The Three Kingdoms
At the time of Sondok's birth, the peninsula that today is North and South Korea
was divided into three kingdoms: Konguryo, Paekche, and Silla. Konguryo, the northern kingdom, was the war-like kingdom. Paekche,
the landlocked kingdom neighbored by Silla and China, was influenced by China and the Chinese culture, adopting Buddhism.
Silla was the southern kingdom, surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean. Silla was considered the most cultured of
the three, and the most peaceful. Silla had its own culture, with deep roots in shamanism and cultures that had since died
out due to Chinese expansion.
Princess of Silla
Chinp'yong became the 26th ruler of Silla in 579 A.D., after the death of his
uncle, the 25th Ruler, King Chin-ji, who only ruled for 3 years (576-579), after the death of his father, Chinp'yong's grandfather,
King Chin-hung. The son of Prince Tong-yun and Princess Man-ho (Chin-hung's sister), Chinp'yong married a woman named Ma-ya.
Prince Tong-yun was supposed to have succeeded his father, Chin-hung, but the throne was passed onto his younger brother,
Chin-ji. When Chin-ji died young, the throne was passed over his son, Prince Yong-ch'un, and given to Chinp'yong. A few years
after Chnip'yong became King of Silla and Ma-ya the Queen of Silla, they celebrated the birth of their first child, a baby
girl known today as Sondok. In her childhood, Princess Sondok was most likely known as Dokman. Following Sondok came two more
girls: Princess Sonwha and Princess Chon-myong. In later European years, the birth of daughters showed as failure to the queen,
however, although Silla had never had a queen in her own right, the throne was hereditary, and Sondok was a candidate for
the throne, as were her sisters, though Chinp'yong had already decided that Sondok would be his heir after a small episode.
When Sondok was seven, her father received a box of
peony seeds and a picture of what the flowers would look like in bloom. When Chinp'yong asked Sondok what she thought of the
flowers, she remarked, looking at the picture, that the flowers were pretty but they did not smell and if they did there
should be bees and butterflies around them. To her father, Sondok had proven herself a clever girl who would make a fine queen.
Sondok grew up at the palace in the capital of Kumsang.
Although she was destined to become a queen, she did take part in the women's chores such as the yearly event of picking the
cotton from a large hall in the palace that consisted of hundreds of silk worms. Sondok was very educated in part to this
also. However, when the Chinese discovered this when Silla and China's diplomatic ties strengthened, they found this appalling.
Men were much more superior than women in their culture, and the thought of a female ruling a country was shocking. The Chinese
may have had an affect on Chinp'yong for he decided to re-marry when Sondok was around 15 as Ma-ya never produced a male heir.
He sent Ma-ya to a Buddhist convent, where she adopted a new way of life, along with a shaved head and rough clothing. His
new wife was a village girl not much older than Sondok, named Seungman. Seungman failed to produce a male heir just like Ma-ya,
and Sondok became Queen of Silla after Chinp'yong died in 632 A.D. In Sondok's teenage years she befriended a member of the
hwarang (The Flower Nobles), an elite group of boys and men who studied philosophy, art, literature, history, and religion,
and also were superb athletes and warriors. Named Chajang, there was a rumored love between the two before Chajang went into
a Buddhist monastery in China.
Queen of Silla
In 632 A.D., Chajang had a dream in which a Bodhisvatta
(a female representation of Buddha) appeared to him saying that a woman now ruled the kingdom and her neighbors would take
advantage over her. He must return home and build a nine-story pagoda to honor the Dragon Spirit of the Hwangyong Monastery
who was protecting Silla. The woman was Sondok, who had succeeded her father and was now Queen of Silla. Chajang hurried home
to Silla and he and Sondok were reunited. They undertook the project, and at 244 feet tall, they built the nine-story pagoda
at Hwangyong. With the two reunited, an age of Buddhism flourished in Silla. Many temples were built and the religion prospered.
The Silla people were used to their shaman beliefs, but with the invasion of Confucianism and Buddhism, they found that they
could worship all three religions at once, as the religions were spiritual and did not dictate one true God. Chajang even
brought a bone of the True Buddha to install at Hwangyong.
