Feudalism was a political system which was dominant in Europe during the Middle Ages. First used in the 1600s, the term refers to a hierarchy of reciprocal military and legal obligations among the nobility. In simplified terms, a lesser noble (the vassal) would pledge his loyalty (fealty) to a higher noble (the lord) in exchange for land (a fief). In return, the vassal gave military service to the lord. As armies were expensive to raise and maintain, a lord was able to distribute the cost (in men and money) among his vassals.