Emergence of Shilla as a centralized kingdom

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,664
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#1
I wrote up this short essay I guess on (my understanding of) the events surrounding the emergence of Shilla as a centralized kingdom in the late fourth century, based on critically looking at the historical data in the light of what we know from archaeology. Just thought I'd share it here and see what people thought.

Shilla state formation
In the Kyŏngju region in the 360s, the noble Kim family under Naemul was rising to dominance, replacing the declining Sŏk. The other competing noble lineage, the Pak, of long-past hegemony, appears to have been consolidating the control these central clans had over outlying towns.

At this time the southern conquests of the western kingdom of Paekche brought its territories up to the towns on the westernmost frontiers of the emerging Shilla state in Kyŏngju.
King Kŭnch'ogo of Paekche sent envoys bearing gifts to Shilla, but they were unable to establish peaceful relations between the two polities. This was probably due to the weak and decentralized nature of Shilla power that was shared among competing clans; their control over chiefs distant from their central Hyŏngsan valley was not sufficient enough to keep them in line with their interests.
This naturally led to minor conflicts between the expanding Paekche and these frontier towns. Naemul and his peers, perhaps at the behest of those chiefs, sometimes sent troops to counter them.

In 381, Naemul sent an envoy to China, likely to boost his prestige and further strengthen his emerging dominant position.

Because of the uncertainty of dating, it is unclear whether Paekche continued raiding the border towns under Shilla's influence after the 380s, but bands of off-and-on raiders from Japan who had troubled the coastal regions and occasionally inland were returning in great numbers.

The powerful Koguryŏ empire under the newly-crowned King Kwanggaet'o to the north was pressing down hard on Paekche and were expanding ever closer to Shilla.
In 391-392 Naemul requested Koguryŏ aid against the Japanese raiders. In exchange he submitted to Koguryŏ and sent his relative Shilsŏng there as a hostage.
This Koguryŏ backing of the Kim clan was probably what permanently cemented that family's dominance as the sole royal lineage. A fortified royal residence was built in a central location not long later.

With his family as the firm leaders of the new Shilla state, Naemul turned toward other means to strengthen his position and expand his power. In particular he likely wanted to counter the increasing threat of Koguryŏ. Though the dating is again unclear, it appears Naemul began a campaign of northern and northwestern expansion around the turn of the fifth century that was continued into the reign of his successor.
This sudden expansion probably alarmed Paekche, which, not wanting to this new hostile power at their back while they concentrated on countering Koguryŏ, requested peace. Shilla which had now consolidated its control over its towns and territories, accepted.

Naemul died and his kinsman Shilsŏng, who had returned from previous year, siezed the throne. Resenting his treatment at the hands of his predecessor and wanting to secure his lineage's position he immediately exiled the Naemul's son Misahŭn to Japan. Besides removing a threat to his position, this action may have been a diplomatic attempt at establishing peaceful relations with powerful Japanese chiefs, perhaps in hopes that it would curb the incessant raiding.
He sent another of Naemul's sons, Pokho, as a hostage to Koguryŏ several years later, and devised a plan to assassinate Pokho's brother Nulji. The assassin Shilsŏng sent to kill Nulji flipped and divulged the plan to Nulji. The latter then returned the palace and killed Shilsŏng, setting himself up as king.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,664
United States
#2
Shilla itself began to take shape in the late third century when certain chiefs in the Hyŏngsan river basin (modern-day Kyŏngju region) began to assert themselves over the others. I believe the first was the Pak, then the Sŏk, then the Kim. The archaeology and historical narrative, when the dates are corrected (moved up 300 years for pre-280s dates), roughly agree on this time period. However it was not until the Kim clan firmly established itself in the 360s-390s that Shilla became a discrete state.

The etymology and true forms of the titles and names is also an interesting area of research. In particular are the clan names, for which I believe the etymologies of Pak and Kim can be ascertained. Based on the Samguk Yusa and possibly other sources, Pak Hyŏkkŏse's name is a translation of Koreanic pulgŭnae 弗矩内 meaning "bright world/generation". The words in Late Middle Korean would be pəlk-ən nuy (< nuri). This indicates to me that the Pak name was originally Pəlkən meaning "bright, bright red" and his given name was Nuri.

The Kim clan I think derives its name from the native Korean word kŭm meaning "chief, king". Note that these surnames were formalized in the mid to late fifth century long after the Shilla state had formed.

I don't have any ideas on the Sŏk clan except that it may have been of foreign origin (its founder, T'arhae, supposedly came from a country northeast of the Wa Japanese).

Now back to Pak Hyŏkkŏse. The rulers Yuri (traditionally 24-57 AD) and Yurye (traditionally 284-298) have the same name. Yuri is said to have established the six districts, given them surnames, and established the noble ranks, essentially establishing the polity. Yurye reigned at the end of the third century when we see the Shilla start to take shape. Yuri is close to 300 years before Yurye so probably indicates a chronological corruption of the same ruler. If you look at the actual Middle Chinese readings of the various ways to write their names it's pretty clear their real name is Nuri~Nori. My theory is that Pak Hyŏkkŏse and Yuri/Yurye are actually the same person, the first chieftain to become the hegemon over the other major centers in the Hyŏngsan river basin in the late third century.
 
