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The serfdom or Eigenbehörigkeit designated one from the Middle Ages to the modern era spread personal right to dispose of a body of the Lord over a serf.

The term “serf” is first used in a “servants and peasants order” published by Adolf Friedrich I of Mecklenburg from 1645.

Serfs were compulsory labor obligation and were not allowed by the estate pull the body of the Lord. They were only allowed to marry with the consent of the body owner and were subject to his jurisdiction . Usually serfs were also landlords, often the landlord was also the farmer's personal lord . The landlords cultivated the land of their landlord ( inward-owning ) and owed him in return payments in kind and hand and tension services . Serfdom did not apply to the citizens of a city. There the legal principle was that city ​​air makes you free. Conversely, staying or immigrating to the city did not automatically mean freedom. Serfdom stabilized the manorial rule , similar to hereditary servitude , increased the duties of the peasants and resulted in a double dependence of the peasants. Because of their different handling and purposes, serfdom does not form a uniform legal term. The science of history has given up the image of a peasant class vegetating under uniform conditions. In terms of its form, serfdom was often somewhere between slavery and bondage . Slavery and serfdom are equally outlawed today. Serfdom in the form of manor in East Elbe Germany was felt like slavery and equated with it. Manorial rule and body rule were replaced in the almost one hundred and fifty year process of peasant liberation in Germany.

Word origin

The word comes from the medieval formula with the lïbe proper . It was not until the 14th century that the formulation in paraphrases of bondage appeared (poor people who are not ir a ible with the libe) and became formulaic in the 15th century, superseding the self used until the 16th century .

Meaning and individual aspects

The coincidence of lordship and body lordship, which also included court rulership, church patronage and police power , made it possible, for example, in Schleswig and Holstein to strengthen the lordship to a comprehensive lordship of the knightly nobility. In Württemberg serfdom served to confiscate the mortuary - the best head of cattle upon the death of the male serf and the best clothing upon the death of the female serf and to establish a sovereign, early state territorial rule of the higher nobility, but not to tie the serf to an early capitalist estate economy. In the area of ​​the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the death tolls turned into monetary taxes.

Serfdom is only conveyed today through documents. A typical formulation for the designation of serfdom in a sales contract of the year 1363 reads: "both, luete and gutter and all others aygen luete and gueter, ez sin zinsluete, eigenluete or vogtluete, the aforementioned instead of doerffer and wiler and darzue."

The parties

Landlords were high and low nobility , monasteries, principal dioceses, ecclesiastical monasteries or cities.

There were different groups of serfs; Among the more privileged were the Hufner , who were left with plots of different sizes: full, half and quarter Hufner . They were completely deaf and had a revocable right of ownership of the land left to them for cultivation. They were also required to do compulsory service , but not personally, and were allowed to send their insiders to the estates. The Hufner had to run his business independently, was an entrepreneur and was able to achieve a modest level of prosperity.

The Insten were serfs of the landlord and servants of the farrier. They worked for him and did the labor of the farrier on the estate by hand. They had a tiny property for self-sufficiency, the Kohlhof, as their home. The servants who also lived and worked on the estate included boys, servants and maidservants up to the foremost . They were just caring lives .

A foundation of serfdom and the estate economy was the rule of law. The rule of law extended to criminal and civil jurisdiction; in addition there was the police force of the landlord. Another focus of serfdom was service obligations.

The service obligations

The hoofers only worked on their own hooves, the inns and the servants on the land of the property. The Hufner had to pay the taxes in kind and provide the clothing (Rossfron). Agricultural work was mainly due. The tensioning services included plowing and harrowing , but also construction watches and warfare. Keeping draft animals (horses and oxen, for example) ready also meant that the farrier had to feed more draft animals than he himself needed. Between 1733 and 1804 the attempts by the owner of a manor in Saxony to impose an obligation on the poor farmers to mine coal failed. In Saxony, the mountain shelf did not extend to the coal.

The frons were unmeasured; the previous exercise was considered appropriate. There was no written right to measure labor. Anyone who did not carry out the work according to the landlord's ideas could be corporally punished without going to court. The right to chastise was not a criminal punishment , but a result of the landlord's service authorization.

Serfs could acquire and bequeath property. It was mostly limited to movable possessions. Serfs could achieve a modest level of prosperity with estate management , but not acquire any wealth. Serfs were not allowed to take on loan obligations. Serfs could only practice a craft with the consent of the squire. Serfs could hold public offices, such as that of mayor of a medium-sized town. Even where serfdom served to form the territorial state, the term “serf” was taken as a dirty word.

