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Feudalism and serfs

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  Quote Alkiviades Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Feudalism and serfs
    Posted: 24-Oct-2005 at 08:03

In the Military history forum and a question about the Byzantine knights (this topic  http://www.allempires.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=6309& ; ; ;PN=1 , we had a little dispute with Raider over a couple of things what is feudal system for instance and whats the role of the serfs in this system.
Here is the relevant exchange, if you are interested (so you wont have to go over the whole topic):

Raider In my opinion there were no Byzantine knights, but heavy cavalry.
The knights were not only heavy cavalrymen, but also had a special code of conduct, the chivalry. They were milites Christi etc. This ideology was almost unknown in the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Church never support military aims, and wars.
(By the way existence of Byzantine feudalism is also an interesting question.)

Alkiviades I agree for the greater part, Raider. One minor objection, though: after the 4th crusade, the latin (frankish mostly) settled in the greek lands and became a pure feudal nobility. Lots of Greek houses originate from these and other Greek houses have adopted some sort of heraldic tradition from the "western" europeans.
The term "knight" cannot be used, of course, seing as the Byzantines had a completely different social and military structure.
Also, feudalism as we know it in the west, never applied to Byzantium. Serfdom (the very defining factor of feudalism) was never - as far as I know - introduced in the Byzantine world, at least not before the Turks came in, and the feudal lords never had (at least in theory) the level of autonomy from the will of their liege, their western counterparts enjoyed.
In theory... because actually very often the feudal lords ruled in the absence of the imperial authority (but that was mostly in periods the central authority was weakened).

Raider
I think it depends how you define feudalism. In my opinion serfdom and feudalism are two completely different thing.

Alkiviades The definition of Feudalism is not open to debate, I fear. It is a very defined thing, in time and space, and serfdom was an integral part of it (the integral part of it). Perhaps you mean something else. Care to elaborate?

Raider As much as I know the definition of feudalism is not fixed.
Generally speaking feudalism a social system based on a lord-vassal relationship. Serfs (or serves ???) are not lords and not vassals, they are complitely out of this system. They were many times only the attachment of the estates.

Alkiviades You got it the other way around: the basis of the feudal system is not the lord - vassal relationship, but the materialisation of this relationship: the estate that was given to the vassal for exchange of services, military duty etc. Without the estate, there is no feudal bond and thus no feudalism. The estate was not just the land, an integral part of it were the people working the land. They went with the land, they were considered a part of the estate (a part of the property) rather than anything else.
Without them, there was no estate. Paid labor in agriculture at the time was completely out of question - who'd support the noble and his large family of idle consumers, if it wasn't for the hardworking peasants he owned?
Also the Feudalism is a very fixed definition. Although, similar systems (feudal-like, feudalist or whatever you want to call them) existed on different timeframes and places. The feudalism though is a social structure confined in the Europe of the middle ages (and beyond, in some cases).


About that point we decided to either let it go or move it to another topic. So, what do you think about feudalism and the role of the serfs in it?



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  Quote Raider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Oct-2005 at 08:10

 

I'm Raider not Rider. Rider is a different member.

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  Quote Alkiviades Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Oct-2005 at 09:49
Oops... mea culpa...
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  Quote tadamson Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Oct-2005 at 11:48
Originally posted by Alkiviades


About that point we decided to either let it go or move it to another topic. So, what do you think about feudalism and the role of the serfs in it?



Feudalisim is a term for socio-economic systems whare the social structure id diminated by personal contracts (the fees).  Typicaly they were of the "..  you give me land to live on and gain revinue from, in return I will provide military service..."  However they could be of many different types and even in 12th centuary England (one of the firt such societies to keep detailed records tat have been analysed), fees gave  land, money, tax privaleges etc (a wide variety) in return for  military service (as  milites, serjants, crossbowmen, engineers, castle guard, harbourmasters etc), and were very varied.  Even at this stage, many of the services included the option of paying scutage (a payment to provide cash to use mercinary troops in place of the feudal ones).  Indeed, most 'knights' fees were never collected in any other way and the English crown preferred to use mercinary knights for actual fighting etc...

