Feudalism is a construct of post-medieval scholars, referring to a system of political organization, in which an elite individual called a "lord" has control over several common people, or "vassals" who till the land, serve as warriors, and conduct other work for the lord. This system was in effect in Europe during the middle ages or medieval period, roughly from the 9th through 15th centuries AD.
The institution of feudalism in England was generally attributed to the first Norman king William I, beginning after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, although forms of feudalism were part of the Roman empire and part of imperial Japan as well.
But, see Melissa Snell's article on Feudalism: The F Word for an indepth view of the modern idea of what modern day medievalists think of feudalism.
This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.