Local bond with landlords and lords

Serfs were only allowed to marry with the permission of the landlord and in return for a marriage fee. Pastors were not allowed to perform church weddings without the landlord's marriage certificate. In order that a marriage against the will of the landlord could not be forced, sexual intercourse between single persons was forbidden. The marriage itself was not eliminated the serfdom. In Württemberg, the serfs of a body lord were allowed to marry one another. For the most part, the “unsavory” marriage to the serfs of another body master was prohibited. The woman was at risk of leaving with her husband, and the host missed the expectation of the children. The marriage was not ineffective, however, but was punished with a fine equal to or greater than the loss of advantage. Especially in places with several masters, the marriage bans led the peasant population to reject serfdom.

A departure from the estate without the consent of the landlord was not planned in Schleswig and Holstein. The landlord had the right to reclaim the serf from third parties. Extradition treaties existed between territorial lords and other nobles, cities and craft guilds were only allowed to accept serfs who could produce a license from the landlord. In Württemberg, on the other hand, there were several new rules: in 1455 freedom of movement seemed to have prevailed; the migrant only had to undertake to pay a man tax. In 1523 the man tax was 36 Heller in one case (silver pfennigs minted in Schwäbisch Hall).

In 1495 there was a ban on moving out of the domain of the body lord, and in 1514 there was general permission to move out with a twenty-year transition period. In 1520 this permission was brought forward, in 1537 it was withdrawn. In 1551 the right to move was reassured and finally withdrawn in 1598. The right of departure did not mean, however, that serfdom ended or was broken by a foreign local rule; In southern Germany the principle of the primacy of serfdom applied.

The serf's duties, such as the man's tax, were also allowed to collect in places that did not belong to him. The body hens, with which serfdom was recognized anew every year, were drawn in by chicken guards as "carnival hens" outside the manor and local authority and entered in the chicken book, as was the man tax.

The landlord granted the retirement pension for the Hufner by the fact that the Hufner could get a retirement cottage on his hoof and was able to take care of himself. The landlord had to bear the medical and medical costs, the effort for this remained low. Where a monastery had set up a hospital, the abbot could be obliged to admit sick private individuals to the hospital.

After the advent of the school system , the landlord set up a poorly equipped school; The remuneration in kind and the small amount of money for the teacher were allocated to full and half-hoofed, Insten, Kätner and craftsmen. The servants had nothing to pay.

Loss of freedom

Serfdom was established through birth; the mother's status was decisive. If a widower had children from multiple marriages, this could even lead to children being taken away.

Free ones could get into bondage. The "statute of limitations" of the free class occurred when a suitor settled in an area where the rural population was serfs. Even free-born children became serfs if their parents became serfs after birth. Anyone who could no longer survive economically as a suitor could become serf. In order to be effective, this declaration had to be submitted in writing in a result letter. Mass envy also occurred according to ready-made models, with which subjects pledged not to alienate themselves body and soul from their lord, in Württemberg 1282/1283 and 1296/1297, and in Basel 1499.

The abolition of serfdom could take place through release against payment and at the lord's discretion. The absence of the property resulted in the statute of limitations on serfdom. In the case of single persons, the period was 31 years, six weeks and three days; married ten years.

In Württemberg, in exceptional cases, serfs were exchanged between individual bodymen, particularly in neighboring territories. A change also occurred on the initiative of serfs, mostly when they got married and therefore wanted to move away, but had no money to buy.

Serfs could be sold with goods and individually. Most sold impoverished lower nobility serfs to solvent higher nobility.

To distinguish from serfdom is the Heuerling beings .

Differentiation from slavery and serfdom

To distinguish between slavery and serfdom, there are essentially three views, namely the difference, the similarity and the identity of both.


The historical materialism is based on an evolutionary diversity. Thereafter, under the system of slavery, the entire product worked belonged to the owner of the slave, who then gave so much of it to the slave that he could stay alive. Under feudalism , the serfs or landlords first receive the entire product of their labor, but they have to hand over part of the material goods or money to the feudal lord. This means that not only the oppressor and looter but also the oppressed and looted participate in the product. The surplus product goes more or less to the feudal lord, but the fact that part of the product rightfully belongs to the serf, and this part can often be increased through higher work performance, makes the feudal system a progressive one compared to the ancient one and allows it at first its existence.

The oppression of the peasants in Mecklenburg, Western Pomerania and Holstein in the 18th century, which Lenin called "serf slavery", is characteristic of the phase of the decline of feudalism. However, this phase is only a kind of counter-revolutionary afterbirth of feudalism and is not essential.


