Gwanggaeto the Great

Gwanggaeto the Great

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Gwanggaeto (Kwanggaeto), often referred to as Gwanggaeto the Great, was king of the Goguryeo (Koguryo) kingdom which ruled northern Korea during the Three Kingdoms period. Gwanggaeto reigned between 391 and 413 CE, and living up to his other title of 'broad expander of domain,' he extended the kingdom to its greatest extent and presided over the period of its greatest prosperity. His lasting reputation as one of Korea's finest leaders and field commanders is largely due to a lengthy inscribed stele set up outside his massive tomb at the then Goguryeo capital of Gungnae.

Goguryeo's Golden Period

The Goguryeo kingdom ruled from 37 BCE to 668 CE and was the largest of the Three kingdoms of ancient Korea. It was not until the 4th century CE that the state displayed a fully centralised government and control of its territory. Then the early 5th century CE saw the beginning of Goguryeo's greatest period during the reign of Gwanggaeto. A solid political foundation at home allied with pragmatic foreign relations with Goguryeo's neighbours Baekje (Paekche) and Silla went hand-in-hand with an aggressive expansionist policy towards northern tribes and the southern states of China. At the same time, friendly relations were maintained with China's northern states. The result of this mix of militarism and diplomacy was that Gwanggaeto was eventually able to dominate northern Korea, most of Manchuria, and a portion of Inner Mongolia. Goguryeo itself also benefitted from this prosperity with Gwanggaeto building nine new Buddhist temples at Pyongyang alone. So successful was this period that Gwanggaeto even coined a new term for it: Yongnak or 'Eternal Rejoicing.'

So successful was Gwanggaeto's reign that he even coined a new term for it: Yongnak or 'Eternal Rejoicing.'

Gwanggaeto's Stele

Much of what is known of the history of this period derives from the 12th-century CE Samguk sagi text ('Historical Records of the Three States') and a 7.3 metre tall stele erected outside Gwanggaeto's tomb by his son Jangsu in 414 CE. The engraved stone recounts the king's exploits in 1,800 Chinese seal script characters. The stele is the earliest known inscription from ancient Korea and is an extraordinary historical record of the major events of Gwanggaetto's reign. The text begins by describing the foundation of Goguryeo by the legendary Go Jumong. There is then a quote from the Confucian classic text Shujing and a reference to the king by the Chinese reign title Yongnak. The latter is significant as it gives Gwanggaetto equal status to the Chinese emperor, who was the only other person permitted a reign title.

The text goes on to describe Gwanggaeto's accession to the throne when he was 19 years old, and then there is a long list of his military exploits. Reforming the armed forces of Goguryeo into separate naval, army, and cavalry units, the king assumed a position at the head of a centralised chain of command and led his men personally in the field. There were also developments at this time in metal forging so that Goguryeo warriors had superior steel weapons. With an armoured cavalry unit, he occupied the Liaodong fortress in south-eastern Manchuria, conquered the northern Murong, Sushen (Sukchin) and Yilou tribes, and captured areas of the rival Baekje kingdom to the south-west in 396 CE including briefly the capital Hansong, the Gwanmiseong fortress, and the strategically important Han River basin. The Baekje king Asin now took his orders from Gwanggaeto.

With Gwanggaeto's military support of 50,000 men, the Silla kingdom was able to successfully repel a Japanese Wa and Baekje invasion force in 400 CE. Indeed, the kingdom of Silla under the reign of Namul became a vassal of Goguryeo. Also in 400 CE Goguryeo and Silla again joined forces, this time to attack the small Gaya (Kaya) confederation in the far south of the peninsula. This alliance between Goguryeo and Silla may explain the presence of a lidded bronze bowl inscribed with Gwanggaeto's name which was discovered in a tomb at the Silla capital of Gyeongju. In effect, Goguryeo, albeit loosely, now controlled most of Korea.

In 406 CE a peace treaty was signed with the Murong Later Yan state in which Goguryeo was obliged to give military help against the Tuoba Northern Wei state of China in return for territorial gains. Near the end of his reign in 410 CE most of Manchuria and the neighbouring east coast area known as the Maritime Province of Russia were under Goguryeo control. The stele also states that the king conquered no fewer than 64 fortified towns and 1,400 villages so that when he died Goguryeo controlled two-thirds of the Korean peninsula and a large swathe of Manchuria.

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The stele is not without some controversy. It disappeared for centuries only turning up again in the 1880s CE when, fortunately, a rubbing was taken of the text by a Japanese soldier. The portion of the stele text which describes Gwanggaeto's victory over the Japanese was vandalised during the Japanese occupation in the 20th century CE. Japanese historians maintain that the stele corroborates the theory that Japan had a colony in south-east Korea from 365 to 561 CE, but this is controversial.

