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East Asia & Gaya

Despite all that they had in common, the Gaya kingdoms were never actually completely unified. Therefore, Gaya did not always act as one unit in its foreign relations. Members of the Gaya kingdoms, although culturally cohesive, were politically independent. When negotiations with foreign powers were required, likely they proceeded first among the Gaya kingdoms themselves, then with the Three Kingdoms, and then with China and Japan. Dealings with foreign countries were in no way simple affairs. Thus, the Gaya kingdoms presented a united front in their relationships with Baekje, but in cases such as Silla, Garak (Gimhae) went its own way. In any case, Gaya's foreign relations can be best understood as a succession of wars and diplomatic negotiations. It is to this history that we now turn.


The political system in Gaya areas first appeared about two thousand years ago. However, even long before that time, trade between the Gaya region and Japan was in evidence. Sugari shell mounds in Gimhae, Dongsam-dong shell mounds in Busan, and Yeondae-do shell mounds in Tongyeong, all indicate that Neolithic communities on the Korean peninsula had exchanges with the Japanese archipelago from as early as the period from 4500 to 3000 years ago. Ceramic vessels with comb patterns from the Gaya region influenced the early pottery of Kyushu Island and the obsidian of Kyushu was imported for the manufacture of arrowheads. During the Bronze Age, from 3000 to 2200 years ago, evidence of trade became more apparent. In the north of Kyushu, Korean vessels and bronze daggers have been unearthed. Not only were the first metal goods exchanged between the two regions, but also the practice of rice cultivation spread via trade routes. Of course, rice cultivation did not cross the sea by itself. Migrants with bronze culture, settling in the north of Kyushu, made tombs of dolmens, and built villages along the same lines as they had made on the Korean peninsula. Moat-encircled village construction found at Geomdan-li in Ulsan, and in ruins near the Nam River in Jinju, also appears in several areas in northern Kyushu. Such moats were built to impede animals or hostile strangers from entering villages at whim. The ruins of Yoshinogari in Sagga province in Japan are so true to the Korean design that it appears as if an entire village was transplanted without changing a stone.

Gaya and Lelang

Several kingdoms of Gaya first appeared along the southern coast. The reason why small Gaya kingdoms first appeared along the southern coast was that advanced civilization and goods were transmitted via sea routes. In the year 108 B.C., Han (漢) destroyed Wiman Chosun and established four Han districts. The exchange between the southern coastal areas and Lelang assured the history of Gaya. San Kuo-Chih recorded that citizens from the chiefdoms of Han visited Lelang every season and more than a thousand visitors received official seals and ceremonial costumes. Generals and village chiefs of the small Gaya kingdoms were probably among these visitors. General Yomsachi of Jinhan brought 15,000 rolls of Byonhanpo to Lelang. As Byonhan was a product of Gaya, this evidence supports the notion that Gaya, in its early days, had diplomatic relations with Lelang.

King Suro and Silla

Samgug-Sagi states that in the eighth month of 102 A.D., King Suro of Garak traveled to Gyeongju to intervene in a border dispute in the northeast of the chiefdom of Saro (Silla). The kingdom of Saro, unable to resolve the dispute on its own, had requested King Suro's assistance. A banquet was held in honor of King Suro after he had successfully mediated the dispute. The village chief of Hangi, however, did not participate in the festivities. Angered by this apparent affront, King Suro promptly dispatched a slave to assassinate the chief; he then returned to Garak. The kingdom of Garak was absorbed into Silla in 532 A.D., but in its early stages it was a much more powerful state than the kingdom of Saro in Gyeongju. Rivalries between Garak in Gimhae and Saro in Gyeongju, which emerged around 400 A.D., continued to the period when Silla aligned itself with Goguryo.

The Marine Kingdom

San Kuo-Chih, published in the latter half of the third century, recorded in detail various aspects of the marine kingdoms of Gaya with Garak at its head. The work mentions the marine route from Taifang Commandery in Hwanghae province to the Japanese islands, putting the kingdom of Garak in Gimhae at the center. The Gaya kingdoms in Gimhae, Masan and Goseong were commercial ports connecting China and Japan in ancient East Asia. Chinese and Japanese relics unearthed in Gaya tombs in Gimhae, Changweon and Goseong support this idea. At the Hoehyeon-ri shell mounds in Kimhae, a form of currency called hwacheon (Wangmang coins) was found. Hwacheon was in circulation for only ten years, but remains have been found in Pyeongyang and on the Japanese islands. In the third century, it took nearly two and a half years to travel from Hwanghae province to the Japanese islands and back. Along this marine route, traces remain of currencies that were in use for only a decade. This evidence indicates that this marine route must have been taken quite frequently at that time. Gaya kingdoms, commencing with Gimhae, exported iron not only to nearby Mahan and Jinhan, but also to faraway Taifang Commandery and the Japanese islands. As Gaya's economy was based on trade, Gaya iron, exchanged for Chinese and Japanese goods, contributed greatly to Gaya's overall development.

War among Gaya Kingdoms

hwacheon(Wangmang coins)

" The War of Eight States in Posang" was essentially a war fought for supremacy in maritime trade. During this conflict, eight States in Posang and the kingdom in the areas of Changweon, Masan and Goseong challenged the authority of Garak in Gimhae. According to Samgug-Sagi, the war was fought between 209 A.D. and 212 A.D. Unable to prevail over the eight states of Posang, Garak requested aid from Silla as armies from the Posang states advanced toward Ulsan by sea. Silla as armies from the Posang states advanced toward Ulsan by sea.

