Kaya of The Three Kingdoms
It is unclear how Kaya emerged from the Pyonhan states. There were two centers for the developing walled towns of Pyonhan: One, inland and to the north, became known as Greater Kaya; and the other, near the coast, became known as Original Kaya.
Some argue that Kaya never became a true kingdom but was just a barely developed tribal federation, which was why Kaya became the first state to be conquered by Silla. The existence of a historical record of a line of rulers who used the title wang, however, tends to contradict this claim.
An interesting foundation myth of the Kaya also survives. According to this myth, the first king of Kaya was named Suro, with the surname Kim. He married a maiden who sailed into the harbor of Kaya (pres-ent-day Kimhae) on a boat made of stone. She is credited with bringing Buddhism to Kaya.
She was from the royal family of a kingdom called Ayuta, a Southeast Asian kingdom that had adopted Buddhism. (Ayuta is the Korean transcription for what was the ancient Thai kingdom of Ayodhya.) King Suro and his queen had numerous sons, and they all took their father’s surname of Kim.
Feeling sorry that his wife’s line was lost forever, he had his second son take the queen’s surname, Ho. Their descendants are numerous in Korea today. Because the (Yangchon) Ho and (Kimhae) Kim families have the same ancestor, however, they could not intermarry then and do not today, with some exceptions.
The two divisions of Kaya, Greater Kaya and Original Kaya, each fell separately to Silla. Silla conquered Greater Kaya in 532 and Original Kaya with the rest of Kaya in 562 (Young-sik Lee 2000, 1). Since Kaya fell in sections, some conclude that Kaya was never a fully developed state but a decentralized confederation of tribal powers in two or more places.
Perhaps setting a pattern for later conquests, Silla did not annihilate the royal line of Kaya but rather incorporated the Kaya royalty into the Silla aristocracy. A century later, when Silla attempted to unify the peninsula, the commanding general, Kim Yusin, was a “new Kim,” that is, a descendant of the Kaya Kim line.
The crown prince, Kim Chunchu, was of the “old Kim” line, a descendant of the Kyongju Kim line, and the two of them were brothers-in-law: Kim Yusin’s sister married Kim Chunchu and became a royal princess. Kim Yusin, in turn, married the daughter of that marriage (his niece) in an example of how tightly interwoven the marriage patterns were for the aristocracy. It also shows that Kim Yusin, a “new Kim” from Kaya, was fully a member of the “old Kim” aristocracy.
Later, at the fall of Silla and at the fall of Koryo, the aristocracy of these defeated kingdoms was welcomed into the aristoc-racy of the new kingdoms. This remarkable pattern of relatively peaceful continuity from one dynasty to the next may be unique in human history, and it began with the absorption of Kaya by Silla.
Paekche and Kaya both had strong ties with kingdoms in what is now Japan. Japan was not yet united as one political entity but was rather a series of smaller tribal federations. Kaya had an especially strong tie with the Japanese tribes in Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island. The archaeological findings of Kaya and Kyushu are strikingly similar.
They clearly show that iron-making technology had moved from the mainland to the peninsula, to the islands. The inhabitants of Korea had learned more sophisticated metallurgy from China and North Asian tribes, and they passed that knowledge on to the peoples who lived on the Japanese islands.
Kaya was particularly adept at met-allurgy and exported metal to the other Korean kingdoms and Japan. The iron cultures of Kaya and Kyushu are so similar that archaeologists have concluded that some of Korea’s Kaya people must have crossed the waters to settle in Japan.
Some Japanese scholars reject this conclusion, however, and con-tinue to support the position that the Japanese used to justify their colonization and takeover of Korea at the turn of the 20th century. According to this theory the Japanese tribes had established a settle-ment in Korea in prehistoric times. The theory is based on an early Japanese record, the Kojiki (712 C.E.), which mentions a place on the peninsula called Mimana (Grayson 1977, 65).
Whether or not an early Japanese settlement existed, the evidence is clearly on the side of Kaya as the exporter of technology to Kyushu, not the reverse. Today noth-ing offends the Korean sense of nationalism and resurrects the images of the brutal Japanese takeover more than to hear of one of its former kingdoms referred to by the Japanese name, Mimana—it has become one of the symbols of Japanese abuses in Korea over the centuries.