Goryeo–Khitan War

The Goryeo–Khitan War (Chinese: 遼麗戰爭; Korean고려-거란 전쟁) was a series of 10th- and 11th-century conflicts between the Goryeo dynasty of Korea and the Khitan-led Liao dynasty of China near the present-day border between China and North Korea.

Goryeo–Khitan War
Goryeo–Khitan Liao War.png
Map of the two dynasties, Liao Dynasty in green, Goryeo in white
Date993,[1] 1010,[2] 1018–1019[3]

Goryeo victory[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][excessive citations]

  • The Liao dynasty cedes territory around the Yalu River basin to Goryeo[17]
  • Goryeo pays tribute to the Liao dynasty to establish diplomatic relations
  • Peace ensues between Goryeo and Liao, and Liao never attacks Goryeo again[18][19][20]
Goryeo dynasty Liao dynasty
Commanders and leaders
Hyeonjong of Goryeo
Gang Gam-chan
Seo Hui
Gang Jo 
Yang Gyu [ko] 
Emperor Shengzong
Xiao Xunning [zh]
Xiao Paiya [zh]
Yelü Pennu
Second conflict: Approximately 300,000
Third conflict: Approximately 208,000

First conflict: Approximately 800,000[21][22]

Second conflict: Approximately 400,000[21][23]
Third conflict: Approximately 100,000


During the Three Kingdoms of Korea period, Goguryeo occupied the northern Korean Peninsula and parts of Manchuria. With Goguryeo's fall in 668, Silla unified the Three Kingdoms, while northern parts of Goguryeo territory were briefly occupied by Silla's ally, Tang dynasty. Later, the state of Balhae was formed on this territory.

Right after the fall of Goguryeo, the Göktürks were divided and eventually driven out from most of Central Asia by the Tang dynasty. Another Turkic tribe, the Uyghurs, replaced the Göktürks, but their control was weak.

As Balhae, the Uyghur and the Tang dynasty weakened, the Khitan people, a nomadic confederation inhabiting Manchuria and eastern Mongolian Plateau, grew stronger and began to expand their territory. Following Tang's collapse in 907, China proper experienced a long period of civil war that lasted until 979.

In 916, the Liao dynasty was founded by the Khitan chief Yelü Abaoji, known posthumously as the Emperor Taizu of Liao, replacing the Uyghurs as the dominant power on the Mongolian Plateau after the Yenisei Kyrgyz and the Tang dynasty defeated the Uyghur Khaganate and left a power vacuum.

Goryeo–Khitan relationsEdit

On the Korean Peninsula, Silla was succeeded by Goryeo in 918. The Liao dynasty conquered Balhae in 926, with Balhae refugees forced to migrate by the Liao Empire,[24] a portion of its people including the ruling class moved south and joined the newly founded Goryeo dynasty.[25][26]

The Liao dynasty took control of the Sixteen Prefectures south of the Great Wall for helping the foundation of the short-lived Later Jin dynasty (936-947), which ruled only Zhongyuan, a small part of China.[citation needed]

In 922, the Liao emperor Yelü Abaoji sent horses and camels to Goryeo as gifts of friendship.[citation needed] However, when Balhae fell to the Khitan a few years later, King Taejo embraced refugees from Balhae and pursued a policy of northern expansion (possibly enabled by the absence of a fellow Korean kingdom in what was once Goguryeo territory).[27] In 942, the Khitan sent another 50 camels to Goryeo, but this time Taejo refused the gift, exiled the envoy to an island, and had the camels starved to death.[28]

Succeeding Goryeo rulers continued the anti-Liao policy. Jeongjong, 3rd Monarch of Goryeo, raised an army to defend against the Liao. Gwangjong of Goryeo built fortresses along the northwest and aggressively developed the military fortifications of present-day Pyongan and Hamgyong provinces.[citation needed]

Liao's expansionEdit

In 962, Gwangjong allied with the Song dynasty of central China and pursued a northern expansion policy. Additionally, some Balhae refugees had formed a small state called Jeongan in mid-Yalu River region and allied with Song and Goryeo against the Liao.

The Liao dynasty eventually regained internal stability under the strong leadership of Emperor Shengzong of Liao, who sought to counter regional isolation. After conquering Jeongan-guk in 986 and attacking the Jurchens on the lower Yalu River in 991, the Liao dynasty initiated attacks against Goryeo.

