Silla treasures explored on closer look in English
Gold crowns from the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-935 A.D.) are one of the most well-known relics that represent the richness and splendor of Korean history.
But before a gold crown was first uncovered in 1921, the treasures had slept in the darkness of a tomb for a thousand years.
After the kingdom fell, its ancient capital city Gyeongju became desolate. In 1921, a gold crown and a large amount of gold items were discovered accidently during the construction of a building at Noseo-dong, Gyeongju. The tomb is called the Gold Crown Tomb, or Geumgwanchong, due to that first landmark excavation, which unleashed the dazzling gold.
Since then, Silla gold artifacts have gradually been unveiled with ensuing excavations of more crowns and jewelry.
“The Gold Crowns of Silla: Treasures from a Brilliant Age,” a colorful catalogue for foreigners, published by the Korea Foundation reveals the delicacy and brilliance of the crowns and other ornaments with in-depth close-ups and research. The book is rich with various colorful photos taken from different angles and various views.
Translated from Korean to English by professor Lee Jung-hee, the book highlights the gold crown from the Gold Crown Tomb (Geumgwanchong); the second gold crown in the Gold Bell Tomb (Geumnyeongchong) in 1924; the third in the Auspicious Phoenix Tomb (Seobongchong) in 1926; the fourth in the Heavenly Horse Tomb (Cheonmachong) in 1973; and the fifth in the North Mound of the Great Tomb at Hwangnam (Hwangnamdaechong) in 1975.
The majority of these elaborate gold crowns and jewelry were found in the tombs of kings and royal families, indicating that they were the symbols of authority.
The gold ornaments show the kingdom was a “country of gold splendor,” not only displaying the essence of craftsmanship during the period but also reflecting their desire for eternal life in a different world after death.
In general, the crowns are glamorous and unique in design mostly having three-branches and “deer antlers” from vertical uprights decorated with sumptuous spangles and curved jade. The vertical uprights are attached by golden rivets to a circular diadem around the crown. The design is connected to the ancient northern culture and the symbols of “the tree of life” or “the tree of the universe.”
The spangles and the curved jade represent the leaves and fruits of the tree of life. Also, their patterns are symmetrically arranged.
They look similar but subtly differ in accordance with the times. The early gold crowns are simple but gradually grew into more elaborate designs. Their symbolic meaning reflects the yearning of the Silla people who wanted to be reborn in the next world.
This book shows the details of the crowns which are difficult to see with the naked eye, along with personal ornaments.
The Great Tomb at Hwangnam was excavated from 1973 to 1975. The tomb complex constitutes two connected mounds resembling a gourd shape. The south mound had a main wooden chamber connected in a T-shape to an additional chamber off to the side. It contained priceless treasures such as gilt bronze crowns, a gold necklace, a gold belt, gold earrings and large ring-handled swords decorated with gold and silver, and armor such as knee covers and horse equipment, glass containers and a bronze mirror.
The north mound included gold ornaments such as spangles, necklaces, rings, bracelets and a gold belt with pendants.
The Heavenly Horse Tomb, which was excavated in 1973, was decorated with an exquisite painting of a heavenly horse. Gold objects including a crown, pendants, cap, belt and earrings along with bronze cauldrons, and weaponry were recovered from the tomb. The gold crown from the tomb is the most sumptuous of all the Silla gold crowns found and decorated with numerous spangles and pieces of curved jade.
The Gold Crown Tomb, which was discovered in 1921, had more than 40,000 articles including jewelry, weaponry, a gold belt, horse trappings and utensils. Numerous objects related to West Asia, and the Goguryeo and Baekje Kingdoms were found within the tomb, which means the kingdom was active “internationally.” The crown also has designs with numerous curved jade mountings and spangles covering its surface.
Excavated in 1926, the Auspicious Phoenix Tomb produced a gold crown with an unusual inner crown headdress made of two gold plates crossing over each other to form it.
In the Gold Bell Tomb, the artifacts were smaller in size, hinting that the occupant was a young prince. Scholars who have studied a pair of ewers said that they could be an image of the tomb’s occupant in the process of departing for the next world.
Silla was not the only kingdom in Korean history to bury gold in tumuli as neighboring countries also built mounds and buried gold objects. But Silla had the most extraordinary treasures, among these states. The gold culture of Silla grew along with its power from a small polity to an influential state.