: πολύ poly
- "many", and γυνή
- "woman or wife") is a form of marriage in which a
man has two or more wives at the same time." It is distinguished
from a relationship where a man who has a sexual partner outside
marriage, such as a concubine
sexual partner, paramour
, or other
culturally recognized secondary partner. Polygyny is the most
common form of polygamy
. The much rarer
practice of polyandry
is the form of
marriage in which one woman has two or more husbands at the same
Polygyny has been practiced in many cultures throughout history.
accepted in ancient Hebrew society, in
classical China, and in many
traditional Native American, African and
Polynesian cultures. In India it was
practiced during ancient times; but today, it is largely
illegal. It was accepted in ancient Greece, until the
Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church when having one
wife, but multiple lovers became the norm.
It was accepted
in Sub-Saharan Africa for most of the past two millennia.
In the Hebrew Bible, polygyny was a permitted practice (and
required in the case of a levirate
, whilst polyandry (a woman having more than one
husband) was seen as adultery.
States, polygyny or "Plural
Marriage" was allowed in the early history of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon—LDS)
It ended in 1945 under the president of the LDS
Church at the time, George Albert
. Officially since 1904, members of the LDS Church face
excommunication for being polygynous, however this was not enforced
until after World War Two
. There are
several sects within the LDS Church that continue to practice
despite it being illegal in the
In historical China a child was considered to have more than one
mother . For example, a child might have up to four mothers, the
first wife being the "official mother" (嫡母) – in spoken language
called "big mother" (大媽) – the others being regarded as unofficial
mothers (庶母), in spoken language called "little mother" (小媽) or
"aunt" (阿姨, 姨娘). However, this custom was primarily a result of the
concubinage system, where only the first wife by marriage was
considered the wife and the mistress of the household. A concubine
did not marry her owner. Her main duty was to provide a son to her
owner, and any children from the liaison were not regarded as
officially hers. But she was also brought into the household to
provide sexual pleasure to the man and servitude to his wife.
In polygynous marriages generally, usually one wife is the “queen
wife” who is more equal than the other wives and has some authority
over the other wives.
There may be an emergence of group
in recent years, with multiple numbers of both sexes.
Polygyny was used in some societies to enhance certain genetic
characteristics, and to weed out unhealthy characteristics .
Moreover, owing to the propensity of men to serve and die in wars
or labour incidents , women, for centuries, were more likely than
men to be left unmarried or widowed. Polygyny ensured that such
women were cared for and also helped ensure the births of the large
numbers of children required for the survival of pre-mechanized,
largely-agrarian cultures in which early mortality rates were high
The required inheritance of widows requires men in some societies
to marry the widow of a deceased brother. This levirate marriage
helps provide support
for her and increases his number of wives.
In some societies only well-to-do men could afford to have more
than one wife, particularly if each wife required maintenance of a
separate household. The current traditional form of Islam permits
as many as four wives, but depending on the man's financial
circumstances, fewer wives are more common; indeed, the vast
majority of Muslim men are monogamous.
While few present-day states permit polygamous marriages,
polygynous" male behavior may be observed in the establishment of
, who are openly or
secretly supported. In this way, men may be technically monogamous
but de facto
Wives in a polygynous marriage
One modern viewpoint is that polygamy degrades women, treating them
as property and slaves. This may be due to the asymmetric
reproductive ability between men and women, wherein men are
physically capable of producing many more offspring than women,
thus making men more valuable in terms of reproductive ability .
The inferior position that women experienced in polygynous
societies is not acceptable by modern Western standards .
is a type of marriage
in which two or more
sisters share a husband.
It has been suggested that in a polygynous structure, jealousy
between co-wives over perceived unequal attention from or access to
their shared husband is common . It is further suggested that this
is often avoided, or at least reduced, if each wife has a separate
house and a ranked status. The first wife is usually considered the
senior or honoured wife. Rivalry is also reduced by sororal
polygyny, with sisters marrying the same man. The assumption is
that sisters will be more likely to amicably share a husband. The
most disruptive rivalry in a polygynous family is often between the
children, especially if there is something important to inherit,
such as a royal title or wealth. This also results in rivalry
between the mothers. The typical way of avoiding this situation is
to formally define the eldest son or daughter of the senior wife as
the heir apparent.
