My information and images were pulled from a book called ‘Korean History in Maps‘. I recommend reading it! It fascinating and provided a good deal of information about the values, practices, and politics of different periods in Korea’s history.
Old Joseon (7th century BC – 108 BC)
Joseon was the first state to develop on the Korean peninsula, and as such you can say that this is the first era in Korea’s history. It is called Old Joseon to distinguish it from the latter Joseon kingdom that began in 1392. Old Joseon was a major player in international politics. This period ended with the introduction of iron culture and it’s end was brought about by the conquest of the Han Dynasty.
The Three Kingdoms (57 BC – 668 AD)
This period is characterized by the warring between the three kingdoms as they all fought to conquer the peninsula. Silla eventually allied with Tang China, conquering Baekje and Goguryeo, before driving out the Tang and uniting the peninsula under one government.
During this period the peninsula began to absorb Chinese influences, while developing their own culture and civilization.
Note on Gaya:
Gaya was not a kingdom of it’s own; it was a collection of polities ruled by their own individual leaders. It’s location meant that it was often caught in the wars between Baekje and Silla.
The Northern and Southern States (Later Silla 698 BC – 918 BC, Balhae 698 BC – 926 BC)
After Silla conquered the peninsula, refugees from Goguryeo formed Balhae, which was located in much of Goguryeo’s former territory. There does not seem to have been much fighting between Balhae and Later Silla.
The Later Three Kingdoms
In the 9th century the ruling order of Silla began to break down, and two rebel leaders formed the kingdoms of Later Baekje and Later Goguryeo. Once again there were three kingdoms fighting for political dominance.
Goryeo (918 – 1392)
왕건, a military leader from Goguryeo, conquered Later Baekje and Later Silla, forming a kingdom he called Goryeo, a name that indicated its status as successor to Goguryeo. This is considered by historians to be the first point of true unification in Korea’s history, as 왕건 united not only the kingdoms on the peninsula, but also included much of the territory of former Balhae.
Joseon (Later Period) 1392 -1897
General 이성계 overthrew the Goyeo government (after being sent to invade China) and established the later Joseon period. 이성계, along with Neo-Confucian scholar-officials, had the goal of removing the influences of Buddhism to create a kingdom based on Confucian principles. During the latter part of this period there began to be a weakening of the China-centered beliefs and worldview. This was a general prosperous time in Korea’s history, though the country was weakened by rebellions at the end of the century, leaving them susceptible.
You can see that it is at this point in history where the geography matches that of modern- day Korea. The country takes up the entire peninsula and very little else. The dotted blue line shows the borders in the later Joseon period, and the red dotted line shows the borders of the original Joseon period. In 1636 they became a tributary of China.
The Late 19th Century 1863-1910
By this time Joseon had become very unstable politically, even within their own country. Peasant unrest cause a countrywide rebellion resulting in the Gabo Peasants’ War of 1894. China, Japan, and Russia were fighting for dominance over the Joseon peninsula, leading to the start of two major wars. Japan won the Sino-Japanese war, ending China’s control over Joseon.
Map showing the battles of the Gabo Peasant Rebellion and Sino-Japanese War
The Japanese Occupation Period 1910-1945
This is often divided into 3 periods:
The heavy repression of 1910-1919
The years of the ‘Cultural Policy’ in 1919-1931
The years of wartime mobilization in 1931-1945
The period of Japanese Occupation ended in 1945 when Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces in WWII.
The head of the government was the Japanese Governor-General, who had virutally entire control over the peninsula and reported directly to the Japanese Emperor.
While a dark time in Korea’s history, this is also the time when Korea began to experience social changes that began the transition to modernity.
Christianity, Cheondogyo, and Confucianism were the dominant religions in this period.
The Liberation Period and Korean War 1945-1953
Following Korea’s liberation from the Japanese, America set up two occupation zones in the country, a Soviet one in the north and an American one in the south. This was intended to be a temporary arrangement. Three years later, separate governments formed in the north and south, leading to the Korean Civil War which achieved no solution. The fighting ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, so North and South Korea are technically still at war.