Definition of corvée
1 : unpaid labor (as toward constructing roads) due from a feudal vassal to his lord
2 : labor exacted in lieu of taxes by public authorities especially for highway construction or repair
corvée was our Word of the Day on 06/11/2008. Hear the podcast!
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corvée Has Roman Roots
Under the Roman Empire, certain classes of people owed personal services to the state or to private proprietors. For example, labor might be requisitioned for the maintenance of the postal systems of various regions, or landed proprietors might require tenant farmers and persons freed from slavery to perform unpaid labor on their estates. The feudal system of corvée - regular work that vassals owed their lords - developed from this Roman tradition. We borrowed the word corvée from French in the 14th century, and it ultimately traces back to the Latin word corrogata, meaning "to collect" or "to requisition." By the 18th century, corvée was also being used for the unpaid or partially paid labor public authorities exacted in lieu of taxes for the construction or repair of highways, bridges, or canals.
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