|Taejo of Goryeo|
Wang Geon ()
|King of Goryeo|
|Reign||25 July 918 - 4 July 943|
|Coronation||25 July 918|
|Successor||Hyejong of Goryeo|
|Born||31 January 877|
Songak, Unified Silla
|Died||4 July 943 (aged 66)|
Gaegyeong, Kingdom of Goryeo
|Issue||Hyejong of Goryeo|
Jeonjong of Goryeo
Gwangjong of Goryeo
|House||House of Wang|
|Father||Sejo of Goryeo|
|Revised Romanization||Wang Geon|
Taejo of Goryeo (31 January 877 - 4 July 943), also known as Taejo Wang Geon (Wang K?n, ), was the founder of the Goryeo dynasty, which ruled Korea from the 10th to the 14th century. Taejo ruled from 918 to 943, achieving unification of the Later Three Kingdoms in 936.
Wang Geon was born in 877 to a powerful maritime merchant family based in Songak (modern Kaesong) as the eldest son of Wang Ryung (Korean: ; Hanja: ). He traced his ancestry to a noble Goguryeo clan. His ancestors were Goguryeo refugees who settled around Songak, accumulating great wealth through maritime trade and gaining control of the region, including the Ryesong River. During the Later Silla period, the northern regions, including Songak, were the strongholds of Goguryeo refugees, and Wang Geon's hometown of Songak would become the original capital of Later Goguryeo in 901.
Taejo began his career in the turbulent Later Three Kingdoms (hanja: ). In the later years of Silla, many local leaders and bandits rebelled against the rule of Queen Jinseong, who did not have strong enough leadership or policies to improve the condition of the people. Among those rebels, Gung Ye (; ) of the northwestern region and Gyeon Hwon (; ) of the southwest gained more power. They defeated and absorbed many of the other rebel groups as their troops marched against local Silla officials and bandits. In 895, Gung Ye led his forces into the far northwestern part of Silla, where Songdo was located. Taejo's father, Wang Yung (later Sejo of Goryeo), along with many local clans, quickly surrendered to Gung Ye. Wang Geon followed his father into service under Gung Ye, the future leader of Taebong, and he began his service under Gungye's command.
Wang Geon's ability as a military commander was soon recognized by Gung Ye, who promoted him to general and even regarded him as his brother. In 900, he led a successful campaign against local clans and the army of Later Baekje in the Chungju area, gaining more fame and recognition from the king. In 903, he led a famous naval campaign against the southwestern coastline of Hubaekje (Keumsung, later Naju), while Gyeon Hwon was at war against Silla. He led several more military campaigns, and also helped conquered people who lived in poverty under Silla rule. The public favored him due to his leadership and generosity.
In 913, he was appointed as prime minister of the newly renamed Taebong. Its king, Gung Ye, whose leadership helped found the kingdom but who began to refer to himself as the Buddha, began to persecute people who expressed their opposition against his religious arguments. He executed many monks, then later even his own wife and two sons, and the public began to turn away from him. His costly rituals and harsh rule caused even more opposition.
In 918, four top-ranked generals of Taebong--Hong Yu (; ), Bae Hyeongyeong (; ), Shin Sung-gyeom (; ) and Bok Jigyeom (; )--met secretly and agreed to overthrow Gung Ye's rule and crown Wang Geon as their new king. Wang Geon first opposed the idea but later agreed to their plan. The same year Gung Ye was overthrown and killed near the capital, Cheorwon. The generals installed Wang Geon as the new king of this short-lived state. He renamed the kingdom Goryeo, thus beginning the Goryeo Dynasty. The next year he moved the capital back to his hometown, Gaegyeong.
He promoted Buddhism as Goryeo's national religion, and laid claim to the northern parts of the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria, which he considered his rightful legacy as the successor of Goguryeo. According to the Goryeosa, in 918, the ancient capital of Pyongyang had been in ruins for a long time and foreign barbarians were using the surrounding lands as hunting grounds and occasionally raiding the borders of Goryeo; therefore, in his first year as king, Wang Geon ordered his subjects to repopulate the ancient capital, and soon sent his cousin Wang Sik-ryeom to defend it. Afterward, he decreed Pyongyang as the Western Capital. He also sought alliances and cooperation with local clans rather than trying to conquer and bring them under his direct control.
