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Word Count: 1,204
Serfdom in Eastern and Western Times Serfdom was an institution that characterized the social and economic arrangements of the Middle Ages and persisted in Russia until the mid-19th century A class of agricultural laborers serfs were legally bound to reside and labor at one place and to work on the land owned by their lord who might be a nobleman an ecclesiastical dignitary or an institution such as a monastery From the 13th century on serfs were increasingly subject to an arbitrary tax called taille Because their residence and labor were legally attached to the land serfs were included in any transfer of that land In Russia serfdom was a system under which the peasants were theoretically free tenants but were actually in a state of servitude to and dependence on the landowners Russian serfs were rigorously exploited by the lords who demanded ever-larger shares of the crops and thus created a steadily mounting indebtedness on the part of the serfs By the end of the 17th century their status scarcely differed from that of chattel slaves In many areas of western Europe however large numbers of peasants had gradually risen to a degree of economic independence and personal freedom and had even become small landowners in their own right Only vestiges of feudalism remained in the 18th century and the French Revolution of 1789 virtually eliminated serfdom throughout western Europe In eastern Europe however and particularly in Russia the system persisted until the 19th century In the early eighteenth century when large-scale industry took root and a labor force was needed the government assigned state peasants to work in government and private or merchant-owned factories or to supply them with raw materials fuel and transportation Most of the factories were mining and metallurgical plants in the Urals The wages were too low the work too hard and the conditions too poor for the peasants to take the jobs voluntarily so they were forced
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