The term knight,  referred to men who had a knighthood.  Many earned their way as mercinary soldiers (loot in wars could provide a very good living and buy more land for the family estates).

Serf is a term that describes a person, tecnically unfree but bound to the land (eg you buy 10 acres and you get the field,trees, buildings and a family of workers who can't leave).  It is similar to slave (unfree person who is private or corporate property).

for much of it's history the Byzantine Empire did include elements of the feudal system, but it was limited and they managed to keep to a minimum the passing on of such contracts to descendants (a key factor in making the system so important in Western Europe).  The 'knights' 'miletes' etc who served the Byzantines (commonly referred to as 'Franks') were essentially mercinary troops, but many were actual knights (or sons therov).

I hope that helps you understand each other.


Edited by tadamson
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Oct-2005 at 12:17

Originally posted by tadamson

for much of it's history the Byzantine Empire did include elements of the feudal system, but it was limited and they managed to keep to a minimum the passing on of such contracts to descendants (a key factor in making the system so important in Western Europe).  The 'knights' 'miletes' etc who served the Byzantines (commonly referred to as 'Franks') were essentially mercinary troops, but many were actual knights (or sons therov).

The middle and late periods of Byzantium were dominated by the political and economic struggle between the imperial government and the rural landed aristocracy.  In these periods a certain amount of "feudalization" did occur in the Empire.  For instance, although the Macedonian emperors tried to legislate against it, the rural aristocracy in the 9th in and 10th centuries began to buy up the lands of the smallholding thematic farmers in areas that were devastated by invasion or famine.  Subsequently the aritstocracy began to raise private armies and were viewed by the emperors as possible threats to their authority, not without due reason because the Skleros and Phokas revolts were lead by rural aristocrats.

In the later period, during the reign of the Comneni and the Palaeologi, the emperors often ascended the throne from a landed family.  The great general also came from the rural aristocracy.  It became a policy to hand out prominent imperial positions and titles to family members.  The Palaeologi divided what little territory was left into appenages appointed family members to rule in each section.  The system of pronoia was instituted, probably by Manuel I Comnenus,  as a result of the empire's lack of resources and money, in order to pay heavy cavalrymen in land and tax-collecting privileges.

So, as has already been mentioned, middle and late Byzantium had elements of feudalism in its socio-economic composition.  However, it was different than western feudalism.  I have learned that feudalism was not really a system, but a series of reactionary developments that occured in the abscence of a centralized government (i.e. the Roman Empire).  It was an agreement between powerful lords and lesser knights and nobles to provide security in each other's lands in return for financial favors and subsidies.  Byzantium still had a powerful, although gradually weakened, central government during the periods where feudalization took place.  In comparison it is kind of like feudal Japan in this instance.



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  Quote Cywr Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Oct-2005 at 22:59
Fuedalism is a political-economic system, its revolves around the notion of the fiefdom. Its basicly the relationship between the Lord (king, or whatever), the Vassel (person who runs the fief) and the Fief.
Serfdom may play a role, but its not central to it.

That said, many historians disagree on what exactly it is, some make it the specific system that evolved out of the frankish kingdoms, others take a more broad socio-economic approach.

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  Quote Alkiviades Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Oct-2005 at 08:32

If we define feudalism as the socio-economical system applied in western europe in all its different incarnations, were the serfs and integral part of the system or not?

Or, to put it more blantly, was there a feudalism in the same time-space context without serfdom? Could there be one? and, if yes,  how?

