Portraits of Prominent Female Figures in Asian History: Queen Seon Deok of Silla

This series has come about with the intention to shed light on North-East Asia’s prominent female figures that were often over shadowed by their male counterparts due to the influence of societies profoundly influenced by Confucianism and Patriarchy.

ImageQueen Seon Deok was the 27th monarch of the kingdom of Silla in the three kingdoms period in Korea, and the first female ruler of Silla and the second in Asia.   Apart from her rumoured tendency to predict events, not enough can be known about her personality and characteristics from the sources but Korean texts, which have not yet been deciphered to the western continent, may help discover this.

Silla was the kingdom most refined in the arts and culture compared to the kingdoms of Goguryeo and Paekche. Shamanism and former Korean traditions were at the core of Silla’s culture. Even so, Silla was deeply subjective to Chinese culture and politics.

There are a few versions of The Peony Tale which establish Queen Seon Deok’s intelligence for sovereignty. One version recounts that King Jinpyeong had received peony seeds and a painting of peonies in bloom when she was a young Princess Deokman. In response to the King Jinpyeong’s request of her thoughts on the gift, Princess Deokman said that the peonies were beautiful but would not carry a fragrance due to the lack of bees and butterflies. Another variation is that this gift was sent to Queen Seon Deok from the Emperor of China to tease her lack of a husband as represented by the lack of bees, butterflies, and fragrance.

An intriguing aspect to Queen Seon Deok’s reign was her interest inImage astrology and the power of astrology/astronomy in politics, deeply effecting commoners. Cheomseongdae Observatory was an attempt to restore power to commoners. Power had been previously gained by the superstitious beliefs and scientific ignorance of the masses.  This was achieved by interpreting natural occurrences in the means for the political power of the nobility. The objective of Cheomseongdae can be likened to King Sejong’s plight to drastically increase the literacy of commoners through the simple native writing system Hangul.

Even though Queen Seon Deok’s reign was steeped in conflict between Goguryeo, she was able to maintain Silla’s power and progress Silla’s technology and culture through China and The Silk Road. Stretching all the way from Rome to Japan, The Silk Road was comprised of trading routes that spread across Eurasia. This increased the exchange of ideImageas, knowledge, objects and art which improved Silla’s standing as a Kingdom through international relations, knowledge such as Astrology, and art. She accomplished this by joining with China against Goguryeo, trade, and spreading envoys and monks to China for Buddhism as well as knowledge of culture. In 2009, she was portrayed by Lee Yo Won in the Korean drama ‘Queen Seon Deok’.

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