cor·​vée | \ ˈkȯr-ˌvā How to pronounce corvée (audio) , kȯr-ˈvā \

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 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.

First Known Use of corvée

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for corvée

French, from Medieval Latin corrogata, from Latin, feminine of corrogatus, past participle of corrogare to collect, requisition, from com- + rogare to ask — more at right

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The first known use of corvée was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry

“Corvée.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Oct. 2021.

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