Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Tuesday 12th December 2017 | Manchester, UK

History You Should Know: Concubinage

 

The concept of keeping a concubine is one that society today is unfamiliar with, yet this was a social norm for much of the ancient world and a common happening in China until it was outlawed following the establishment of Mao’s Chinese Communist Party in 1949. Concubinage is essentially the idea of maintaining an on-going sexual relationship with a womanor women with whom you are not married, more often than not due to social strictures.

Concubinage

Though on the most part the title of concubine is attributed to women otherwise known as a concubina, the term concubinusisis one that Ancient Romans wouldhave been familiar with. Here,fitting with opinions on homosexual proclivities at the time, male sex slaves were kept as well as female ones.  History has also shown that most of the time, the women frequently adopted the role as a concubina voluntarily as it proved as a means of attaining economic security for both herself and her family.

 

The nature of keeping a concubine has changed greatly throughout history. Though masses of physical documentation have struggled to make it into the history books, there are reoccurring cases that appear in Athenian history regarding the keeping of a slave. Whilst it is obvious the slave never graduated above her social standing, the children born from the relationship, even if they were male were never granted Atheninan citizenship either. There was also a common consensus that it was distasteful to keep both your wife and hataeraunder the same roof, whilst this was the case, it must not be assumed that an Athenian hataera was simply a prostitute, for her status was elevated above a simple sex slave.

 

Roman custom differed from Athenian custom in the sense that sexual abuse was permitted and more often than not the relationship relied on a greater existence of dominant and submissive personas. Yet, what remains apparent in the above two cases and for many of the cases in which concubinage was a prevalent part of society, is that lawful marriage remained of higher status and came first, and the concubine was fully aware of this setup.

 

Within China up until very recently, concubinage remained a widely accepted and a practiced principle within the higher strands of society. It is thought that Chinese Emperors accommodated thousands of concubines in their lifetimes and the favour they gained was dependant on whom they were engaged to and their footing in society.

Comments are closed.