serf·​dom | \ ˈsərf-dəm How to pronounce serfdom (audio) , -təm \

Definition of serfdom

: the condition of a tenant farmer bound to a hereditary plot of land and to the will of a landlord : the state or fact of being a serf Despite obvious personal repugnance for serfdom, she enhanced the powers of nobles to demand more labor from their ill-treated and unorganized serfs.— Carol S. Leonard Servitude stretched from serfdom in Russia to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean to the indigenous slave systems in Africa that supplied both the Arabian and Atlantic trades.— Adam Hochschild

Examples of serfdom in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web His arrival saw the military subjugation of the tribes, mass death in the pandemic that accompanied the Spanish occupation and the enforced serfdom of free Indians. WSJ, 20 May 2021 Some on the nationalist right have switched their allegiance from the market to the state, but that hardly changes much — it’s a form of serfdom either way. Cameron Hilditch, National Review, 1 May 2021 Those who forego or simply can’t afford it are essentially consigning themselves to economic serfdom. New York Times, 23 Feb. 2021 When gold was discovered on Hispaniola, the native population was forced into serfdom to mine it. Longreads, 5 Feb. 2021 Called the Nakaz, or Instruction, the 1767 document outlined the empress’ vision of a progressive Russian nation, even touching on the heady issue of abolishing serfdom. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 15 May 2020 The shift in power set into motion by the black death—the opportunity that came when the world split open—led to money replacing obligation and the abolition of serfdom in much of the West. Kevin Baker, Harper's Magazine, 23 June 2020 Bubonic plague killed half the population of full continents and, therefore, had a tremendous effect on the coming of the industrial revolution, on slavery and serfdom. Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, 3 Mar. 2020 When, in 1861, serfdom was abolished in the rest of Russia, millions of the newly free but landless flocked there, assisted by the Russian state. The Economist, 21 Dec. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'serfdom.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of serfdom

1837, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of serfdom was in 1837

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Cite this Entry

“Serfdom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Jul. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of serfdom

: the state of being a serf

More from Merriam-Webster on serfdom

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for serfdom

Britannica English: Translation of serfdom for Arabic Speakers


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