Polygyny in context
The Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament)
The Hebrew Bible
polygyny was practiced by the ancient Hebrews, though the
institution was not extremely common; it was not particularly
unusual and was certainly not prohibited but discouraged by the
Bible (namely Moses Law recommended that kings should not have many
wives, and when Solomon took 1000 wives the Bible cites his
polygamy as the reason of the fall of his faith and subsequently of
Israel). The Bible mentions approximately forty polygynists,
including such prominent figures as Abraham
and King Solomon
, with little or no further remark
on their polygyny as such. Polyandry
the other hand, is strictly prohibited in Mosaic law.
, the Five Books of Moses
, includes a few
specific regulations on the practice of polygyny. states that
multiple marriages are not to diminish the status of the first
wife, while states that a man must award the inheritance due to a
first-born son to the son who was actually born first, even if he
hates that son's mother and likes another wife more, implying that
she had been divorced, and states that the king shall not have too
The biblical institution of a levirate
was a positive provision towards polygyny; the
institution required a man to marry and support his deceased
if he died without her having
given birth to a son. ( ) The practice has been justified in that
it was important for the brother to have died without an heir to
continue his name, or say the prayers for the dead for him. It has
also been argued that there were also negative factors for the
childless widow since children and fertility were a sign of God's
blessing. This practice also provided a means of provision for
widows. If the eldest brother refused to marry the widow then it
was the responsibility of the next brother and so on down the
Since the 11th century, Ashkenazi
have followed Rabbenu Gershom
(particularly Yemenite Jews
) discontinued polygyny
much more recently, as they immigrated to countries where it was
forbidden or illegal. Such is the case in the State of Israel, which has made polygamy illegal.
practice, however, the law is only loosely enforced, primarily so
as not to interfere with Bedouin
where polygyny is practiced. Pre-existing polygynous unions among
Jews from Arab countries
countries where the practice was not prohibbited by their tradition
and was not illegal in the local law) are also not subject to this
Israeli law, although a similar cultural concession to the Bedouin
is not extended to Mizrahi Jews, and they are not permitted to
enter into new polygamous marriages in Israel.
Among Karaite Jews
, who do not adhere
to Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah, polygyny is non-existent
today. Karaites interpret to mean that a man can only take a second
wife if his first wife gives her consent and Karaites interpret to
mean that a man can only take a second wife if he is capable of
maintaining the same level of marital duties due to his first wife;
the marital duties are 1) food, 2) clothing, and 3) sexual
gratification. Because of these two biblical limitations and
because nearly all countries outlaw it, polygyny is considered
impractical, and there are no known cases of it among Karaite
Polygyny was also practiced in the New Testament period.
Many Christians in the United States believe that polygyny is wrong
and claim there is New Testament Biblical evidence to support that
stance, citing for example (KJV):
- And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he
which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
- And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother,
and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one
- Wherefore they are no more twain, but
one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put
Some suggest the New Testament Church did ban polygyny for Bishops
the word for "one" can be translated "first" and as an indefinite
article as well, which opens other possible interpretations.
Having offspring is very important in Chinese culture. China has
practiced polygyny for thousands of years. Polygyny had been legal
and was written in the law as recently as the end of the Qing/Ching
dynasty of the imperial China (1911).
A part of the Confucian tradition indicates the importance of
procreation, as it is considered to be part of filial piety.
Therefore, it is possible that this type of thinking influenced the
view towards polygyny.
In the past, Emperors could have hundreds to thousands of
concubines. And subsequently rich officials and merchants could
also have a number of concubines besides wives. The first wife is
head or mother wife, other wives are under her headship if the
husband is away, and others are concubines and have lower status
than the full wives. Offspring from concubines did receive equal
wealth/legacy from their father.
The original wife is referred to as the 正室/정실 (main room) both in
China, Japan & Korea. 大婆 (big woman/big wife) is the slang
term. Both indicate the orthodox nature and hierarchy. The official
wife is either called "big mother" (大媽), mother or auntie. The
child of the concubine simply addresses the big mother as
The written word for the second woman (and literally means "she who
occupied the side room") is 側室/측실. This word is also used in both
China and Japan. They are also called 妾/첩 in China and Korea.