It is said that Sondok's true love lied with astronomy,
a popular ancient Asian practice, that began in her childhood as the royal astronomers flocked to the observatories at night.
In her second year as queen, she built the famous star-gazing platform of Ch'omsongdae (Nearer the Stars Place). The observatory
was a masterpiece. It was made up of 365, for each day of the year. twelve stones made up the base, and there were twelve
stones below and above the windowsill, all representing the twelve months and zodiac symbols. Also, it was made up of
27 tiers. Sondok was the 27th ruler of Silla. Although its use is shrouded in mystery, it was the first observatory in the
Far East and it is the pride of South Korea.
Silla's roots in shamanism influenced Sondok and the mysterious shaman ways in her life.
She made three famous prophecies, recorded in the Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms):
story of the peonies in her youth
heard a group of frogs croaking at the Jade Gate pond one winter. The frogs meant soldiers, the white meant the west, and
Jade Gate referred to women. Sondok sent an army to Woman Valley (Jade Gate) on the Western border of Silla (white), where
they found over 2,000 soldiers (frogs) from the Paekche Kingdom invading.
hour of her own death.
As shown in the second prophecy, Silla was under attack from enemies who didn't take Sondok seriously, as she was a woman.
But she was also not safe within her own kingdom. Sondok was almost overthrown by rebels, the True Bone Silla, who wanted
male rulers, but her loyal general, Kim Yu-shin, defeated them. In order to keep her enemies in order, Sondok lived up to
her words "an enemy of an enemy is a friend". Koguryo, the northern Korean kingdom, was constantly under attack by the T'ang
Dynasty from China. Koguryo was a lifetime enemy of Silla, and so Sondok forged an alliance between Silla and China. However,
she had to keep Silla balanced in order to keep Koguryo and the hungry Chinese at bay. Sondok died in 647 A.D. Although
she did eventually take a king consort, no heirs were produced, male or female. Without an heir, Sondok passed the Silla throne
to her cousin, Chindok, the daughter of Sondok's uncle, Kuk-pan.
Chindok only ruled until 654 A.D. but Silla was constantly at war during her reign. Had Sondok not matured Silla during her
reign and made the Chinese alliance, Silla would have been swallowed by its neighbhors in Chindok's reign, had it not already
been so in Sondok's reign. Chindok was succeeded by Sondok's nephew, Mu-yol, who was the son of her sister, Ch'on-myong, and
her husband, Prince Yong-ch'un, Chinp'yong's cousin who lost the succession to Chinp'yong. With Mu-yol's reign, the golden
age of Silla began. He used the T'ang Dynasty and his aunt, Sondok's, alliance to conquer Paekche and Koguryo. Then he conquered
the T'ang and unified the Korean Peninsula into Unified Silla, a center of art, philosophy, and Buddhism. With Sondok
having been the ruler of Silla and her sister, Ch'on-myong having mothered another, their youngest sister,
Sonwha, also mothered a ruler. When she and her sisters were still princesses, a prince of Paekche, Mattung, spotted Sonwha
and was smitten by her beauty. He taught the children of Kumsong a little song:
"Princess Sonwha, Hoping
for a secret marriage, Went away at night, With Muttang in her arms"
King Chinp'yong was enraged that Sonwha could have lost her virtue
in such a way, and to an enemy prince. He exiled Sonwha, and sent her on ehr way with the clothes on her back and a bag
of gold. After wandering in the mountains, she came upon a young man, Muttang. She fell in love with him and indeed the song
was fulfilled. They returned to Muttang's homeland, the Paekche kingdom, where the people who had loved Muttang so dearly
made him king, and Sonwha queen. They had a son, King Euja. As Queen of Paekche, Sonwha later found herself enemies with her
own sister, the Queen of Silla, Sondok. Unified Silla declined in
the 8th century A.D. People who supported the True Bone rulers (The True Bone rulers came into being after Queen Chindok,
the last Old Bone Ruler). Pakche and Koguryo were restored. Silla came to and end after 993 years of existence, when King
Kyong-sun abdicated in favor of King Wang-gon, who established the Koryo Dynasty that ruled from 918-1392.