The story

The fief

The fief



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The word fief It is of Germanic origin and its meaning is associated with one's right over a good, usually over the earth.

The fiefdom was the production unit of the medieval world and where most social relations took place. The lord of the fiefdom possessed, besides the land, riches in kind and had the right to levy taxes and duties on his territory.

The fief was given by a mighty lord to a nobleman in exchange for obligations and services. Who bestowed the land was the overlord and who received it was the vassal. The vassal, in turn, could cede part of the lands received to another nobleman, becoming, at the same time, vassal of the first lord and suzerain of the second.

When the vassal received the land, he swore allegiance to his lord. This oath was a kind of ritual that involved honor and power: the vassal knelt before the overlord, put his hand in his, and promised to be loyal to him and serve him in war.


Representation of a suzerain and his vassal.

The overlords and vassals were bound by various obligations: the vassal owed military service to his overlord, and this protection to his vassal. You could say that there was no one who was no vassal of another.

In medieval society, the king did not fulfill the function of head of state. Despite his symbolic role, he had powers only in his own fiefdom. His advantage was not to owe vassal obligations within his kingdom to another lord.

The organization of the feud

The organization of the fiefdoms was based on two traditions: one of Germanic origin, the comitatus, and the other of Roman origin, the colonato. Fur comitatus the lords of the earth, united by their bonds of vassalage, pledged to be faithful and to honor one another. At the colonato, the landowner gave protection and labor to the settlers who, in turn, gave the lord part of their produce.

It is not possible to assess the size of the fiefdoms, but it is estimated that the smallest were at least 120 or 150 hectares. Each feud comprised one or more villages, the peasant-cultivated land, the common forests and pastures, the parish church land, and the manor house, which was the best arable land.

Pastures, meadows and woods were used in common. The arable land was divided into two parts. One, usually a third of the whole, belonged to you; the other was in the hands of the peasants.

In the fiefdoms were mainly cereals (barley, wheat, rye and oats). Broad beans, peas and grapes were also grown.

The most common instruments used in cultivation were the plow or plow, the hoe, the shovel, the sickle, the harrow and the trimmer. In the fields sheep were raised that supplied the wool; cattle, which supplied milk and were used to pull carts and plows; and horses, which were used in war and transportation.

The feudal economy

The feudal economy was based mainly on agriculture. There were coins in the Middle Ages, but they were little used. Exchanges of goods and commodities were common in the feudal economy. The fiefdom was the economic base of this period, for those with the land had more power. Crafts were also practiced in the Middle Ages. Production was low because agricultural work techniques were extremely rudimentary. The ox-plow was widely used in agriculture.