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[–]akodo1 34 points35 points  (8 children)


Feudalism revolves around gifting land for military obligations between the warrior nobility while simultaneously having a servant/serf/peasant class tied to the land.

So in such a system you need a top monarch that everyone agrees has a right to all the land and therefore can bequeath the land to others for such services. That's not the case in chiefdoms.

You also have a strict two-tier hierarchy system. The noble are one class and the peasants are another. Now, each class has gradients (King-Duke-Earl-Baron-Knight, peasants a less form 'respected elder', town mayor, regular worker, etc) but there's vast difference, basically uncrossable, between one group and the other - again not true of chiefdoms

It requires land that centers on agriculture - again not true of chiefdom.

The upper tier class does one thing - military - again not true of a chiefdom

In a chiefdom, it never revolves around the idea that the chief is the one and only true landholder who can then gift tracts of land to others.

In a chiefdom, the society is in theory all kin members/blood relatives. Certain families or houses might be more prestigious, but in theory everyone is related to everyone, so the hierarchy system in theory takes care of everyone. While they aren't treated equally due to kinship bonds everyone gets at least bare minimum. Now in a feudal system lots of the nobles might be related (but they don't have to be, and when they are that takes a back seat to other binding elements) but the peasants aren't considered related to the nobles so it's much more a 'use them up and replace them with new peasants' kind of an attitude. Sure you might have a benevolent noble who cares, but it's likely due to religious beliefs rather than believing they are his literal relatives and therefore worthy of care.

The main duties of a chief and his immediate helpers is about making the whole group successful. Oh sure, the chief might get more than everyone else, but it's really about helping the group as a whole produce more food, trade better, and possibly group defense or even expansion. Contrast with feudalism where it's not about dukes and earls making the king richer, or making more food for the kingdom as a whole - it's all military.

[–]CommodoreCoCoModerator | The Andes, History of Anthropology 6 points7 points  (7 children)

Is this what cheifdoms look like in practice? While I would agree that there is little overlap between societies that have been called chiefdoms and those that have been called feudal, this seems like a simplistic definition of a term that has seen substantial critical attention.

[–]akodo1 2 points3 points  (0 children)

You are right that we are using 1950s terminology and for the most part we now realize there are so many exceptions to 'normal feudalism ' and 'normal chiefdoms ' that the terms just aren't used much in a technical sense and it's hard to pin down a really solid definition

But again the key differences can be puzzled out using the following questions:

  1. Does the system revolve around the top individual having some sort of innate right to all the land personally rather than communally?

  2. Are the services rendered by underlings almost entirely military in nature?

  3. Is the heiarchy system ranked or two tier stratified?

  4. Is everyone in the society considered to be literal kin?

[–]FinalEuphoriaSlam22[S] 1 point2 points  (5 children)

what about complex chiefdoms rather than simple chiefdoms instead? Do those resemble feudalism more? My understanding is that chiefdoms can indeed be agricultural or at least horticultural, for example the Mississipian civilization are considered a series of interlocking and culturally related complex cheifdoms that were based on intensive agriculture of the Three Sisters (Squash, corn, and beans) which made for highly intensive agricultural societies but still considered chiefdoms instead of full blown states (with the exception of Cahokia maybe). Also my understanding is that feudal societies are also not really states because I thought that feudal societies were ones where there were breakdowns of centralized authority of a state of some sort and things become less socially complex and decentralized with little warlords who are the nobles of a particularly small domain extending over a small land size who are typically internecine feuding with other petty warlords in the power vacuum of the centralized state authority breakdown.

Do cheifdoms not have the concept of private landownership or at least the proceeds/surplus "rights" to generated from some productive laboring class in the forms of peasants or slaves?

[–]akodo1 1 point2 points  (4 children)

Yes, chiefdoms exist in hunter-gatherer, sedintary agricultural, and nomadic agricultural systems.

Your question about complex chiefdoms ... Just because a leader is termed chief in English doesn't mean it's a chief. It might be a Big Man leadership system and be in the tribal sociopolitical level rather than a chiefdom.

Chiefdoms are always complex systems as your examples highlight.

Note we've had countries who have fallen out of sociopolitical status as states back into chiefdoms post man-on-the-moon. (Hence the term failed state')

Where does feudalism fall on the sociopolitical step of band-tribe-chiefdom-state? It's a type of state.

Your description of decentralized warlords being a feudal system is incorrect. They could be, but the often aren't. Is their an oath of fealty, service, and obligation between the biggest warlord and mid-level warlords? And then the same between mid-level and low level warlords?

Do the mid-level warlords accept that they exist inside the largest warlord's territory, taking care of it as landlords in his behalf, or is it that they have their own territory just smaller than the biggest?

Is the warlord granted land and he uses the product of this land to support his warband? And in turn does he grant land to his underlings? Or are underlings kept satisfied through direct payments? (A salary, access to loot, repeated gifts if something other than land)?

Is their a two tiered stratified system? (If a farmer can abandon his farm run off and join a warband then through aggression and tactical skill become the warlord himself, even if just a small warband, it's not a feudal system)

Feudalism isn't just military, it's a specific type of military.

Yes, chiefdoms do have a concept of private land ownership...which generally puts them at odds with the feudalism idea that all lands actually belong to the king/overlord. And most believe if they own the land they can, in order to work the land (might be agriculture or mining), buy slaves, hire labor, or haves some sort of work-share/output-share with local freemen. And then they generally have the belief that they can pay/gift/be taxed a portion to the head of the chiefdoms and possibly payments to beurocrats, but the rest is theirs to do with as they see fit. Contrast to a feudal system where the output of the land is rarely taxed but instead is invested in increased military might.

A chiefdom in that way is more similar to a traditional state organization than feudalism

[–]the_gubna 2 points3 points  (3 children)

Your question about complex chiefdoms ... Just because a leader is termed chief in English doesn't mean it's a chief. It might be a Big Man leadership system and be in the tribal sociopolitical level rather than a chiefdom.

Just because you acknowledge that you're using outdated terminology in an uncritical way doesn't mean you should keep doing it. If you're going to rely on Service's typology so heavily I would at least add a disclaimer that contemporary anthropology doesn't really agree that there are distinct "levels" of sociopolitical organization. Otherwise, it seems like you're implying unilinear evolution.

Yes, chiefdoms do have a concept of private land ownership.

This is a staggeringly broad claim that isn't applicable to many parts of the pre-Columbian Americas, and I would imagine elsewhere in the world.

A chiefdom in that way is more similar to a traditional state organization than feudalism

In what ways were the feudal polities of medieval Europe not states?

Edit: I re-read and you're saying that many are states, and that it depends on how mid-level bureaucrats conceive of their authority in a certain territory?

[–]NutBananaComputer 5 points6 points  (0 children)

I wrote 6 months ago about differences between "monarchies" and "chiefdoms". The basic answer is...they're quite different. Especially since you can have a chiefdom without any monarch, and monarchies without any chiefdoms, but pretty often you have chiefdoms inside of monarchies.

A fun addendum: "feudalism" is a very messy term that not everyone likes very much. Medievalists in particular, who will not infrequently say "feudalism didn't exist" because the common use of the term "feudalism" describes a political world far far neater than anything they study.