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a special kind of real right, namely, the right with respect to a thing by virtue of which the thing is subject to use by another person within prescribed limits or by virtue of which its owner is subject to prescribed limitations.
Servitudes originated in Roman law, in the need for legal regulation of private property owners’ conflicting interests. Land easement, or praedial servitude—for example, the right to transport water across a neighbor’s land—antedated other servitudes. Roman jurisprudence also recognized personal servitudes, such as usufruct, the right of lifelong use of another’s possession.
In the epoch of feudalism, various kinds of servitudes were recognized in countries that had adopted Roman law. Bourgeois law also retained and systematized servitudes; in the 20th century the law in several bourgeois countries incorporated several servitudes, those pertaining to the industrial use of land, for example, for the laying of pipelines or the construction of power lines.
In diplomatic practice and international law, the term “servitude” refers to specific limitations on the territorial rights of one state with respect to use by another state. Examples of international servitudes are settlements possessing extraterritorial rights, military bases on foreign soil, and the right of transit through canals.