History of Feudalism in Europe

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Feudalism | Feudal System in Europe

Feudalism was the socioeconomic system that prevailed in the Middle Ages, but even survived in some regions of Europe in the Modern Age.

The feudalism was a set of practical issues involving economic, social and political. Between the 5th and 10th centuries, Western Europe underwent a series of transformations that enabled the emergence of these new ways of thinking, acting and relating.

In general, the configuration of the feudal world was linked to two concomitant historical experiences: the crisis of the Roman Empire and the Barbarian Invasions.

  • Ruralization of the Economy

The economy suffered a retraction of commercial activities, coins lost their circulation space and agricultural production gained a subsistence character. During this period, the crisis of the Roman Empire favored a process of ruralization of populations, who could no longer undertake commercial activities.

This happened because of the constant wars promoted by the barbarian invasions and the crisis of the urban centers constituted during the height of classical civilization.

  • New Social Types: the Feudal Lord and the Serf

The ruralization of the economy also directly affected the social classes established inside Rome. The once comprehensive class of slaves and commoners came to compose, with the Germanic peoples, a peasant class consolidated as the main workforce of the fiefs.

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Working in serfdom, a peasant would be tied to rural life due to the threats of the conflicts of the High Middle Ages and the personal relationship established with the propertied class, represented there by the feudal lord.

The feudal lord represented the land-owning noble class. Divided by different titles, the nobles could be responsible from the administration of a fief to the collection of taxes or the military protection of a certain property.

The authority exercised by the feudal lord, in practice, was superior to that of the kings, who had no power to directly interfere in the rules and impositions of a feudal lord within their properties. Therefore, we point to feudalism as a model that promotes a decentralized political power.

  • The Role of the Church

While the economy and socio-political relations were changing in this period, we cannot forget the importance of the role of the Church in this context. The clergy entered into agreements with the kings and the nobility in order to expand Christian ideas. The conversion of the noble class gave scope for the clerics to interfere in political affairs.

Often a king or a feudal lord donated land to the Church as a sign of his religious devotion. In this way, the Church also became a great “feudal lady”.

  • Commercial and Urban Renaissance and the Downfall of Feudalism

In the 10th century, feudalism reached its peak, becoming a form of organization in force in much of the European continent. From the following century, the improvement of agricultural production techniques and population growth provided better conditions for the revival of commercial activities.

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The urban centers returned to bloom populations and left the airtight structure which marked part of the Medium.

History of Feudalism in Europe
Medieval lighting in which servants offer parts of an animal to the feudal lord.

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