Serfdom: Condition in medieval Europe in which a tenant farmer was bound to a hereditary plot of land and to the will of his landlord. The vast majority of serfs in medieval Europe obtained their subsistence by cultivating a plot of land that was owned by a lord. This was the essential feature differentiating serfs from slaves, who were bought and sold without reference to a plot of land. The serf provided his own food and clothing from his own productive efforts. A substantial proportion of the grain the serf grew on his holding had to be given to his lord. The lord could also compel the serf to cultivate that portion of the lord's land that was not held by other tenants. The serf also had to use his lord's grain mills and no others. During the reign of Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich (1645-76) the position of the peasants remained economically and culturally backward, while their legal status further deteriorated as a result of the removal of any time limit for reclaiming runaway peasant, which was included in the
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