The word feudalism comes from the Latin word feodum, which means fief, or property held in exchange for service that was often military in nature. It also developed as a way for people to gain protection from those who were stronger than them.
In the early Middle Ages, Europe was constantly under attack by marauding armies of Vikings and other tribes from the north. These invaders wanted nothing more than to loot and pillage, so they terrorized the countryside, killing anyone who stood in their way.
The system worked well for centuries because it gave everyone what they needed: The nobility got protection against invasion and the peasants got protection against being abused by local lords (who were happy to take advantage of them). The use of armed force was an important part of this arrangement, with knights serving as both protectors and enforcers by using their military skills against invaders or rivals. They also served as administrators and judges in local courts that helped keep order within communities.
Feudalism was based on a relationship between two parties: vassals and lords (or lords). Lords were often kings or dukes who controlled large amounts of land and had many people working under them. These people were called vassals and they worked on their lord’s land in exchange for protection, food and clothing.