In 927, Gyeon Hwon of Hubaekje led forces into Silla's capital, Gyeongju, capturing and executing its king, King Gyeongae. Then he established King Gyeongsun as his puppet monarch before he turned his army toward Goryeo. Hearing of the news, Taejo planned a strike with 5000 cavalrymen to attack Gyeon's troops on the way back home at Gongsan near Daegu. He met Hubaekje forces and suffered disastrous defeat, losing most of his army including his generals Kim Nak and Shin Sung-gyeom, the very same man who crowned Wang as a king. However, Goryeo quickly recovered from defeat and successfully defended Hubaekje's attack on its front.
In 935, the last king of Silla, King Gyeongsun, felt there was no way to revive his kingdom and surrendered his entire land to Taejo. Taejo gladly accepted his surrender and gave him the title of prince, and accepted his daughter as one of his wives (Wang had six queens, and many more wives as he married daughters of every single local leader). It caused much disgust to Gyeon Hwon. Gyeon's father, who held his own claim to the Sangju region, also defected and surrendered to Goryeo and was received as the father of a king.
In the same year, Gyeon Hwon's oldest son, Gyeon Singeom (hanja: ), led a coup with his brothers Yanggeom and Yonggeom, against their father, who favored their half-brother, Geumgang, as his successor to the throne. Gyeon Hwon was sent into exile and imprisoned in Geumsansa, but escaped to Goryeo and was treated like Taejo's father, who died just before his surrender.
In 936, Wang led his final campaign against Singeom of Later Baekje. Singeom fought against Taejo, but facing much disadvantage and inner conflict, he surrendered to Taejo. Wang finally occupied Hubaekje formally, and unified the nation for the second time since Unified Silla; he ruled until 943, and died from disease.
Taejo sought to bring even his enemies into his ruling coalition. He gave titles and land to rulers and nobles from the various countries he had defeated: Later Baekje, Silla, and also Balhae, which disintegrated around the same time. Thus he sought to secure stability and unity for his kingdom which had been lacking in the later years of Silla.
After the destruction of Balhae by the Khitans in 926, Balhae's last crown prince and much of its ruling class sought refuge in Goryeo, where they were warmly welcomed and included into the ruling family by Wang Geon, thus uniting the two successor nations of Goguryeo. Taejo felt a strong familial kinship with Balhae, calling it his "Relative Country" and "Married Country", and protected Balhae refugees, many of whom were also of Goguryeo origin. This was in strong contrast to Later Silla, which had endured a hostile relationship with Balhae.
Taejo displayed strong animosity toward the Khitans who had destroyed Balhae. The Liao dynasty sent 30 envoys with 50 camels as a gift in 942, but Wang Geon exiled the envoys and starved the camels under a bridge in retribution for Balhae, despite the major diplomatic repercussions. Taejo proposed to Gaozu of Later Jìn that they attack the Khitans as revenge for the destruction of Balhae, according to the Zizhi Tongjian. Furthermore, in his Ten Mandates to his descendants, he stated that the Khitans are no different than beasts and should be guarded against.
The unification of the Later Three Kingdoms in 936 was very important in Korean history; the unification of 668 CE by Silla was only a unification of approximately half of the peoples of the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity (who at the time largely considered themselves one people divided among many states), since the northern part was ruled by Balhae, which asserted itself as a reincarnation of Goguryeo. However, Wang Geon's unification in 936 was a more complete unification (in which only a single state emerged among the people, as opposed to the 7th century, when two, Later Silla and Balhae, emerged); the people of the Korean Peninsula thereafter remained under a single, unified state until 1948, when Korea was divided into north and south by Russian and U.S occupation forces.
As noted elsewhere in this article, the modern name of "Korea" is derived from the name "Goryeo," which itself is derived from "Goguryeo," to whose heritage (and by extension, territory) Wang Geon and his new kingdom laid claim. As the first ruler to more fully unite the people of the Korean Peninsula under a single state, many modern-day Koreans look to his example for applicability to the current state of division on the Korean Peninsula.
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