A system of obligations that bound lords and their subjects in Europe during much of the Middle Ages. In theory, the king owned all or most of the land and gave it to his leading nobles in return for their loyalty and military service. The nobles in turn held land that peasants, including serfs, were allowed to farm in return for the peasants' labor and a portion of their produce. Under feudalism, people were born with a permanent position in society. (See fief and vassal.)
Note: Today, the word feudal is sometimes used as a general term for a set of social relationships that seems unprogressive or out of step with modern society.