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Feudalism was a set of political and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. Although derived from the Latin word feodum (fief),[1] then in use, the term feudalism and the system it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the Medieval Period. In its classic definition, by François-Louis Ganshof (1944),[2] feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs. There is also a broader definition, as described by Marc Bloch (1939), that includes not only warrior nobility but the peasantry bonds of manorialism, sometimes referred to as a "feudal society". Because of multiple definitions and other issues, many now see the concept of feudalism as deprived of specific meaning, which has led in recent decades to many historians and political theorists rejecting feudalism as a useful way for understanding society.[3]



There is no broadly accepted modern definition of feudalism.[4][5] The terms feudalism or feudal system were coined in the early modern period (17th century), and were often used in a political and propaganda context.[4] By the mid-20th century, François Louis Ganshof's Feudalism, 3rd ed. (1964; originally published in French, 1947), became a traditional definition of feudalism.[2][4] Since at least the 1960s, concurrent with when Marc Bloch's Feudal Society (1939) was first translated into English in 1961, many medieval historians have included a broader social aspect, adding the peasantry bonds of manorialism, sometimes referred to as a "feudal society".[4][6] Since the 1970s, when Elizabeth A. R. Brown published The Tyranny of a Construct (1974), many have re-examined the evidence and concluded that feudalism is an unworkable term and should be removed entirely from scholarly and educational discussion, or at least used only with severe qualification and warning.[4][3]

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