A summary of the Pottery of the Three Kingdoms Period in Korea

Essay, 2003

17 Pages, Grade: A-



1) Introduction

2) Kaya (AD 42-562)

3) Silla (57 BC-AD 668)

4) Paekche (18 BC-AD 663)

5) Koguryŏ (37 BC–AD 668)

6) Conclusion

7) Literature

8) Attachment: Figures

1) Introduction

The so-called Three Kingdoms Period marks a phase of coalescence in Korean history. Three empires – Koguryŏ, Paekche and Silla – established independent reigns. In addition, several states, collectively referred to as Kaya, existed, yet even though located close to each other, they never became one state. The formation of the kingdoms dates back to the first century BC, however, their importance arose only in the fourth century after the Chinese Han commandery and thus the Chinese hegemony broke down.[1] While the earlier centuries became denominated as Proto-Three Kingdoms Period, the phase which is to be dealt with in this essay is the Three Kingdoms Period, dating from c. 313 to 668. This phase came to an end when one of the kingdoms, Silla, finally managed to gain hegemony.

The importance of this period arises from its pottery[2]t’ogi – which is crucial to understand the renowned ceramic tradition of Korea.[3] Both technical and stylistic innovations were achieved, so the earliest high-fired wares of the world are to be found not only in China but also in Korea.[4] Furthermore, the potter’s wheel was largely used.[5]

The present essay aims to depict the most important features of these developments by portraying each of the three kingdoms and the city states separately. Firstly, a short outline of the historical and geographical development needs to be given. Especially the “foreign” influences must be considered, such as the introduction of Buddhism and contact to China. Secondly, the most important characteristics and achievements of the art of pottery are examined. Short presentations of the most typical art objects of every region will be given to underline the explanations.

Though on account of the brevity of this essay, no excavation sites will be considered and no other materials will be mentioned. The treatise of the kingdoms will start with the presentation of Kaya as the important innovations ought to be achieved there first.[6] Then the neighbouring states of Silla and Paekche, finally Koguryŏ will follow.

2) Kaya (AD 42-562)

Kaya, only a loose confederation of several city-states, was situated in the south of the Korean peninsula. While neighbouring the powerful kingdoms Paekche and Silla,[7] Kaya had free access to the sea. The sea route enabled it to maintain close contacts with China and Japan, probably even to further western countries.[8] In AD 562, Kaya got absorbed by Silla.

Kaya pottery has developed some regional characteristics.[9] Moreover, the progressive innovations of the Three Kingdoms Period originated there.[10]

The method of firing was improved.[11] Closed kilns were used instead of the former open or semi-open ones used in the Proto-Three Kingdom Period. Sloping tunnel-kilns were built on hill-sides, fuelled with wood. The wood burned with a long flame and reached a high temperature relatively quickly. Doing so, the kiln produced a high and steady heat, the flow of oxygen could be controlled easier. This invention made it possible to reach a heat of 1000°C or more. Pottery fired in such high temperatures becomes hard and non-porous. This so-called stoneware is suitable for storing liquids. In Korea, stoneware was used both in ceremonial and everyday life.[12]

Another advantage of the enclosed kiln, which was most likely discovered only by chance, was a glaze-like by-product.[13] Because of the rush of flames inside the kiln, ash is whirled up and covers the clay objects. The heat makes it oxidising, and gives the pottery a thin coating of shimmering glaze. Firing in oxidation is when there is an unrestricted flow of air to the kiln. Towards the end of firing, the air inlets get closed, the flow of air is restricted – firing in reduction happens.

The flames, hungry for oxygen, begin to consume the chemically-combined oxygen in glaze and body of the pots in the kiln, with consequent changes in colour. Ordinary pottery fired in oxidation will be red in colour; in reduction it will become grey.

Later, the Korean potters produced this effect by either coating the raw clay vessels with ash before firing them or by fanning ash into the kiln during the firing. It is interesting to note that apart from this method, no glazing technique is known in Korea until the seventh century.

Kaya’s pottery is characterised by a strong preference to sculptural forms.[14] Apart from the typical shapes like round-based jars and tall stands for these, which can also be found in Silla region – and which will be examined more detailed in the “Silla” chapter –, there are numerous animal-shaped vessels, such as funerary cups modelled like ducks or horses.[15] Unusual also the clay-modelled miniatures of carts, boats and shoes.[16] These pieces are imitated in a very realistic way. As an example, cups shaped like ducks may be picked out (fig. 1)[17]. Even though formed very naturalistically, they have an elongated funnel on the back and an (openwork) stand instead of feet. As these vessels are hollow, they must have been used as functional cups during the funeral ceremonies.[18] The use of very realistic models or figurines attests to a strong belief in an afterlife, that can be influenced by producing ritual objects for the use of the deceased.[19] Remarkable also is the serrated rim of the vessel which is frequent in Kaya’s ware.[20]

Similar vessels can not be found elsewhere in Korea, but are known from ancient Persia.[21] This suggests that there must have been contact between Kaya and western Asia, which did not influence the other Korean regions, however.


[1] Compare: Best, J., 1998, 18; Chung, Y.,1998, 226f.

[2] This is, of course, only one facet aspect of the arts of the Three Kingdoms Period.

[3] Chung, Y.,1998, 227.

[4] Chung, Y.,1998, 227.

[5] Pak, Y., 1998, 406.

[6] Goepper, R., Whitfield, R., 1984, 65; Jungmann, 1999, 15. It is not really clear whether the first kilns originate from Kaya or Silla (Pak, Y., 1998, 404), however, their beginning must have been in the south-eastern region. Accordingly, the chapters about “Kaya” and “Silla” are strongly related.

[7] Goepper, R., Whitfield, R., 1984, 65.

[8] Goepper, R., Whitfield, R., 1984, 65. See also further on this text.

[9] Goepper, R., Whitfield, R., 1984, 65.

[10] Goepper, R., Whitfield, R., 1984, 65.

[11] For the following description compare also: Goepper, R., Whitfield, R., 1984, 65 and Chung, Y.,1998, 227; Pak, Y., 1998, 405f.

[12] Chung, Y.,1998, 228; Korea. Die Alten Königreiche, 1999, 139f.

[13] Chung, Y.,1998, 227f.

[14] Chung, Y.,1998, 228.

[15] For more detailed description compare: Goepper, R., Whitfield, R., 1984, 65; Handbook of Korean Art, 2002, 13.

[16] Handbook of Korean Art, 2002, 13; Korea. Die Alten Königreiche, 1999, 140f. These kinds of vessels obviously symbolised the save transfer of the deceased to afterlife.

[17] For pictures see attachments, P.I f.

[18] Handbook of Korean Art, 2002, 44; Goepper, R., Whitfield, R., 1984, 68; Korea. Die Alten Königreiche, 1999, 132f.

[19] As for the ducks/birds, it is assumed that they have a particular meaning in the shamanistic beliefs of south-east Korea which is rich in water. (Korea. Die Alten Königreiche, 1999, 133).

[20] Goepper, R., Whitfield, R., 1984, 68.

[21] Handbook of Korean Art, 2002, 44.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


A summary of the Pottery of the Three Kingdoms Period in Korea
History of Korean Art
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1185 KB
Dozentenkommentar: This essay is well constructed and brings together a variety information. The selected literature and illustrations are well chosen.
Pottery, Three, Kingdoms, Period, Korea, History, Korean
Quote paper
M. A. Simone Kraft (Author), 2003, A summary of the Pottery of the Three Kingdoms Period in Korea, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/76199


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: A summary of the Pottery of the Three Kingdoms Period in Korea

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free