Society has been mutating over the centuries, driven by social and technological progress. From a time when only those with the greatest purchasing power were the ones with the most rights, to one in which now anyone, regardless of the stratum, can enjoy basic universal rights, social classes have always existed and structured to humanity .
In this article we will analyze what a social class is and in which society was divided during a time as convulsive as the Middle Ages. Next, we will see how things have changed today.
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What is a social class
We understand by “social class” each of the strata of the population pyramid in which the citizens of a society are found . The people who are part of each of them share a series of similar socioeconomic characteristics, which allows them to be related according to this data and, in turn, distinguish them from those who are on the other rungs of this scale.
The prevailing criterion according to which each citizen will be in one of the social classes will be eminently economic. In this way, the social class to which he belongs at birth will be the same as at death,since there is a belief that, from the highest layers, they try to maintain the status quo so that the privileged ones are always the ones who sit at the top of society.
However, the renewed vision of social classes maintains that it is now easier to rise to the upper strata (but not to fall, which has always been possible, even in times accused of more secrecy). The little predisposition of “those above” to prevent “those below” from climbing positions has always been denounced , as well as their willingness to monopolize all the concessions without allowing real equality.
Let’s see how this trend seems not to have changed over the centuries.
Social classes in the Middle Ages
From bottom to top, the population pyramid during the Middle Ages was structured as follows:
The lowest stratum of the Middle Ages and also the most numerous. During those years of hardship and hunger, the peasants were the group most affected by misfortune and lack of resources .
They dedicated themselves to daily work on the lands of the nobles who hired them, especially for the cultivation of cereals (such as wheat, barley or oats and legumes), vines, olive trees, beans and chickpeas, among others. Despite the hard work, his salary was a poorly paid pittance, part of which went to support the clergy , who demanded their tithes even when the people were starving.
Above the peasants was the nobility, who were the masters of the land for which the country people worked . Contrary to farmers, ranchers and other country people, the nobles held all the privileges that this social class conferred on them by right. Paradoxically, they were a significantly lower stratum in terms of the proportion of individuals (barely 5%).
Among these privileges that corresponded to them were: not having to pay taxes, political and economic power , having their own army and being guests of honor at major celebrations and category events.
However, within the same nobility, there were different categories depending on the purchasing power:
2.3. Vassals of the KingThe dukes, marquises and counts
were part of this social class . All of them had to maintain the hegemony of their territories and prevent enemies from taking away their possessions. Among his obligations was to be accountable to the king, while one of his rights was to have authority over the peasants.
2.2. Noble cavalry
at the service of the lords during the war. Although they were one of the social classes with more privileges than the peasants, they should always respond to the designs of their master and be prepared for war , something imminent during the Middle Ages.
The knights were prepared from a young age and went through different stages of learning until they were invested. When they weren’t battling,They were the main hunters of prey for their lord, but they also had to train for conflict in dangerous tournaments.
2.1. The large landowners
The most privileged estate within the nobility , since they were the masters of vast tracts of land and that placed them at the top. They decided what to do with these lands and let the peasants live on them in exchange for total loyalty.
As a formula to preserve their condition, they were in charge of maintaining unions between families through marriages of convenience , which were nothing more than alliances of power to share and expand wealth.
With the rise of the Christian religion after the fall of the Roman Empire, in the western part of Europe one of the social classes that remains today endured . The leader of the faith founded by Christ was none other than the Pope of Rome, and all the temples spread across the continent worked for him. Thus, the great bishop was the figure that presided over this institution and all the Christianized people were at his service.
At the head of each monastery there was an abbot of higher category , while the other religious dedicated themselves to planting food, an activity that they combined with the instruction of the apprentices, the dissemination of the word of God, reading in the library and transcription. of documents.
social classes today
Sociologists and economists agree in arguing that social classes today have mutated after a constant change in recent decades , motivated in equal parts by the different crises and by other large-scale phenomena, both economic and cultural.
The three great social classes that we found in feudal society have been broken down into seven strata, which we could classify as follows:
1. Low class or Precariat
The lowest stratum, made up of people with an erratic work history, unemployed for a large part of time and with a low educational level . Obviously, they do not have their own home or health coverage, so they are at the limit of social exclusion.
2. Low working class
The wage earners who barely manage to get ahead with their earnings, covering the essential needs in terms of access to housing, education, health and food. Although it is one of the lower social classes, they have a greater cultural and social background than the previous ones .
3. Traditional working class
Situated in a better position than the lower working class, the traditional one is made up of citizens who are able to meet economic expenses without worrying about making ends meet , but who cannot squander excessively or indulge in any whim; although they are not at risk of poverty.
4. Favorable middle class
One of the social classes with more people that integrate it in Western countries. In this case, the favorable or prosperous middle class is made up of those who enjoy a purchasing economic level and an education that others do not.
Although their means allow them to live without too many tribulations, they are far from the great luxuries of the wealthy categories .
5. Upper Middle Class
With more income than the affluent middle class, the upper middle class is lucky to have enough savings to allow them to lead a more privileged lifestyle . Thanks to their training in higher education, they manage to find themselves in specialized positions in their workplace, without going through the lower categories.
Due to this privileged status, they may have promotion aspirations to the following social classes.
6. Upper class
Also called “nouveau riche”, they are people who came from lower social classes and who, with work or favorable conditions, have climbed to the top of the pyramid .
It is a group that is acclimatizing to the typical life habits of the high spheres, but whose origins go back to humble ancestors and whose descendants benefit from a higher purchasing power.
The highest part of the class pyramid today, made up of wealthier people and with influences of power over the rest of society. Due to their superior economic level, these families have remained at the top for decades, establishing between them a whole network of relationships based on business between the companies they direct; which has allowed them to amass a great fortune.