Monday, January 21, 2008
Feudalism and Society in Middle Earth
In the middle ages society was organized into a strict hierarchy consisting of kings, clergy, nobles, vassals, and peasants. These classes were tied to one another in some manner in order for each to sustain themselves. The medieval ethos was that of loyalty and privilege. A medieval person viewed this social structure as honorable and by today's standards would not view themselves as inferior (in the modern sense) for belonging to a lower class. In the eighth century a system known as vassalage rose out of the Carolingian Empire, which consisted of vassals, or "faithful men," who were tied by a sacred oath to a local lord or noble. This was instituted to organize regional districts by creating loyal men who were ultimately tied to the king. In 768, Charlemagne became the king of the Franks (a people who resided in modern day France and Germany) and created a very sucessful vassalage system known as the "missi dominici," or "agents of the Lord." The vassal would swear fealty, or loyalty and honor, to a man of higher status. In turn, the lord or noble would provide the vassal with what he needed. In J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy, the relationship that Frodo and Sam have to me clearly reflects the medieval feudalistic system of vassalage. Sam takes to his duty as Frodo's gardener with honor and a sense of privilege. Sam never has a problem with being "under" Frodo. In our modern society, we seem to be immersed in rugged individualism, whereas in Medieval Europe feudalism tied people together by necessity; and at times it created a strong sense of community. The Shire appears to reflect the typical social structure in the middle ages. Other political systems in Middle Earth like Rohan and Gondor to me represent the epitomy of feudalism.