Death & Tomb

Gwanggaeto died in 413 CE and was succeeded by his son Jangsu who, incredibly, reigned until 491 CE, earning him the deserved title of 'long-lived.' He continued his father's work, moved the capital from Gungnae to Pyongyang in 427 CE and ensured the continued prosperity of Goguryeo.

From the 4th century CE, Goguryeo kings were buried in tombs constructed of cut-stone blocks placed within large earth mounds. The largest example of such a tomb is at the former capital Gungnae and thought to be that of Gwanggaeto. It is also known as the Tomb of the General. 75 metres long and using blocks measuring up to 3 x 5 metres, it has four smaller dolmen-like structures at each corner. The stele which proclaims the great king's deeds stands just outside it.

This content was made possible with generous support from the British Korean Society.

List of people known as "the Great"

This is a list of people known as "the Great", or the equivalent, in their own language. Other languages have their own suffixes, such as Persian e Bozorg and Urdu e azam.

In Persia, the title "the Great" at first seems to have been a colloquial version of the Old Persian title "Great King". It was first used by Cyrus II of Persia. [1] The title was inherited by Alexander III when he conquered the Persian Empire, and the epithet eventually became personally associated with him. The first reference to this is in a comedy by Plautus, [2] in which it is assumed that everyone knew who "Alexander the Great" was however, there is no evidence that he was called "the Great" before this. The early Seleucid kings, who succeeded Alexander in Persia, used "Great King" in local documents, but the title was most notably used for Antiochus the Great. Once the term gained currency, it was broadened to include persons in other fields, such as the philosopher Albert the Great.

Later rulers and commanders were given the epithet during their lifetime, for example the Roman general Pompey. Others received the title posthumously, such as the Indian emperor Ashoka. As there are no objective criteria for "greatness", the persistence of the designation varies greatly. For example, Louis XIV of France was often referred to as "the Great" in his lifetime, but is rarely called such nowadays. German Emperor Wilhelm I was often called "the Great" in the time of his grandson Wilhelm II, but rarely before or after.


The Gwanggaeto Stele stands at nearly 7 meters. (Sept. 2001)

The stele's location, in Ji'an in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin, was key to its long neglect. Following the fall of Goguryeo in 668, and to a lesser extent the fall of its successor state Balhae in 926, the region drifted outside the sway of both Chinese and Korean geopolitics. Afterwards the region came under the control of numerous Manchurian states, notably the Jurchen and from the 16th century the Manchu. When the Manchu conquered China in 1644 and established their hegemony, they guarded their ancestral homeland in Manchuria, prohibiting movement there by any non-Manchu peoples. This seclusion came to an end at the end of the 19th century, when the region was opened up for Han Chinese emigration. Manchuria thereafter became the coveted prize of vying regional powers, notably Russia and Japan for its rich natural resources and strategic location.

The opening up of Manchuria also resulted in the influx of Chinese and Japanese scholars, the latter often supplemented by Japanese spies traveling incognito to spy the region's fortifications and natural layout, prescient of a future of increased international rivalry. In the late 19th century many new arrivals to the region around Ji'an began making use of the many bricks and baked tiles that could be found in the region to build new dwellings. The curious inscriptions on some of these tiles soon reached the ears of Chinese scholars and epigraphers. Many were found to bear an inscription in ancient Chinese script reading:

"May the mausoleum of the Great King be secure like a mountain and firm like a peak."

It was around 1875 that an amateur Chinese epigrapher Guan Yueshan, scrounging for more samples of such tiles around Ji'an, discovered the mammoth stone stele of Gwanggaeto obscured under centuries of mud and overgrowth.

The clearing away of the stele's face invariably led to the damaging of its engraved text. Almost every inch of the stele's four sides were found to be covered with Chinese characters (nearly 1800 in total), each about the size of a grown man's hand. The discovery soon attracted scholars from Japan, Russia, and France. In 1883 a young Japanese officer named Sakō Kageaki traveling in the guise of an itinerant Buddhist monk arrived in Ji'an. Sakō had been ordered from his last post in Beijing to proceed back to Japan via Manchuria and to make detailed observations there of the region's layout. It was while traveling through Liaoning that he apparently heard of the stele's recent discovery and managed to procure an ink rubbing of the stele's face to carry back to his homeland. It was scholars in Japan who were to make the first detailed analysis of the stele's ancient text.

Korean Drama

Title: 광개토대왕 / Gwanggaeto Dae Wang / King Gwanggaeto the Great
Chinese Title : 广开土太王
Also known as: Gwanggaeto, The Great Conqueror
Genre: Historical
Episodes: 92
Broadcast Network: KBS1
Broadcast period: 2011-June-04 to 2012-April-29
Air time: Saturday & Sunday 21:40

If a man dreams, it will end as a dream. However, if 10,000 men dream, it could be a reality” The most powerful hero and emperor of Korean history! The glorious life of King Gwanggaeto will be unfolded before your eyes. He’s regarded as a king who restored the glory of Goguryeo by wresting power back from Baekje and led the resurgence of Goguryeo to become a major power in East Asia.

