The Baekje dynasty was one of Korea’s famed Three Kingdoms – Goguryeo and Silla being the other two – and controlled much of southwestern Korea for almost seven hundred years. The Samguk Sagi, Korea’s only real historical account of the peninsula in these times, claims that Baekje was a product of sibling rivalry – it was founded in 18 BC by Onjo, whose father had kick-started the Goguryeo dynasty less than twenty years beforehand, in present-day North Korea; seeing the reins of power passed on to his elder brother Yuri, Onjo promptly moved south and set up his own kingdom.
Strangely, given its position facing China on the western side of the Korean peninsula, Baekje was more closely allied with the kingdom of Wa in Japan – at least one Baekje king was born across the East Sea – and it became a conduit for art, religion and customs from the Asian mainland. This fact is perhaps best embodied by the Baekje artefacts displayed in the museums in Buyeo and Gongju, which contain lacquer boxes, pottery and folding screens not dissimilar to the craftwork that Japan is now famed for.
Though the exact location of the first Baekje capitals is unclear, it’s certain that Gongju and Buyeo were its last two seats of power. Gongju, then known as Ungjin, was capital from 475 to 538; during this period the aforementioned Three Kingdoms were jostling for power, and while Baekje leaders formed an uneasy alliance with their Silla counterparts the large fortress of Gongsanseong was built to protect the city from Goguryeo attacks. The capital was transferred to Sabi – present-day Buyeo – which also received a fortress-shaped upgrade. However, it was here that the Baekje kingdom finally ground to a halt in 660, succumbing to the Silla forces that, following their crushing of Goguryeo shortly afterwards, went on to rule the whole peninsula.
Though local rebellions briefly brought Baekje back to power in the years leading up to the disintegration of Unified Silla, it was finally stamped out by the nascent Goryeo dynasty in 935. Despite the many centuries that have elapsed since, much evidence of Baekje times can still be seen today in the form of the regal burial mounds found in Gongju and Buyeo.