Why and how did feudalism come about

Special: Feudalism

The term feudalism refers to a form of economic, political and social order in which a noble upper class was given political and social privileges by the respective ruler - in most cases the king - which are economically based on feudal rights and the manorial rule derived from them manifested.

The Middle Ages refer to the European epoch, which historically lies between antiquity and modern times and covers a period of about 1500 years, which extends from about the 5th century to the 15th century. Exact dating of the Middle Ages is problematic insofar as the historians of the 19th century viewed an epoch from the perspective of its respective heyday and expansion as well as its decay. At the same time, however, the early Middle Ages were not seen as the heyday of a new age, but as the downfall of the ancient world. Today's history studies therefore speak of a transition period, which is set for the period from around 300 to 600 and is called late antiquity. This era no longer belongs to classical antiquity, but also not yet to the Middle Ages and is now viewed as a time of transformation. Pre-ancient traditions and Christian Germanic manners and customs coexist. The triumphant advance of Christianity, which was associated with the gradual disappearance of pre-Christian cults and traditions, is one of the events that shaped this epoch.

During the time of the Great Migration, Germanic and towards the end of this period also Slavic tribes came into contact with the culture of antiquity and Christianity. The culture of the Roman Empire was partially absorbed. Although the decline of Rome in the west had already begun in the fifth century, ancient traditions were still at least partially recorded. Until about the year 600 the newly formed Germanic states were at least nominally subjects of the Eastern Roman emperor. It was not until the last migration of the peoples in 568 that the end of the ancient epoch was initiated. However, the idea of ​​the Roman Empire remained so vivid that Charlemagne attempted a renewal 200 years later.

The late Roman state was organized centrally and bureaucratically. With its decline, there was also the loss of uniform administrative structures and the ruling power. New rulership structures were installed based on old Germanic traditions such as personal associations. The formation of a class of aristocracy began, whose power was based on the manor. This was the beginning of feudalism, which included the general right of rule over the house and land and over all persons who lived on it. Hierarchical structures emerged, headed by the respective prince or king.

Origin of feudalism

The formation of the landed nobility in the early Middle Ages gave rise to the economic and rule of feudalism. After the Great Migration, some Germanic kingdoms formed in the area of ​​the former Roman Empire. The previously partially free stratum of the rural population was driven to economic ruin by constant wars between the kingdoms and by invasions by the Saracens, the Magyars and the Vikings, and so gradually became dependent on their feudal lords. From around the year 800 feudal institutions such as feudal relationships, vassalage and compulsory service developed.

Features of feudalism

The term feudalism is derived from the Latin word "feudum", which means "fiefdom". The European Middle Ages are mainly understood to be feudalist in terms of their social, rulership and economic structure. The term was coined in France during the Age of Enlightenment. It was of great importance as a characteristic of the oppressed population in the French Revolution, whose living conditions were catastrophic under the feudal social and economic order.

Medieval society is characterized by the fact that the majority of the population consisted of unfree peasants. This means that they were not the owners of the land they lived on, but that it belonged to a landlord on whom they were dependent. This serfdom or bondage status meant that the peasants were tied to the land they tilled. Like all persons who did not belong to the first and second class, the nobility and the clergy, the peasants as well as craftsmen and day laborers belonged to the third class. With the peasants there is a further differentiation into serfs and serfs. Serfdom meant serving a landlord and farming his land. Serfs had to pay personal taxes to their master. Slaves, on the other hand, were formerly free peasants who had ceded their land to the landlord and were therefore regarded as belonging to this land and referred to as "slaves". Their donations to the landlord were related to the estate.

The peasants were forbidden, under threat of draconian punitive measures, to leave the land against the will of the landlord. They owed him in many ways. So they had to do work on the land of the landlord, which was cultivated by him. These were the so-called compulsory labor. The manual and clamping services belonged to this work. The manual services included, for example, weeding in the landlord's fields, while the tensioning services related to plowing the fields. During the sowing and harvesting season, the farmers first had to till their master's fields before they were allowed to tend their own fields. This obligation often became an existential threat for the farmers, because while they first harvested the fields of their landlord before they were allowed to bring in their own harvest, weather-related situations could arise that endangered their own harvest. However, they could not allow themselves to be exempted from these services with reference to their high workload in their own fields, the landlords almost invariably disregarded their living conditions and the resulting needs and ruthlessly pursued their own interests.

In addition, the farmers had to give part of the yields from the plot of land that they cultivated for themselves in the form of natural produce. In the course of development, they were granted the ability to regulate the performance of compulsory labor and taxes in kind through the payment of money. However, because they barely had the cash they needed, this arrangement remained within the realm of what was possible, but not feasible, for many.

The ownership structure was so unevenly distributed that the farmers often only survived with the bare essentials, they literally eke out their existence “from hand to mouth.” In contrast, particularly wealthy landlords mostly owned not only individual farms but also called complete ones Villages or entire regions are their own. In some areas several landlords shared the rights to a village, which did not improve the situation for the farmers, but only made the legal situation more complicated.

The position of the church in feudalism

In addition to the nobility, the peasants faced another power in the form of the church, which also had great influence in an economic sense. The land holdings of the clergy were immense and also led to the installation of manorial rule over the peasants for the church and individual monasteries. The accumulation of these possessions was based on donations from secular landlords or their estates, which they gave to the clergy out of concern for their souls. The effects of the rulership of the church and monasteries were in principle no different from secular rule, so that there was no advantage for the peasants to be under their leadership. At the same time, the church and the state are to be seen as systems that had a mutual support function. The peasants' annoyance, which was also articulated, about their desolate situation was suppressed by the church with a reference to the hereafter, where they should then receive the reward for their earthly efforts. This explains why the farmers saw their situation as a god-given fate, against which there was hardly any protest.