In ancient times the village was largely self-sufficient, but with the development of the town and city the village became more integrated economically and politically with the larger society. At one time there was a great debate amongst anthropologists as to whether villages arose out of the independent settlement of a kindred group that held property communally or whether they were established by a hierarchal authority such as the Roman Empire, in which land was controlled privately or by the state. Today it is generally agreed that there may have been separate and different origins of the village, each area developing independently according to its specific history. For this reason village life once found in Wales, Mexico (see ejido), the Balkans, Russia (see mir), China, Africa, Sweden, India, and Java may all differ considerably from each other.
In England property was at one time held largely in common and each village member was comparatively equal to all others. Sometime between the 5th and 10th cent., however, something resembling a feudal pattern emerged, with a lord ruling each village. After the Norman conquest (1066) this feudal hold was solidified, and village life changed considerably, especially in its property relations (see feudalism; manorial system). In the United States the village life found today bears little resemblance to the small villages of past eras. Moreover, most farming in the United States takes place on land privately owned and may thus differ from the aforementioned village agricultural pattern. Nonetheless, the village is still the predominant form of community organization in many parts of the world, including much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.