What distinguishes the serf from a slave?

And serfs, and the slaves were a category of the dependent population, not possessed of personal freedom and property of others. According to the generally accepted historical theory, the existence of serfdom of the peasantry is characteristic of the feudal socio-economic formations, and slaves – for slavery. What distinguishes the serf from the slave, if both are owned? Maybe between them there is no difference? Actually the differences between these categories of people are unfree, and the differences are significant.

The content of the article

The formation of a class of slaves

Slavery as a social institution arose with the decay of the primitive communal system. At first it was relatively mild (the so-called Patriarchal slavery), and RAB over time could either return to his tribe (if he was a prisoner of war), or become a full member of the genus, the property which had originally been. But as the States of the Ancient world slavery was becoming more common, and the highest development was reached in the Roman Empire. The sources of replenishment of slaves have been primarily victorious war; furthermore, slavery often paid criminals.

Under the laws of the 12 tables, slaves could become insolvent debtors. However, quite early, in the 4th century BC, was adopted «the Law Hinges» on which to make slaves of Roman citizens was forbidden (with the exception of those who have committed certain heinous crimes). An interesting feature of Patriarchal Rome: head of the clan had the right three times to sell into slavery their children (it was assumed that they can swim). During the conquests, the cost of slaves was relatively small: after the conquest in the year 38 BC Sardinia, for example, even there is a saying «cheap as Sard».

Later, when conquest ceased to be a source of slaves, the replenishment was carried out mainly through natural increase. Moreover, a slave born in captivity, were valued quite highly, because he didn’t know other States, but slavery, and was not inclined to rebellion. The treatment of slaves becomes softer, they increasingly adopted a «don’t stick, but the stick.» Gradually slave economy become economically inefficient, and the owners are beginning to change the attitude towards slaves. Now they are accommodated in small areas of land, which they are obliged to process and pay part of the harvest.

This category of dependent people in the late Roman Empire was called «the columns», and on the status they were very close to the fortress. So, the difference between a serf from a servant that the latter were alienated from the results of their labor, had no property and were not interested in making the work better. That is why, when the «whip» is waning, changing economic patterns. Replaced the slave-owning type of management comes in feudal, more effective. No, slaves still remained, but they played a small role in the economy.

to contents ↑the Difference between serf and peasant slave

After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the newly formed barbarian kingdoms of the fortress almost was not. The imprisonment had originally been inhabitants of the lands conquered fortunate lords. Slavery on the scale in which it existed in Rome, has not recovered. The lords realized that the serf labor more efficient than slave labor. The peasants, though they were bonded, had a lot more rights than slaves:

  • the right to private property;
  • right to trade (some slaves also had a similar right, but it was rather an exception to the rule, and typically it is for the latter centuries of Rome);
  • right to a portion of their labor (the Lord received usually from a quarter to half of the crop);
  • the right to protection in court.

The status of the serf in different countries and at different times differed quite strongly, so this list could be supplemented. However, the above points characterize the most significant differences.

In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about serfdom in the Russian Empire. The number of serfs (privately owned peasants) only in some periods of our history a little over half of the total population of the Empire, it was often much lower. From the late 18th century, Russian landowners are experimenting with the emancipation of serfs, as, for example, the favorite of Catherine II Grigory Orlov (truth, already after the Empress gave him a resignation). In the 19th century, with the ascension to the throne of Alexander I, there is a gradual emancipation of the serfs of the outlying districts (the Baltic, the Caucasus and so on). Presumably, to start with the liberation of the Russian peasants, the Tsar feared, as it could lead to unpredictable economic and social consequences.

In 1861, on the eve of the «Manifesto of 19 February,» dispose of in the country of feudal relations, the number of serfs in the Russian Empire, according to various estimates, ranged from 30 to 35 percent of the population. Some ransom of serfdom some decades before the historic date, as, for example, the founder of the famous dynasty Morozov, Savva Vasilievich. For the freedom of his family (he had five sons) he paid hewn entrepreneurship 17 thousand rubles – huge at the time amount. Interestingly, the abolition of slavery in the U.S. took place almost two years later on 1 January 1863, and in some areas – only in December 1865.

to content ↑Comparative table

Understand the difference between a serf and peasant slave, it remains to add that the latest manifestations of these dependent States were eliminated recently. Serfdom officially existed in the Kingdom of Bhutan (a small state in the Himalayas) until 1956. And the last place on Earth where it was legal slavery was Mauritania, where the final abolition took place only in 2007. Although international human rights organizations still have a lot of claims to this country.


Legal status
Is the property of the slave owner
Is the property of the feudal Lord

Has some rights (ownership of tools and other property, to judicial protection, to conduct economic activity)

The attitude to property
The property has no tools provided by the slave owner
Is the owner; this is usually agriculture implements, cattle, tools for conducting various economic activities (trade, handicraft or industrial production, and so on)

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