King Micheon was the fifteenth ruler of the Goguryeo kingdom. He was the grandson of the 13th king, Seocheon. But he had a miserable boyhood, as he had to make a living as a salt peddler. Why did the grandson of a king have to sell salt to earn a living and how did he become king later? Behind his dramatic life lies the tragic history of the Goguryeo royal court riddled with bloody fratricidal struggles.
King Micheon’s childhood name was Eulbul. He was the son of Dolgo, the younger brother of the 14th king, Bongsang. For many kings in history, their brothers were archrivals who could possibly usurp the throne. It was common in both Eastern and Western history that kings murdered their own brothers. King Bongsang was one of them. Just a few months after he became king, Bongsang killed his uncle, Dalga, who was immensely popular with the public. He also executed his brother, Dolgo, under false charges of treason. To get rid of the source of possible troubles, the king attempted to kill his nephew and Dolgo’s son, Eulbul, as well. Eulbul had to escape from the palace to save his life.
The young boy had no place to go and no one to turn to. He began to work as a servant of a local lord. The local lord had no idea who the young prince was and treated the boy harshly. Eulbul worked hard, collecting firewood and running errands during the day. He couldn’t even rest at night, as he was forced to throw stones into a pond all night in order to keep frogs quiet so his master would not wake up. After a year, he left the house, hoping to end his tough life as a servant.
However, a far more difficult life awaited him. Eulbul became a salt peddler, traveling from village to village selling salt. One day, when he stayed the night at the house of an old woman, he gave her some salt in return. At the time, salt was a rare and important commodity. The old woman asked for much more salt, but Eulbul turned her down. The angry woman secretly put her shoes in the salt merchant’s bag. The next morning, the peddler left the house, not knowing what was inside his bag. The evil woman called him a thief and took him to a local magistrate. She accused him of stealing her shoes, which were discovered in his bag. The poor man was lashed as punishment and had to pay the woman the value of her shoes in salt. After the incident, he could no longer sell salt as he lost trust among the people. His life became even more miserable. He was no better than a beggar, and no one would believe that he had once belonged to the royal family.
In the year 300, Eulbul had unexpected visitors who completely changed his life. At the time, King Bongsang had become increasingly oppressive, and court officials, led by Prime Minister Chang Jo-ri, were plotting to stage a coup to overthrow the unpopular king. They found Eulbul, the royal grandson, and pleaded with him to become their new king. He agreed and hid in the prime minister’s house. While the king and his ministers were on a hunting trip, Chang Jo-ri placed a reed in his hat and told other ministers to do as he did if they supported him in his belief. All the ministers put reeds in their own hats and they joined forces to dethrone the king and place Eulbul on the throne instead. That is how the former salt peddler became the 15th king of Goguryeo, known as King Micheon.