Baekje of The Three Kingdoms
As Chinese influence increased in the south, the three separate but similar tribal federations called Samhan became more sophisticated. The federations were based in walled towns, each the center of a domain or region that the Wei dynasty travelers had called “countries.” Those alliances of walled towns developed into separate kingdoms, but the way Mahan-Paekche arose was different from how Pyonhan-Kaya and Chinhan-Silla developed.
Paekche was a conquered state. The name Paekche itself implies the process: It means the “hundred crossings”—referring to the many rivers the conquerors had to ford as they moved from north to south. There is evidence that the conquerors were the vanquished Puyo people who had once lived in northern Manchuria.
In a series of defeats by the Wei, Koguryo, and Xianbei in the years 316, 346, and 380, the Puyo who survived were captured or scattered. Around the same time, Paekche began to emerge as a powerful kingdom to the south, with a royal family named Puyo. It appears that some residents of the ancient Puyo kingdom fled to the south, conquered the less advanced people of Mahan, and created the Paekche kingdom.
The establishment of Paekche occurred in several waves. The earlier phase is sometimes called the proto–Three Kingdoms era. One of the first waves can be seen in a historical record from the year 246 when Chinese military forces that manned the Han dynasty outposts in Korea attacked the Han River area. The Chinese were beaten back, surprised by the strength of the defenses there.
This is the first evidence that Mahan was making the transition to Paekche. Later historians pushed the horizon back as far as possible, to 18 B.C.E., as Paekche competed with Koguryo, whose founding date was legitimately in the first century B.C.E. The list of kings before King Koi (r. 234–286) is somewhat in question, but from Koi’s time forward Paekche kings were powerful. It was he who defeated the Chinese in 246.
Information from later in King Koi’s reign indicates reforms in gov-ernment and the proclamation of laws. One of the new laws reveals a degree of sophistication requisite of a kingdom: Those officials who took bribes would have to pay compensation three times the amount of the bribe.
More than the law itself, the degree of government organiza-tion necessary for bribery to exist implies a well-developed state, no longer a tribal confederation operating by the consensus of the member tribes.
King Kun Chogo (r. 346–375), a warrior king who presided over the final phase of the establishment of Paekche and the expansion of Paekche power, first drove southward and conquered the remnant of the Mahan people in 369, then turned northward against Koguryo in 371, killing the Koguryo king, Kogugwon. Now in control of the Han River basin and territory extending far to the north and the south, Paekche was the most powerful of the Three Kingdoms.
Paekche took advantage of its power to open contacts with the Chinese and the people of the Japanese islands who had formed the Yamato state. Paekche was to be a longtime ally of Yamato Wa (Best 1982, 443). When Paekche became a Buddhist state in 384, it became the most important conduit of the new religion to Japan, but the alli-ance went beyond Buddhism.
In the early fifth century Paekche and Yamato Wa formed a military alliance to attack Silla. Their association was such that some 200 years later, in the unification wars of the seventh century, Paekche reached out to its old ally Yamato Wa for assistance once again before it succumbed.
In 475 Paekche suffered a major loss to Koguryo that forced them to leave the capi-tal in the Han River valley and relocate about 100 miles to the south near present-day Kongju. The next two Paekche kings used contacts with the south-ern Chinese state of Liang to bolster their own sagging for-tunes. Trade was apparently brisk, based on artifacts that have come out of tombs of that period.
The tomb of King Muryong (r. 501–523) (some-times written as Munyong), discovered in 1971, revealed so many Chinese artifacts that the archaeologist reported they would have thought they had a Chinese king’s tomb on Korean soil were it not for spe-cific stone inscriptions iden-tifying it as the tomb of the Paekche king Muryong. The king’s trade strategy worked. Paekche recovered from its defeat at the hands of Koguryo and was soon to rise to the point of threatening Koguryo once again.
Before going against his enemies, however, King Song (r. 523–554) decided to move the capital to a more favorable location, only about 20 miles south to the modern city of Puyo. Indeed, he intentionally revived the memories of the glories of the once-mighty kingdom of Puyo, last seen on the Manchurian plains. For a time he called his kingdom “Southern Puyo.”
King Song was ready to attack Koguryo, but this time, rather than face Koguryo alone, Paekche proposed to Silla that they combine forces to drive Koguryo out of the Han River basin. In 554 they succeeded, but Song’s victory was to be short-lived.
No sooner had the Paekche-Silla forces taken the Han River basin than Silla turned on Paekche, taking the territory that had once been Paekche’s and driving Paekche forces south. King Song counterattacked, lost the battle, and was killed. Thereafter, Paekche considered Silla its worst enemy.