|A suit of armor from the Gaya kingdom in Korea. (Good friend 100/Wikimedia Commons)|
Gaya was a confederacy of city-states that existed from around AD 42-532. It was situated in extreme south-central Korea on an abundant natural supply of soil and minerals, including iron. These natural resources helped it develop an earthenware trade and, most importantly of all, an iron trade. This abundance of iron - and Gaya's advanced smelting and iron-making techniques - helped Gaya gain its reuptation as the "Iron Kingdom." Over time it developed extensive trading networks with the neighboring kingdoms of Baekje and Silla...as well as China and Wa, or Kofun-period Japan!
Iron-manufacturing technology most likely spread into Korea from Yan state in China, which was located around the modern-day Beijing area. Yan existed from the 9th century BC-222 BC, when it was conquered and absorbed by Qin state.
|A map of different locations in Korea where Gaya helmets have been found. (Azukiajuma/Wikimedia Commons)|
|A Gaya warrior.|
Over time, Gaya taught the techniques and technology for smelting earthenware and iron. Also, people from Gaya began to emigrate to Kyushu and set up earthenware kilns. By the end of the 5th century AD, Japan began producing its own iron and earthenware products (including Sue ware) thanks to the contributions of these immigrants and the Gaya kingdom. These developments would change Japan forever and have an impact on Japanese civilization and culture long after Gaya ceased to exist.
Armor, helmets, jewelry, trinkets, tools, and more that can be traced back to Gaya have been found at a number of Kofun-period burial sites in Japan.
In the 4th and 5th centuries AD, much of Gaya gradually disintegrated due to pressure from the much more powerful Goguryeo kingdom. In the 6th century, Silla declared war on Gaya as a punishment for aiding Baekje during a war between the two kingdoms. Gaya - or what remained of it - lost this war and was absorbed into Silla.
The ancient kingdom of Gaya may be a relatively obscure kingdom and it may have disappeared into history, but it played a crucial role in the histories of Korea and Japan (and would continue to play an instrumental role in Silla after it annexed Gaya) through its iron-making technology. It also left behind remains of a civilization that have fascinated arachaeologists and historians for decades.
For more information about Gaya, check out the following:
http://www.hongik.ac.kr/~kayakim/openlec/Gaya_foreign/Gaya%20in%20English.htm (Very in-depth article about the kingdom of Gaya.)
http://kyb0417.blogspot.com/ (Post from Mugap's Korean Armour about Gaya armor. Includes other lesser-known armor from the region (Korean peninsula/China/Manchuria/Siberian Russia) as well.
http://kimhaekims.net/cultural_foundations_of_gaya.htm (Article about Gaya and its iron trade.)
http://gimhae.museum.go.kr/html/en/exh/exh_01.html (Website about Gaya from the Gimhae National Museum in Gimhae, South Korea. Includes pictures of Gaya artifacts.)
*This blog post has referenced information from the following book:
Barnes, Gina L. China, Korea, and Japan: The Rise of Civilization in East Asia. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd, 1993: pgs. 208, 232, 244.
(Gaya warrior image copyright: Dentarg. Used via Wikimedia Commons.)