Department of History



Professor: Dr. Florin Curta

Office: 202 Keene-Flint Hall

Office hours: T 10:30-12:30, or by appointment

Phone: 392-0271, ext. 240


Class will meet in Turlington Hall 2341 on R 11:45-2:45



Spring 2003

Course description

    Feudalism is a French invention, in that it was both invented by French scholars of the sixteenth century and applied first to social and political developments associated with medieval France. There is, however, so much variation and so many exceptions from the "rule," that some researchers are now recommending that we abandon feudal terminology altogether. But the phenomenon described by "feudalism" did exist in medieval society, as people claimed their respective positions in society on basis of committing themselves to someone's service. Whether or not this is what we mean by feudalism is a different issue. In this course, we will deal with both words--ancient words, but also new ones--used to make sense of what we know about the medieval past, and texts--medieval texts, modern texts--that may illuminate the nature of the social and political issues at stake. From medieval traditions to vassalage, from commendatio to the knighthood and courtly love, nothing, I hope, will escape the focus of this course. Its main goal is to provide a solid introduction to medieval social history, but also to open up discussions about some of the most debated problems in contemporary historiography.


In addition, there will be some readings from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, compiled by Paul Halsall ( You will therefore need to have access to and be familiar with the Web.

NOTE: It is essential that you read the assigned sections in the textbook(s) ahead, i.e., before the time they are due in class. Class meetings will be organized around a lecture/discussion format and your weekly assignments  will necessitate familiarity with the material.



There is no attendance policy, but you are responsible for attending all lectures and reading the required texts. Class participation  may be taken into account to determine the overall grade. The basis for evaluation of performance will be a reading journal and five in-class assignments. Below is a detailed description of these assignments and the corresponding percentages of your final grade. Extra-credit work will be accepted only for students with active participation in class discussions. If necessary, I will explain the format of the extra-credit option during regular office hours. You are otherwise encouraged to keep in touch with me by e-mail, if you have any questions: I check my mailbox regularly, and promise to answer quickly.

Reading journal. A quick glimpse at the list of weekly topics (see below) will no doubt convince you that this is a course with serious readings. You will be expected to digest a substantial amount of information in a fairly short period of time. The best way to do this is to keep a journal. Before every class meeting, you will post an e-mail message on my address (on top of this syllabus), in which you will discuss briefly the readings for the coming meeting, ask questions and/or make comments, raise issues that need clarification, etc. All e-mails should arrive at least 12 hours before class meetings.Be sure to keep your postings to a reasonable length (175 to 250 words long). I do not want you to spend too much time on them, but I expect you to give me an articulate presentation of your thoughts. Needless to say, I also expect you to check on correct grammar and spelling before clicking on "Send." Because the journal is designed to demonstrate your efforts towards an initial understanding of the readings (especially those from your Dunbabin, Ganshof, and Reynolds books), I must have in time one report for each class meeting, every week (except, of course, week 10). The reading journal represents seventy percent of your final grade, 5 % for each entry. I will send written feed-back (via e-mail) on weekly entries midway through the term. Evaluation of your journal entries will take into consideration composition, grammar, and punctuation. Reading reports cannot be made up; you simply need to have a journal entry for every class meeting. Be aware that missed reports may result in a substantially lower grade.

In-class assignments. The remaining thirty percent of your final grade will be based on five short assignments in class. All five will consist of multiple-choice, map, matching, short-essay questions, or a combination thereof. Besides material covered in class lectures, these in-class assignments will focus primarily on primary source readings from your Dutton, Murray, Evergates, or Amt books and the Internet  Medieval Sourcebook.  A careful study of these texts is necessary for a good performance at the test. Because in-class assignments are announced, I do not intend to grant any make-ups, except for emergencies (e.g., illness), in which case I may ask for official justification.

Grades. The following scale will be used in determining your final grade

93-100 A
85-92 B+
75-84 B
65-74 C+
55-64 C
45-54 D+
35-44 D
under 35 E


WEEK 1 (January 9): Problematic concepts: feudalism, vassalage, and fiefs. [Reynolds, 1-74; Tierney 69-96]; see Montesquieu on feudal laws and the 1789 decree to abolish the "feudal system"

WEEK 2 (January 16): In-class assignment #1.A Frankish institution? Early Franks and Frankish Gaul [Tierney 37-47; Murray 10-14, 174-179, 259-428]

WEEK 3 ( January 23): Merovingian society: retainers and commendation [Reynolds 75-84; Ganshof 3-12; Murray 438-445, 533-556, 576-584]; see two oaths of fealty

WEEK 4 (January 30): In-class assignment #2.From Late Merovingian kings to Carolingian Francia [Ganshof 15-19; Murray 447-498; 633-656; Dutton 4-20, 24-43, 46-47, 55-57]

WEEK 5 (February 6): Carolingian feudalism: vassi and benefices [Ganshof 20-61; Dunbabin 1-100; Reynolds 84-114; Dutton 61-63, 69-74, 74-78, 183-198, 308 (no. 60), 309 (no. 62)]; see excerpts from Carolingian capitularies on oaths and precaria

WEEK 6 (February 13): A comparison: late Carolingian and pre-Norman aristocracies  [Dunbabin 101-123; Reynolds 323-342; Dutton 434-443, 469; Amt 11-15, 20-30]

WEEK 7 (February 20):  In-class assignment #3. The long eleventh century [Dunbabin 124-222]

WEEK 8 (February 27): Notions of feudalism: vassus and fidelis [Ganshof 65-105; Dunbabin 223-245; Evergates 4-5, 74-76 and 80-81]; see the agreement between Count William V of Aquitaine and Hugh IV of Lusignan and Fulbert of Chartres's letter to the same count

WEEK 9 (March 6): In-class assignment #4. Notions of feudalism: fiefs [Ganshof 106-155; Reynolds 115-180; Evergates 1-3, 9-12, and 50-51]; see Snorri Sturlusson's Heimskringla on the granting of fiefs; see Galbert of Bruges on investiture

WEEK 10 (March 13): Spring break

WEEK 11 (March 20): Twelfth-century France and England [Dunbabin 246-357; Amt 95-111, 116-123, 172-176]

WEEK 12 (March 27): New notions of feudalism [Ganshof 156-167; Dunbabin 358-373; Reynolds 258-322 and 342-395; Tierney 60-68]; see Modius faciendi homagium & fidelitatem on homage

WEEK 13 (April 3): Other notions of feudalism: manorialism [Tierney 99-105]; see also Domesday Book with a description of Hecham manor and Walter of Henley on how to keep a manor running; see also an example of manorial account and a dispute over the exaction of corvée

WEEK 14 (April 10): In-class assignment #5. New notions of fealty: feudal epic [Song of Roland]

WEEK 15 (April 17): New notions of homage: courtly love [Andreas Capellanus; Tierney 167-171]

2002 Florin Curta