International treaties and national penal regulations that implement them also assume the difference between slavery and serfdom, but impose the same legal consequence, namely an absolute ban. According to the slavery agreement of September 25, 1926, slavery is the “state or position of a person in which the powers connected with property rights or some of them are exercised.” Only thirty years later does the additional agreement of September 7, 1956 on the abolition of the Slavery adds the legal definition of serfdom: "Serfdom is the position or legal status of a person who is obliged by law, custom or agreement to live and work on property belonging to another person and to provide that person with certain services, whether for payment or not without being able to change their position independently. "

Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations of December 10, 1948 and Article 4 Paragraph 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights , as well as Article 5 Paragraph 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union ratified in 2009 speak of the prohibition of slavery or serfdom . A penal provision on slavery and serfdom contained from 1866 to 2005 with almost the same wording, Section 234 of the Criminal Code of the North German Confederation, the German Reich and the Federal Republic of Germany , which was consistently counted ; From 2005 to 2016 there was a corresponding provision in Section 233 StGB, and since 2016 in Section 232 StGB.


The identity of serfdom and slavery represented public opinion from the 18th century, and also Article 148 of Part Two, Title 7, Section Four of the General Land Law for the Prussian States of February 5, 1794 speaks of the fact that “the former Serfdom, as a kind of personal slavery, also with respect to the submissive inhabitants of the flat country no longer takes place. "



The difference between free and unfree was already pronounced among the Germanic tribes in ancient times . The reasons for the lack of freedom were imprisonment or oppression, which was then passed on through birth and marriage, and the voluntary surrender, which is already mentioned in Tacitus .

Early forms of bondage and serfdom in the Franconian Empire

In the Franconian Empire different classes were formed among the free, and even at the time of the Merovingians there were different degrees among the unfree. According to this, three levels of unfree could be distinguished, the ministerial , the people liable to pay interest and service, the hard-eared , and the actual unfree, whose complete lack of freedom through the descent from unfree parents, through marriage with an unfree and through the judicial transfer of insolvent debtors or Criminal to the believer or the injured, but also by voluntary submission to the protective power of a body owner.

The landlords worked as independent farmers on the land of a landlord and had to deliver money, arable crops and sometimes handicraft products in return for the transfer of the land and protection. They were obliged to help out on the manor and to perform tension and haulage services. The burden varied from manorial to manor. Serfs worked as servants on the land of the landlord. Some of them also received farm positions; this could be cheaper for the landlord. So serfdom and basic bondage could coincide. Like an independent farmer, the serf had to pay land taxes and labor. Release from serfdom was possible.

As early as the 9th century, manorial power and serfdom began to accumulate, also because many formerly free people preferred serfdom in order to evade military service, which was increasingly used by the Carolingians. Many free farmers donated and sold their fields and farm positions to aristocratic and monastic landowners in order to escape the otherwise owed military service, and in this way became landlords. The proportion of landlords and serfs increased; the proportion of free people fell. In the second half of the eighth century the money economy deteriorated and only small coins were minted. The loss of money resulted in natural economy in collective consciousness and in reality . Even royal officials did not receive a monetary wage, but instead rights to use property. This was acquired by the kings of the free in the eighth and ninth centuries. The real estate acquired its value only through permanently tied human labor, which was not paid for by servants, maidservants, day laborers and reapers, but by landlords and serfs.

Serfdom in the organized manor

In some German territories, including Mecklenburg, after the end of the Thirty Years' War many peasants who had previously been free or in bondage were forced into serfdom. In Mecklenburg in particular, there was then large-scale farming . Farms were confiscated by the knightly lordship and incorporated into their own property, the farmers became dependent. In Bern , Solothurn and Basel, between 1500 and 1525, the serfs were issued free letters after peasant unrest. However, as early as 1532 they were made to return their licensees. Of course, in the peasant wars, the view sharpened that social coexistence was conceivable even without serfdom. The marriage restrictions in particular fueled displeasure and were an important cause of the German Peasants' War from 1524 to 1526.

From manorial to territorial state

In southern Germany, the right to leave was partially granted and combined with the principle that a foreign land and local rule does not break the relationship with the body owner. This allowed the body owner to assert rights from his body rule such as individual service entitlements and taxation rights on foreign territory. A mutual “chase right” was contractually agreed between Basel and Solothurn in 1430.

