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  • Relations between Ancient Korea and Turkey: An Examination of Contacts between Koguryŏ and the Turkic Khaganate*
  • Noh Tae-Don (bio)

Contacts between Koguryŏ and the Turkic Khaganate

Contacts between Koguryŏ and the Turkic Khaganate Exchanges between the inhabitants of the Korean peninsula and those of the nomadic states of the Mongol steppes began in the ancient period. A specific example of this is to be found in the contacts between the Xiongnu and Old Chosŏn in the second century BCE. One of the primary goals of the invasion in 108 BCE by Han China of Old Chosŏn was the blocking of a connection between the Xiongnu and Old Chosŏn. The Xiongnu remains discovered in the Sŏg’am-ri tomb near Pyongyang and in other places bear witness to the existence of interactions between the two states. Subsequently as well, there were sporadic contacts between Koguryŏ and branches of the Xiongnu people such as the Yuwenbu 宇文部. [End Page 361]

However, there continues to be controversy concerning the nature and scope of such early relations, and the interaction between the inhabitants of the Korean peninsula and the Turkish peoples began in earnest with interaction between Koguryŏ and the Turkic Khaganate (Tujue 突厥). A specific example of contact between Koguryŏ and the Turkic Khaganate may be found in the Samguk sagi, “Koguryŏ Annals,” the seventh year of King Yangwŏn, 551 CE:

In the ninth month the Turkic Khaganate invaded and encircled Sin-sŏng. After losing [the battle] they moved and attacked Paeg’am-sŏng. The monarch dispatched his general Kohǔl, with 10,000 men to counter-attack the Turkic Khaganate army. The number killed and captured totaled more than 1000.

As this passage is the sole reference in the Samguk sagi of contact between Koguryŏ and the Turkic Khaganate, it possesses great value. However, the dating of the passage appears to be in error. In the second month of 552 the Turkic Khaganate launched an attack on the Avar, at a location in modern-day Inner Mongolia in the north part of Zhangbei County to the north of Zhangjiakou in contemporary Hebei province. Subsequently they crossed the Xinganling mountain chain and entered the Manchuria plain. Accordingly, in fact it was impossible before 552 for the Turkic Khaganate army to have attacked Koguryŏ’s Sin-sŏng 新城 (modern Fushun) or Paeg’am-sŏng 白岩城 (modern Liaoyang), which are located in the lower reaches of the Liao River basin. Perhaps a later event was mistakenly dated to 551 when records were compiled.

Relations between Koguryŏ and Turkic Khaganate were largely conducted from this period onwards. This fact is conveyed by inscriptions on two Turkic Khaganate stone monuments erected in Khosho-Tsaidam, located on the banks of the Orkhon River on the Mongol plain. These stones commemorated two brothers, Bilge Khagan, a renowned monarch, and his younger brother, Kứl Tigin, who died in 731. In their historical narration, the inscriptions on the stones both refer to the attendees at the funeral of the founder of the Turkic Khaganate, Bumin Khagan (d. 552), and Istämi Khagan: “From Bὂkli a land before which [= east] the sun rises”. [Kứl Tigin 4, Bk E5]. In the ancient Turkic language the “B” sound and “M” sound were used interchangeably, so Bὂkli may safely be deemed Mὂkli, meaning 貊句麗 “Maekguryŏ.” This place name was a shortened form of Maekchok 貊族 of Kuryŏ 句麗, or “Maek people of Kuryŏ,” referring to Koguryŏ. Additionally, as the inscriptions continue, following the death of the two leaders celebrated in the Orkhon River stone monuments, the Turkic Khaganate weakened, and were forced into submission [End Page 362] to the Tabgač Khaganate. A mission was undertaken to attack as far as “Bὂkli Khagan, a place where the sun rises in front [=east]” [Kứl-Tigin 8, Bk E8]. This account is in accord with the historical facts concerning how after the Turkic Khaganate was forced to submit to Sui China and Tang China, the Sui and Tang forces that were mobilized for the military missions against Koguryŏ comprised soldiers of the Turkic Khaganate.

There are other records corroborating the fact that the Turkic Khaganate people referred to...


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