Thursday, October 09, 2008

Things I've Learned: Feudal Society

Apologies for the belated new blog post. I need to post another "Things I've Learned" directly after this one, since this is only the post that was due last week, and I need one for this week.

Today I'll talk about European feudal society. The basic feudal society was made up of a social diagram. The king came first, then barons, knights, and laborers, or freemen and serfs. The Church also held a lot of power during feudal times.
Barons or other lords (counts, etc.) owned most of the land. They would give parcels of land to knights in return for their allegiance and protection. Peasants worked their lord's land, planting crops for their families. In return for that land, the lord demanded a share of the peasants' crops. What did the peasants get? The land, food, protection, and security a small feudal manor offered.
Life was very hard for the bottom of the social triangle, the poor peasants called serfs. Serfs were virtually slaves. They could not move off the feudal land, marry, or enter the clergy without their lord's permission. It was not easy to rise up; if you were born a serf, you stayed a serf.
Laws in feudal societies could be very harsh. If you committed a crime, you could be tied behind galloping horses and dragged through the streets. Sometimes, your innocence or guilt in a crime would be determined by whether you floated or sunk in a body of water; other times, you might be put to trial by combat. Eventually, strong monarchs came to the throne and began establishing uniform systems of law.
The feudal system established the importance of land and the power of nobility. The beginning of the feudal system marked a turning point in civilization, from the shadows of the broken Roman empire into the new Middle Ages.


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