What Is Polygyny in World History?

Polygyny is a term that has been used throughout history to describe the practice of having multiple wives. This practice has been present in many cultures and societies around the world, and has taken on different meanings and forms depending on the context in which it was practiced.

What Is Polygyny?

Polygyny is a form of marriage in which a man is allowed to have more than one wife at the same time. This is different from polyandry, which is a form of marriage in which a woman is allowed to have more than one husband at the same time.

In most cases of polygyny, the husband has a primary wife who is considered to be his main spouse, while the other wives are considered to be secondary or lesser spouses. The primary wife usually has more rights and privileges than the other wives, including financial support and social status.

The History of Polygyny

Polygyny has been practiced in many cultures throughout history. In ancient times, it was common among tribes and clans as a way of increasing their numbers and strengthening their communities. It was also practiced by rulers and leaders as a way of establishing alliances with other tribes or nations.

In some cultures, polygyny was seen as a way of ensuring that women were taken care of financially and socially. In others, it was seen as a way of ensuring that men had enough children to continue their lineage.

During colonial times, European powers often banned polygyny as part of their efforts to modernize and civilize non-European societies. However, many societies continued to practice it despite these efforts.

  • In Africa
  • Polygyny was widely practiced in many African societies before colonialism.
  • It was often seen as a sign of wealth and status.
  • Today, it is still legal in some African countries, although it is becoming less common.
  • In some societies, women have fought against polygyny as part of their struggle for women’s rights and gender equality.
  • In the Middle East and Asia
  • Polygyny has been practiced in many Middle Eastern and Asian societies, including Islamic societies.
  • It is often seen as a way of fulfilling a man’s duty to provide for his family and community.
  • Today, it is still legal in some Muslim-majority countries, although there are limits on the number of wives a man can have and conditions that must be met before he can take another wife.

The Controversy Around Polygyny

Polygyny is a controversial practice that has been criticized by many people for various reasons. Some argue that it is harmful to women because it often leads to unequal treatment and neglect of secondary wives. Others argue that it perpetuates gender inequality by treating women as property of men.

There are also concerns about the impact of polygyny on children’s well-being. Research has shown that children from polygynous households may experience more emotional distress, lower academic achievement, and higher rates of delinquency than children from monogamous households.

Despite these criticisms, polygyny continues to be practiced in many parts of the world. Some argue that it should be accepted as a legitimate cultural practice, while others argue that it should be abolished altogether.


Polygyny has been a part of human history for thousands of years and continues to be practiced in various forms around the world today. While there are concerns about its impact on women and children, there are also arguments in favor of accepting it as a legitimate cultural practice.

Ultimately, the debate over polygyny is a complex one that involves questions of gender equality, cultural identity, and individual rights. As societies continue to evolve and change, it is likely that the debate will continue as well.