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  Feudalism comes from the medieval Latin word for ‘fee’. It may be broadly defined as an agrarian political order in which coercive and judicial power is decentralized among an aristocratic ruling class (as opposed to a centralized monarchy), and as an economic order in which peasants produce most output (and are exploited by aristocrats). By implication, feudalism is characteristic of societies with low levels of urbanization, mercantile trade, and industrial production. On this broad definition feudal systems have existed during many periods of post-tribal human history, and in all major continents of the world (except Australasia). They are considered typical of agrarian societies in which imperial or despotic authority is absent—that is, rulers with the ability to treat aristocrats as their dependents. In historical materialist thinking feudalism is the last mode of production in human history which precedes capitalism.

However, some historians and social scientists define feudalism as an historically-specific European phenomenon, covering the centuries succeeding the collapse of Charlemagne\'s empire, and confined to areas of Latin Christendom. On this narrow conception feudalism (as its Latin derivation suggests) centrally involved hierarchically organized service, in which a grant of land bound a feudal lord to his sovereign, and tied subordinate knights to more powerful nobles in a system of vassalage. This definition explains the origins of the term ‘feuding’—armed conflicts between autonomous lords and their retinues. The narrower conception of feudalism also mandates the presence of other social practices: castle-based structures of lordship, a distinctive warrior caste committed to an honorific conception of chivalry, serfdom, a caste-based social order, and a separation between religious and political authorities. However, even this narrower conception of feudalism cannot be defended as unequivocally European as régimes displaying these traits can be found in historical India and the Middle East. BO\'L

See also Asiatic mode of production; despotism; sovereignty.Further reading M. Bloch, Feudal Society; , J.H. Kautsky, The Politics of Aristocratic Empires; , R.S. Sharma, Indian Feudalism c.300-1200 AD.



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