If a landlord had many serfs of other lords on his territory, tax and other power flowed from his local rule. In 1534, 470 serfs from the neighboring city of Basel lived in the Habsburg local rule of Rheinfelden, while only 70 Rheinfeld serfs lived in Basel. This situation was advantageous for Basel, because his serfs in Rheinfelden were not allowed to wage war against Basel and retired from a military conflict. For Rheinfelden, the outflow of productivity was so significant that Basel bought the serfs against four villages. In this way, Basel was able to enlarge its territory. The inferior local rulers were prevented by foreign serfs from creating closed administrative rooms. In the course of time, the more powerful local rulers were able to acquire more and more sovereign rights, including forms of sovereignty.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, when marriage restrictions practically no longer existed, there was little resistance to serfdom. It could even happen that serfs turned down offers to replace their serfdom, even though they would have been financially able to do so. Especially in areas with strong territorial fragmentation, e.g. B. in Upper Swabia , the legal protection proved to be an important safeguard. Since serfdom was a mutual obligation, it could not be terminated against the will of the serf. If someone was not able to raise the death toll, the gentlemen were generally accommodating by granting discounts, waiving them altogether or having the death tax compensated by a symbolic act (e.g. pilgrimage ). When the harvests were poor, the landlords were obliged to preserve their serfs; H. to maintain and, if necessary, to supply new seeds. The murder of the serfs in Bürau in 1722 also made it clear how illegitimate and exposed to the whims of their masters the serfs were still in the 18th century: The lord Heinrich Rantzau on Bürau had beaten to death the wife, son and servant of an allegedly delinquent but escaped subject to let. However, this must be seen as an extreme exception, as the landlord could also be held accountable for legal violations against his subordinates.

End of serfdom / self-authority

Release letter from Johann Hermann Weymann 1762 from self-authority

In the course of the redemption of feudal burdens , personal serfdom was mostly the first feudal obligation to be lifted in Germany from the beginning of the 19th century. The lordship with its labor and payment in kind obligations was retained for longer, because these were viewed as consideration for the use of the land and the lord's farms.

The starting point for releasing the feudal burden in Germany was the perception of the decreased prosperity after the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), and the poor harvests and price increases in 1771 and 1772. The mutual restrictions in the legal relationships between farmers and feudal lords were a major obstacle for the Restoration of agriculture held. In addition, practical experiments such as that of Hans Graf zu Rantzau had proven that the peasant exemption was also economically advantageous for the landlord, because a more secure income could be obtained through leasing than through the sale of agricultural products while maintaining the serfs even if they were unable to work.

The goals of the reformers were different and sometimes contradicting one another. Some intended to transform the already existing goods into a capitalist, large-scale, almost industrial agriculture based on the English model. The others wanted a well-established, numerous, affluent middle-class full-time farmers as the mainstay and main force of the country. The effect of the reforms cannot be clearly determined, because from 1850 the unforeseen industrialization prevailed and triggered a great need for local products, as well as a great need for workers who were made redundant in agriculture.

The abolition of serfdom also happened, among other things, with release letters, which the respective sovereign addressed to the person to be released. In some cases, serfdom was only declared to be removable and either the serf or the state could assume the obligation to pay compensation to the former master for the lost services. After serfdom was abolished, the relationship with the landlord was often converted into a long lease .

Serfdom was the longest and most strict in Russia and Romania . In Russia, their repeal was only prepared under Tsar Alexander II , after earlier attempts under Tsars Alexander I and Nicolaus I had given little support to the repeal. Serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1861. In Romania, serfdom was abolished in 1863. Free farmers in the sense of not being serfs or self-men were the social norm in Tyrol as early as the end of the Middle Ages.

Serfdom in Germany

to bathe

In 1525 serfdom, which had previously been far back, was reintroduced in Baden. In 1783, the Margrave of Baden, Karl Friedrich, followed the example of Emperor Joseph II and abolished serfdom in the Margraviate of Baden . The former rule of Hauenstein formed a special status , whose large number of yeoman farmers were able to maintain their self-administration and liberal rights, which are probably unique in this form in Germany, for centuries.


In the principality of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel , serfdom was lifted in 1433.


Serfdom, which was still widespread in the Electorate of Bavaria at the end of the Middle Ages , with the exception of Upper Palatinate, declined steadily over the next few centuries. Above all through ransom or marriage of a free partner, since in mixed marriages the status of a free mother was usually decisive for the status of the children. But also daughters often followed a free father. Serfdom that arose through settlement only existed in a few areas. Through nationwide surveys in 1799 and 1803, the share of serfs in the population can be estimated at around 2%. In the constitution of the Kingdom of Bavaria of 1808 and in the Organic Edict of August 31, 1808, serfdom, where it still existed in the kingdom, was revoked without compensation.


In the Kingdom of Hanover was canceled 1833rd


In the Grand Duchy of Hesse , the abolition of serfdom was enacted by law of May 25, 1811 and became legally effective on July 13, 1813. Compensation was provided by the former serfs to the former body owners .

