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This new study provides an up-to-date survey of social and economic developments in early modern Eastern European rural societies. Markus Cerman revises the traditional images of mighty lords and poor, powerless 'serf peasants', discussing the theories which led to the assumption that serfdom existed throughout the region. Cerman contrasts the interpretation of a long-term backwardness with a fresh view of the legal, social and economic status of villagers, their living standards and their role in actively shaping rural communities. Featuring helpful tables, a glossary and a comprehensive bibliography, this is a stimulating reassessment for anyone studying this period and often neglected topic in European history.