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Political System

The Gaya Confederation, the rights of the Confederation's leader, and the "Bu System

Historians are divided over Gaya's political system. Gaya was comprised of ten political bodies called Guk (國), or small states. The states existed separately, but were integrated as a confederation under the direction of one leading state. The leading state was not actually just one state, but represented three or four states within a regional confederation. The Gaya, some historians have argued, established a centralized state system that resembled that of Baekje or Silla. The predominant view, however, is that Gaya's small states formed a confederation.

At the time of the early Gaya Confederation before the fourth century, five levels were recognized among the states. These levels were Sinji, Heomcheuk, Beonye, Salhae, and Eupcha. Each varied in size and influence. Among the states of Byeonhan, Guya-guk's Sinji and Anya-guk's Chukji ranked highest, so other small states could not but follow their decisions in foreign relations.

As more relics from the first to fourth centuries have been found in Gimhae than in Haman, Guya-guk must have been more powerful than Anya-guk. Therefore, it can be argued that the twelve states of Byeonhan were integrated into Garak-guk (Guya-guk or Gaya-guk) at Gimhae to form the early Gaya Confederation.

By the advent of the late Gaya Confederation in the fifth century, at least ten and at most twenty small states had formed a state confederation with Goryeong's Daegaya-guk (Gara-guk) at its head. The rulers of the small states used the title Hangi (旱岐) or Gun (君) in general, but specific titles varied according to the size or scale of states. The ruler of the Confederation's leading state used the title "King" (王). In general, Daegaya-guk laid claim to the title of "King." However, after the 540s, Haman's Anla-guk also used the title. This tells us that many of Gaya's small states were part of another Gaya political system in the interior.

Kings had far-reaching rights within the Confederation. The kings had the right to levy taxes and requisition labor from all states under their jurisdiction. They also resolved disputes or conflicts among confederation members, formulated foreign policy, and rebuked or punished disobedient member states. Confederation leaders buttressed chiefs' positions and protected attached states in the event of invasions. However, the power of the Gaya Confederation's leader was not necessarily consistent and could vary as a result of external or internal pressures.

Many historians believe that only Goryeong's Daegaya-guk managed to construct a "Bu System" (部體制) as in Silla by integrating the small states under its command. A "Bu System" was a feudal-like state, or collection of several fiefdoms with some degree of self-government. Such fiefdoms shared a common currency and acted as one unit on questions of foreign policy. If Gaya constructed a "Bu System" it would mean that it had achieved the true status of an ancient state with centralized authority. While this is an intriguing argument, the evidence in favor of this view is still scanty at best.