In many ancient cultures and religious traditions, rulers and elite members of society not only had wives, they also had concubines. Concubines normally served a dual purpose – to increase a man’s prestige through his capacity to produce children and, of course, limitless opportunities to indulge in sexual desires. Most people associate concubines with ancient China where Emperors were known to have kept thousands of concubines, however, the practice of taking concubines is certainly not exclusive to China.
The practice of taking a concubine goes back thousands of years to the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia and Babylonia where the elite members of society took concubines, many of whom were slaves, however, the first wife always retained a place of primacy in the family. In some city-states, women served as priestesses and held a very high social rank. Generally, these women did not marry. In some Mesopotamian cultures, men would visit these women as prostitutes, which society not only condoned, but considered an honourable fulfilment of religious duty, regardless of the marital status of the man.