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differences and similarities between the Roman Client-Patron relationship and the vassallage system

Discussion in 'World History' started by wolfigor, Jan 29, 2019.

  1. wolfigor

    wolfigor Chieftain

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    I would like to know your opinion about the differences and similarities between the Roman Client-Patron relationship and the vassallage system of the medieval age.

    The following is an overview of how I see the two system at the top of my (limited) knowledge:

    In the roman system, a patron was granting money, good, and favours to his clients.
    The clients had obligation toward their patron to support him with votes, personal protection, and "general support".
    The relationship was open on both sides, with the client that could leave the relationship at any point. The client would lose the support of the patron but there wouldn't be direct physical consequences; There was no threat of violence from the patron, the state had the exclusive on violence (especially in Republican times).
    The clients and patron didn't necessary have to be living in close proximity, they could be anywhere without any geographical boundaries.
    Relationships where de-facto inherited and did bind the full family of the client to the patron.

    The medieval system, at the level of peasants, was much more geographically defined, with all people in a determinated area giving loyalty to a lord.
    The lord had a duty to protect those people against external violence (e.g. from other lords) and support them in times of necessity.
    This relationship was inherited and it did bind full families to the lord.
    However it wasn't an open relationship: the peasants had no right to rescind it and there was a very explicit threat of violence for doing so.
    The lord "was" the state in the community and the relationship was regulated by very specific "rights" between Lord and subjects.

    At higher levels (e.g. between lords of different ranks) the relationship was regulated by a slightly different set of customs and it was less geographically defined.
    The vassal still granted his complete loyalty to the lord and was bound to support him (expecially for military support, but not limitied to it).
    However it remained an association with an explicit thread of violence if the vassal would break it.
     
  2. innonimatu

    innonimatu Warlord

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    This is a misconception. Peasants very often moved and there was little the lords could do about it. Whole villages or towns sometimes moved a few miles into a different lordship! Or better yet, to lands of the king where local power was less oppressive.
    There were many different medieval systems, but between the freedoms of the cities, the competition between lords, and the royal lands, there usually were viable options.
    Serfdom and bondage to the land was not a medieval thing, it was a modern thing, in central and eastern Europe. Thing Poland, Prussia, Austria-Hungary, Russia...

    Lords also very often had many distant pieces of land, held title to domains hundreds of kilometers apart. Thing medieval France and its english lords.

    The late roman age may have had, in its evolution, some curious parallels with the way central/eastern Europe evolved in the early modern age. The slaves of the large estates kind of became serfs tied to the land, probably.
     
    Hrothbern, Imaus and Owen Glyndwr like this.
  3. wolfigor

    wolfigor Chieftain

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    Indeed you are right, now I remember reading about the mobility of peasants in medieval times (especially after the black death).
     
  4. Imaus

    Imaus Chieftain

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    You're missing a step.

    The Roman Client-Patron system was for the well off. As Rome developed, especially past the dominate, the peasantry/proles saw their status change. They were repeatedly tied to the land, held as Communi? and the vast estates of the Patricians/Nobilis which did survive the barbarian invasions relatively intact for the most part. Places like Eastern Gaul, Italy, the Balkans, and Greece did see more massive depopulation and in the case of the Balkans a replacement of the local population, disrupting the proto-serfdom there, but in Spain, western France, and North Africa, it sort of remained; though I think the Vandals did press down hard on the local Romans more than other barbarian kingdoms, causing a disruption there.

    This was around, what...350-700AD?
     

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