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Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,664
United States
#3
The title isagŭm probably referred to the hegemonic chiefs of the emerging Shilla polity, and is partly decipherable. Its true form was probably *ni-s-kŭm. Kŭm means chief, -s- is an honorific genitive, so the title means "ni chief" or "chief of ni". What ni means is unknown; the Samguk Sagi's etymology is that it meant "teeth" (LMK ni "teeth"), the title being used because only nobles had all their teeth, but this really sounds like a folk etymology to me.

The title maripkan, first taken by Naemul, is also only partly decipherable and includes the element ka(n) "khan" which was a commonly-shared title throughout much of northeastern Asia. The Samguk Sagi says marip was a dialectal word meaning "post, position". Some have connected it to malh or something meaning "post" or "stake" but I'm not sure of this etymology.

The name of Shilla itself can be reliable determined as well, based on Jurchen and Arabic renditions of the name as well as the modern descendant Sŏul: *silá/syelá-(pəl), the latter -pəl being an ending for town names (and appears in a number of Shilla, Chinhan, and Mahan placenames) surviving into Late Middle Korean as -βɨl.
 
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Sep 2016
508
天下
#4
The name of Shilla itself can be reliable determined as well, based on Jurchen and Arabic renditions of the name as well as the modern descendant Sŏul: *silá/syelá-(pəl), the latter -pəl being an ending for town names (and appears in a number of Shilla, Chinhan, and Mahan placenames) surviving into Late Middle Korean as -βɨl.
What's interesting in Japanese the Seorabeol is rendered 新羅紀 or 新羅奇, read Shiraki (Shiragi became a standard later). Shira being a direct rendering of Old Korean pronunciation, while the word -ki, meaning "fortress" or "walled town", is accepted to be a borrowing from Baekje. I'm now wondering whether this Japanese exonym wasn't lifted verbatim from Baekje.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,664
United States
#5
Could be, which would give us Paekche's name for Shilla. By the way, do we have any idea where the name Kudara comes from?

The late third century in the southeast is when we see archaeological evidence of regional centers which are clearly more powerful and developed than other towns. This is reflected in graves, where central cemeteries have three tiers of graves with the large elite graves oriented relative to the terrain differently from the medium and small ones. Lesser towns that were not regional centers only had two tiers of graves. Economic complexity is shown by the appearance of full-time craft specialization in stoneware and iron production (alongside older household-level high-fired earthenware and iron production). Earthen-walled towns begin to appear, indicating that the chieftains had a fairly large pool of labor to draw from (probably from multiple towns).

I suspect the medium-sized graves were those of middle-class artisans (potters and ironworkers) who were directed by the elites. If the grave distribution is any indicator, they probably only lived in central townships.
 
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Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,664
United States
#7
For perspective, the kingdom of Paekche probably became centralized enough to call a true state by the 350s-360s under Kunch'ogo (who may have belonged to a different clan than Paekche's probable founder Koi/Kut'ae), and Koguryo way earlier in the beginning of the second century under Kung/T'aejo who also marked the beginning of a new ruling lineage.
 
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#8
Interesting that the Shilla Kings political rival was exiled to Japan. Even though Japan during the time is known as Wa, all of Japan was not under a single political state, and it is likely Shilla had barely noticeable enclaves on Japan's northern areas, judging from the discovery of Shilla style stone architecture in these regions. I am curious where exactly The prince was exiled to, since it would have to be an area under tight control by Shilla ruling faction to ensure that the exiled cannot escape. Usually those exiled are sent to a part of a country's own territory, not a foreign country, for reasons of security.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,664
United States
#9
Interesting that the Shilla Kings political rival was exiled to Japan. Even though Japan during the time is known as Wa, all of Japan was not under a single political state, and it is likely Shilla had barely noticeable enclaves on Japan's northern areas, judging from the discovery of Shilla style stone architecture in these regions. I am curious where exactly The prince was exiled to, since it would have to be an area under tight control by Shilla ruling faction to ensure that the exiled cannot escape. Usually those exiled are sent to a part of a country's own territory, not a foreign country, for reasons of security.
There is evidence that there was a whole lot of coming and going and cultural sharing between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese islands during this period, so yeah there were lots of people from one area living in other areas. I don't know if there is specific evidence for distinct enclaves though.

Actually the story of Misahun indicates he was probably sent to the most powerful Wa polities where the Yamato state later emerged, in the Nara region. Shilsong's successor, Nulji, who was the brother of Misahun, sent Chesang to rescue him by force. The prince escaped but Chesang was captured and tortured to death.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,664
United States
#10
Note that my OP is largely educated guesses. It's pretty clear to me that Pak Yuri was the first chieftain to assert his dominance over the others by circa 280 and died about 297-298. After this it is unclear since the various narratives in the Samguk Sagi are confusing and contradictory, probably because this was a period of competing clan chieftains and thus the actual situation was probably quite unclear. It's not until the beginning of the 380s that we see that the Kim clan is clearly on top.
 

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