Vassal State

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vassal State


a feudal state in vassal dependence upon another state, or suzerain. Various formalities were established testifying to this subordination, such as the confirmation of the head of the vassal state by the suzerain and the taking of oaths of “loyalty and obedience” by the vassal state head; these formalities conferred a personal character to the dependence of the vassal upon the suzerain. The most important signs of vassal dependence were military aid and the payment of tribute. The vassal state was deprived not only of many essential rights in internal affairs (for example, in many cases the right of issuing money) but also of the right to maintain diplomatic relations and to conclude treaties with other states. The vassal state automatically came under the jurisdiction of the rules of political, trade, and customs treaties concluded by the suzerain state unless stipulated otherwise in the treaties themselves. In other words, in spite of a certain independence in its internal life, the vassal state was restricted in its rights in international affairs: in these it was represented by the suzerain state.

As capitalism grew stronger, the vassal system as a form of relationship between states gradually lost its importance. Within Europe the last vassal states were Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro (until 1878) and Bulgaria (until 1908), which were dependent on Turkey; in the contemporary period in Europe only one vassal state remains preserved as a historical survival—the republic of Andorra, which has a vassal dependence on France and the episcopate of Urgel (Spain). Outside of Europe the last important example of a vassal state was Egypt, which had a vassal dependence on Turkey until 1914.

Imperialist states attempted to adjust the form of the vassal system to the objectives of their colonial policy: an example of such a colonial vassal system can be seen in the relations of the numerous Indian princedoms (over 500), which were in the position of vassal states to Great Britain until the formation of independent India and Pakistan in 1947.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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