What is vassalage?

Vassal is the relationship that, in ancient times, an individual had with his lord. This bond implied loyalty and, in turn, dependency and submission: the vassal had to provide military and political assistance to the lord, who in return gave him land for his usufruct.

Allegiance was regulated by bilateral contract (with obligations for both parties). If the vassal or lord committed a serious violation, the bond could be dissolved. Importantly, the relationship was forged between two free men (a commoner and a noble, or a lower-status noble and a higher-status noble).

It all started with a tribute and investiture ceremony, in which the aforementioned contract was consecrated so that the vassalage relationship could begin to take effect. In short, the vassal had to lay his hands on the lord and declare himself “his man” as well as swear allegiance to him. Then the lord gave the vassal a branch or handful of land to symbolize the lands he would give him. In addition to military service, the vassal promised to offer financial aid and advice to his lord; the other, in turn, promised him military protection, defense and judicial maintenance, in addition to land. Not to be confused between servitude and allegiance. In the first case, the serf was almost a slave and his feudal lord could sell him along with the land he exploited. In vassalage, the bond was between people of similar class. Despite these differences, it is important to note that allegiance was voluntary only in its early days; as the lords became more and more powerful, they finally succeeded in making this regime obligatory, so that no man could decide not to submit to it. Often, a lord’s vassals were, in turn, lords of other vassals. This means that one person can be vassal to another, but simultaneously have the privileges of lord before other subjects. Thus, a social pyramid headed by the emperor or king was created. This pyramid, often called feudal or vassal, represented a network of feudal-vassal or vassal relationships, characterized by the promises explained above. At the top of a feudal pyramid was the emperor, followed by the kings, the high nobility (counts, marquis, and dukes), the middle nobility (lords) and, finally, the low nobility (barons, viscounts, knights, infanzons, squires, and hidalgos). , between others). At each level of the pyramid, the size of the fief was also particular, and could encompass, for example, a village, a region or an entire region.

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Historians argue that vassalage began to decline as empires lost power and authority was decentralized. Many fiefs, in this context, became hereditary. Eventually, this social relationship was dissolved and other types of political and economic ties began to emerge, often governed by the institution known as the market. With respect to the etymology of the word vasallo, we can decide that its most remote origin is found in the terms gwas (in Welsh, «servant» or «young»), foss (in Irish, «servant») and goaz (in Breton , «hombre» or «servient»). On the other hand, this also relates to the Indo-European root wasso-, which served to denote the concept of «young escudero». From all this emerged vassus, the terminus of classical Latin to name the «servients», which later derived in vassallus, and in the medieval Latin. In las lenguas galorromances there was also vassellitus, a diminutive of vassallus to speak of a “noble youth”, a “page” or a “escudero”.

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