The common terms referring to the second woman and the act of
having the second woman respectively are 二奶 (er nai / yi nai),
literally "the second wife". The terms have been widely used in the
Though illegal, it is still practiced by
many richer men who can afford to support a mistress
and her subsequent children. The
mass media often report polygyny cases of the rich and the
People's Republic of China (PRC)
In modern mainland China, polygamy (and by extension polygyny) is
illegal under Marriage Law passed in 1951 , except for those
members of an ethnic minority who traditionally practice polygamy
(both polygyny and polyandry). Polygyny was seen as a
characteristic of the bourgeoisie
such, many senior Communist leaders who had mistresses and
concubines during the Long March
forced to disband them. Because of this, polygyny is virtually
unheard of in China today
However, with the opening up of the country and the increased
contact with Hong Kong and Taiwan, certain polygamous activities
began appearing. Cross-border polygyny is ever increasing between
PRC, Hong Kong and ROC. .
Taiwan – Republic of China (ROC)
Polygyny is illegal in the 1930 ROC civil law. However, it is
common for some richer Taiwanese to have secret second lovers who
become concubines not living together with the wife . Taiwanese
merchants, businessmen and workers are stationed in mainland China
during work trips, and it is usual to keep secret lovers or even
secret families there.
Hong Kong and Macau
Polygyny was banned in October 1971 but the practice is still
evident. Chinese men in Hong Kong could still practice polygamy by
virtue of the Qing Code
ended only with
the passing of the Marriage Act of 1971. A famous example is Dr
who owned the Macau Casino in
Lisbon. He has four wives. His uncle has 12 wives.
In Hong Kong, since work pressure is extremely high and birth rate
is the lowest among the world, many Hong Kong businessmen keep a
secret concubine across the border in mainland China. One of the
reasons is that the cost of maintaining a second family there in
the PRC is lower. Girls in mainland China are also more willing to
be a full-time mother at a younger age.
In a research paper of Berlin Humboldt University on sexology,
Doctor Man-Lun Ng quoted that the estimation of about 300,000 men
have mistresses in China. In 1995, 40% of the extramarital affairs
involved a stable partner  International Herald Tribune
Kevin Murphy had reported the cross-border polygamy phenomenon in
Hong Kong in 1995. 
Period drama exists and is performed to this day which depicts the
former culture of the polygamy (usually polygyny) practice. A
famous example: one of the saga (The Deer and the Cauldron
Duke of the Mount Deer
Hong Kong famous writer Louis Cha
): he assigned 7 willing wives for
the very capable leading role Wei Xiaobao (WaiSiu-Bo) who is a
successful double spy good at office politics and human relations.
The fiction and subsequent films and television drama became
immensely popular among Chinese societies across the world.
Contrary to popular belief, polygamy is not widely practiced in
Islam although it is allowed in most Islamic countries and
permitted under certain circumstances. Men who marry more than one
woman can do so knowing that they are responsible for treating all
their wives with kindness and dignity as well as for providing for
their material needs equally.
majority Muslim countries (except Albania, Tunisia, Turkey, and former
USSR republics) retain traditional Sharia which interpret the teachings of the Quran to
permit polygamy up to four wives, as long as they practise it under
the specified conditions.
Albania is a country where
although about 70% of the population is historically Muslim
, majority is
non-practicing. Turkey and Tunisia are countries with absolute
majority Muslim populations (99.8% and 98% respectively) that
enforce secularist practices
law. In former USSR republics, prohibition of polygamy is the
heritage of the Soviet Law
Currently there is a revival of polygamy in the Muslim World
and there have been attempts to
re-legalize and/or re-legitimize it in some countries and
communities where it is illegal.
Ramzan Kadyrov, President of the Chechen Republic, was quoted on radio
saying that the depopulation of Chechnya by war justifies legalizing polygamy.
Kadyrov was supported by Nafigallah
Ashirov, the Chairman of the Council of Grand Muftis
of Russia. Ashirov stated that polygamy is
already widespread among Muslim communities of the country.
 Polygamy is illegal throughout the Russian
Federation but it is tolerated in predominantly Muslim
republics such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan. 
Although non-Muslim Russian populations are historically
monogamous, Russian liberal democratic leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky
offers to legalize
polygyny in order to tackle the demographic crisis of Russians
. Zhirinovsky made his first proposal
to legalize polygamy as early as 1993, after Kadyrov's statement
declared that he would introduce an amendment to legalize polygyny
for all Russian citizens. 
Kyrgyzstan, a proposal to decriminalize polygamy came before
the Kyrgyz parliament.
