European Feudalism

Essential Question

How did European Feudalism work?

Samurai and Knights: Were the Similarities Greater Than the Differences?

Feudalism in Europe

Due to the increasing numer of raids in the 800s, kings were unable to defend their empire. Their army was too slow to defend against the lightning-fast attacks of their enemies. Because they couldn't depend on protection from their kings, nobles had to defend their own lands. As a result, the power of nobles grew, and kings became less powerful. In fact, some nobles became as powerful as the kings themselves. Although these nobles remained loyal to the king, they ruled their lands as independent territories.

To defend their lands, nobles needed soldiers. The best soldiers were knights, warriors who fought on horseback. However, knights needed weapons, armor, and horses. This equipment was expensive, and few people had money in the early Middle Ages. As a result, nobles gave knights fiefs (FEEFS)", or pieces of land, instead of money for their military service. A noble who gave land to a knight in this way was called a lord. In return for the land, a knight promised to support the noble in battle or in other matters. A ~ight who promised to support a lord in exchange for land was called a vassal. The vassal swore that he would always remain loyal to his lord. Historians call this system of promises that governed the relationships between lords and vassals feudalism (FYOO-duh-lih-zuhm).

Activity 2: How did European Feudalism work?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Feudalism In Japan

The feudal system wasn’t restricted to Western Europe. In fact, a similar system thrived in Japan for several centuries. Japan was once ruled by a powerful central government, headed by an emperor. But by the late 12th century, the emperor’s authority had decreased, and a small group of aristocratic families, or clans, fought each other for power in a series of civil wars.

In 1185, a general named Minamoto no Yoritomo seized power. Taking the title shogun, or “commander,” he created a military dictatorship called a shogunate. The Emperor got to keep his title, but had little power—the shogun was the true ruler. The shogun granted large estates to military leaders called daimyos, and by the 17th century, the entire country was divided among about 200 of them. Daimyos employed specially-trained military men called samurai, who followed a code of honor and loyalty called bushido. There was very little social mobility in feudal Japan. The daimyos and samurai held most of the power. In fact, if ordinary people didn’t bow in respect when they passed by, daimyos and samurai were legally allowed to slice their heads off!

Underneath the warriors were the farmers, who were respected for growing food, but had virtually no power. In fact, at one point, farmers had to give all the rice they grew to their daimyos, who’d hopefully give at least some of it back. Craftsmen ranked below farmers, and merchants occupied the bottom level of the social pyramid. Even though merchants could become wealthy, they were viewed with disdain, and upper-class people were not allowed to socialize with them.

Activity 2: Mini Q: Mini Q-Samurai and Knights: Were the Similarities Greater Than the Differences?

Mini Q-Samurai and Knights_ Were the Similarities Greater Than the Differences_.pdf

Activity 3: Samurai and Knights: Were the Similarities Greater Than the Differences?

Use the information from today's lesson to compare and contrast knights and samurai. Complete this assignment on the back of your Mini-Q packet.

Discussion Questions

  • How are knights and samurai similar?

  • How are knights and samurai different?

  • Were the similarities greater than the differences? What evidence would you use to prove that?

Activity 4: Outline

Use the information from the DBQ to complete an outline that answers: "Samurai and Knights: Were the Similarities Greater Than the Differences?"

Essay Outline

Extension Activities