Queen Seondeok of Silla

This article is about a female monarch of Silla. For the TV series, see Queen Seondeok (TV series). For the male monarch with same name, see King Seondeok of Silla.
Queen Seondeok of Silla
Queen of Silla
Reign 632 - 647 (15 years)
Coronation 632
Predecessor Jinpyeong of Silla
Successor Jindeok of Silla
Died 17 February 647
Father Jinpyeong of Silla
Mother Queen Maya of Silla
Queen Seondeok of Silla
Hangul 선덕여왕, also 선덕왕
Hanja 善德女王, also 善德王
Revised Romanization Seondeok yeowang, also Seondeok wang
McCune–Reischauer Sŏndŏk yŏwang, also Sŏndŏk wang
Monarchs of Korea
  1. Hyeokgeose 57 BCE – 4 CE
  2. Namhae 4–24
  3. Yuri 24–57
  4. Talhae 57–80
  5. Pasa 80–112
  6. Jima 112–134
  7. Ilseong 134–154
  8. Adalla 154–184
  9. Beolhyu 184–196
  10. Naehae 196–230
  11. Jobun 230–247
  12. Cheomhae 247–261
  13. Michu 262–284
  14. Yurye 284–298
  15. Girim 298–310
  16. Heulhae 310–356
  17. Naemul 356–402
  18. Silseong 402–417
  19. Nulji 417–458
  20. Jabi 458–479
  21. Soji 479–500
  22. Jijeung 500–514
  23. Beopheung 514–540
  24. Jinheung 540–576
  25. Jinji 576–579
  26. Jinpyeong 579–632
  27. Seondeok 632–647
  28. Jindeok 647–654
  29. Muyeol 654–661

Queen Seondeok of Silla (Hangul: 선덕여왕 Korean pronunciation: [sʰʌndʌk jʌwaŋ]; ? - 17 February 647) reigned as Queen Regnant of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, from 632 to 647.[1] She was Silla's twenty-seventh ruler, and its first reigning queen. She was the second female sovereign in recorded East Asian history and encouraged a renaissance in thought, literature, and the arts in Silla.[2]

Selection as heiress

Before she became queen, Seondeok was known as Princess Deokman (hanja: 德曼 ). According to the Samguk Sagi, she was the first of Jinpyeong of Silla's daughters, but according to other historical records, she was the second of King Jinpyeong's daughters and much younger than her elder sister, Princess Cheonmyeong. Her nephew, Princess Cheonmyeong's son, eventually became King Muyeol of Silla while Seondeok's other sister, Princess Seonhwa, eventually married Mu of Baekje and became the mother of Uija of Baekje. Seonhwa's existence is controversial due to the discovery of evidence in 2009 that points to King Uija's mother as being Queen Sataek and not Seonhwa as indicated by historical records.

Because he had no sons, Jinpyeong selected Seondeok as his heir. Though unprecedented, this action would probably not have been all that shocking within Silla as women of the period already had a certain degree of influence as advisors, queens dowager and regents - Jinpyeong himself gained the throne as a result of a coup d'état organized by Mishil. Throughout the kingdom, women were the heads of families since matrilineal lines of inheritance existed alongside patrilineal ones. Within Silla, the status of women was relatively high, but there were still restrictions on female behavior and conduct; they were discouraged from activities considered unwomanly. Ultimately, Seondeok's successful reign in turn facilitated the acceptance of two more Queens regnant of Silla.[3]


In 632, Seondeok became the sole ruler of Silla, and reigned until 647. She was the first of three female rulers of the kingdom (the other two being Jindeok of Silla and Jinseong of Silla), and was immediately succeeded by her cousin Jindeok, who ruled until 654.

Seondeok's reign began in the midst of a violent rebellion and fighting in the neighboring kingdom of Baekje were often what preoccupied her. Yet, in her fourteen years as queen of Silla, she used her wit to her advantage. When Baekje invaded, she sought an alliance with Goguryeo. When Goguryeo also turned on Silla, she strengthened ties with Tang China.[4] She kept the kingdom together and sent royal emissaries and scholars to China. She is also credited with the initial formulation of a Korean chivalric code and sent young Koreans to China for martial arts training.[5]

Like Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang and her own father, she was drawn to Buddhism and presided over the completion of Buddhist temples. Notable amongst Buddhist structures she had built is the nine-story wooden pagoda in Hwangnyongsa. On each story of the 80 meters high structure was the name inscribed of one of the neighbors Silla intended to subjugate.[6] Bunhwangsa and Yeongmyosa were also built under her auspices.

She built the "Star-Gazing Tower," or Cheomseongdae, considered the first dedicated observatory in the Far East. The tower still stands in the old Silla capital of Gyeongju, South Korea. She also worked towards relief of poverty.

