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Concubinage is an interpersonal relationship in which a person (usually a woman) engages in an ongoing sexual relationship with another person to whom they are not or cannot be married. The inability to marry may be due to differences in social rank (including slave status), or because the non-concubine is already married. The woman in such a relationship is referred to as a concubine. Historically, concubinage was frequently voluntary by the woman or her family, as it provided a measure of economic security for the woman involved.
In Ancient Greece, the practice of keeping a slave concubine (Greek pallakis) was little recorded but appears throughout Athenian history. Law prescribed that a man could kill another man caught attempting a relationship with his concubine for the production of free children, which suggests that a concubine's children were not granted citizenship. While references to the sexual exploitation of maidservants appear in literature, it was considered disgraceful for a man to keep such women under the same roof as his wife. Some interpretations of hetaera have held they were concubines when one had a permanent relationship with a single man.
Concubinage was an institution practiced in ancient Rome that allowed a man to enter into an informal but recognized relationship with a woman (concubina, plural concubinae) not his wife, most often a woman whose lower social status was an obstacle to marriage. Concubinage was "tolerated to the degree that it did not threaten the religious and legal integrity of the family". It was not considered derogatory to be called a concubina, as the title was often inscribed on tombstones.
A concubinus was a young male slave sexually exploited by his master as a sexual partner. Romans did not mark same-sex relations as "homosexual" if an adult male used a slave boy or male prostitute, characteristically a youth, as his passive partner (see Homosexuality in ancient Rome). The sexual abuse of a slave boy by an adult abuser was permitted. These relations, however, were expected to play a secondary role in marriage, within which institution an adult male demonstrated his masculine authority as head of the household (paterfamilias). In one of his wedding poems, Catullus (fl. mid-1st century BC) assumes that the young bridegroom has a concubinus who considers himself elevated above the other slaves, but who will be set aside as his master turns his attention to marriage and family life.
The concubine may not have commanded the same respect and inviolability as the wife. In the Levitical rules on sexual relations, the Hebrew word that is commonly translated as "wife" is distinct from the Hebrew word that means "concubine". (However, on at least one other occasion the term is used to refer to a woman who is not a wife - specifically, the handmaiden of Jacob's wife.) In the Levitical code, sexual intercourse between a man and a wife of a different man was forbidden and punishable by death for both persons involved. The Bible notes several incidents of intercourse between a man and another man's concubine, and none of them resulted in capital punishment for either party, although the man to whom the concubine belonged was dishonored by such a relationship. For instance, David is portrayed as having been dishonored when his concubines had a sexual relationship with his son Absalom.
Because it was regarded as the highest blessing to have many children, legitimate wives often gave their maids to their husbands to atone, at least in part, if they were barren, as in the cases of Sarah and Hagar, and Rachel and Bilhah. The children of the concubine had equal rights with those of the legitimate wife; for example, King Abimelech was the son of Gideon and his concubine. Later biblical figures such as Gideon, and Solomon had concubines in addition to many childbearing wives. For example, the Books of Kings say that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
In Judaism, concubines are referred to by the Hebrew term pilegesh. The term is a non-Hebrew, non-Semitic loanword derived from the Greek word, pallakis, Greek παλλακίς, meaning "a mistress staying in house".
According to the Babylonian Talmud, 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 was the case for a concubine. One opinion in the Jerusalem Talmud argues that the concubine should also receive a marriage contract, but without a clause specifying a divorce settlement.
Certain Jewish thinkers, such as Maimonides, believed that concubines were strictly reserved for kings, and thus that a commoner may not have a concubine. Indeed, such thinkers argued that commoners may not engage in any type of sexual relations outside of a marriage.
Maimonides was not the first Jewish thinker to criticise concubinage. For example, Leviticus Rabbah severely condemns the custom. Other Jewish thinkers, such as Nahmanides, Samuel ben Uri Shraga Phoebus, and Jacob Emden, strongly objected 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—regardless of legal recognition. Attempts have been initiated to popularise pilegesh as a form of premarital, non-marital or extramarital relationship (which, according to the perspective of the enacting person(s), is permitted by Jewish law).
In ancient China, successful men often supported several concubines. For example, it has been documented that Chinese Emperors accommodated thousands of concubines. A concubine's treatment and situation were highly variable and were influenced by the social status of the male to whom she was engaged, as well as the attitude of the wife. The position of the concubine was generally inferior to that of the wife. Although a concubine could produce heirs, her children would be inferior in social status to "legitimate" children. Allegedly, concubines were occasionally buried alive with their masters to "keep them company in the afterlife."
Despite the limitations imposed on ancient Chinese concubines, history and literature offer examples of concubines who achieved great power and influence. For example, in one of the Four Great Classical Novels of China, The Dream of the Red Chamber (believed to be a semi-autobiographical account of author Cao Xueqin's own family life), three generations of the Jia family are supported by one favorite concubine of the Emperor.
