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The Middle Class



A scene of chaotic medieval town life
In early medieval society there were two groups of people: the nobles, and the peasants. Status was based on birth. A peasant could never become a noble; even in a peasant-noble marriage, it would be the noble who stepped down to become a peasant.

It is clear that the lines between social classes were distinctly drawn. But with the advent of the medieval town, a different social class, the middle class, evolved.

The middle class was made up of the artisans and craftsmen who lived and worked independently in the towns. This new rising class was important, because even though the lord who owned the land on which the town was constructed claimed authority over it, the people resisted the sometimes distant lordís rule. Town revolts over the rights of its citizens challenged the values of feudalism.

Another reason why the middle class helped bring an end to the feudal system is money. In feudalism, wealth was based not on money but by land acquisition. The lord was wealthier than the peasant because he owned land. Owning land didnít have any practical value in a town; you couldnít buy a bushel of barley with an acre of land. Thus, for reasons of commerce and trade, money emerged. In the Middle Ages wealth was power, and if the middle class had money, it meant they had power.


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