Schleswig and Holstein

In 1686 the former Reichshofrat and owner of the Holstein noble estates Schmoel , Hohenfelde and Oevelgönne, Christoph von Rantzau as court lord, sentenced 18 of his subjects to death for witchcraft and had them executed in disregard of essential procedural regulations . On July 19, 1688 Christoph Rantzau issued charter for the serfs of the three estates belonging to him, according to which they should be released forever. The release could have been felt as a sign of repentance and reparation, and Rantzau could have intended this effect. On September 6, 1690 Rantzau was fined 24,000 serious deficiencies in the process of its witch trials Reichstaler convicted.

In 1695 Rantzau sold all three goods to his peer Dernath and withdrew the release regulations of 1688 in the purchase letter. The regional court in Kiel and Rendsburg, which the Schmoel serfs called on, took the view that the purchase letter of 1695 takes precedence over the charter of July 19, 1688, and that an investigative commission at the request of the Schmoel serfs should determine whether they have legitimate complaints outside of the Had letters of purchase. In other instances, including the Reich Chamber of Commerce in Wetzlar, the substantive legal situation was not examined again and it remained that the release regulations of 1688 were repealed.

In the Duchy of Holstein , Count Hans zu Rantzau was the first Holstein landlord to gradually abolish serfdom for his farmers from 1739 onwards. Other lords followed his example. Incidentally Holstein and in the Reich and Königslehen to Denmark belonging to the Duchy of Schleswig , the abolition of serfdom was initiated by resolution of the knighthood in both provinces at the beginning of the year 1796th Upon request to all landowners, it was actually decided, reported to the king and sanctioned by the resolution of June 30, 1797, so that at the end of 1804 it was actually completely repealed.


On December 27, 1808, Princess Pauline zur Lippe signed the ordinance to repeal serfdom in the Principality of Lippe . The ordinance came into force on January 1, 1809.


In the Middle Ages there was an independent peasantry in Mecklenburg and there were hereditary leases . In 1607, the peasants in the chivalrous part of the country were denied the right to inheritance interest, which had previously been customary, in the state parliament in Güstrow . From then on, peasants hooves belonged to the lords of the knighthood if the farmer could not present his hereditary interest in writing. However, this was seldom possible, as the hereditary lease had existed for centuries under customary law and no one was forced to draw up documents. The anchoring of serfdom in Mecklenburg began after the end of the Thirty Years' War , which laid the foundation for the complete decline of the Mecklenburg peasant class . After the war, the dukes tried to rebuild the country's economy, which mainly consisted of agriculture. However, only about a quarter of the abandoned and devastated farm positions could be reoccupied and cultivated. The landlords could easily prevail against the severely decimated and economically ruined peasant class and worsen peasant law. The extensive depopulation of the country led to large-scale farming - farms were confiscated by the knightly lordship and incorporated into their own property. In 1646 the Mecklenburg community order was enacted and expanded in 1654, it said:

“Of peasant people and their easement and delivery.
§1 We arrange and set after daily experience testifies that the peasants and subjects, men and women, undertook this time in many ways to join together, to betroth and free each other without their masters and authorities, without their consent and permission, but this because according to their rulership of these Our lands and principalities, they use servants and servants, including their wives and children, and are therefore not capable of their own person, nor to withdraw and betroth themselves to them without their masters' approval, to some degree. That we therefore want to have completely forbidden and abolished such presumptuous, secret engagements and freedoms of the peasant people. "

The peasant class had thus largely lost its freedom and serfdom was enshrined in law. Accordingly, the farmers were no longer allowed to leave their jobs without the landlord's permission. A marriage was also only possible with the permission of the landlord.

In the early 18th century the conflict between the sovereign and the estates reached a new high point. In 1708, the Mecklenburg-Schwerin Duke Friedrich Wilhelm introduced a “consumption and tax order” to overcome the consequences of the Thirty Years' War (1618 to 1648) as well as the Northern War (1700 to 1721). In addition to the taxation of the knighthood and the clergy, the “Consumption and Tax Code” included the abolition of the peasants' bondage dependence on their landlords. The serfdom was in a Vererbpachtung converted, forced labor should be replaced by cash benefits.

His brother and successor Karl Leopold tried to enforce this with great severity against the knighthood and against the seaside city of Rostock, allied with them. He asked the estates to grant him additional taxes in order to build up a standing army, then forced the Rostock council to renounce his privileges and ruthlessly enforced his tax claims against the knighthood. Mecklenburg-Schwerin was a staging area and theater of war during the Northern War, and with the help of a standing army, Karl Leopold intended to end the stay of foreign troops in Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

This created a sharp contrast between the duke and the estates.

