Ultimately, every human shares the common link of being a social creature. However, throughout the existence of humanity, many different approaches to the organization of societal relationships have been employed. A twenty-first century perspective of social relations in feudal Europe, for example, can raise many questions, as the meaning of many institutions and relationships has changed considerably. Understanding social relationships in the Middle Ages today and answering the question of their influence in other aspects of life involves considering feudalism as a part of larger historical movements and considering its impact on spheres beyond simple interpersonal exchanges.
During the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries, European societal institutions dealt with the effects of institutional upheaval. Between the political takeovers of the Abbasid and Carolingian dynasties and the religious divisions between Sunni and Shi’a and Latin and Orthodox churches, leaders sought to regain stability (Backman, 310-311). The glory of the Roman Empire’s control over most of Europe and Asia Minor remained part of the collective memory, especially for monks copying classical texts or political leaders like Charlemagne aspiring to create a ‘Holy Roman Empire.’ However, achieving unity on the scale of the ancients proved a challenge in the Middle Ages. Across a fragmented continent where leadership changed with every conquest or monarchical death and communication technology was limited, an institutional system that linked social and political order would serve as an efficient method by which to keep peace and ensure loyalty.
The term feudalism describes the primary social relationship go...
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... gain by pursuing a change to feudalistic social relations.
The ideas of feudalism prominent in the Middle Ages inspired European social relations for centuries. The strength of the connections between its social, political, and spiritual aspects facilitated its domination as a societal structure in a way that has no twenty-first century equivalent. Despite evidence of vassal’s efforts against a hierarchical system that made them submissive to their lords, the power of medieval lords combined with the influence and support of church and state institutions allowed feudal relations to flourish during this period. Considering how these texts reveal feudalism’s impact beyond a simple exchange of fiefs and how they fit into larger historical movements can help a twenty-first century historian understand a system of social relations that differs dramatically from his own.
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