The Goryeo kingdom ruled Korea from the fall of Silla in 935 until the founding of Joseon in 1392. The name "Goryeo" is a shortened form of "Goguryeo," the name of a kingdom in northern Korea which was conquered by Silla in 668. The English name "Korea" comes from "Goryeo."
The Goryeo period was a culturally rich one in Korea's history. Two of the period's most notable products are Goryeo pottery — the famous Korean celadon pottery — and the Tripitaka Koreana — the Buddhist scriptures (Tripitaka) carved onto roughly 80,000 woodblocks.
It is now known as a kingdom, but it was de facto an empire. All terminologies used in the court of Goryeo was that of an empire, not of a kingdom. Capital Gaeseong was called "Imperial Capital (皇都)" and palace as "Imperial Palace (皇城)." Other terms like Your Majesty (陛下), Prince (太子), Empress (太后), Imperial Ordiance (詔 or 勅) also suggest Goryeo was an empire itself. After the Mongol invasion, Mongols forced Goryeo to give up on its status as an empire and it became a kingdom under Mongolian imperial sphere.
As Unified Silla weakened and lost control over local lords, the country entered a period of civil war and rebellion. Major rebellion forces were led by Gung Ye (궁예弓裔, ?~918), Gi Hwin (기휜), Yang Gil (양길) and Gyeon Hwon (견훤). Two new kingdoms were established: Hugoguryeo (후고구려, Later Goguryeo, later renamed Taebong (태봉)) by Gung Ye, and Hubaekje (후백제, later Baekje) by Gyeonhwon. This period is known as the Later Three Kingdoms era.
Wanggeon (왕건), who was a lord of Songak (present-day Kaesong), joined Taebong but overthrew Gung Ye and established Goryeo in 918. The Later Three Kingdoms era ended as Goryeo annexed Silla and defeated Hubaekje in 936.
In order to strengthen power of central government, Gwangjong, the 4th King, made a series of laws including that freeing slaves in 958, and the one creating the exam for hiring civil officials. Gwangjong also proclaimed himself Emperor, independent from any other countries.
The 5th king, Gyeongjong (경종, 景宗) launched land-ownership reformation called Jeonshigwa (전시과田柴科) and the 6th King Sungjong(성종, 成宗) appointed officials to local areas, which were previously succeeded by the lords. By the time of 11th King Munjong (문종, 文宗) the central government of Goryeo gained complete authority and power over local lords. Munjong and later kings emphasized the importance of civilian leadership over the military.
The House Lee of Inju (인주이씨, 仁州李氏) married the kings from Munjong to the 17th king, Injong. Eventually the Lees gained more power than the king himself. This led to the coup of Lee Jagyeom in 1126. The coup failed but the power of monarch was weakened; Goryeo underwent a civil war among the nobility.
In 1135, Myo Chung argued to move the capital to Seogyeong (present day P'yŏngyang). This proposal divided the nobilities of Goryeo in half. One faction, led by Myo Chung, believed in moving the capital to Pyongyang and expanding into Manchuria. The other one, led by Kim Busik (author of the Samguk Sagi), wanted to keep the status quo. Myo Chung failed to persuade the King and rebelled against the central government, but failed.
In 1170, a group of army officers led by Jeong Jungbu (정중부, 鄭仲夫) and Lee Uibang (이의방, 李義方), launched a coup d'état and succeeded. King Injong went into exile and Myeongjong (명종,明宗) was made king. Military rule of Goryeo began.
In 1231, Mongolians under Ögedei Khan invaded Goryeo, as part of a general campaign to conquer China. The throne moved to Ganghwa Island in the Bay of Gyeonggi, in 1232. The military ruler of the time Choi Chungheon (최충헌, 崔忠獻) insisted on fighting back. Goryeo resisted for decades but finally surrendered in 1259. Some military officials who refused to surrender formed the Sambyeolcho Rebellion and resisted in the islands off the southern shore of the Korean peninsula. The Goryeo dynasty survived but it remained under Mongolian control until King Gongmin began to push Mongolian forces back.
In 1388, King U planned a campaign to invade present-day Liaoning of China. King U put the general Yi Seonggye (later Taejo) in charge, but he stopped at the border and rebelled. Goryeo fell to General Yi in 1392. He then established the Joseon Dynasty.
Today, Korea and related forms such as Corea and Corée that derive from Goryeo are used as names for the country in most languages around the world. Goryeo is also sometimes used as a politically neutral name in the Korean language for the whole of Korea. For more information, see Names of Korea.
Rulers of Goryeo
The Wang Dynasty was the ruling dynasty of Goryeo, and comprised 34 monarchs altogether. The first twenty-four rulers, after Taejo, have their temple names ending in jong (宗). However, after 1274, the last 9 rulers' temple names end in Wang (王).
- King Taejo (Chunsu) (918-943)
- King Hyejong (943-945)
- King Jeongjong (945-949)
- King Gwangjong (949-975)
- King Gyeongjong (975-981)
- King Seongjong (981-997)
- King Mokjong (997-1009)
- King Hyeonjong (1009-1031)
- King Deokjong (1031-1034)
- King Jeongjong (1034-1046)
- King Munjong (1046-1083)
- King Sunjong (1083)
- King Seonjong (1083-1094)
- King Heonjong (1094-1095)
- King Sukjong (1095-1105)
- King Hyejong (1105-1122)
- King Injong (1122-1146)
- King Euijong (1146-1170)
- King Myeongjong (1170-1197)
- King Sinjong (1197-1204)
- King Heuijong (1204-1211)
- King Gangjong (1211-1213)
- King Gojong (1213-1259)
- King Weonjong (1259-1274)
- King Chungnyeol (1274-1308) (Chungnyeol was the first king of Goryeo to have the title Wang, which means "King," included in his temple name)
- King Chungseon (1308-1313)
- King Chungsuk (1313-1330; 1332-1339)
- King Chunghye (1330-1332; 1339-1344)
- King Chungmok (1344-1348)
- King Chungjeong (1348-1351)
- King Gongmin (1351-1374)
- King U (1374-1388)
- King Chang (1388-1389)
- King Gongyang (1389-1392)