After complaints from the Mecklenburg estates before Emperor Charles VI. against Karl Leopold's violations of the law and autocratic efforts, the imperial execution against the duke was imposed in 1717 . Since a settlement of the conflict initially failed even after the repeal of the execution of the Reich (1727), Karl Leopold was finally deposed in 1728 by the Reichshofrat in favor of his brother Christian Ludwig II . In Mecklenburg-Strelitz , the estates tried to win the future heir to the throne as a guarantor of their cause. The outcome of the Strelitz succession dispute of 1752/53 brought about the further strengthening of the estates.

The political and administrative fragmentation of the country is worsening. The power of the dukes was increasingly lost and the population suffered.

On 18 April 1755 the provisions was as Hamburger comparison of Duke Christian Ludwig II. , The ruler of the country part of Schwerin , with representatives of the estates country Constitutional hereditary settlement (LGGEV) in Rostock completed. For the Strelitz region , the settlement was ratified on July 11, 1755 by its regent, Duke Adolf Friedrich IV . The agreement, comprising 25 articles and 530 paragraphs, subsequently formed the framework for all social, political, economic and cultural developments in both parts of the Mecklenburg region and remained as a basic law of the state constitution (in Mecklenburg-Schwerin with a short interruption in 1849/50) until the end of the monarchy 1918 applicable law.

The conclusion of the LGGEV basically represented an act of surrender by the princely sovereignty in Mecklenburg. In 1755 Christian Ludwig II had to bow to a far-reaching constitutional dictate of the estates, which primarily enforced their legal positions in this treaty. The 19th article with the headline "From the serf subjects of the knights and landscape" contained in §§ 325 to 336 regulations that led to the renewed legal anchoring of the serfdom of the peasants. The regulations contained above all the powers of the knightly landlords over the peasants. Sections 325 and 326 LGGEV again obliged the farmers, citing the reversals of 1621, to surrender to the landlords all hooves, fields and meadows for which they could not prove their hereditary interest payments, and did not give the farmers any right of ownership to those they cultivate Areas. In § 334, the laying of the peasants to enlarge one's own farm was officially legitimized:

§ 334. As to the relocation and laying down of the peasants; So we want to leave the knighthood and landscape, including the monasteries and the Rostok community places, unencumbered with their moral property rights over their serfs, and their landed and cherished subjects, so the laying down of every property is and remains - Lord, the figure free and unconcerned, that he should move the peasant from one village to another, and take his arable land to the farmyard, or otherwise use the same, have authority and power; ...

Only the laying down of entire villages required the approval of the sovereign, so that there was no complete impoverishment of entire regions:

§ 336. As far as the complete abandonment of the villages and building communities is concerned, from which poverty and diminution of subjects arise; So such unauthorized laying down of a village, in itself completely forbidden in the regulations, on the other hand, every property owner should be guilty of notifying the select committee first of all of his plans, which then reports to us with its expert opinion so that we can respond such a major change, which precedes a good in the general best, and which needy further territorial princely can dispose.

Laying peasants and the bondage of the rear passengers served above all to secure the economic and social foundations of knighthood in the estate system. Then there was another large scale pawn laying.

In 1816 Georg Ferdinand von Maltzan on Penzlin was the first landlord in Mecklenburg to repeal serfdom on his estates, despite the protests of his peers. In 1822 serfdom was legally abolished in all of Mecklenburg and the peasants were released from their obligations to their landlords. However, the landlords were given the right to terminate the contract and the peasants lost their homeland rights, which they had previously acquired through birth . In Mecklenburg there was no right of free settlement. Because of the imperfection of the law and the lack of freedom of movement and settlement, the peasants were initially unable to achieve any real freedom and economic independence.


In the Duchy of Nassau serfdom was abolished in 1808.


In the Duchy of Oldenburg it was repealed in 1814.

Edict of the King of Sweden to abolish serfdom from 1806


For Pomeranian a division has to be stated for centuries. This also applies to questions of serfdom. In 1616 the peasant and shepherd order was issued for the Duchy of Pomerania-Stettin , which manifested serfdom and peasant laying. For the Duchy of Pomerania-Wolgast , however, the same order was not introduced until 1646. The differences continued after the Thirty Years' War , but this only became apparent later. Western Pomerania came to Sweden and Western Pomerania to Brandenburg / Prussia . After the shifts of 1720, the area of Swedish Western Pomerania continued to shrink . For the Prussian part of Pomerania, including the so-called Old Western Pomerania, Prussian law was applied and with it the application of serfdom. → See Prussia .

Swedish Western Pomerania took a different route. When the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation dissolved as a result of the Napoleonic conquest , the Swedish king introduced Swedish law shortly beforehand. This also included the abolition of serfdom. Due to the Napoleonic wars , however, the execution was delayed until after 1815, especially since there was great resistance from the landlords. But then Prussian law came into force for this area of ​​law, otherwise there was a separate law for this Pomeranian part ( Stralsund administrative district ) for a long time.