Although illegal, polygamy is a
traditional practice revived in Kyrgyzstan. On March 26, 2007,
despite strong backing of the Justice Minister, country's
ombudsman, and Muslim Women's organization Mutakalim
gathered 40,000 signatures in favour of polygamy, the parliament
rejected the bill. President Kurmanbek
is known as a prominent opponent of legalizing
polygyny.  
subsequent increase in number of polygamous marriages, proposals
were made in Tajikistan to re-legalize polygamy. 
Tajik women who want to be second wives
are particularly supportive of decriminalizing polygyny. Mukhiddin
Kabiri, the Deputy Chairman of Islamic Renaissance
Party of Tajikistan
states that legislation is unlikely to stop
the growth in polygyny and criticizes the ruling élite for speaking
out against the practice while taking more than one wife
Other former USSR republics
were also recent arguments in favour of re-legalizing polygamy in
other Muslim ex-Soviet republics like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan. 
Bosnia and Herzegovina
communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina had been traditionally known as practicing polygamy
at a very limited level. The custom last existed in Cazinska Krajina in the early 1950s. 
Although illegal in the country,
polygamy is encouraged by certain religious circles and there is a
current increase in number. This trend is usually seen linked with
the advent of Wahhabism
in the Balkans
population in neighbouring Sandžak
is also affected by the trend in
Bosnia. There were attempts to adopt entire Islamic jurisdiction
including polygamy but these moves were rejected. However, this could
not bar the top cleric (Mufti of Novi Pazar) Muamer Zukorlić from taking a second wife.
Turkey, polygamy has been strictly discouraged since the
adoption of Turkish Civil Code in 1926, a milestone of Atatürk's secularist reforms.
not allowed in the legislation and not approved by state
authorities, polygamous marriages praised by imams
who are, in the Turkish context, civil servants
are conducted. Turkey, as a member of the
, is also
a signatory of the Cairo Declaration on
Human Rights in Islam
that considers Sharia as the sole
reference of human rights issues.
Polygamy is a common occurrence in Kurdish
Overall, polygamy is on the rise in
An opinion poll in 2004 showed that 63%
of Turks favoured polygamy.  On April 6, 2007, Municipal Assembly of
Çıplaklı (composed of members of the ruling moderate Islamist
AK Parti and
in Alanya unanimously
adopted a resolution to support men who consider taking a second
People of Çıplaklı are Yörük
, a Turkic
ethnicity who practice transhumance
. "When we go to the summer
pastures and leave our wives behind, we feel very lonely." told Ali
İhsan Topal, a member of the Assembly from AK Parti.
United States and Canada
The most prominent American polygamous society is the Fundamentalist
Church of Latter Day Saints
(FLDS), a splinter sect of Latter Day Saint movement
Colorado City. In 2005, a meeting was called between the governors
of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico in an effort to economically
and politically isolate religious sects that practice polygamy,
mainly the FLDS. British Columbia has also politically isolated its
small polygynous religious community, located in the southeastern
portion of the province .Fundamentalist Mormons represent a growing
number of polygamous marriages in the US today. With growing fear
of daycares, concerns over the lack of discipline in public
schools, and the blossoming of so called "Super Preachers" and
"Super Churches", fundamentalist Mormons are seeking to strengthen
the family though plural marriage, where the children are cared for
within the home.
Several species such as the wood mouse
possess a polygamous social order in
which males mate with multiple females. Such circumstances result
in competition between males during reproductive periods. This
competition can extend beyond the superficial scrambling for
females and exists at a microscopic level as competition between
spermatozoa in the reproductive tract of the female organism.
A variety of methods for practicing polygamy can be observed in the
animal kingdom. For example, female defense polygyny is seen in
marine amphipods, where the male herds the females into a cluster.
This allows them to be protected by the male, while the male has
continuous access to the females. Resource defense polygyny is a
strategy seen in African cichlid
fish, where the male collects empty snail shells which the females
use to lay eggs. A third type is scramble competition polygamy,
where females are widely spaced or fertility is time-limited, as in
- Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell & Scott, s.v.
- Webster's Third New International Dictionary,
Unabridged, s.v. 'polygyny'.
- Webster's Third New International Dictionary,
Unabridged, s.v. ‘polyandry’.
- Ridley, M.
(1995) The Red
Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, Penguin
Books, ISBN 0-14-024548-0
- Judaica Press Complete Tanach, Devarim - Chapter
17 from Chabad.org
- The king's behavior is condemned by Prophet Samuel in .
- Frequently asked questions, Judaism and
- Israel 2008: State of Polygamy
- Victims of polygamy
- Keter Torah on Leviticus, pp.96—97.