Ask Difference

Slave vs. Serf — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on November 2, 2023
A slave is owned outright, while a serf has some freedom but owes labor to a lord.
Slave vs. Serf — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Slave and Serf

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Key Differences

Slavery is an institution where individuals are owned by others, who have full control over where they live and what work they do. Slaves were considered property and could be bought, sold, or traded. In contrast, serfdom was a condition of bondage under the feudal system, where a serf worked land owned by a lord and owed him labor and a share of the produce, theoretically in exchange for military protection.
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Nov 02, 2023
Slaves had no personal freedom or rights and were at the complete mercy of their owners, with no control over any aspect of their lives. Serfs, while not free, had some personal rights, could have families, and could possess property. Their condition was hereditary, but they were tied to the land rather than owned by the lord.
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Nov 02, 2023
While both slaves and serfs were bound to their masters, a slave’s bondage was personal and absolute, often without any legal or customary rights. Serfs, however, were part of a system that allowed them limited rights and protections under feudal law. They could not be displaced as long as they fulfilled their obligations to the lord.
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Nov 02, 2023
Slaves could be of any race or origin, as slavery was practiced worldwide and often involved the forcible relocation of individuals. Serfs were typically peasants within a feudal society who rarely moved far from the manor where they were born, reflecting a more stationary condition within society.
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Nov 02, 2023
The differences between slaves and serfs define the historical contexts of slavery and feudalism. Slavery is generally seen as a more severe form of coercion, lacking the reciprocal obligations that characterized serfdom, where a lord also had some responsibilities toward his serfs.
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Nov 02, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Status

Property of the owner
Bound to the land
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Rights

None or very few
Limited rights, under feudal law
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Mobility

Often relocated
Generally stayed on the same land
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Labor

No control over their work
Owed labor to a lord
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Ownership

Could be bought or sold
Could not be sold separately from land
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Compare with Definitions

Slave

Person owned by another.
The slave was forced to work without pay.
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Serf

Owing service.
The serf paid his dues in harvests.
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Slave

Captive worker.
Slaves built the ancient monuments.
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Serf

Bound to the land.
Serfs rarely left the manor.
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Slave

Under complete control.
The slaves followed orders without question.
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Serf

Not free.
Serfs had to ask permission to marry.
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Slave

One who is owned as the property of someone else, especially in involuntary servitude.
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Serf

Hereditary peasant.
His family had been serfs for generations.
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Slave

One who is subservient to or controlled by another
His boss's slave.
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Serf

Feudal laborer.
The serf tended his master's fields.
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Slave

One who is subject to or controlled by a specified influence
A slave to alcohol.
A slave to an irrational fear.
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Serf

A member of the lowest feudal class, legally bound to a landed estate and required to perform labor for the lord of that estate in exchange for a personal allotment of land.
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Slave

One who works extremely hard.
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Serf

An agricultural laborer under various similar systems, especially in Russia and eastern Europe in the 1700s and 1800s.
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Slave

One who acts out the role of the submissive partner in a sadomasochistic relationship.
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Serf

A person in bondage or servitude.
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Slave

A slave ant.
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Serf

A partially free peasant of a low hereditary class, attached like a slave to the land owned by a feudal lord and required to perform labour, enjoying minimal legal or customary rights.
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Slave

A machine or component controlled by another machine or component.
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Serf

A similar agricultural labourer in 18th and 19th century Europe.
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Slave

To work very hard or doggedly; toil.
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Serf

(strategy games) A worker unit.
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Slave

To trade in or transport slaves.
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Serf

A servant or slave employed in husbandry, and in some countries attached to the soil and transferred with it, as formerly in Russia.
In England, at least from the reign of Henry II, one only, and that the inferior species [of villeins], existed . . . But by the customs of France and Germany, persons in this abject state seem to have been called serfs, and distinguished from villeins, who were only bound to fixed payments and duties in respect of their lord, though, as it seems, without any legal redress if injured by him.
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Jul 08, 2018