The general Prussian land law of 1794 already described serfdom as inadmissible. In the Kingdom of Prussia , inheritance, subservience and serfdom, after decades of gradual elimination, was not finally abolished until 1807 by a decree of the king in the course of the Prussian reforms ( October Edict ) with effect from St. Martin's Day in 1810. By an edict of September 14, 1811, the property granting of the farms and the abolition of natural services were pronounced.


Saxony belonged to the area of ​​application of the central German manorial rule. The elements of personal lack of freedom were less than in the agricultural constitutions of other territorial rulers. The peasants' obligations were shaped more by the use of land that did not belong to them than by personal bondage. There was no serfdom as a legal institution. In 1550, 287,000 of the 550,000 inhabitants belonged to the rural population. 73 percent of the rural population were farmers on approximately 43,000 farm sites. Eight percent of the rural population belonged to the sub-farming classes, gardeners and cottagers and 18 percent housemates (Insten). Landlords were one percent of the rural population. The largest landowner was the electoral sovereign; his larger goods were the chamber goods. Towards the end of the 18th century there were 1077 mostly noble landlords in Electoral Saxony. They exercised the feudal, hereditary and judicial rule.

The individual landlords mostly operated more modest private farms. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the private farms were enlarged because the landlords wanted to produce themselves in order to make money. This resulted in a “peasant laying” that was heavily curbed by the elector as the territorial lord, but in which he himself participated as the landlord. The work on the estate was carried out by the farmers who had good hearing. The “ manor farms” called manors had a size of 50 to 300 hectares . Most of the agricultural area was cultivated by the rural population themselves. The forced labor was extended to the growing estates at the expense of the poor farmers and extended to new work, so that it was increasingly felt as oppressive. In a monograph in 1771, the lawyer Johann Leonhard Hauschild called the compulsory labor serfdom and demanded that it be regulated and reduced by the ruler of the Electorate of Saxony.

The deterioration in living conditions after 1788 and the destruction of agriculture by the Seven Years' War led to a law on the replacement of labor and service, which came into force in 1832.


In the Kingdom of Westphalia , serfdom was abolished in 1808.


The abolition of serfdom in the Principality of Wied took place in 1791. After a lost subject trial , the ruling Prince Friedrich Karl would have had to pay several 100,000 Reichstaler to his peasants. Unable to raise the amount, he instead consented to the waiver of serfdom.


In the late Middle Ages serfdom was the common legal status of the non-aristocratic population in Württemberg. It was abolished in the Kingdom of Württemberg in 1817 without compensation.

Serfdom in other countries

The plaque from Liber Paradisus , in the Palazzo d'Accursio in the city of Bologna , Italy . For the first time (1256) this tablet stipulated the abolition of serfdom.


For the first time serfdom was abolished in the city of Bologna in 1256 , as evidenced by the Liber Paradisus in the Palazzo d'Accursio.


Here serfdom was finally abolished with the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. Previously, it had been repealed in the Domaine royal in 1779.


There were great differences in terms of serfdom in the crown lands of the Danube Monarchy - while the farmers in Tyrol and in the mountainous regions of Vorarlberg had a lot of freedom, serfdom was particularly widespread in Bohemia , Moravia , Silesia and Austria north of the Danube.

As early as 1342, see Great Letter of Freedom , all classes were represented in the Tyrolean state parliament , including the peasant class. This may be one of the reasons why serfdom was a marginal phenomenon in Tyrol as early as 1500, from which only a few small minorities suffered. Among them were the Imst proprietors, who in 1563 asked the sovereign to rid them of this stain. Presumably they were the last people in Tyrol who could get rid of serfdom.

After peasant unrest in Silesia in 1767, Empress Maria Theresa ordered an investigation into the living conditions of serfs. The commissioned Ernst Freiherr von Locella came to the conclusion that the robotic services to be performed by serfs should be regulated clearly and centrally from Vienna. The empress then passed several patents by 1778 in which maximum limits were set for the services required. In addition, from 1770 serfs were able to appeal to the authorities against the marriage permits and dismissals that were refused by the body owner.

Joseph II abolished serfdom , beginning with the serfdom revocation patent for Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia of November 1, 1781. In 1782 the repeal was also pronounced for the other Austrian states. Former serf peasants were now entitled to leave the manor, start families and look for other ways to earn a living. Peasants who continued to live and work in a manor were now in a moderate dependence of hereditary subservience to the landlord. Since then, as the Austrian General Civil Code of 1812 states, serfdom was no longer permitted in the Habsburg lands.