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  Quote Maju Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Oct-2005 at 19:09
I don't think that Feudalism, as economic entity, is definded only or mostly by the relationship of vassallage. I rather think it is the post-slavist developement of economy in the Roman Empire. There was feudal economy before the German invasions and it was in clear expansion before Germans invaded the Empire. Slavery was in clear decline because of scarcity of slaves and because of low productivity. Feudalism offered an alternative, by partly freeing slaves but specially by bounding free peasants to a new concept of serfdom (the original Latin word for slave is servus=serf), Roman Feudalism achieved a clear increase on agrarian production, as the serf, renter of the land, had now a personal incentive to produce more. It also concentrated much more richness in rural landowners and left the cities without a large deal of their former role, decaying. This agrarian feudal society was what the Germans had less problems invading and administrating, adding to it probably the other traits, like vasallage and personal loyalty, that form part of the Medieval feudalism, and that could only develope after the total brakdown of the Roman state and the neo-tribalization of social relationships. 

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  Quote Alkiviades Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Oct-2005 at 00:01
Ah, good, Maju understands the material basis of feudalism, something that is ignored by many who only see the fancy vassalage ties... Could there be feudalism without serfdom, Maju? Or without some other sort of slavery?

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Oct-2005 at 00:06
Many forms of the feudal contract were beneficial to the serf. In settling Sicily, the new Norman conquerors had to compete with other lords to get people to settle in their domain, something that had to be achieved by offering attractive terms even to the small landholder. If you offered your serfs bad terms, you could look forward to losing them to another lord. Feudalism was not simply a material relationship where the lord decides and the peasants obey always.
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  Quote Maju Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Oct-2005 at 08:46
Originally posted by Alkiviades

Ah, good, Maju understands the material basis of feudalism, something that is ignored by many who only see the fancy vassalage ties... Could there be feudalism without serfdom, Maju? Or without some other sort of slavery?


I really don't know for sure but I don't think it is the case, as land properties are related to the manpower attending them, either as serfs, slaves or other types of dependency, wether legal or just factual. Some types of modern "feudalism" can maybe exist with "free" manpower that is nothing but rural proletariat, that is: people deprived of any other possible source of living, even if formally free.

Anyhow, I think that we should make a major difrence between the socioeconomical aspect, that involves serfdom (rather than slavery or free proletariat) and the sociopolitical aspect, which is the vasallage ties and personal loyalty (rather than towards a state): the privatization of politics, the dissapearence of the Res Publica in the hands of the landowners and warlords. Both aspects didn't develope at the same pace but they are related anyhow.

My best guess on that relationship is that a solid state or Res Publica needs of the polis and the citizens to be viable, while the socioeconomic feudalism that appeared in the late Roman Empire supressed both.

An aspect that has not been mentioned is the legal measures that bounded men to their fathers' professions, creating a caste system. The caste system, the lack of legal freedom to change occupation and move in the social scale is also another important factor of Feudalism. Even if the Feudal caste system never worked perfectly, with slaves sometimes ascending to aristocratic positions, etc., the overall caste frame was dominant in the low Empire and in the Medieval and early Modern ages.

It is also thought that some sort of feudal system was dominant in the Bronze and Iron ages but tribalism was also very important then, while in the period we are talking about it had lost most of its importance, except in peripheric areas.

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  Quote Alkiviades Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Oct-2005 at 10:16

Originally posted by Maju



I really don't know for sure but I don't think it is the case, as land properties are related to the manpower attending them, either as serfs, slaves or other types of dependency, wether legal or just factual. Some types of modern "feudalism" can maybe exist with "free" manpower that is nothing but rural proletariat, that is: people deprived of any other possible source of living, even if formally free.

Yes, I've touched this subject myself in another topic... about neo-feudalism, that is. But the actual medieval feaudalism with the dependant nominal too from the land population, has a strong material basis and this basis is the foundation that made feudalism possible in the first place.

Anyhow, I think that we should make a major difrence between the socioeconomical aspect, that involves serfdom (rather than slavery or free proletariat) and the sociopolitical aspect, which is the vasallage ties and personal loyalty (rather than towards a state): the privatization of politics, the dissapearence of the Res Publica in the hands of the landowners and warlords. Both aspects didn't develope at the same pace but they are related anyhow.

