A Journey Through Serfdom: How It Worked and Why It Ended

A Journey Through Serfdom: How It Worked and Why It Ended


This article discusses the village of Velikoe, owned by a lieutenant-colonel who spent his life in St Petersburg, and the situation of the serfs who lived there. The article then delves into the broader history of serfdom in Europe, discussing the system’s complicated nature in which serfs had rights and duties. The article also details the various factors that brought about the end of serfdom in Europe.

Table of Contents

  • Life in the Village of Velikoe
  • The System of Serfdom
  • Factors Contributing to the End of Serfdom


Q: How were serfs able to be bought and sold along with the land they rented or owned?

A: Serfs were considered to be the property of their seigneur, and were therefore bought and sold along with the land to which they were attached. This practice was based on feudal law and tradition, in which the seigneur owned all the land and the people who lived on it.

Q: What were some of the duties that serfs were expected to perform for their seigneur?

A: Serfs were expected to work without pay on certain tasks, or for a specific number of days per week, on the estate of the local landowning aristocrat – the seigneur – and carry out particular duties such as providing draught animals to pull ploughs, labour such as threshing and winnowing, and bringing in the harvest.

Q: Were the economic activities of serfs restricted in any way?

A: Yes, the economic activities of serfs were frequently limited. They needed permission from their seigneur to leave their village and had to pay a fee if they moved. They were also required to provide produce to the seigneur, pay taxes and tithes, and were frequently limited in their economic activity.

Q: What were some of the factors that led to the end of serfdom?

A: The ending of serfdom in Europe was the outcome of a combination of factors over a significant period of time. Discontent among the serfs and their flight to cities was a primary catalyst for change. Increasing numbers of serfs found the exactions imposed on them during times of hardship to be unbearable, while landlords seeking improvements to the system felt that the inefficiencies of servile labor impeded agrarian reform. International factors, such as the Treaty of Paris, also played a role.

Q: Were there any benefits to being a serf?

A: The seigneur had the responsibility to provide for his serfs in hard times, care for the sick, the elderly, and the feeble-minded, and to feed the serfs and their draught animals while they were working for him. However, this was seen as a minimal obligation that merely balanced the burden of serfdom’s onerous restrictions.

Q: When did serfdom end in Europe?

A: Serfdom ended at different times in various countries, but it was largely abolished in Europe by the early 1900s. The abolition of serfdom usually involved legal instruments of daunting complexity that were heavily qualified to mitigate previous arrangements.


The experience of the people in the village of Velikoe is just one example of how serfdom worked in Europe. While the system had some benefits for serfs, such as protection from warfare and famine, the many restrictions and obligations placed on them outweighed these benefits. The end of serfdom was inevitable due to its inefficiencies and the growing discontent among the serfs themselves. The specific causes of its end may have varied among countries, but the desire for greater freedoms and rights were common among all peasants. The legacy of serfdom remains a reminder of the social inequalities of the past and the continuing struggle for progress and democracy in the modern world.

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