The so-called hereditary subservience was completely repealed in Austria by decree of September 7, 1848 on the initiative of the Reichstag member Hans Kudlich . State taxes replaced the taxes to be paid to the landlords.


The abolition of serfdom in Russia (picture from 1914 from the Slav Epic by Alfons Mucha )

In Russia serfdom began to prevail from 1601 after Tsar Boris Godunov had restricted the freedom of movement of the peasants. Already in 1606 there was a great peasant revolt against serfdom under Ivan Isayevich Bolotnikov . But it was only under Peter I in 1723 that it was placed on a legal basis, which - like much of Peter's legislation  - was essentially based on a Western European model. Under Catherine the Great in the late 18th century, the situation for peasants worsened again; serfdom was now also extended to the previously free peasants in what is now the Ukraine . In contrast to most Western European forms of serfdom, Russian serfs were bound to the clod only at the will of their master. If he wanted otherwise, they could also be sold without land. Only under the reform tsar Alexander II was the serfdom of the peasants, who were pejoratively referred to as "Muschiki", on February 19th July. / March 3, 1861 greg. abolished about 50 years later than in Western Europe and in the Baltic Sea governorate, which was under Russian rule but under the administration of the Baltic German nobility . Often this was not followed by freedom for the peasants but increased economic dependency ( debt trap ), but without them enjoying the old legal protection. This situation was never satisfactorily resolved and became one of the reasons for the success of the October Revolution .

See also


  • Ernst Moritz Arndt : Attempt a history of serfdom in Pomerania and Rügen. Verlag der Realschulbuchhandlung, Berlin 1803, ISBN 978-3-487-13445-1 , visible in the Google book search.
  • Peter Blickle : From serfdom to human rights. A history of freedom in Germany. 2nd, revised edition. Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-50768-9 .
  • Anne-Marie Dubler : Serfdom. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  • Paul Freedman, Monique Bourin (Eds.): Forms of Servitude in Northern and Central Europe. Decline, Resistance and Expansion. Brepols, Turnhout 2005, ISBN 2-503-51694-7 ( Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe 9).
  • Hans-Werner Goetz : Serfdom. In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages . Volume 5, 1989, pp. 1845-1848.
  • Volker Griese : Schleswig-Holstein. Memories of History. Historical miniatures. Norderstedt 2012, ISBN 978-3-8448-1283-1 (in it the chapter: All for one, one for all. Rebellion of the serfs, Depenau 1707 ).
  • Reiner Groß : The civil agrarian reform in Saxony in the first half of the 19th century. Study on the problem of the transition from feudalism to capitalism in agriculture. Böhlau, Weimar 1968.
  • Reiner Groß: History of Saxony. 4th edition, Edition Leipzig, Leipzig 2012, ISBN 978-3-361-00674-4 .
  • Christian Keitel: rule over the country and its people. Body rule and territorialization in Württemberg, 1246–1593. DRW-Verlag, Leinfelden-Echterdingen 2000, ISBN 3-87181-428-8 (=  writings on south-west German regional studies , volume 28, also dissertation at the University of Tübingen , 1998-1999).
  • Jan Klußmann (Ed.): Serfdom. Rural bondage in the early modern period. Böhlau, Cologne a. a. 2003, ISBN 3-412-05601-4 (=  Potsdam studies on the history of rural society 3).
  • Jürgen Kuczynski : General economic history from prehistoric times to socialist society. Dietz, Berlin 1951.
  • Karl Lamprecht : German history. Volume 2. Gärtner et al., Berlin 1892.
  • Wolfgang Reichel, Manfred Schauer: The Döhlener basin near Dresden. Geology and mining. Saxony - State Office for Environment and Geology, Dresden a. a. 2007, ISBN 978-3-9811421-0-5 ( Mining in Saxony - Mining Monograph 12).
  • Pierre Riché : The world of the Carolingians. Translated from the French by Cornelia and Ulf Dirlmeier. 3rd revised edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-15-020183-1 ( Reclam-Taschenbuch 20183), (Original edition: La vie quotidienne dans l'empire Carolingien. Hachette, Paris 1973 (Hachette Littérature) ).
  • Karl H. Schneider: History of the peasant liberation. Reclam, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-15-018735-7 ( Reclams Universal-Bibliothek - Reclam Sachbuch 18735).
  • Samuel Sugenheim: History of the Abolition of Serfdom and Bondage in Europe up to the Middle of the Nineteenth Century. Imperial Academy of Sciences, St. Peterburg 1861, visible in the Google book search.
  • Claudia Ulbrich : Body lordship on the Upper Rhine in the late Middle Ages. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1979, ISBN 3-525-35369-3 ( publications of the Max Planck Institute for History 58).

Web links

Wiktionary: Serfdom  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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