The war was important not only because it was the first marine war along the southern coast, but also because it shows that the Gaya kingdoms were not immune to serious internal disputes. Relations among members of the Gaya Kingdoms were not of the idyllic type promoted by the foundation myths of the Garak Kingdom. While the individual kingdoms shared a common culture, wars against other members were considered if they could be of material gain to particular kingdoms.

War against Goyuryeo

Goguryeo expelled the Chinese from the northeast of the Korean peninsula in 313 A.D. While this event benefited many inhabitants of the Korean peninsula, the Gaya kingdoms of the south were adversely affected. Advanced Chinese goods could no longer reach the region. Consequently, the center of Gaya culture moved inland and further north. But a more critical development was an army of fifty thousand soldiers expedited by King Gwanggaeto. Silla, invaded by a joint Gaya-Wa army, sought Goguryeo's assistance. Goguryeo subsequently seized a castle at Imna-gara (possibly Gimhae or Goryong) and defeated the Gaya army of Anla (Haman). This weakened Gaya in the south and Silla, with Goguryeo's aid, made efforts to expand into southern Gaya.

Appearance of Daegaya

Daegaya, the new leader of Gaya, sent a diplomatic delegation to Nan Qi, China in 479 A.D. Nan Qi was situated to the south of the Yangzi River. Traveling from Goryeong in Gyeongbuk Province to the Yangzi River region was no simple task. The best route was via Goryeong to Hapcheon, and then from Hwang River to Nakdong River by boat, but Silla had occupied the mouth of the Nakdong River. Thus, the delegation must have taken the Goryeong-Hapcheon-Geochang-Hamyang-Namwon (Unbong) route by land, descended the Seomjin River by boat, and then gone to the sea to the south at Hadong. Following the sea north to the Yellow Sea, they likely crossed the Yellow Sea, traveled south along the Chinese coast, and then arrived at the mouth of the Yangzi River. At that time, Goguryeo, Baekje and Wa did not send envoys to China. Daegaya, by itself, sent the diplomatic delegation. An interesting piece of archaeological evidence remains of this event. Inside a Daegaya jar, discovered in Jukmak-dong in Buan, Jeonbuk Province were remains of a special ceremony where participants had prayed for the safety of the Daegaya delegation as they traveled along their marine route to China.

War to Help Silla

In 481 A.D., Daegaya, allying itself with Baekje, began the war to help Silla. Daegaya defeated the armies of Goguryeo and Malgal at what is now Heunghae. This Daegaya expedition has often been cited as proof of the dependency of Baekje, but there is no actual evidence supporting this idea. During this period, an alliance between Baekje and Silla was based on marriage. Daegaya, by its own choice, sided with Baekje against Goguryeo and maintain the balance of power in the Korean peninsula. Daegaya at all times strived to protect its independence.

Decline of the Kingdom of Garak

The kingdom of Garak in Gimhae sent a white pheasant to Silla in 496 A.D. as a symbol of friendship. Contents from tombs from the fifth century at Bokcheon-dong, Dongrae in Busan, reveal a marked change in Gaya goods in comparison to those from Silla. Silla at this time could now threaten Gaya west of the Nakdong River without assistance from Goguryeo. Threatened by Silla's growing power, the kingdom of Garak sent the white pheasant to propose peace. This peace offering reveals the decline of Garak, the center of Early Gaya. Many Gaya tombs in the Gimhae area have been examined, but none of the tombs compare in scale and grandeur to tombs in Goryeong, Changnyeong and Haman. The latter include so-called "high mound tombs" and they were built from the fifth century. The fact that "high mound tombs" do not exist in Gimhae signifies that the kingdom of Garak had lost the power to build one by this time. The kingdom of Garak surrendered to Silla in 532 A.D..

Alliance through Marriage

When southern Gaya was about to be absorbed by Silla, Daegaya concluded an alliance through marriage with Silla in 522 A.D. in an attempt to build a peaceful relationship between the two kingdoms. The king of Daegaya and the princess of Silla had a son, but the alliance came to an end in 529 A.D., when Baekje descended down the Seomjin River and occupied Dasa (Hadong). As Baekje advanced toward Hadong, Daegaya had two adversaries, Baekje in the west and Silla in the east. Silla no longer had a logical reason to maintain its alliance with Daegaya. Therefore, the marriage alliance came to an abrupt end.

Foreign Relations of the Anla Kingdom

As Silla occupied Gimhae and Changweon, Anla in Haman was the first Gaya kingdom to weaken. In the first half of the sixth century, the King of Anla's foreign policy was the same as other Gaya kingdoms such as Daegaya. Anla used Wa influence by keeping Mimana Nihonfu, i.e. Wa diplomats in Haman. Against the Silla invasion, Anla adopted a pro-Baekje stance. Against the Baekje advance, Anla was pro-Silla. In this way, the Anla Kingdom vacillated and struggled to keep its independence. Daegaya, in 554 A.D., participated in the war with Baekje against Silla at Mountain Castle in Guansan (Okcheon), but both Baekje and Daegaya were defeated. In this war, Baekje and Daegaya lost over 40,000 soldiers. The war had dealt a great blow to Baekje. Daegaya, also weakened by this loss, finally succumbed to Silla eight years later in 562 A.D.