First InvasionEdit

In 993, the Liao dynasty invaded Goryeo's northwestern border with an army that the Liao commander claimed to number 800,000.[21][22] After a military stalemate,[29] negotiations began between the two states, producing the following concessions: Firstly, Goryeo formally ended all relations with the Song dynasty, agreed to pay tribute to Liao and to adopt Liao's calendar.[30][31][32] Secondly, after negotiations led by the Goryeo diplomat Seo Hui, Goryeo formally incorporated the land between the border of Liao and Goryeo up to the Yalu River, which was at the time occupied by troublesome Jurchen tribes, citing that in the past the land belonged to Goguryeo.[33][34][35] With this agreement, the Liao forces withdrew. However, in spite of the settlement, Goryeo continued to communicate with Song,[36] having strengthened its defenses by building fortresses in the newly gained northern territories.[37]

Second InvasionEdit

In 1009, General Gang Jo of Goryeo led a coup against King Mokjong, killing him and establishing military rule.[38] The Liao dynasty attacked with 400,000 troops in 1010, claiming to avenge the murdered Mokjong.[39][40] Gang Jo blocked the Liao's first attack, but he was defeated in the second one and was executed.[21][41] King Hyeonjong of Goryeo was forced to flee the capital, which was sacked and burnt by the Liao,[40][42][43] to Naju temporarily.[21] Unable to establish a foothold and to avoid a counterattack by the regrouped Goryeo armies, the Liao forces withdrew.[44] Afterward, the Goryeo king sued for peace, but the Liao emperor demanded that he come in person and also cede key border areas to him; the Goryeo court refused the demands, resulting in a decade of hostility between the two nations, during which both sides fortified their borders in preparation of war.[44][42] Liao attacked Goryeo in 1015, 1016, and 1017, but the results were indecisive.[45]

Third InvasionEdit

In 1018, Liao assembled an army of 100,000 troops to invade Goryeo. In preparation, General Gang Gam-chan ordered a stream to the east of Heunghwajin to be dammed. When the Liao troops crossed the Yalu River, Gang Gam-chan opened the dam and attacked the enemy troops with 12,000 mounted troops, catching them by surprise, inflicting severe losses, and cutting off their line of retreat.[5] The Liao troops soldiered on and headed toward the capital, but were met with stiff resistance and constant attacks, and were forced to retreat back north.[5] Gang Gam-chan and his troops waited at Gwiju and engaged the approaching Liao army, annihilating most of them.[5] Barely a few thousand Liao troops survived after the Battle of Gwiju.[46] In the next year the Liao had assembled another large army in order to launch another invasion.[47] However, understanding the difficulty of achieving a decisive victory, the two nations signed a peace treaty in 1022.


