What are the Differences Between African Feudalism and European Feudalism? | HistoryNet MENU

What are the Differences Between African Feudalism and European Feudalism?

By Mr. History
8/4/2015 • Ask Mr. History

What are the differences and similarities between African feudalism and European feudalism?


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Dear Sasagu,

There has been much debate on the entire matter of what the feudal systems of Europe, East Africa and Asia have in common (see attached example below), but it seems that the most succinct is that European feudalism was based on a relationship between the land owner, who was also of a warrior class charged with protecting his realm and all who worked it, and the peasants or serfs who worked the land in exchange for that agricultural produce, paying either in the amount of days devoted to producing for the lord, how much of what they produced went to the lord, or (later) how money generated by the products they grew went to the lord. In medieval Europe the king had limited political sway over the lords and their lands, and if a serf had reason to complain he could go no farther than to petition his lord.

The nominal king of a country had relatively limited power over the lords, who had their own descending chain of command in the form of lesser lords, or vassals. To keep a kingdom together, a king either had to have a large enough army of his own (as King Richard I of England tried to do in a reign obsessed with money and the political independence it offered), or be on good terms with enough lords (few of whom Richard trusted). The most extreme example of what a weak king faced if he got on his noble subjects’ bad side was what befell Richard’s brother John at Runnymede 800 years ago: being forced to sign a guarantee of rights called Magna Carta—originally meant strictly for the lords’ benefit, but whose principles were eventually expanded over the next several centuries to apply to all of the English people.


In comparison to the European model in which power was fragmented, East African kingdoms remained more centralized, with a chief or king to whom the peasants could theoretically take their complaints, bypassing the landowners in the chain of command if need be.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History

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