A drama detailing the life of King Gwanggaeto the Great, who restored the glory of Goguryeo by wresting power back from Baekje, which had invaded Goguryeo prior to Gwanggaeto’s birth and dominated East Asia under the rule of King Geunchogo.

Lee Tae Gon as Dam Duk / Gwanggaeto the Great
Kim Seung Soo as Go Woon
Im Ho as Mo Yong Bo
Oh Ji Eun as Do Young

Hong Kyung In as Yeon Sal Ta
Lee In Hye as Yak Yeon
Kim Chul Ki as Sa Gal Hyun

Kim Jin Tae as Go Moo
Nam Sung Jin as Go Chang
Lee Won Bal (이원발) as Mo Doo Young
Im Dae Ho as Mo Doo Ru
Go In Bum as Ma Soo

Kim Dong Hyun as Mo Yong Soo
Jung Ho Geun as Poong Bal

Choi Dong Joon as Gae Yeon Soo
Oh Wook Chul as Ga Ra Ji
Im Byung Ki as Yeo So Yi
Ban Suk Jin (반석진) as Yeon Do Bu
Sun Dong Hyuk as Gye Pil
Choi Sang Hoon as Lee Young

Jung Tae Woo as Dam Mang
Song Yong Tae as Lee Ryun
Lee Bo Hee as Go Ya
Jo An as Dam Joo

The Malgals (Mohe), Rulers of the Grasslands

Kim Gyu Chul as Seol Do An
Kim Jung Hwa as Seol Ji

Lee Joo Suk as Yeo Moon
Kim Jung Hyun as Dol Bi Soo
Bang Hyung Joo as Yeo Suk Gae
Choi Il Hwa as Tadar (Khitan Chief)
Choi Dae Chul as So Ah Chun
Kim Duk Hyun
Lee Bum Kyu as Jol Gae
Park Yoo Seung as Won Bong

Production Credits

Chief Producer: Lee Jae Young (이재영)
Producer: Lee Won Ik, Park Man Young
Director: Kim Jong Sun
Sceenwriter: Jo Myung Joo, Jang Ki Chang (장기창)

2011 KBS Drama Awards: Excellence Awards, Actor (Serial Drama): Lee Tae Gon

Gwanggaeto the Great - History

King Gwanggaeto (Kwanggaeto meaning “broad expander of territory”) was born in 374 and ascended to the throne in 391, at the age of just seventeen, to become the 19th king of the Goguryeo Dynasty. He ruled over Goguryeo at the time in Korea’s history known as The Three Kingdoms, so called because during this time the Korean peninsula was constantly being fought over by the three Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje dynasties. He is sometimes referred to as Great King Yeongnak, after the era name selected by him.

He expanded Goguryeo’s territories far into the Korean peninsula by advancing southward at the expense of the Baekje dynasty to occupy the north of the Han River, and occupied Manchurian territory to the east of Liaohe. On his death in 413, at just 39 years of age, Goguryeo ruled everything between the Sungari and Han Rivers. This gave it control over two thirds of what is now modern Korea as well as a large part of Manchuria. In addition, the chieftains of Silla submitted to the northern kingdom’s authority in 399 to receive protection from Japanese raids. Only Paekche continued to resist Koguryo domination during this period, thereby preventing what would have been the first recognised unification of the Korean peninsula.

During his reign, King Gwanggaeto conquered 65 walled cities and some 1,400 villages, in addition to aiding Silla when it was attacked by the Japanese. In 392 he built nine Buddhist temples in Pyongyang. His accomplishments are recorded on a monument which was erected in 414 in southern Manchuria.

Southeastern campaigns

In 400, Silla, another Korean kingdom in the southeast of the peninsula, requested Goguryeo assistance to defend against an alliance of wako, the Baekje kingdom to the west, and the Gaya Confederacy to the southwest. In the same year, King Gwanggaeto responded with 50,000 troops, defeated both Japanese and Gaya cavalry units, and made both Silla and Gaya submit to his authority. [3] [4] In exchange, Silla was forced to send one of its princes to Goguryeo court, while Gaya started to go through weakened coalition. In 402, he returned Silseong to Silla, [18] to establish peaceful relationship with the kingdom while he continued the conquest of the north, but Goguryeo forces remained and continued to influence Silla. [1]


Haneul Gwanggaeto (ハンヌール グワンッガエト, Hannuuru Guwanggaeto) is the Taewang of Dangun Jegug. The first-born son of the previous Taewang, he would be anointed as the "golden child" from a young age. It helped that he seemed to excel at everything he did scholarly pursuits, success on the battlefield, even mundane endeavors like cooking and sewing. For some, it was a sign he was blessed by the gods it helped that even the gods seemed to be fighting over him once he came of age. Yet, when the time came to marry, he chose neither the heavens nor his fellow aristocrats.

