Comparative feudalism: feudalism in Western Europe, Japan and the Ottoman Empire.

No Thumbnail Available
Pimentel, George
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Middle Tennessee State University
Over the centuries, the term feudalism has come to encompass a variety of definitions. This has led to numerous works concentrating on the subject of feudalism, with a majority of them focusing on western European feudalism. However, a definitive definition of feudalism that encompasses all of the variations and regional complexities does not exist.
Utilizing both primary and secondary sources, this dissertation examines the historiography of feudalism with particular emphasis on the Western European feudal institutions of vassalage and benefice and the concept of private jurisdiction. I will begin with Western Europe because most historians agree that feudalism did exist in Western Europe although they may differ on their approaches in concluding that it did exist.
A fully feudalized society will be said to exist if it meets all of the following criteria: (1) the government is based on personal relationships (vassalage), (2) individuals providing governmental services receive benefices (fief) in lieu of fixed monetary income, (3) individuals provide basic governmental services (protection and law) on a local level, and (4) the local lords who provide basic governmental services view these services as personal possessions. These elements do not have to progress in a linear fashion. Although all need to be present, it is possible for different regions to develop the component parts in different order. I will then examine the extent to which Japanese and Ottoman institutions possess these characteristics and compare them to Western Europe by using a sliding scale of feudalism.
The sliding scale of feudal development identifies three degrees of feudalization. Each level is characterized by the existence of feudal institutions within a society. The scale begins with a non-feudal period lacking any elements of feudalism. Level 1 is a pre-feudal period in which some elements of feudalism exist, but not all. Level 2 is a partial-feudal society in which vassalage, fief, and local rule exist, but the society lacks the private jurisdiction aspect necessary in a fully developed feudal society. Level 3 is a fully feudalized society containing all institutions and necessary relationships incorporated into the society, including the inheritance of fiefs. Each region will be analyzed to determine how its society fits into the feudal scale, and then will be compared to the other regions to postulate the level of feudalization for each society at any given time.
It is my contention that feudalism defies definition in terms of a rigid model. Its complex nature requires a definition that is broad enough to take into account regional and cultural differences. Rather than a model with a fixed set of requirements as its base, a sliding scale could demonstrate both regional differences and similarities. At any particular time and place, a government can be more or less feudal. This type of sliding scale will be beneficial in that it can show comparisons across cultural lines and at the same time highlight differences in similar institutions.
Feudal government evolved out of necessity, not from design. Feudalization is a process. It is something that is in the process of becoming more or less rather than something that is. Therefore, an accurate definition must not only consider the final product of feudalization, but must also take into consideration the process of feudalization to accurately understand this period of history in any region or society.
Adviser: Ronald Messier.