The Feudal Revolution and Europe's Rise: Institutional Divergence in the Christian and Muslim Worlds Before 1500 Ce

Lisa Blaydes (Stanford University)
Eric Chaney (Harvard University)

Abstract: This paper investigates the political origins of Europe's economic rise by examining the emergence of increasing ruler durability in Western Europe when compared with the Islamic world. While European rulers were less durable than their Muslim counterparts in 800 CE, Christian kings became increasingly long-lived compared to Muslim sultans whose rule became less stable over time. The "break date" in Western European political stability coincides with the emergence of feudal institutions, suggesting a first step in a political evolution that eventually led to medieval parliaments and the emergence of a unique degree of constraint imposed on many Western European sovereigns. While feudal institutions served as the basis for military recruitment by European monarchs, Muslim sultans relied on mamlukism -- or the use of military slaves imported from non-Muslim lands. Dependence on mamluk armies limited the bargaining strength of local notables vis-a-vis the sultan, hindering the development of a productively adversarial relationship between ruler and local elites. We argue that Muslim societies' reliance on mamluks, rather than local elites as the basis for military leadership, may explain why the Glorious Revolution occurred in England, not Egypt.

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