Slave

To cause a machine or component to be controlled by another machine or component.
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Serf

(Middle Ages) a person who is bound to the land and owned by the feudal lord
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Slave

A person who is held in servitude as the property of another person, and whose labor (and often also whose body and life) is subject to the owner's volition and control.
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Slave

(figuratively) A drudge; one who labors or is obliged (e.g. by prior contract) to labor like a slave with limited rights, e.g. an indentured servant.
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Slave

(figuratively) An abject person.
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Slave

(figuratively) One who has no power of resistance (to something), one who surrenders to or is under the domination (of something).
A slave to passion, to strong drink, or to ambition
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Slave

(BDSM) A submissive partner in a BDSM relationship who (consensually) submits to (sexually and/or personally) serving one or more masters or mistresses.
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Slave

A sex slave, a person who is forced against their will to perform, for another person or group, sexual acts on a regular or continuing basis.
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Slave

A device (such as a secondary flash or hard drive) that is subject to the control of another (a master).
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Slave

To work as a slaver, to enslave people.
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Slave

(intransitive) To work hard.
I was slaving all day over a hot stove.
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Slave

(transitive) To place a device under the control of another.
To slave a hard disk
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Slave

See Slav.
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Slave

A person who is held in bondage to another; one who is wholly subject to the will of another; one who is held as a chattel; one who has no freedom of action, but whose person and services are wholly under the control of another.
Art thou our slave,Our captive, at the public mill our drudge?
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Jul 08, 2018

Slave

One who has lost the power of resistance; one who surrenders himself to any power whatever; as, a slave to passion, to lust, to strong drink, to ambition.
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Slave

A drudge; one who labors like a slave.
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Slave

An abject person; a wretch.
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Slave

To drudge; to toil; to labor as a slave.
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Slave

To enslave.
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Slave

A person who is owned by someone
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Slave

Someone who works as hard as a slave
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Slave

Someone entirely dominated by some influence or person;
A slave to fashion
A slave to cocaine
His mother was his abject slave
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Slave

Work very hard, like a slave
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Slave

Held in servitude;
He was born of slave parents
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Slave

Deprived of freedom.
He lived like a slave to his job.
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Slave

Involuntary servant.
History shows that slaves often rebelled.
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Common Curiosities

What is a serf?

A serf is a laborer who is tied to the land in the feudal system and owes service to a lord.
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Could serfs own property?

Serfs could typically own personal property and pass it to their heirs.
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Were slaves paid for their work?

No, slaves were not paid as they were considered property.
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What is a slave?

A slave is an individual who is owned by another person and is forced to work without personal freedom.
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What kind of work did serfs do?

Serfs primarily worked the land by farming, but also performed other labor as required by the lord.
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Could slaves marry and have families?

This varied widely, but in many societies, slaves could marry and have families; however, their children were often born into slavery.
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Was serfdom hereditary?

Yes, serfdom was typically a hereditary condition.
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Were serfs ever sold?

Serfs were tied to the land; they were generally not sold separately, but their labor could transfer with the land.
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Did serfs have any days off?

Serfs had some days off, particularly religious holidays, but their lives were largely consumed by labor.
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What ended serfdom in most places?

Serfdom was mostly ended by social and political changes, including reforms and revolutions.
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Did slaves have any legal rights?

Slaves generally had no legal rights and were completely under the control of their owners.
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How could one become a slave?

People could become slaves through war, being born into it, punishment, or debt.
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Is the concept of slavery or serfdom present in today's world?

While traditional slavery and serfdom are abolished, forms of modern slavery and indentured servitude persist in some areas.
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Could a slave buy their freedom?

In some societies, it was possible for slaves to buy their freedom or be emancipated by their owners.
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Was slavery legal?

Slavery has been legal in many societies throughout history but is now largely abolished worldwide.
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Nov 02, 2023

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at AskDifference.com, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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