Exhibitions/ Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom/ About the Exhibition/ Treasures from Silla Tombs

Treasures from Silla Tombs

From the late fourth through the early sixth century, Silla royalty and elites were interred in aboveground wooden chambers covered with impenetrable mounds made of layers of stone and earth. Treasures from these sites, located within the kingdom's capital city (modern-day Gyeongju), have shaped our understanding of Silla culture of this period, especially with regard to beliefs and practices related to the afterlife. Moreover, they illustrate Silla’s complicated ties to the nomadic-pastoralist traditions of Eurasia.

Hwangnam Daechong (Great Tomb of Hwangnam), the largest Silla tomb, contained a double burial of a king and his queen together with all the essentials and luxuries needed for their immortal life: stunning gold regalia, including a crown-and-belt set; gold and glass-bead jewelry; vessels of clay and precious metals; weapons; and horse trappings and fittings for riding. Many other fifth- and sixth-century tombs have yielded similarly exquisite accessories and robust pottery.

The Construction of Hwangnam Daechong Tomb: 3D Animation


Crown and belt with pendant ornaments, Korea, Silla kingdom, second half of 5th century. Excavated from the north mound of Hwangnam Daechong Tomb. Gold and jade; crown: H. 10 3/4 in. (27.3 cm); belt: L. 47 1/4 in. (120 cm). Gyeongju National Museum, Korea, National Treasure 191, 192

This magnificent crown and belt were found in the queen's tomb at the double-burial of Hwangnam Daechong. The king, who had been the reigning monarch, had crowns made of silver and gilt bronze only. The crown comprises a headband with five vertical elements—three shaped like trees and two like antlers—and six dangling pendants. Embellishments of tiny gold disks and comma-shaped jade ornaments, or gogok, are attached to the surface with wires. The belt, which originally would have had a leather or silk backing under the reticulated square plaques, is decorated with such ornamental implements as a whetstone and a knife, alongside a fish and gold and jade gogok.

The general structure and imagery of this set echo the regalia used by rulers of the many nomadic confederations that roamed the Eurasian steppes for millennia, and, to a lesser extent, pieces found in China. However, Silla tombs such as Hwangnam Daechong have yielded larger quantities and more spectacular gold adornments.

Pair of earrings, Korea, Silla Kingdom, second quarter of the 6th century. Excavated from Bomun-dong Hapjangbun Tomb. Gold; left: L. 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm), right: L. 3 7/16 in. (8.8 cm). National Museum of Korea, National Treasure 90

The most dramatic of Silla earrings, this pair is especially notable for its surface decoration of tiny gold balls, a technique known as granulation. Thought to have developed in ancient Iraq in the third millennium B.C., granulation most likely reached Silla either from the northern kingdom of Goguryeo or via China. Here, the technique also has been used to decorate the middle ring of the pair as well as the edges of the gold spangles in their attached pendants.

Chestlace, Korea, Silla Kingdom, end of the 4th century. Excavated from Wolseong-ro Tomb no. ga-13. Glass, gold, and jade; L. 17 1/8 in. (43.5 cm). Gyeongju National Museum, Korea

Placed across the chest and, sometimes, the shoulders of the deceased, adornments of this type are often described as "chestlaces" to distinguish them from necklaces, which are tied around the neck. Unique to the Silla kingdom, chestlaces functioned as regalia—symbols of the importance and authority of the deceased. This example consists of seven strings of dark blue glass beads interspersed with gold bands and connected to the jade ornament (gogok) at the center.