In the first lunar month of 647, Bidam led a revolt with the slogan that "female rulers cannot rule the country” (女主不能善理).[7] Samguk Sagi says that during Bidam's uprising, a star 'fell'. Bidam used it to encourage his followers, saying that it was a sign of the end of the Queen's reign. On the other hand, Kim Yushin advised the Queen to fly a burning kite to signal that 'the star is back in its place'. After that, Kim Yushin's army defeated Bidam's rebel faction. only ten days after Bidam's uprising, he and 30 of his men were executed by Queen Jindeok of Silla on 26 February (Queen Seondeok died on 17 February, Jindeok was then proclaimed Queen of Silla).


It is believed that Seondeok's selection as her father's successor was justified by her displays of precocious intelligence when she was a princess. One such story (both in Samguk Sagi and Samguk Yusa) recounts that her father received a box of peony seeds from the Emperor Taizong of Tang accompanied by a painting of what the flowers looked like. Looking at the picture, the young Seondeok remarked that while the flower was pretty it was a shame that it did not smell. "If it did, there would be butterflies and bees around the flower in the painting." Her observation about the peonies' lack of scent proved correct — just one of many illustrations of her intellect and hence of her ability to rule.

There are two other accounts of Seondeok's unusual ability to perceive events before their occurrence. In the first it is said that Seondeok once heard a horde of white frogs croaking by the Jade Gate pond in the winter. She interpreted this as an impending attack from the Kingdom of Baekje (the croaking frogs were seen as angry soldiers) in the northwest of Silla (white symbolized the west in astronomy) at the Women's Valley (the Jade Gate was associated with women). When she sent her generals to the Women's Valley, they were able to capture two thousand Baekje soldiers.

The second is an account of her death. Some days before she died, Seondeok gathered her officials and gave the order "When I die, bury me near the Dori-cheon (忉利天, "Heaven of Grieved Merits")." Decades after her death, the thirtieth king Munmu of Silla constructed Sacheonwang-sa (四天王寺 "Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings") in her tomb. Then the nobles realized that one of the Buddha's sayings, "Dori-cheon is above the Sacheonwang-cheon", was accomplished by the Queen.


She was portrayed by actresses Lee Yo-won and Nam Ji-hyun in Queen Seondeok which aired on MBC in 2009, and by Park Joo-mi and Hong Eun-hee in The King's Dream (or Dream of the Emperor) which aired on KBS1 in 2012-2013.


  1. Princess Cheonmyeong (天明公主 천명공주, dates unknown),[9] 1st or 2nd daughter
  2. Princess Seonhwa (善化/花公主 선화공주, dates unknown),[10][11] 3rd daughter[12][13] (There is constant debate over her identity.)
  1. Kim Yongsu (金龍樹 김용수) 578-647,[14] Princess Cheonmyeong's husband,[15] 13th Pungwolju.
    1. Kim Chun-chu (金春秋 김춘추 604-661), only son, 18th Pungwolju; later King (Taejong) Muyeol (太宗武烈王 태종무열왕).

See also


  1. Il-yeon: Samguk Yusa: Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea, translated by Tae-Hung Ha and Grafton K. Mintz. Book One, page 57. Silk Pagoda (2006). ISBN 1-59654-348-5
  2. Silla Korea and the Silk Road by Koreasociety
  3. Lee 2008, p. 137
  4. Lee 2008, p. 139
  5. Wollock 2011, p. 254
  6. Lee 2008, p. 140
  7. Her royal name is influenced by Śākyamuni's mother's name
  8. Posthumously known as the Empress Dowager Munjeong (文貞太后 문정태후).
  9. (Korean) Princess Seonhwa at Doosan Encyclopedia
  10. According to the Memorabilia of the Three Kingdom, she is the wife of Baekje's King Mu and mother of Uija.
  11. However, theories based on the History of the Three Kingdoms suggest that she was the wife of King Dongseong and some theories say that she wasn't even a princess but a daughter of a wealthy noble.
  12. (Korean) Princess Seonhwa at The Academy of Korean Studies
  13. Posthumously known as the Great King Munheung (文興大王 문흥대왕).
  14. Princess Cheonmyeong is Kim Yong-chun's 1st wife; he had 3 other wives (two of them were her sisters Queen Seondeok when she was still Princess Deokman, and the other was Princess Cheonhwa); as well as having 3 lovers.
  15. Also known as Gukgian (國其安 국기안); youngest brother of King Jinpyeong.
  16. Granted the title of Galmunwang (葛文王 갈문왕) in Jinpyeong's first year (579), and was known as Galmunwang Jin'an (眞安葛文王 진안갈문왕).
  17. Also known as Lady Ani (阿尼夫人 아니부인)


Queen Seondeok of Silla
Died: 647
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Queen of Silla
Succeeded by
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