Forced labor

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The forced labor (from Middle High German vron "as far as the [spiritual or secular] Lord, he heard" to the Middle High German fro "Sir") refers to personal services by farmers for their landlords . The phenomenon is also known as Robot or Robath , a term that comes from Slavic .

The Corvée also belonged to the frond services , which mainly referred to the - today so called - public area (including road and path construction). Such duties already existed in the Roman Empire .

The manorial court is called Fronhof . Frohn , Frohnenberg , Frone called a servant of Fronherrn and a grand bailiff , officials, bailiffs , court messengers Bannwart , constable . Fron is also a synonym for compulsory service .

In modern parlance, the term Frondienst or Fron denotes in a figurative sense an imposed heavy toil and plague. Indulgence originally meant serving a landlord as a dependent . Today the expression is only used in a figurative sense, mostly without being aware of the metaphor and the tertium comparationis indulging in a passion .


Although the compulsory labor (including the Corvée) was a characteristic feature of the feudal system , its main features as an institution were already laid out in the Roman Empire. In this system, certain classes of the Roman system had to perform physical services ( operae ) for the state or for private owners. Apart from the obligations ( operae officiales ) imposed on freed men as a condition of their freedom and which were usually performed as unpaid work on the landlord's estate, the semi-free coloni were obliged to pay a certain number of days on a for the landowner reserved part of the property to work without compensation. Instead of taxes, the state also required personal labor ( operae publicae ) from certain classes for the construction of roads, bridges and dikes, while the inhabitants of different regions were responsible for the operation of the transport and communication system ( cursur publicus ), for the Horses, wagons and labor were requisitioned.

The system was maintained under the Frankish kings , who followed the Roman tradition in their administration. The counts were thus authorized within their area to demand the work of the inhabitants of the Pagus for the repair of roads and other public tasks , while the Missi and other public officials on their travels were authorized to receive food and transport from the population on the way to demand themselves and their possessions.

Between the 6th and 10th centuries, the Gallo-Roman estates were transformed into the feudal model, and under the political conditions of this economic revolution, in which the officials of the Frankish Empire developed into hereditary feudal lords, the Corvée system now unfolded as a purely private legal process, as it existed throughout the Middle Ages and survived in some states well into the 19th century. While the Roman land ownership was tended by free farmers, tenants ( Coloni ) and through slave labor, under Frankish rule the farmers became Coloni or Hospites and the slaves became serfs. The land ownership was now usually divided into the area of ​​the feudal lord ( terra indominicata, dominicum ) and a number of land parcels ( mansi ), which were distributed by lot to the farmers of the property. They received this partly against rent, partly against personal service and work on the estate. These obligations were precisely defined in nature and scope, permanently fixed for each mansus and passed on to each new liege.

Areas of activity and development

A farmer sharpening his scythe

Compulsory labor was a performance of the peasant for the landlord or lord . They included a very wide range of different activities for a set number of days per year. In addition, there was work, the scope of which was based on the workload. Usually the farmers did so-called manual and tensioning services ( Scharwerk ). Handicrafts consisted of planting, tending and harvesting the landlord's agricultural crops, for example. Span services were work that was carried out with draft animals.

Despite the fact that labor was usually strictly defined by local customs and lease agreements, and that in an age of scarce money, physical labor was beneficial to the poor, the system appeared to open up opportunities for abuse. With the increase in urban life, city dwellers managed early on to get rid of burdensome obligations; either by purchase, or by exchanging personal work with the delivery of wagons, draft horses and the like.

In the country, the system survived but was changed, and for the worse. Whatever protection the free peasants might have, the serfs were almost everywhere - especially in the 10th and 11th centuries - in fact as well as nominally subject to the grace of their liege lords in this respect ( corvéables à merci ), and there was no limit on the amount of money or of the work that could be required of them. Irrespective of the farmers' living needs, labor was often called for at the time of sowing or harvesting , which made them a big problem for the farmers, who had a lot of work to do on their own fields at this time.

The hunting front could be done through various activities, e.g. B. as a driver, by haulage or by entertaining the hunting dogs in the closed season, etc. With the reorganization of the hunting law in 1848, the hunting fron was abolished.

With the emergence of the money economy , the forced labor was increasingly and gradually replaced by money levies.

In some regions of Germany, the scope of compulsory labor increased sharply after the Thirty Years' War and put an increasing burden on the peasants, so that the system of manorial rule functioned less and less. The system was oppressive even when the nobles gave something back for the service, such as protection for the peasant, his family, and his land; it became unbearable when the development of the modern state relieved landowners of their duties but not of their rights.

Often, compulsory labor became the subject of subject trials , the results of which were prepared and made available in extensive peasant law literature. With the liberation of the peasants in the 18th and 19th centuries, forced labor was finally abolished.

In the case of France, farmers in the 17th century were burdened with the so-called corvée royale , that is, the obligation to do unpaid work on public roads; this obligation was made general in 1738. The natural annoyance that people were still subject to arduous duties for land their ancestors had bought, and that to people they seldom saw and from whom they had no use, was one of the most potent causes of that Revolution . The Constituante completely abolished personal Corvées, while landowners were given the choice between real Corvées and a conversion into a money tax. The Corvée royale, which was abolished in 1789, was reintroduced under the name of prestation under the consulate by the law of the 4th Thermidor X and modified by subsequent legislation in 1824, 1836 and 1871.


Robath (Bavarian, Silesian and Austrian also Robot , Robott or Robote , from Slavic robota - work , see the artificial word robot ) is compulsory labor that the feudal lord or the prince had to do by his serfs . One also spoke of robot obligation or robot obligation .

There was the hand robot and the so-called pull robot. The train robot got along with two draft animals. The long train robath was still known . These were transport services that took two days with two draft animals.


  • Monique Bourin (ed.): Pour une anthropologie du prélèvement seigneurial dans les campagnes médiévales (XIe-XIVe siècles). Réalités et representations paysannes. Colloque tenu à Medina del Campo from May 31 to June 3, 2000 (= Histoire ancienne et medievale 68). Publications de la Sorbonne, Paris 2004, ISBN 2-85944-489-0 , pp. 271–381 ( Corvées. Valeur symbolique et poids économique : five essays on France, Germany, Italy, Spain and England).
  • Bernd Schildt: Compulsory service. In: Concise dictionary on German legal history . 2nd, revised edition. Volume 1, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-503-07912-4 , Sp. 1859-1861.

Web links

Commons : Corvée  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Frondienst  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Marc Bloch : Feudal society . Vol. 1: The growth of ties of dependence. 5th edition. Routledge & Kegan, London 1975, ISBN 0-7100-4646-4 , pp. 260-270.
  2. ^ Anton Tautscher: Economic history of Austria . Duncker & Humblot. Berlin 1974. page 247
  3. ^ Karl Kaser: Free Farmer and Soldier: The Militarization of Agrarian Society on the Croatian-Slavonian Military Border (1535-1881) . Böhlau. Vienna 1997. page 209