Difference Between Serf and Peasant

Main Difference – Serf vs. Peasant

The middle ages or the medieval period is the period in European history between antiquity and the Renaissance. In the medieval period, the society was divided into three layers; the nobility, clergy, and the commoners. The common people were classified as serfs and peasants. Peasants were poor rural farm workers. Serfs were peasants who worked lords’ land and paid them certain dues in return for the use of land. The main difference between serf and peasant is that peasants owned their own land whereas serfs did not. Serfs and peasants formed the lowest layer of the feudal system.

Who is a Serf

Serfs were peasants who farmed the feudal lords’ fields and paid them certain dues in return. These dues were usually in the form of labor on the lord’s lands. The possession of the land was heritable. When a serf working the fields died, his son would have to pay a feudal relief to the Lord to prove his fealty in order to inherit the right to use the land. Serfs were bound to the land and could be sold with it into the service of the next owner of the land.

Though we say that serfs were those who farm the land, blacksmiths, millers, carpenters, etc. were often also serfs. They too were bound to a place and could not leave that place without the feudal lords’ permission.

Serfs were at the bottom layer of the feudal hierarchical system. Serfs were almost like slaves. Though no one owned serfs, they were bound to the land, which were owned by nobles. However, a serf could buy his or her own freedom, but only if he could earn enough.

The liberation of serfs happened over a period of many years. Black death, which was followed by the peasant revolution is considered to be the most important event in the emancipation of serfs in England.Difference Between Serf and Peasant

Who is a Peasant

In the feudal society, peasants were poor, rural farmers; they were either the owners of their own farms or laborers. The social structure of peasantry can be categorized into further smaller groups. Freemen and villein are the most common types of peasants.

Though some peasants owned their own land, they too had to pay taxes; taxes were either in the form of money or crops. Although they were not bound to the land like peasants, they had to work in the lords’ field  two or three days each week. However, peasants were a one step above from a serf, in the social hierarchy.

Main Difference - Serf vs Peasant

Difference Between Serf and Peasant


Serfs were poor, rural farmers in the feudal system who are bound to the land.

Peasants were poor, rural farmers.


Serfs did not own their own land; they worked the nobles’ land.

Peasants sometimes owned their land.


Serfs were bound to the land and could not move without the permission of the lord.

Peasants were not bound to the lord.


Serfs are peasants.

Not all peasants are serfs.


Serfs were below the social level of peasants.

Peasants were just above the social tier of serfs.serf vs peasant - infographic

Image Courtesy:

“1794 Morgenstern Bauernhof anagoria” by Johann Ludwig Ernst Morgenstern – anagoria. (Public Domain) via Commons

“Reeve and Serfs” by anonymous (Queen Mary Master) – this file: scan dated 2009, uploaded 12 May 2010 by Ann Scott (Public Domain) via Commons 

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