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Alternatives to feudal system

Discussion in 'Research' started by Aldarion, Nov 6, 2019.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Specialists do not agree among themselves as to what "truly" constituted feudalism, so it's no surprise there are disagreements here.

    I was more interested to hear what people *think* feudalism was about. That is, what's the stereotype in your mind, no matter how superficial or wrong you might think it is. I'm not really interested in that, either, but in how this understanding informs someone's desire to break away, to have an alternative.

    To put it another way, what specifically do you want to set aside or transform? And why? Is it because it's over-done (in your own estimation)? Or because it's done badly? Are you looking for alternatives in order to create something new? Or are you simply looking to avoid a trope?

    Because the really interesting aspect to me is to look at those alternatives, to look at what we're trying to do differently, what parts are worth keeping (or at least not worth changing) and what parts seem really important to transmute. You can't really do something different from an abstraction. You can't come up with an "alternative to the feudal system." You have to get down to specifics. If power isn't inherited, why isn't it? What's the alternative? If notions regarding nobility are to be set aside, what replaces them? If land-for-service is out, what's in? (AldarionAldarion has a couple of proposals there)

    There are likely some perceptions of feudalism that go beyond the narrow scope so far discussed. I'd love to hear about them.
     
  2. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    Well, if things goes through with my new project, then I'll likely be mixing feudalism with ancient Greek and Italic city-state systems.

    But as an example of what could be done is of course ancient Greece with its many different ways to organize a large number of city states. For while a single Greek city-state is probably rather straight-forward to organize, largely, when you've got a bunch of them together and try and make them all pull together in the same direction, creative solutions are often needed.
     
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I don't think the Greeks ever pulled in the same direction! The new project sounds fun!
     
  4. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    Alexander the Great got more than half of them in Greece proper to pull in his direction for a couple of years, so I think that's about as close we get. :D

    Jokes aside the new project is indeed something that I find interesting and combines several parts. Its essentially throwing the Mediterranean Normans into a pre-Roman Empire Classical Antiquity world.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The de Hauteville boys ftw!
     
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  6. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    Indeed.

    I'll probably throw in other medieval cultures and kingdoms as well but the Normans seems like a solid foundation. Among other reasons that they are probalby more relatable than Eastern Romans to a modern audience and that they are probably more sympathic than the Christian Iberians or the Crusader Kingdoms, to a modern audience. And yes, want a grey story and not a evil-vs.good story but to keep the reader interested there needs to be some sympathic people and there the, to my understanding, relatively tolerant and cultured Normans comes in.

    Might be that I mix them up with some Late Antiquity Western Roman Empire as well, but then we're going into details.
     
  7. Yora

    Yora Inkling

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    I learned that Poland had a system in which the nobles, who made up about 10% of the population, had more or less a modern democracy. With their own parliament and the king being more like a president. For everyone else it was regular medieval peasantry.
    I would assume it's a ham fisted criticism of the dangers of voter suppression if I read it in a book, but as a form of aristocracy taking power from the king it does make sense.
     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    When I think feudalism lots of little things come to mind, but the base is a lord of some sort handing over control of territory for the promise of fealty. There are cultures in the Sister Continents which might evolve into a version of this sort of base system organically... it’ll be interesting.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    So to summarize again, most people when asked to say what feudalism was, will say pretty much that--land in exchange for military (or other) service. Terms and conditions may vary, but that's the common theme.

    Which leads me to my question: why do people so often say they are looking for an alternative? Because I see very few fantasy books that actually make feudalism part of the story. Sure there are kings and dukes and fealty of whatever sort fits the plot, but land-for-service seems such a narrow and dry topic, I find it difficult to think this is really what they're impatient with. There is something people feel has been overworked. Something to do with the Middle Ages. And I'm not convinced "feudalism" is it. Rather, I think the term serves as a marker for other things. Not sure what.
     