Instead, his spouse was to come from a quiet fishing town a visit would leave him enamored with her wit, clear-sightedness, and grounded demeanor, one who cut through the lies and neutralize the perils of court life. Despite the misgivings of some court officials and the chilly reception of kin, he went ahead anyway, the two wedding in a couple years later. Four children would follow and for a short time, the palace was filled with joyous laughter. Alas, the final birth proved burdensome though initially appearing to recover, the queen would be ultimately done in by complications. Her death left the Taewang devastated largely withdrawing from the public sphere, he focused solely on his duties as sovereign.

Alexander the Great VS Gwanggaeto the Great

Have you heard of Alexandria, a beautiful port city in the Mediterranean? This city was built by Alexander the Great(BC 356

BC 323), in his name as the King of Macedonia, who built a great empire over Greece, Persia and India.

Despite the fact that he ascended the throne quite young, at 20 years old, he was able to seize the regal power immediately to build an empire because of his father, Phillip IV. Phillip IV exerted the influence of Macedonia through military and diplomatic methods to surrounding city states to reinforce his sovereign power. He also trained his troops to be able to expand the territory.

Thanks to his father, Alexander the Great started to win battles with the Persian Empire which was a great empire at that time. Finally, he took possession of most of the Persian Empire to build his own empire. Unfortunately, his vast empire split into 3 countries when he died in 323, in Babylon, after his defeat in India. He only reigned for a short period of 13 years but his achievements are highly praised even today because of his prodigious tactics and the spread of Hellenistic culture which embraced the East and the West which affected generations to come until the 15th century.

Like Alexander the Great, who blended the Greek and Persian cultures in those times, there was a king in Korean history who also built an empire. He was Gwanggaeto the Great(374

412), the 19th king of Goguryeo. He also came to the throne very young at 18 years of age. Like Alexander the Great, his father, King Gogugyang and his uncle, King Sosurim established a foothold in politics, military and culture so he was able to expand his territory over vast Manchuria.

Therefore, as soon as he became the king, he attacked Baekje in the south to get the land, won a naval battle with ancient Japan and advanced to Inner Mongolia in the north. Inner Mongolia was used as a distribution base as a strategic region to hold China in check and stop people moving southward from the northern region. Likewise, he secured the distribution base by expanding the territory to develop the economy. A unique culture of Goguryeo flourished through cultural exchanges. Since then, he expanded the territory within the Korean Peninsula to keep Japan in check. He expanded to Liadong peninsula in the southernwest and the whole area of Manchuria in the north. In this way, he developed a vast territory stretching from the Korean Peninsula to Manchuria.

Then, Goguryeo had an influence on the relationship between Eastern and Western Asia through cultural exchanges with surrounding neighbors, Central Asia and India. The history of Gwanggaeto the Great has been passed on to this day with carvings on the gravestones of the royal tomb of Gwanggaeto the Great and Jungwon Goguryeo-bi(Jungwon Goguryeo Stele). With this, Koreans learn about foreign policy and the remarkable tactics of Gwanggaeto the Great.

Gwanggaeto the Great - History

King GwangGaeTo the Great

King GwangGaeTo the Great (광개토대왕 b. 374 – d. 413 (birth name: Ko Dam-Deok 고담덕)) – one of only two Korean kings given the added honorific title of “the Great” in its 6,000 year history (along with King Sejong the Great, see our subchapter on King Sejong), he was the King of the northern Goguryeo Kingdom (고구려 ​- the ancient or the original Koryo Kingdom/Dynasty), one of the ancient Three Kingdoms of Korea. As indicated by his given title (GwangGaeTo, which reportedly translates to Broad Expander of Domain), he greatly expanded his kingdom by numerous conquests into parts of now southeast China and Russia (north of the current North Korea), thereby making the Goguryeo Kingdom one of the great empires/powers of Asia.

On the Korean peninsula itself, he, at one point, also subdued and/or defeated the other two ancient Kingdoms of Korea (Baekje and Silla), allowing for a temporary unification of Korea. His feats and territorial expansion of Korea is recorded as establishing the largest and greatest Korea in terms of size and might, and hence he is regarded as one of Korea’s greatest heroes and remembered by historical television dramas.

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King Gwanggaeto the Great | Gwanggaeto Dae Wang

A drama detailing the life of King Gwanggaeto the Great, who restored the glory of Goguryeo by wresting power back from Baekje, which had invaded Goguryeo prior to Gwanggaeto's birth and dominated East Asia under the rule of King Geunchogo.

See more:

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Watch the video: 광개토태왕 - Gwanggaeto, the Great King #01 20120219