Korea united under Shilla (Silla) 신라 新羅 668 - 935 AD


The Hwarangdo or Flower Youth Corps of Shilla

Shilla grew out of the walled-town state of Saro (Kyongju/Gyeongju) in the southwestern corner of the peninsula. The last of the three great kingdoms to develop, it was less influenced by the Chinese, accepting Confucianism and Buddhism only in the early 500s.


Although Shilla was initially the least militaristic of the kingdoms, troubles with marauding Japanese and constant pressure from the Paekje and Koguryo kingdoms led it to develop an effective army. One aspect of this rising military strength was the hwarang, elite soldiers with a chivalric code of leadership, unquestioned service to the country, and religious and ethical zeal-one of the primary forces in Shilla's bid for control of the peninsula. The acceptance of Buddhism as the state religion gave new impetus to cultural development. By 562, Shilla had absorbed the neighboring Kaya states and was gobbling up northern Paekje and eastern Koguryo territory.

pottery vessel from a Shilla tomb

A United Kingdom

The newly formed Chinese Tang Dynasty also had an eye on additional territory. Wanting to rule all of the Korean Peninsula, Tang allied with Shilla, intending to walk right in after the de­feat of the other two nations and take power from its ally. With combined armies, Shilla and Tang easily overran Paekje in 660. The Shilla - Tang forces then tuned toward Koguryo, which they defeated in 668. Tang then claimed the territories and set up military commands to maintain control. Shilla too wanted control of the entire Korean territory, and by encouraging popular uprisings against this foreign domination, drove its former ally far to the north by 676. While Shilla did not gain control of the entire Koguryo territory, it did succeed in unifying the peninsula south of a line roughly from P'yongyang to Won­san Bay, thereby establishing the first united Korean kingdom. This unification was spear­headed by King Muyol and completed under King Munmu, with the indispensable leadership of the great general Kim Yu-shin. Only in 735 did Tang formally acknowledge Shilla's control over this territory. In the following centuries much contact and exchange took place between these two countries, Korea benefiting greatly from its more advanced patron. In fact, the United Shilla Dynasty (668-935) corresponds closely with the highly developed Tang Dynasty (618-906).

Bronze Maitreya Buddha ( Buddha of the Future) Shilla, late 6th cent .

Buddhism became accepted in Shilla in the early 6th cent.

Establishing Authority

With Shilla in control, the country's administration was reorganized on the Chinese model developing a complex bureaucratic system. The king's authority increased to a point where opposition was all but eliminated. The bureaucracy, run by members of the ruling class, was based on birth, not ability. Secondary capitals, numerous border garrisons, and a national army all helped solidify the king's control. In return for Korean autonomy, Shilla kings sent periodic tribute to the Chinese emperor and recognized his authority in Asian affairs. Shilla also received traders from China, Japan, and possibly as far away as the Middle East.


Pulguksa Temple in the Shilla capital of (modern Kyongju), first built during the reign of King Pophung (514-540), the first Shilla king to accept Buddhism. Rebuilt in 751 and mostly destroyed in the Imjin War and Korean War.Restored in 1972.Considered the pinnacle of Shilla architecture.


 Bulguksa Temple 불국사

Bulguksa is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in the North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. It is home to seven National treasures of South Korea, including Dabotap and Seokgatap stone pagodas, Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge), and two gilt-bronze statues of Buddha. The temple is classified as Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 by the South Korean government




The Sokkatap( Pagoda of the Buddha)  and Tabot'ap(Pagoda of Many Treasures) pagodas at Pulguksa Temple. Both constructed of granite representing opposites male/female/yin/yang.The 4 pillars at the base of the Tabot'ap pagoda represents man in his coarse state, reaching for the 4 Noble Truths of the Buddha, represented by the platform above .The stone lion at the base protects it from evil influences.

With unification, the cultural differences of Korea's various peoples blurred, leading to a more homogeneous culture throughout the land. Domestic tranquility reigned in the 700s, and the Shilla Dynasty reached its cultural apex: a highly developed artistry and high-quality craftsmanship in metal, stone, and pottery, some of which can still be seen in and around Kyongju. Buddhism gained a strong hold on all classes, and greatly influenced religious and govern­mental affairs. The spread of Confucianism, including the foundation of a Confucian university, gave rise to important rites. This was a time of great social and spiritual energy, when Shilla grew as an international culture, reshaping what It received from China and funneling much of that to Japan.

Seokguram  1938

Seokguram  restored


 Seokguram Grotto, World Heritage Site

The Seokguram Grotto is a hermitage and part of the Bulguksa temple complex. It lies four kilometers east of the temple on Mt. Tohamsan, in Gyeongju, South Korea. The grotto overlooks the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and rests 750 meters above sea level. In 1962, it was designated the 24th national treasure of Korea. In 1995, Seokguram was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List together with the Bulguksa Temple. It exemplifies some of the best Buddhist sculptures in the world.

It is said to have been built by Gim Daeseong and originally called Seokbulsa (석불사, Stone Buddha Temple). Construction began in 742 when Gim Daeseong resigned his position in the king's court or in 751, the 10th year of the reign of King Gyeongdeok of Shilla. This time period was the cultural peak of Unified Shilla. The grotto was completed by the Shilla court in 774, shortly after Gim's death. An old legend stated that Gim was reincarnated for his filial acts in his previous life. The legend relates that the Bulguksa Temple was dedicated to Gim’s parents in his present life while the Seokguram Grotto was dedicated to Gim's parents from a previous life.


A Historical drama of Queen Seondeok.

She reigned as Queen of Shilla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, from 632 to 647. She was Shilla's twenty-seventh ruler, and its first reigning queen.


By the mid-800s, however, Shilla started to fall apart, due in part to corruption and factional­ism. Increasingly weak and immoral rulers led to instability and the abuse of power by aristocrats. This situation gradually deteriorated into semi-anarchy in which private merchants con­trolled trade with China and Japan, and rebels and bandits took control of rural districts. In the 890s, peasant revolts led to the emergence of leaders who created rival states. One such leader, Kyon Hwon, established the Later Paekje Kingdom in the Cholla-Do area; another was Kungye, who created the state of Later Koguryo in the Kangwon-Do region. Both installed governments backed by strong armies that seriously challenged the Shilla Dynasty, which shrank to a size not much larger than it was some 600 years earlier. In 918, Wang Kon ousted his superior, Kungye, and Later Koguryo was renamed Koryo. After establishing control over the middle of the peninsula, Koryo took over Silla in 935 in an amicable transfer of power, and conquered Later Paekje in 936 after numerous hard-fought battles.



 3 Kingdoms

57BC-668 AD


 Balhae (Parhae)

698-926 AD