Peasants vs Serfs
Feudalism was the law of the land during Middle Ages and formed the basis of the class system that divided the society between the masters and the peasants. Of course, there were kings and the governments. However, the society was divided between the upper classes that included the lords and the nobles while the lower classes or ordinary masses were meant to work for the upper classes. Common people included the peasants, serfs, and the slaves. While most people know or feel they know what slave means, they remain confused between peasants and serfs who formed the bulk of common people. This article attempts to clarify the doubts in the minds of people when they read the words while going through Middle Ages of European history.
These were people who were bound to the manor. This manorial system had a fief having a castle and a lot of land where serfs provided manual labor in return for protection which was really important in those violent times. Serfs were not permitted to leave the manor without the permission of the lord, but they lived a life better than slaves who could be bought and sold. Half of the time of the serfs was spent working for the lords. They could perform all sorts of menial jobs that arose on the manor of the lord such as working as labor in the farm, working as wood cutter, weaver, constructing and repairing buildings, and performing other menial jobs. Men among serfs were even forced to fight for their lords in times of war. Serfs had to additionally pay taxes to their lords in the form of domestic animals and poultry.
As serfs were bound to the manor, they had to accept any new lord as their lord if he overtook the manor from the earlier lord.
Peasants were at the bottom of the class system just above slaves and lived a harsh life. They took an oath to be obedient to their lord. Peasants had to work round the year in the fields of the lord and their lives were all the time revolving according to the farming season. Peasants had a piece of land of their own but had to pay taxes for their land to the lord as well as to Church which was called tithe. This amounted to 10% of the value of farm produce grown by the peasants. Paying this much to church made a peasant poorer but he could not think of rebellion because of the fear of God’s curse.
There were two types of peasants, ones who were free and those who were bonded or indentured. Free peasants could work on their own as blacksmiths, weavers, and potters etc to earn a living, although they had to pay taxes to the lord. The indentured or bonded peasants could live on their piece of land but had to work on the farms of the lord, to earn a living.
What is the difference between Peasants and Serfs?
• Peasants and serfs belonged to the working classes and were just above the slaves
• Serfs were a property of the lord as they belonged to the manor system while peasants had their own piece of land and had to pay rent to the lord
• A serf had to work and do menial jobs for his lord. He had to pay inheritance tax when son took over his father’s role to the lord. On the other hand, a peasant could be free or indentured
• Serfs had to work as menial labor while peasants could live free doing their own chosen business
• Serfs were a type of peasants who remained bound to a lord through hereditary obligations