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Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a system of relations of personal dependency of one kind of feudal lords (vassals) on another (seigneurs) in the Middle Ages. In the countries of Western Europe, vassalage took shape as a developed institution in the eighth and ninth centuries in the Frankish state, where the kings and great feudal lords dispensed land, movable property, or some other source of income in return for service. The revolution in agrarian relations in this period created the precondition for an increasingly wide distribution of landholdings among vassals. In this manner, land relations became the material basis of personal relations of vassalage in most cases; the service of vassals began to be equated, as a rule, with military service. Lands which were granted at first only for life, that is, as benefices, gradually became conditionally hereditary property (feod, fief). The great feudal lords, who became the vassals of the supreme seigneur (suzerain), the king, and who received land from him, had vassals in their turn, upon whom they bestowed land. The main obligation of a vassal was to do military service at his own expense for a specific period (usually 40 days per year). The vassal was obliged to participate in the seigneur’s law courts and councils (curias), to support him with a retinue (in specific situations), and to contribute certain payments of an extraordinary nature, above all, “aid” (auxilium) for the ransoming of a seigneur who fell into captivity, in addition to paying relief (when the ownership of a fief changed hands). The seigneur was obliged, in addition to distributing fiefs, to defend his vassal and his property. The vassalage contract was sealed by a special ritual, homage, and was accompanied by an oath of loyalty (fealty) sworn by the vassal to the seigneur. Nonfulfillment of obligations by either the vassal or the seigneur led to the abrogation of the contract and frequently to war.

Along with the spread of the vassalage relations resting upon a hierarchical structure of landowners hip, a feudal hierarchical ladder came into being (from the king down to the petty feudal lords) that was a political and, above all, military organization of the ruling class. This organization was due primarily to the necessity for preserving the feudal class’s monopoly on landownership during a period of weak central power and for creating an extraeconomic constraint on the feudally dependent peasantry. With the formation of centralized feudal states, the gradual displacement of vassal military service by the system of hired detachments, and the numerous transfers of fiefs (under conditions of the growth of trade-monetary relations) into the hands of new owners, vassalage gradually lost its military and political importance.

Vassalage and the feudal hierarchical ladder achieved their most mature forms in the countries of Western Europe. In the countries of the East, vassalage was in general less developed (although a many-tiered hierarchical ladder developed within the governing class in several countries, for example, in Japan and in countries conquered by the Mongols). In Rus’, vassal relations were found only between grand princes and appanage princes.


Kolesnitskii, N. F. Feodal’noe gosudarstvo. Moscow, 1967.
Bessmertnyi, Iu. L. Feodal’naia derevnia i rynok v Zapadnoi Evrope: XII-XIII vv. Moscow, 1969. Chapter 2.
Bloch, M. La Société féodale, vols. 1-2. Paris, 1939-40.
Ganshof, F. L. Qu’est-ce que la Féodalité?, 2nd ed. Brussels, 1947.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
It was a stalemate: the English were "resolved that nothing [they] might do should be interpreted to indicate vassalage or subordination of England to China," (52) while the Chinese were equally determined to agree to nothing that would imply any derogation from the natural position of the Son of Heaven at the top of a global status-hierarchy of politico-moral virtue.
(42)"That is not a sacrament of subjection or vassalage neither does it have it in any form; rather it is a sacrament of devotion or reverence and humility as Christian doctrine teaches and of Christian compliance to the same [...] by reason of the compliance that any Christian owes to the Church and especially Catholic princes, and above all, the emperor" (my emphases; Calvaruso, Memoriale 1312).
Warren Hollister, Monarchy, 16-45; Henri Prentout, Etude Critique sur Dudon de Saint Quentin et son histoire des premiers ducs normands (Caen: Memoires de l'Academie Nationale des Sciences, Arts et Belleslettres de Caen, 1915), 207-49, on Rollo's oath of vassalage to Charles and its implications.
The hand, then, is symbolically prominent in two complementary parts of the ceremony of feudal vassalage - in the lord's acceptance of the vassal's fealty, and in the lord's reciprocal 'handing over' of the estate to the vassal.
Helping May move forward with what most Leavers regard as a squalid compromise -- an application for "vassalage", no less -- would advance their cause by increasing the probability of a Brexit that sticks.
Mr Johnson - who walked out of the Cabinet days after signing up to the package at the Prime Minister's country residence - said Mrs May's blueprint would leave the UK in "vassalage, satrapy, colony status" to the EU.
But he denounced the plan agreed at Chequers and set out in the PM's white paper last week as a "Brexit in name only" which would leave the UK in a state of "vassalage".
'He should show some grit and at least try to show that he is not leading the country into vassalage under China, in the same way that the military, through the current Balikatan Exercises, is thumbing its nose at China's creeping assertions by conducting amphibious landing exercises,' Batongbacal said.
Moreover, under pressure from the abolitionist movement at home, British manufacturers were strongly discouraged from doing business with the antebellum South which, together with the tariff, created a situation of economic vassalage; cotton and other southern agricultural products were sold mostly to the North, in exchange for significantly overpriced manufactured products.
--submit to vassalage, prostrate himself before the King of Assyria and pay his annual tributes, or
The reciprocal loyalty between retainer and warlord, that "oath-bound fidelity" (Reynolds 19) which characterized vassalage (Reynolds 18-22; Bloch 145-62; Hill 1-18), at least as it is simultaneously honored and dishonored in both Tolkien and Martin, must be seen both in terms of its unalienating function, which renders the stranger kin, (8) and in terms of its orientation toward the good.
Clienteles relations, vassalage disciplined by the party, was another issue that has generated the resemblance between Romania of 2010 and Romania during communism.