How Common Was Polygamy in Ancient Times?

Polygamy, the practice of having multiple spouses at the same time, has been a part of human history for centuries. It was a common practice among many ancient civilizations across the world. Although it is not as prevalent today, it is still practiced in some parts of the world.

The Ancient World and Polygamy

In ancient times, polygamy was primarily practiced by wealthy men who could afford to take care of multiple wives and their families. The practice was often associated with royalty and nobility.

In ancient Egypt, for example, pharaohs and members of the royal family often had multiple wives. The pharaoh Ramses II had over 200 wives and concubines during his reign. In ancient Greece, polygamy was not common but was seen in certain regions like Sparta where it was encouraged to increase the population of warriors.

Polygamy was also common in many parts of Africa such as Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal where it was seen as a symbol of wealth and power. In some African societies, women could also have multiple husbands.

Polygamy in Asia

In Asia, polygamy was widely practiced in many cultures including China, India, and Japan. In China during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), emperors were allowed to have thousands of concubines in addition to their official wives.

Hinduism allowed men to have multiple wives but limited it to four under certain circumstances such as if a woman cannot bear children or if she is ill. In Muslim culture, men are allowed up to four wives but must treat them equally.

Abolishing Polygamy

As societies began to modernize with changing attitudes towards gender roles and relationships, there were increased efforts to abolish polygamy. Western colonial powers played a significant role in eradicating the practice in many parts of the world.

For example, in India, polygamy was banned by law in 1956. In Africa, polygamy was outlawed by colonial powers during the 20th century. Today, most countries around the world do not recognize polygamous marriages and consider them illegal.


Polygamy was a common practice in ancient times across various cultures and regions. It was often associated with wealth and power and practiced by royalty and nobility. As societies modernized, there were increased efforts to abolish the practice, and it is now illegal in most countries around the world.