The point is that the free farmers and the slaves alike, melted together to create the new "servus" (serf). The sociopolitical factor looks rather clear and can be easily explained by the break-up of the previous installment and the lack of security and prosperous city-states (those were victims to the central - imperial - rule in the earlier times, so the empire in some sorts paved the road for the later establishment) that came with the dissolving of the roman state --> the personified politics, a drawback to tribal politics and/or a compromise between the tribal and rural world, was a very logical evolvment.

What is rather different was the dissapearance of the free farmers and their slave-ization in the process that created the serfs. I don't know enough for the period's fine sociological implications and facts to fully understand the proces (for instance, when did the free farmers began to vanish and when - and where - slavery was primarily replaced with serfdom). But a likely explaination is tied with the same facts that led the sociopolitical aspect of it - lack of central rule -> lack of security provided by a central authority -> personified politics -> personified ties to a protective force ...damn, this sounds more and more like corporate america

My best guess on that relationship is that a solid state or Res Publica needs of the polis and the citizens to be viable, while the socioeconomic feudalism that appeared in the late Roman Empire supressed both.

Ditto


An aspect that has not been mentioned is the legal measures that bounded men to their fathers' professions, creating a caste system. The caste system, the lack of legal freedom to change occupation and move in the social scale is also another important factor of Feudalism. Even if the Feudal caste system never worked perfectly, with slaves sometimes ascending to aristocratic positions, etc., the overall caste frame was dominant in the low Empire and in the Medieval and early Modern ages.

The caste system seems to me as another tribal leftover - it was very common in various tribal societies. What was the role of the religion in that system? Religion always seems easy to adopt - and promote - systems that put people in nice little boxes and doesn't allow for social mobility. What is the role of the organized religion in this whole feudalism business?


It is also thought that some sort of feudal system was dominant in the Bronze and Iron ages but tribalism was also very important then, while in the period we are talking about it had lost most of its importance, except in peripheric areas.

Some sort of feudal system was present in Mycenean Greece and later in Macedonia - the latter was cut off the main body of the Greek world and never quite followed the socio-political and economical revolution that brought forth the city-state institution, and remained an agrarian, feudal-like society like the Myceneans. Even though the data is unclear, there seems to be a sort of dependancy between the free farmer and the landowner, not as strict (or restrictive) as serfdom, but presente nevertheless. And of course Macedonian landowners also had slaves - in the ancient economy they fitted quite well.

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  Quote Maju Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Oct-2005 at 18:00
You may want to consider that slavery as such didn't disapear either. I've read that Germany (Eastern Frankish Kingdom) had a population of mostly slaves in the post-Carolingian period. In France (Western Kingdom) the situation was the opposite: with mostly serfs attached to the land. Anyhow slavery kept existing for all the Middle Ages, though often it is dificult to determine which type of servitude this or that specific source is talking about as they are written in Latin that has only one word for such dependant status: servus.

I can't analyze all the feudalization process here, mostly because this issue is something I haven't touched since I was in High School (I wrote a very good paper on it... but two decades have passed since then) but it's clear that demonetarization and the increasingly common payement in species, land in many cases, played a major role. Landowners actively promoted the pauperization of free peasants and the forced sale of lands and fall into servitude. When this process reached the "marginal" areas of Atlantic climate, that had remained relatively unmolested and autonomous for several centuries, the peasants revolted in a process known as bagaudae, what helped to bring down the Empire.

What role played religion? They are the legitimators: the propaganda machine of ancient times. Eventually, as the only organized, literate and relatively incorrupt structure remaining, the Church became very handy for all kind of functions: administration and legitimization but also police work were their main tasks.

Romans had no work-ethics. The Roman ideal wasn't to work or even to trade but aristocratic life. These ideals were incorporated to the ideology of the Church, specially as defined by Agustin, who legitimated a tripartite caste system: prayers, warriors and the mass of workers.

