The samurai emerged in feudal Japan, where they served as noble warriors during the 12th century. Samurai warriors were soldiers, but distinguished themselves with a background as elite members of society. The samurai assumed a role of power and influence in Japanese society, ultimately ruling the nation until the late 1860s, when the feudal system of Japan disappeared.
Samurai warriors possessed a combination of wealth, fearlessness and political power. They rose to prominence in Japan by serving the highest members of society - the daimyos, or lords.
During the early years of their prominence, samurai warriors assumed the role of defendants by protecting wealthy landowners from invasions. Ultimately, power in Japan transitioned from a central governance, with ruling capacities in the hands of an emperor, to the wealthy elite protected by the samurai. In the 12th century, the victorious overthrow of an emperor by Minamoto Yoshitsune, a samurai warrior, gave the samurai class a leg up on the social ladder. Samurai men began practicing Zen Buddhism and began using special swords during warfare.
In the 13th century, Japan experienced political turmoil as it suffered the invasion of several armies. This era, called the Period of the Country at War, terminated in 1615. Samurai warriors, in a time of peace, became symbolic images in Japanese society instead of the physical fighters they once were.