In a detail of Brueghel's Land of Medival Peasants Cockaigne
(1567) a soft-boiled egg has little feet to rush to the luxuriating peasant who catches drops Medeival Peasants of honey on his tongue, while roast pigs roam wild: in fact, hunger and harsh winters Medeval Peasants were realities for the average European in the 16th century.
A peasant, derived from Mediveal Peasants 15th century Medieal Peasants French païsant meaning one from the pays, the countryside or region, which itself derives from the Latin pagus, country Meideval Peasants district, is an agricultural worker with roots in the countryside in which he or she dwells, either working for others or, more specifically, owning or renting and working by his or her own labour a small plot of ground. They are also referred to in England as a "cottager". The term peasant today is a pejorative term for impoverished farmers.
Peasants typically make up the majority of the agricultural labour force in a Pre-industrial society, depending on the cultivation of their land: without stockpiles of provisions they thrive or starve according to the most recent harvest (illustration, above right).
- 1 Background
- 2 The position of the medieval European Peasant diverges
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
The Weather Peasant
- "This is cold weather", engraving by Sebald Beham, 1542
Though a word of loose application, once a market economy has taken root the term peasant proprietors is frequently used to describe the traditional rural population in countries where the land is chiefly held by smallholders.
In the great majority of pre-industrial societies, peasants constitute the bulk of the population. Peasant societies generally have very well developed social support networks. Especially in harder climates, members of the community who have a poor harvest or suffer some form of hardship will be taken care of by the rest of the community. Loyalties and vengeance both run very deep. Peasant communities are extremely tight and are often difficult to access or understand by outsiders.
Peasant societies can often have very stratified social hierarchies within them as well. A rural peasant population differs enormously in its values and economic behavior from an urban worker population. Peasants tend to be more conservative than urbanites, and are often very loyal to inherited power structures that define their rights and privileges and protect them from interlopers, despite their generally low status within those power structures.
Sedentary Occupations of the Peasants.--Facsimile from an Engraving on Wood, attributed to Holbein, in the "Cosmographie" of Munster (Basle, 1552, folio).
Fernand Braudel devoted the first volume–called The Structures of Everyday Life.–of his major work, Civilization and Capitalism 15th–18th Century to the largely silent and invisible world that existed below the market economy.
Since it was the literate classes who left the most records, and these tended to dismiss peasants as figures of coarse appetite and rustic comedy, the term "peasant" may have a pejorative rather than descriptive connotation in historical memory. However, the term was not always regarded as such; peasants were once viewed as pious and seen with respect and pride. Life was hard for peasants, but before technology and a money economy created a division between rich and poor, life was hard for everyone. Society was theorized as being organized in three “estates”: those who work, those who pray, and those who fight.
In a barter economy, peasants characteristically have a different attitude to work than people in a money economy would. Most are content to live at a subsistence level and will not expend unnecessary labour raising their standard of living. Traditionally many non-peasants have viewed this as laziness. However, it does make sense from their perspective, since there would be little advantage gained in producing more than could be consumed.
The position of the medieval European Peasant diverges
The relative position of Western European peasants was greatly improved after the Black Death unsettled medieval Europe, granting far greater economic and political power to those peasants fortunate enough to survive the cataclysm. In the wake of this disruption to the established hierarchy, later centuries saw the invention of the original printing presses, widespread literacy and the enormous social and intellectual changes of the Enlightenment. This evolution of ideas in an environment of relatively widespread literacy laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution, which enabled mechanically and chemically augmented agricultural production while simultaneously increasing the demand for factory workers in cities. These factory workers with their low skill and large numbers quickly came to occupy the same socio-economic stratum as the original medieval peasants.
The tension between the interests of these two groups forms an underlying context for much of the social and economic debate of the past century and a half. This was especially pronounced in Eastern Europe. Lacking any catalysts for change in the 14th century, Eastern European peasants largely continued upon the original medieval path until the 18th and 19th centuries. The tsars then began to notice that the West had made enormous strides they had not, responding by forcing the largely illiterate peasant populations under their control to embark upon a Westernization and industrialization campaign.
Russian peasants in Viktor Vasnetsov's "Moving House", 1876
Peter the Great initiated a half-successful attempt to force 500+ years worth of social change in the space of a few generations. Although this approach eventually succeeded (under the Communists) in producing a technologically advanced and literate population, it came at the cost of many millions of lives and a cultural legacy that persists to this day.
- Folk culture
- Popular revolt in late medieval Europe
- Lower class
- Peasant revolt
- Peasant vision
- The Journal of Peasant Studies, 1973 to the present
- Braudel, Fernand, The Structures of Everyday Life vol I of Civilization and Capitalism
- Ladurie, Emmanuel Le Roy, Montaillou : The Promised Land of Error
- Mollat, Michael, The Poor in the Middle Ages, 1986.
- Kishlansky, Mark, Civilization in the West, fourth edition, 2001
- Jerome Blum, Lord and Peasant in Russia From the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century (Princeton University Press, 1961).
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
Categories: Wikipedia articles incorporating text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica | Agricultural labor | Feudalism