Definition of serf in English:


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  • An agricultural laborer bound under the feudal system to work on his lord's estate.

    ‘Here in the Thirty Years War, the seigneurial system collapsed and serfs refused to perform labour services.’
    • ‘One could argue that the feudal system of lords and serfs was a form of sharecropping.’
    • ‘In feudal times the serfs had to rely on the beneficence of the lord of the manor.’
    • ‘Because many landlords had lost their serfs, the lords relaxed ancient obligations and duties.’
    • ‘In the east, in Prussia, Poland, Russia, and the eastern provinces of the Habsburg Monarchy, most of the rural population was bound to the soil and their lords as serfs.’
    • ‘This was a tax paid each year by the serfs to the lord of the manor’
    • ‘If not radically reformed, it will continue to consume our freedom and earnings like a swarm of locusts consumes a wheat field until we in America are no better off than the simple serfs of feudal times.’
    • ‘Feudal serfs worked at back-breaking labor, dawn to dusk.’
    • ‘The previous neatly ordered view of the universe, with the Earth at the centre, reinforced the rigid feudal order with serfs at the bottom and the Pope at the pinnacle.’
    • ‘Not all medieval peasants were serfs, however.’
    • ‘The nobility were the men who reaped the most benefits from the emancipation of the serfs and the subsequent increase in agricultural productivity.’
    • ‘As I've already noted, at the lowest levels what we see is a slow but steady change from a countryside populated by slaves to one populated by peasants and serfs.’
    • ‘In feudal times, slaves, serfs, and peasants were forced to work through different mechanisms, but the coercion and social control they experienced was external to work.’
    • ‘The prosperity of Syracuse and other cities depended on the exploitation of Sicels, who worked the land as serfs, and allowed the emergence of a wealthy agricultural class, sometimes with political results.’
    • ‘The idea that serfs and lords belonged to the same society would have been incomprehensible to people in the feudal era, when elites were not only physically segregated from peasants, but also spoke a different language.’
    • ‘They took advantage of their large estates, and the feeble position of emancipated serfs, to supply urban markets in western Europe.’
    • ‘Those once obliged to be content with the role of feudal serf could now demand high wages and withdraw their labour if they didn't get the freedom and social mobility they requested.’
    • ‘At their worst, these would have put the life of a poor labourer and his family on a par with or perhaps below that of an American slave or a Russian serf.’
    • ‘Such priests might very well be freed serfs, recruited from the very peasantry they baptized and buried; the social distance between their flock and themselves was minimal, if any existed at all.’
    • ‘Alexander II realized that to modernize mean that Russia needed to westernize, so in 1861 he emancipated the serfs from bondage.’
    bondsman, slave, servant, menial, villein, thrall, helot, ceorl
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Late 15th century (in the sense ‘slave’): from Old French, from Latin servus ‘slave’.