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Concubinage: Wikis


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Concubinage is the state of a woman in an ongoing, usually matrimonially-oriented relationship with a man who cannot be married to her, often because of a difference in social status.



A concubine is generally a woman in an ongoing, matrimonial-like relationship with a man, whom she cannot marry for a specific reason. The reason may be because she is of lower social rank than the man or because the man is already married. Generally, only men of high economic and social status have concubines. Many historical rulers maintained concubines as well as wives.

Historically, concubinage was frequently voluntary (by the woman and/or her family's arrangement), as it provided a measure of economic security for the woman involved.

Where it has a legal status, as in ancient Rome, and in ancient China, concubinage is akin, although inferior, to marriage. In opposition to those laws, traditional Western laws do not acknowledge the legal status of concubines, rather only admitting monogamous marriages. Any other relationship does not enjoy legal protection; and the woman is essentially a mistress.


In Ancient Rome, this was the title of a young male who was chosen by his master as a lover. Concubini were often referred to ironically in the literature of the time. Catullus assumes in the wedding poem 61.126 that the young manor lord has a concubinus who considers himself elevated above the other slaves.

An Emperor of China with his concubines inspecting his fantasy fishing fleet

In the Bible

Among the Israelites, it was common for men to acknowledge their concubines, and such women enjoyed the same rights in the house as legitimate wives[1]. The principal difference in the Bible between a wife and a concubine is that wives had dowries, while concubines did not.

The concubine commanded the same respect and inviolability as the wife, and it was regarded as the deepest dishonour, for the man to whom she belonged, if other hands were laid upon her[1]; David is portrayed as having become greatly dishonoured when his concubines had a sexual relationship with Absalom[2].

Since it was regarded as the highest blessing to have many children, while the greatest curse was childlessness, legitimate wives often gave their maids to their husbands to atone, at least in part, for their own barrenness, as in the cases of Sarah and Hagar, Leah and Zilpah, Rachel and Bilhah[1]. The children of the concubine had equal rights with those of the legitimate wife[1]; for example, King Abimelech was the son of Gideon and his concubine[3].

Several biblical figures are portrayed as resorting to concubinage when they were not able to create natural children with their wives. The most famous example of this was with Abraham and Sarah. In the account, Sarah, feeling guilty about her inability to give Abraham children, gave her female slave - Hagar - to Abraham, and Ishmael resulted from the union; later, Sarah becomes fertile, and gives birth to Isaac, so she forces Abraham to exile Ishmael and Hagar into the desert.

Later[1] biblical figures such as Gideon, David, and Solomon had concubines in addition to many childbearing wives. For example, the Book of Kings claims that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines[4].

In Judaism

In Judaism, concubines are referred to by the Hebrew term pilegesh. This is etymologically related to the Aramaic phrase palga isha, meaning half-wife. A cognate term later appeared in Greek as the loan word pallax/pallakis.

According to the Babylonian Talmud[5], the difference between a concubine and a full wife was that the latter received a marriage contract (Hebrew:ketubah) and her marriage (nissu'in) was preceded by a formal betrothal (erusin), neither being the case for a concubine. However, one opinion in the Jerusalem Talmud argues that the concubine should also receive a marriage contract, but without including a clause specifying a divorce settlement[1].

Certain Jewish thinkers, such as Maimonides, believe that concubines are strictly reserved for kings, and thus that a commoner may not have a concubine; indeed, such thinkers argue that commoners may not engage in any type of sexual relations outside of a marriage. Shortly before Maimonides had reached this view, Sunni Muslims officially prohibited mutah relationships (which are similar to concubinage relationships); some therefore suggest that Maimonides view was in response to this, in a similar way to Gershom ben Judah's ban on polygamy only being made after Christians had prohibited it.

Maimonides was not the first Jewish thinker to criticise concubinage; for example, it is severely condemned in Leviticus Rabbah[6]. Other Jewish thinkers, such as Nahmanides, Samuel ben Uri Shraga Phoebus, and Jacob Emden, strongly object to the idea that concubines should be forbidden.

In the Hebrew of the contemporary State of Israel, the word pilegesh is often used as the equivalent of the English word mistress - i.e. the female partner in extramarital relations, even when these relations have no legal recognition. There are attempts there to popularise pilegesh as a form of premarital, non-marital and extramarital relationships which (in their view) would be permitted by Jewish religious law[7][8][9].