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  Quote Alkiviades Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Oct-2005 at 09:04

I am fully aware that slavery didnt disappear anywhere it was still legit in the Christian world to own other people. Although it seems that the distinction, when we talk about what kind of services the slaves or serfs were providing, appeared quite clear. I was under the impression that slave labour was used in a more personal way (the noble would have several slaves attached as his personal servicepeople or attending his own private part of the estate forgot the name for it, while the serfs would attend the lands the noble oversaw). Dunno if its so simple, but point out this was the case.

the peasants revolted in a process known as bagaudae, what helped to bring down the Empire.

Interesting have some online source in English about bagaudae? It seems like an event Id love to read bout.

 

Romans had no work-ethics. The Roman ideal wasn't to work or even to trade but aristocratic life. These ideals were incorporated to the ideology of the Church, specially as defined by Agustin, who legitimated a tripartite caste system: prayers, warriors and the mass of workers.

The religious authority as a very, very down-to-earth new aristocracy, perhaps? They had to share power with the warrior class (wasnt Agustin talking about preachers, nobles and those-who-work?) though Funny thing that this tripartite system didnt have any room for the merchants and artisans they didnt seem to fit very well into the greater scheme of things, I assume. But they were there, nevertheless

 

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  Quote Maju Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Oct-2005 at 17:08
There was no real diference between serfs and slaves in the early medieval period. I'm right now rechecking the descriptions that Jan Dhont gives and he doesn't use the term serf: he use slave (servus) and colonist (colonus). The book starts with the Carolingian period so it's fully relevant

He says that slaves were that: a property. Most of them were attached to the land they worked in but that doesn't make much of a diference. Sometimes free men could sell themselves as slaves under the presure of famine or whatever.

He also says: In the great domains, there were multitude of slaves that played the role of agricultural workers. (...) Some of this slaves, without rented lands (and these were rare cases) were more favored in the sense that, instead of working in the fields, they served in the home of the lord. The advantage came from the personal contact with the rich and powerful master, whose favor they could earn and who could assign them a specific function. Many of those that served in the master's family ascended later in the social and material scale to the influential strati of society.

    In between these two groups there was a third one: that of the "servi casati", slaves commissioned by their lord for the explotation, on his behalf, of a  piece of land dependant of his domains (...)

So we have three types of slaves: domain workers, home workers and the servi casati, with a piece of rented land. Then we have the colonists, free men but in a situation simmilar to that of the servi casati, and finally the true free men owning their little agrarian property (franci) or member of the burgueois class (artisans and traders mostly), stabilished in towns and cities, where they existed.

But don't think these burgueoises were very aboundant in the Upper Middle Age, in fact most of the manufacturing production had been transfered to the feuds and the same happened with the little trade still existing. Cities had been massively depopulated and the only surviving ones were those that held a diocese, where the bishops actually were the protectors and rulers of the little trade and craftmanship remaining. In all Western Europe, only Italy maybe escaped partially this process of de-urbanization and, even there, it happened and was strong.

The free men or franci were a decaying class, while the true spine of the feudal system were the rich landowners with their resources to pay for heavy knight equipement and to equip other soldiers, who depended of them.

...

There is some confusion on the term serf, because it was sometimes used to include the colonists but in other cases slaves (servi) and colonists (coloni) are mentioned separately. Only later it would become indistinct to include all dependant renter peasants.

...

On the Bagaudae, check Wikipedia. There's not much information on them anyhow, as obviously Roman cronists weren't interested in singing the glories of the revolting peasants. The Imperial assignation of Aquitaine and Tarraconensis as feud to the Visigoths seem to have been intended to use their manpower to restore control where Romans couldn't: in the area affected by the Bagaudae and uncontrolled Germanic invasions. The survival of the Basque people as a separate ethnicity with a diferent language and laws is also due to the Bagaudae, that allowed a de-facto independence of the Basques, in permanent revolt and permanently fought by Visigoths, the representatives of the late Empire in Southwest Europe.

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