Concubinage is the state of a woman or youth in an ongoing, quasi-matrimonial relationship with a man of higher social status. Typically, the man has an official wife and, in addition, one or more concubines. Concubines have limited rights of support from the man, and their offspring are publicly acknowledged as the man's children, albeit of lower status than children born by the official wife or wives; these legal rights distinguish a concubine from a mistress.
The term concubine generally signifies ongoing, quasi-matrimonial relationships where the woman is of lower social status than the man or the official wife or wives. Some historical Asian and European rulers maintained concubines as well as wives.
Historically, concubinage was frequently voluntary (by the girl and/or her family's arrangement), as it provided a measure of economic security for the woman involved. Involuntary, or servile, concubinage sometimes involves sexual slavery of one member of the relationship, typically the woman, being a pleasure slave to the man.
Where it has a legal status, as in ancient Rome, concubinage is akin, although inferior, to marriage. In opposition to those laws, traditional Western laws do not acknowledge the legal status of concubines, but rather only admit monogamous marriages. Any other relationship does not enjoy legal protection; the woman is necessarily a mistress.
In Roman times, this was the title of a young beautiful virgin who was chosen by her master as a bedmate and pleasure slave. 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 herself elevated above the other slaves.
In the Bible (Book of Genesis 16 and 21), Abraham took the slave girl Hagar as a concubine. Since Sarah had not conceived up to this point, she offered her maid servant Hagar to Abraham to produce an heir. Abraham did marry Hagar, residing with her according to the Jewish laws of a Pilegesh (Hebrew for Concubine). She produced Ishmael. After a miracle occurred for Sarah—she became fertile in old age—she conceived and gave birth to Isaac. Sarah then demanded that Abraham drive Hagar out of the home and into the desert.
"King Solomon loved, in addition to the daughter of Pharaoh, many foreign women, Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had warned the Israelites. "You must not cohabit with them, nor they with you, for they will certainly turn your hearts to their gods". Solomon held fast to them in love. He had 700 official wives and 300 concubines...." (1 Kings 11:1-3).
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