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  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I’m with you, it might just be the basic bad rap that the word holds, cliche or whatever. People seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to it, much like people clamor for something other than “medieval”. The basic idea is sound, so no doubt it will exist in multiple kingdoms in my world in a variety of forms. So many varieties of governance, I’m just trying to make sure they all feel organic.

     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Yeah, well, I have the same question about that term, medieval. Countless times I've heard someone say they don't want to write yet another story set in medieval Europe. My response is, what exactly are you picturing? Rome in the 6th century? Bruges in the 12thc? Foix? Lombardy? Pomerania?

    I don't push the point, but I'd bet dinars to douvets that if the interlocutor could be specific, it would be a mash-up of Tudor England, maybe a bit of Bourbon France, with a throwback to the Plantagenets. Perhaps a dash of the Bruces and Balliols and Stuarts (especially if it's fantasy romance). It's no more "medieval Europe" than American history consists of cowboys.

    But I'm ok with it. Leave me the rest of the Middle Ages. It's a big playground.
     
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  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    You are braver than me, I don't bother to dig deeper. heh heh.

    Now days when I hear medieval, I think Bruce Willis with an assortment of weapons.
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Bruce Willis with an assortment of weapons is always a win.
     
  14. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

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    Personally, I define medieval as feudal. Which is to say, anything from Arab invasions in 7th century to... whenever land stopped being the primary measure of wealth in a certain country,
     
  15. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    I think that people use feudalism as a shorthand for medieval Europe. If I wrote a story set in Merovingian Francia then most people would probably consider to to be essentially as feudal as a start set in 12th century England. Even if the set-ups would reasonably be pretty different regarding the political order.

    And no, I can't myself explain this in detail so I could be wrong here.
     
  16. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

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    That is true. I have written on definition of feudalism here. You will notice that this still leaves many different possible setups - you have variations in power and influence of central government, in number, power and influence of highest order of feudal landowners, in number of "steps" in the pyramid, in legal structure of the government (does king have theoretically unlimited power? Or is he limited by parliament? If latter, who is in parliament? Etc.)., in military structure (importance of free yeomen vs importance of feudal banderias, presence or absence of central royal army, structure and size of royal army, military recruitment (professional troops vs semi-professional vs draft)), in economic structure (is land sole or primary measure of wealth, or are feudal lords also active in mercantile and production endeavours) and so on.
     
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  17. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Venice was definitely medieval and definitely not feudal. The pagans of eastern Europe, from the Abodrites to the Letts, were medieval but not feudal. But I agree that for most people the two words are treated indifferently as synonymous.

    I'm still puzzling over what about that world some people find so overdone as to need alternatives. Many authors have shown that you can be squarely in the pocket and still be both original and compelling. *shrug*
     
  18. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

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    I think the reason is because most people have idea of "Medieval = Feudal = specific type of feudalism", and it is so ingrained that they have trouble recognizing something different even when it does appear. Gondor for example is definitely not a feudal society, yet it is often treated as such.
     
  19. Pemry Janes

    Pemry Janes Sage

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    Maybe, when people say feudal, they are thinking more of an aesthetic rather than a system around which a society is organized.
     
  20. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Pemry JanesPemry Janes, I think you're close to the mark, especially when the discussion turns on looking for alternatives to medieval or feudal. I think it has to do with castles, with the (mostly British) levels of rank, an obsession with protocol and ritual, usually though not always some sort of organized religion (usually though not always oppressive), peasants (gotta have peasants), knights, and so on. If the list could be detailed, it'd be something of a mash-up over several centuries with a large dollop of straight up nonsense thank-you-very-much Sir Walter Scott.

    IOW, they're looking for an alternative that doesn't exist objectively, but which is quite real in the imagination of most folks, readers as well as writers. I think that accounts for why it proves difficult for many to come up with alternatives.

    I sometimes wonder if writers in India long to find alternatives to those tired old Hindu tropes. Or a Chinese writer looks to break out of imperial Chinese conventions. Are, say, Vikings new and fresh to them? Or do the Western tropes not resonate deeply?
     
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