  1. ^ "China's Liao Dynasty". Asia Society.
  2. ^ "The Koryo or Goryeo Kingdom of Korea". ThoughtCo. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  3. ^ Twitchett & Tietze 1994, p.101: "Third invasion, 1018-19".
  4. ^ Rossabi, Morris (1983-05-20). China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries. University of California Press. p. 323. ISBN 9780520045620. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Twitchett, Denis C.; Franke, Herbert; Fairbank, John King (1978). The Cambridge History of China: Volume 6, Alien Regimes and Border States, 907-1368. Cambridge University Press. pp. 111–112. ISBN 9780521243315. Retrieved 30 July 2016. In 1018 a huge new expeditionary force was mobilized by the Khitan and placed under the command of Hsiao P'ai-ya. The army crossed the Yalu late in 1018 but was ambushed by a superior Koryŏ force, suffering severe losses. The Koryŏ army had also cut their line of retreat, and so Hsiao P'ai-ya marched south, planning to take the capital Kaegyŏng, as in 1011. But this time the Koreans had prepared defenses around the capital, and the Khitan, constantly harried by Korean attacks, were forced to retreat toward the Yalu. At Kuju, between the Ch'a and T'o rivers, they were encircled and attacked by the main Koryŏ forces, which almost annihilated the Khitan army. Only a few thousand men managed to return to the Liao border. This was by far the worst defeat suffered by the Khitan during Sheng-tsung's reign, and in consequence Hsiao P'ai-ya was stripped of all his titles and offices and disgraced.
  6. ^ Cohen, Warren I. (2000-12-20). East Asia at the Center: Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World. Columbia University Press. p. 116. ISBN 9780231502511. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  7. ^ Connolly, Peter; Gillingham, Emeritus Professor of History at the London School of Economics John; Gillingham, John; Lazenby, John (2016-05-13). The Hutchinson Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval Warfare. Routledge. p. 183. ISBN 9781135936747. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  8. ^ Bowman, John (2000-09-05). Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture. Columbia University Press. p. 202. ISBN 9780231500043. Retrieved 30 July 2016. The Mongolian-Khitan invasions of the late tenth century challenge the stability of the Koryo government, but a period of prosperity follows the defeat of the Khitan in 1018..
  9. ^ Walker, Hugh Dyson (2012-11-20). East Asia: A New History. AuthorHouse. p. 207. ISBN 9781477265178. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  10. ^ Grant, Reg G. (2011). 1001 Battles That Changed the Course of World History. Universe Pub. p. 131. ISBN 9780789322333. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  11. ^ Kim, Djun Kil (2014-05-30). The History of Korea, 2nd Edition. ABC-CLIO. p. 66. ISBN 9781610695824. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  12. ^ Injae, Lee; Miller, Owen; Jinhoon, Park; Hyun-Hae, Yi (2014-12-15). Korean History in Maps. Cambridge University Press. p. 72. ISBN 9781107098466. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  13. ^ Yi, Ki-baek (1984). A New History of Korea. Harvard University Press. p. 126. ISBN 9780674615762. Retrieved 30 July 2016. Subsequently the Khitan launched several small-scale attacks, to press demands for Hyŏnjong's appearance at their court and surrender of the region of the Six Garrison Settlements, before mounting their third great invasion in 1018. Led by Hsiao P'ai-ya, this time the Khitan army was harassed at every turn and then, retreating, was all but annihilated by a massive Koryŏ attack at Kuju (Kusŏng) executed by Kang Kam-ch'an. The Koryŏ victory was so overwhelming that scarcely a few thousand of the 100,000 man invasion force survived. The Khitan invasions of Koryŏ thus ended in failure. Koryŏ had resolutely resisted foreign aggression and had driven the invaders back. The result was that the two nations worked out a settlement and peaceful relations were maintained between them thereafter.
  14. ^ Breuker, Remco E. (2010). Establishing a Pluralist Society in Medieval Korea, 918-1170: History, Ideology and Identity in the Koryŏ Dynasty. BRILL. p. 244. ISBN 978-9004183254. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  15. ^ Yu, Chai-Shin (2012). The New History of Korean Civilization. iUniverse. p. 71. ISBN 9781462055593. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  16. ^ Seth, Michael J. (27 July 2006). A Concise History of Korea: From the Neolithic Period through the Nineteenth Century. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 84. ISBN 9780742574717. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  17. ^ Shin, Hyeongsik (January 1, 2005). A Brief History of Korea, Volume 1. Ewha Womans University Press. pp. 64–65. ISBN 9788973006199. "On the 9th year of Hyeongjong (1018), Khitan launched another invasion with a 100,000 strong army, but the army was crushed by general Gang Gamchan at the Great Battle of Guiju. Thus, Goryeo expanded its territory to the north as far as the Yalu River basin."
