The Feudal Society:
The economic basis of the feudal system was land, and the village was its economic unit. The feudal economy was dependent on local agricultural production and a scatte~ed handicraft industry. In the villages, peasants or serfs shared the land and work. But they were forced to yield part of the produce or labour to their lords in the form of rent, taxes or feudal service. Usually, a lord owned one or more villages or land in several villages. The serfs were obliged to maintain their lords and they were not allowed to leave the land on which they worked. This obligation of feudal service, that is, of work exacted by force or by custom backed by force, is the characteristic of the feudal system. What distinguished the serfs from the slaves of classical times is that unlike the latter who were owned by the slaveowners, the former were free men and had a secure tenure to cultivate land. Though the serfs were nominally free, their condition was not much better than that of slaves. However, social pressures on them had been somewhat reduced. This feudal order lasted until about the seventeenth century in Europe. The period from the tenth century to about the fifteenth century is usually called the Middle Ages in Europe. In this period, the Church was the centre of power. It provided a common basis of authority for all Christendom. It was also an instrument for intellectual expression. All intellectual activity was carried on by people who were part of the Church. Thus, the Church dominated all walks of life. Therefore, the clergy had to be trained to think and write, in order that they may be able to defend the faith and take up missionary work. At first, this need was met by setting up cathedral schools. By the twelfth century, these had grown into universities. The first university to come up in this period was at Paris, in France, in 1160. It was followed by the founding of Oxford University in 1167 and Cambridge University in 1209 in Britain. Then came the universities in Padua (1222), and Naples (1224) in Italy, Prague (1347) in Czechoslovakia, and several others. These universities were mainly for training the clergy.