo, a reference to Buyeo, where Baekje traced the country’s origins. During the Sabi Period, Baekje culture blossomed alongside the rise of Buddhism.
Seong sought to strengthen Baekje’s relationship with China in response to pressure from Goguryeo to the north and Silla to the east. Sabi’s location on the navigable Geum River made it much easier to communicate with China, and trade and diplomacy flourished during his reign and into the 7th century. Baekje began to decline in the 7th century, as Silla’s influence grew in the southern and central Korean peninsula.
Fall and restoration movement
In 660, Silla and Tang forces from China attacked Baekje, which was then allied with Goguryeo. In the Battle of Hwangsanbeol near Nonsan, a heavily outmanned army led by General Gyebaek was defeated. The capital of Sabi fell almost immediately after, resulting in Silla’s annexation of Baekje. While King Uija and his son Buyeo Yung were exiled to China, at least some members of the ruling class fled to Japan.
A brief restoration movement by Baekje forces was thwarted by joint Silla–Tang forces. Dochim, a Buddhist monk, and Buyeo Boksin, a former Baekje general, rose to try to save Baekje. With Juryu as their headquarters, they welcomed the Baekje prince Buyeo Pung back from Japan to serve as king. They besieged the Tang general Liu Renyuan in Sabi. Emperor Gaozong dispatched the general Liu Rengui, who had been demoted to commoner status for offending Li Yifu, with a relief force, and Liu Rengui and Liu Renyuan were able to repel the Baekje resistance forces’ attacks, but they were not strong enough to put down the rebellion, and the armies remained at a standstill for some time.
In the Battle of Baekgang in 663, Baekje revival forces and a Japanese naval fleet gathered in southern Baekje to confront Silla forces. 7,000 soldiers and 170 ships were also dispatched by the Tang dynasty. The Silla–Tang forces won five naval battles in August 663 at Baekgang, which is considered the lower reaches of the Geum River or the Dongjin River, and Buyeo Pung fled to Goguryeo.