  18. ^ Whiting, Marvin C. Imperial Chinese Military History: 8000 BC-1912 AD. iUniverse. p. 323. ISBN 9780595221349. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  19. ^ Yi, Ki-baek (1984). A New History of Korea. Harvard University Press. p. 126. ISBN 9780674615762. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  20. ^ Lee, Kenneth B. (1997). Korea and East Asia: The Story of a Phoenix. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 60. ISBN 9780275958237. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  21. ^ a b c d e Nahm 1988, p. 89.
  22. ^ a b Twitchett & Tietze 1994, p. 103.
  23. ^ Twitchett & Tietze 1994, p.111.
  24. ^ "Государство Бохай (698-926 гг.)" (in Russian). Archived from the original on 2019-04-30. Retrieved 2019-08-01.
  25. ^ 이상각 (2014). 고려사 - 열정과 자존의 오백년 (in Korean). 들녘. ISBN 9791159250248. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  26. ^ "(2) 건국―호족들과의 제휴". 우리역사넷 (in Korean). National Institute of Korean History. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  27. ^ Rossabi, Morris (20 May 1983). China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries. University of California Press. p. 323. ISBN 9780520045620. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  28. ^ "Goryeo: the dynasty that offered Korea its name". m.koreatimes.co.kr. 2012-04-04. Retrieved 2022-05-21.
  29. ^ Twitchett, Denis C.; Franke, Herbert; Fairbank, John King (1978). The Cambridge History of China: Volume 6, Alien Regimes and Border States, 907-1368. Cambridge University Press. p. 103. ISBN 9780521243315. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  30. ^ Ebrey & Walthall 2014, [1], p. 171, at Google Books: Liao forces invaded Goryeo territory in 993. Instead of pushing for total victory, the Khitans negotiated a peace that forced Goryeo to adopt the Liao calendar and end tributary relations with Song (a violation of King Taejo’s testamentary injunction never to make peace with the Khitan)."
  31. ^ Hyun 2013, p. 106: "the Khitan army attacked Goryeo, who was forced to accept the status of a Liao tributary in 994."
  32. ^ Twitchett & Tietze 1994, p.103: "The Korean king was invested with his title by the Liao emperor."
  33. ^ Kim, Djun Kil (2014-05-30). The History of Korea, 2nd Edition. ABC-CLIO. p. 66. ISBN 9781610695824. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  34. ^ Yun 1998, p.64: "By the end of the negotiation, Sô Hûi had ... ostensibly for the purpose of securing safe diplomatic passage, obtained an explicit Khitan consent to incorporate the land between the Ch’ôngch’ôn and Amnok Rivers into Koryô territory."
  35. ^ Twitchett & Tietze 1994, p.102: "Until the 980s Khitan-Koryǒ relations had been at arm’s length, for the Jurchen tribes and Ting-an had provided a buffer zone between Koryǒ's northern frontier and the Liao border". p.103: "Koryǒ was left free to deal with the Jurchen tribes south of the Yalu Valley".
  36. ^ Hyun 2013, p.106: "Even though the Goryeo court agreed to set up tribute exchanges with the Liao court, that same year [=994] it also sent an envoy to the Song court to appeal, but in vain, for military assistance against the Khitan."
  37. ^ Twitchett & Tietze 1994, p.103.
  38. ^ Bowman 2000, p. 203: "Fearful of plots against him, Mokchong summons Kang Cho from his administrative post in the northwest. However, Kang Cho himself engineers a successful coup in which Mokchong is assassinated."
  39. ^ Bowman 2000, p. 203: "Liao initiates a fresh attack on Koryo's northern border with the ostensible purpose of avenging the murdered Mokchong."
  40. ^ a b Ebrey & Walthall 2014, [2], p. 171, at Google Books: "In 1010, on the pretext that the rightful king had been deposed without the approval of the Liao court, the Khitan emperor personally led an attack that culminated in the burning of the Goryeo capital."
  41. ^ Twitchett & Tietze 1994, p. 111.
  42. ^ a b Simons 1995, p. 93: "a second Liao incursion resulted in heavy losses, the sacking of Kaesong, and the imposition of Liao suzerainty over the Koryo state." p. 95: "a prelude to more invasions during the reign of King Hyonjong (1010-1031) and the occupation of Kaesong, the Koryo capital."
  43. ^ Hatada, Smith Jr & Hazard 1969, p. 52: "in the reign of King Hyŏnjong (1010-1031) there were numerous Khitan invasions, and even the capital Kaesŏng was occupied."
  44. ^ a b Twitchett, Denis C.; Franke, Herbert; Fairbank, John King (1978). The Cambridge History of China: Volume 6, Alien Regimes and Border States, 907-1368. Cambridge University Press. p. 111. ISBN 9780521243315. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  45. ^ Twitchett, Denis C.; Franke, Herbert; Fairbank, John King (1978). The Cambridge History of China: Volume 6, Alien Regimes and Border States, 907-1368. Cambridge University Press. p. 111. ISBN 9780521243315. Retrieved 30 July 2016. From 1015 to 1019 there was incessant warfare, with attacks on Koryŏ in 1015, 1016, and 1017 in which victory went sometimes to Koryŏ, sometimes to the Khitan, but in sum were indecisive.
  46. ^ Twitchett & Tietze 1994, p. 112.
  47. ^ Twitchett & Tietze 1994, p.112.


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