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serf

A serf is a person who is forced to work on a plot of land, especially during the medieval period when Europe practiced feudalism, when a few lords owned all the land and everyone else had to toil on it.

In Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries, large plots of land were ruled by lords who made serfs work the land for the lords’ profit. The Latin root of the word is servus, which literally means “slave,” but serf and slave are not synonyms. There were many kinds of serfs, some of which were indeed slaves, but others were more like employees who had some limited freedom. Either way, a serf’s life was a brutal and unpleasant life.

Definitions of serf
  1. noun
    (Middle Ages) a person who is bound to the land and owned by the feudal lord
    synonyms: helot, villein
    see moresee less
    types:
    cotter, cottier
    a medieval English villein
    type of:
    thrall
    someone held in bondage
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