Imperial concubines, kept by Emperors in the Forbidden City, were traditionally guarded by eunuchs to ensure that they could not be impregnated by anyone but the Emperor. Lady Yehenara, otherwise known as Dowager Empress Cixi, was arguably one of the most successful concubines in China’s history. Cixi first entered the court as a concubine to the Xianfeng Emperor and gave birth to his only surviving son, who would become the Tongzhi Emperor. She would eventually become the de facto ruler of the Manchu Qing Dynasty in China for 47 years after her son's death.
In Thailand, men were permitted[when?] to have multiple wives, whom they could sell, as well as their children. The principal wife could only be divorced. If her husband died, she inherited the property rights to the secondary wives.
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Chapter four (Surat-un-Nisa), verse three of the Quran  states that a man may be married to a maximum of four women if he can treat them with justice, and if he is unable to be just among plural wives, he may marry only one woman or depend on his slave woman.
Islam considers every human free from birth (Deen-al-Fitrah). However, it rendered concubinage acceptable as a social need. Children of concubines were declared legitimate as children born in wedlock, and the mother of a free child was considered free upon the death of the male partner. A concubine was expected to maintain her chastity in the same manner as a free woman; however, the penalty to be exacted by the Shari'a for a convicted transgression was half that of a free woman. The expectation of a wife to adorn herself and be attentive to the man's desires, which is a formal part of Islamic adab (religiously prescribed comportment) did not extend to concubines.
In ancient times, Islam imposed very strict checks on how a woman became a concubine in order to prevent misuse. In ancient times, two sources for concubines were permitted under an Islamic regime. Primarily, non-Muslim women taken as prisoners of war were made concubines as happened after the Battle of Bani Qariza. Alternately, in ancient (Pagan/Pre-Islamic) times, sale and purchase of human slaves was a socially legal exercise. However, Islam encouraged their manumission in general. On embracing Islam, it was encouraged to manumit slave women or bring them into formal marriage (Nikah).
According to the rules of Islamic Fiqh, what is halal (permitted) by Muhammad cannot be altered by any authority or individual. Therefore, although the concept of concubinage is halal, concubines are no longer available in this modern era nor allowed to be sold or purchased in accordance with the latest human rights standards. However, as change of existing Islamic law is impossible, if there happens to be a concubine in this modern era anyhow, she must be given all the due rights which Islam had preserved in the past. It is further clarified that all domestic and organizational female employees are not concubines in this era and hence sex is forbidden with them unless Nikah (formal marriage) or mut'ah (temporary marriage - which only Shi'ah Islam permits) is committed through the proper channels. The Sunni scholars also do not allow mut'ah, or temporary marriage. According to Shi'ah scholars it is the Islamic mode of engagement before Nikkah (formal long term marriage) to assess each other's suitability as a spouse. Engagement before marriage is a need for which Shiite Islamic interpretation provides Mut'ah. Although sometimes the two are confused, Mut'ah is not concubinage.
When slavery became institutionalized in the North American colonies, white men, whether or not they were married, sometimes took enslaved women as concubines. Marriage between the races was prohibited by law in the colonies and the later United States. Many colonies and states also had laws against miscegenation, or any interracial relations. From 1662 the Colony of Virginia, followed by others, incorporated into law the principle that children took their mother's status, i.e., the principle of partus sequitur ventrem. All children born to enslaved mothers were born into slavery, regardless of their father's status or ancestry. This led to generations of mixed-race slaves, some of whom were otherwise considered legally white (one-eighth or less African, equivalent to a great-grandparent) before the American Civil War.
In some cases, men had long-term relationships with enslaved women, giving them and their mixed-race children freedom and providing their children with apprenticeships, education and transfer of capital. In other cases, the men did nothing for the women except in a minor way. Such arrangements were more prevalent in the South during the antebellum years.
Historians widely believe that the widower Thomas Jefferson, both before and during his presidency of the United States in the early 19th century, had an intimate relationship of 38 years with his mixed-race slave Sally Hemings and fathered all of her six children of record. He freed all four of her surviving children as they came of age. The Hemings' were the only slave family to go free from Monticello. The children were seven-eighths European in ancestry and legally white. Three entered the white community as adults. A 1998 DNA study showed a match between the Jefferson male line and a male descendant of Sally Hemings.
In Louisiana and former French territories, a formalized system of concubinage called plaçage developed. European men took enslaved or free women of color as mistresses after making arrangements to give them a dowry, house or other transfer of property, and sometimes, if they were enslaved, offering freedom and education for their children. A third class of free people of color developed, especially in New Orleans. Many became educated, artisans and property owners. French-speaking and practicing Catholics, who combined French and African-American culture, created an elite between the whites of European descent and the masses of slaves. Today descendants of the free people of color are generally called Louisiana Creole people.
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