Other uses

Saudi Arabia

Saudi princes can have multiple concubines. Children from these relations may or may not be acknowledged. The former ambassador to the US, Bandar bin Sultan, was an example of an acknowledged case.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Pilegesh", a publication now in the public domain.
  2. ^ 2 Samuel 16:21-25
  3. ^ Judges 8:31
  4. ^ 1 Kings 11:1-3
  5. ^ Sanhedrin 21a
  6. ^ Leviticus Rabbah, 25
  7. ^ Kosher sex without marriage Jpost By Mathew Wagner
  8. ^ "ISO: Kosher Concubine" New York Jewish Week by Adam Dickter December 2006
  9. ^ THE CONCUBINE CONNECTION The Independent - London October 20, 1996 SUZANNE GLASS

External links

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From BibleWiki

At the present day, the state -- more or less permanent -- of a man and woman living together in illicit intercourse. In its strict sense it is used of those unions only in which the man and the woman are free from any obligation arising from a vow, the state of matrimony or Holy Orders, or the fact of relationship or affinity; it is immaterial whether the parties dwell together or not, the repetition or continuance of illicit relations between the same persons being the essential element.

However, the meaning conveyed by the term has not always been the same; in the Old Testament, for instance, a legitimate spouse, if of an inferior social grade, or a bondwoman, is often given the appellation of concubine, not to call in question the validity of her marriage, but to indicate that she did not share in her husband's rank or property nor in the administration of the household to the same extent as the principal wife. From Gen 21:9ff, we see that her dismissal and that of her children was permissible. But in those Scriptural times, when polygamy was permitted or at least tolerated, such a concubine was not the only marriage partner. Thus Lia and Rachel, the first two spouses of Jacob, had the full social standing of wives, while Bala and Zelpha, both bondwomen, were his concubines, married for the purpose of bearing children for Rachel and Lia (Gen 30:3ff). Here, therefore, the main difference between the state of legitimate marriage properly so called and that of legitimate concubinage is to be found in the disparity of rank which characterized the latter.

The meaning of the term in Roman law, and consequently in early ecclesiastical records and writings, was much the same; a concubine was a quasi-wife, recognized by law if there was no legal wife. She was usually of a lower social grade than her husband, and her children, though not considered the equals of those of the legal wife (uxor) were nevertheless termed natural (naturales) to distinguish them from spurious offsprings (spurii). For this legitimate concubinage the Roman law did not require the intention of the two parties to remain together until death as man and wife; the Lex Julia and the Papia Poppæa allowing both temporary and permanent concubinage. The former was always condemned as immoral by the Church, who excluded from the ranks of her catechumens all who adopted this mode of living, unless they abandoned their illicit temporal, or converted it into lawful permanent, wedlock. Permanent concubinage, though it lacked the ordinary legal forms and was not recognized by the civil law as a legal marriage, had in it no element of immorality. It was a real marriage, including the intention and consent of both parties to form a lifelong union. This the Church allowed from the beginning, while Pope Callistus I broke through the barrier of state law, and raised to the dignity of Christian marriage permanent unions between slave and free, and even those between slave and slave (contubernium).

The Council of Toledo, held in 400, in its seventeenth canon legislates as follows for laymen (for ecclesiastical regulations on this head with regard to clerics see CELIBACY): after pronouncing sentence of excommunication against any who in addition to a wife keep a concubine, it says: "But if a man has no wife, but a concubine instead of a wife, let him not be refused communion; only let him be content to be united with one woman, whether wife or concubine" (Can. "Is qui", dist. xxxiv; Mansi, III, col. 1001). The refractory are to be excommunicated until such time as they shall obey and do penance.

With the destruction of the Roman Empire and the consequent decline of knowledge of the Roman law, its institution of legitimate concubinage fell into disuse, and concubinage came more and more to have only the modern significance, that of a permanent illicit union, and as such was variously proceeded against by the Church. The clandestine marriages which gradually came to be tolerated in the Middle Ages, as they lacked the formality of a public sanction by the Church, can be considered as a species of legitimate concubinage. The Council of Trent (1545-1563), Sess. XXIV, chap. i, not only renewed the old ecclesiastical penalties against concubinage, but added fresh ones, also forbade and rendered null and void all clandestine unions, thus forever doing away with even the appearance of legitimate concubinage. From that time the modern invidious idea of the term alone obtains. The decrees of Trent, however, were in force only in countries strictly Catholic; the new marriage law (Ne temere) of Pius X (1908) extends the prohibition against clandestine marriages to Catholics the world over.

This article needs to be merged with concubine.
Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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Simple English

Concubinage is the state of a woman in a relationship with a man of higher social status that gives her less rights than a marriage. In most of the cases the man has an official wife and one or more concubines. Concubines have only limited rights of support from the man, and their children have lower status than children born by the official wife or wives; these legal rights distinguish a concubine from a mistress.

Historically, the family of a girl were in favour of a concubinage with an mighty man, as it meant economic security for the woman. But concubinage could also mean sexual slavery of one member of the relationship, typically the woman, who was a pleasure slave to the man.

In the Western world there is no legal status of concubines, as only monogamous marriages are allowed. Any other relationship does not enjoy legal protection; the woman is necessarily a mistress.


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