Asking this question makes you think of what it really means to be a slave. From what I've read, serfs had it alright. This is an excerpt from A Concise Survey of Western Civilization.
Medieval serfs had servile status, but not as low as that of slaves. They were legally connected or bound to the land of their lords. Serfs had few rights to make decisions about their own lives (such as choice of marriage partners or where to live.) They owed obedience, some work (on the lord's land or on roads or castles), and dues (usually payments in forms of portions of their crops) to the seigneurs who legally possessed the land. Peasants thus paid for knights' expensive armor, horses and castles. These burdens kept them poor from generation to generation. Nevertheless, serfs did benefit from having use of the land as long as they fulfilled their customary obligations. Serfs depended on their lords for justice and defense and relied on the parish church for salvation.I am not particularly endorsing this book however.
It was required reading for a history class I took, and the professor said he would've preferred if we did not have to read it. Even in that excerpt he says some smooth-brain things. For instance, saying that serfs relied on their local church for salvation is like saying that people rely on physics professors from their local university for gravity to work. Any person who knows even a little about Christian Theology knows that salvation comes from God. Jeremiah 3:26 is a fine example, but it is stated in both the Old and New Testaments too many times to count. The worst part is that the author of this textbook, Brian Pavlac, is an ordained priest. If you read the rest of the textbook it would not seem that he had even a rudimentary belief in God.
Even so, serfdom seems a far cry from slavery, yet I can't yet make a definitive statement because of my lack of knowledge. My gut tells me that it wasn't so bad as what I learned in high school, my teachers in which loved to slam the middle ages. The topic of serfdom deserves more research (from better sources) on my part.
I also would love to hear from you guys. I have no idea who even reads this or if anyone does, but if you are, send me your thoughts as well as some sources and things to read. I would love to read some (translated) primary sources from the time of serfdom, if any are available. Shoot me an email with any of that stuff.
On a personal note, depending on when you are reading this, I have a final exam on July 11, 2020, and prayers would be greatly appreciated! God bless!