8 Characteristics of Feudalism

feudalism was a system of political and social organization based on the relationships between vassals and feudal lords. This system spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages from the 4th century to the 15th century.

During feudalism, political power was decentralized and obligations were distributed from the top to the nobility. As for the economic and social order, it was based on agricultural production, what was necessary was produced, work that was carried out by the slaves for the fiefdom.

See also Feudalism.

Next, the main characteristics of feudalism are as follows.

1. Distinction of social classes


During feudalism, the social organization was divided into three main groups that had to follow the orders of the king.

  • The royalty: It was made up of those who owned large tracts of land that they had earned as a product of their military and security work.
  • The clergy: It was made up of representatives of the Catholic Church who were in charge of religious affairs and governing the behavior of people.
  • The servants: It was the poorest social group where the managers, the peasants and all those who had to cultivate the land, raise animals and do handicrafts were grouped.

The king, for his part, was above these social groups.

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2. Vassalage


Vassalage consisted of the relationship established between a free man “vassal” and another free man “noble”, based on a reciprocal commitment of obedience and service on the part of the vassal, and the obligations of protection and maintenance on the part of the noble .

Consequently, as a form of payment, the nobles ceded a portion of their territories to the vassals, which were called fiefdoms. These lands were worked and put to produce in a compulsory and free way by the serfs.

The purpose of the fiefs was to consolidate a close relationship or bond between the vassal and his lord.

Therefore, a feudal lord could have as many vassals as he wanted according to the extensions of his lands and even have more power than the king.

See also Feud.

3. Wars and constant confrontations


During feudalism, power and control of the territories were achieved through clashes in battle, since it was the only way to obtain greater wealth and economic growth.

The winner kept both the land and the servants of the loser, thus increasing his wealth, agricultural production and the possibility of having more vassals.

However, at the time of feudalism, marriages were previously arranged between families in order to increase their power and status. Consequently, a large number of complex relationships arose that, in order to obtain more economic and material power, justified wars to claim the dynasty of a territory.

4. Economy in feudalism


Throughout feudalism there was no monetary system with which to buy or sell any good or service, nor an industrialized system. Therefore, the economy is mediated through the production of agriculture, animal husbandry and the payment of taxes that the serfs had to do.

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5. Payment of taxes by the serfs


During feudalism, the payment of taxes for the feudal lord or the king was introduced, which the serfs had to do, “in kind”, as payment for the right to live on those lands and to finance the work.

This payment was made with sacks of cultivated grains, farm animals, wine barrels, oil jars, among others.

The vassals, for their part, also had to pay much higher tributes than the serfs.

Likewise, the payment of the tithe should be mentioned, which was considered a contribution for the support of the cleric.

6. The power of the clergy in feudalism


In feudalism the Catholic Church was the only institution that had more power than the king. The authority of the church was not questioned, so much so that it was believed that the kings were imposed by God and for that reason they had a divine right.

Only the Pope, as God’s representative on Earth, was the one who could sanction or dismiss the king. Therefore, on countless occasions, it was the cleric who made the decisions and not the king himself.

7. Culture during feudalism


During feudalism, Christianity was imposed through the influential power of the Catholic Church, in fact, only those who were part of the clergy had the right to various cultural knowledge.

The nobles, on the contrary, could only be instructed in the military and combat area. The serfs and peasants were generally illiterate and only practiced and professed the Christian faith.

8. Closed social system


Feudalism is also characterized by having had a closed social movement, that is, with little possibility of social class mobility. Who was born a servant, would always be a servant.

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This was a consequence of the feudal system to maintain the security of the fiefdom and avoid invasions in case of wars or conflicts over land.

However, there were people who could achieve a higher status, for example, a knight with a good military record could prosper and have vassals.