Concubine Meaning: What Does This Historical Term Mean?

“Concubine” might not be common in everyday use, but it certainly has its place in historical dramas, literature, and discussions about past societies. As we dive into the meaning of this word, we’ll learn about the situations where this word might appear and how it fits into the historical contexts where it’s appropriate. Join us as we explore the usage of “concubine,” and enrich your vocabulary with this intriguing term.

Key Takeaways

  • “Concubine” denotes a woman in a non-marital and often socially inferior relationship with a man.
  • This word is often used in historical contexts, as well as in drama and literature.
  • This word should not be confused with “consort” or “wife”.

Concubine Meaning

Concubine Meaning: What Does This Historical Term Mean? Pin

What Does Concubine Mean?

A concubine is a woman who is in a recognized sexual and domestic relationship with a man but is not legally married to him. This relationship bestows a social status that is typically lower than that of the man’s wife or wives. In societies where this practice is or was customary, concubines may live with the man and potentially share some wifely duties, though they do not have the full status or legal rights of a wife.

In modern usage, the term “concubine” might be used metaphorically to denote a mistress or a woman in a similar position, regardless of social or legal recognition.

Origin of Concubine

The word “concubine” finds its roots in Latin, where concubina (with con- meaning “with” and cubare meaning “to lie”) refers to a woman who lives with a man to whom she is not married. Historically, concubinage was practiced in many cultures around the world, especially in societies that permitted polygamy, where a man could have multiple women in such roles, often for producing heirs.

Terms Commonly Confused With Concubine

Concubine vs. Consort


  • A woman who lives with a man but is not legally married to him.
  • Often does not have the same status as a wife in a household or society.


  • A spouse of a reigning monarch or very important person.
  • Holds a significant or formal status, often recognized by law or custom.

Concubine vs. Wife


  • Might cohabit with a man and share an intimate relationship without being legally married.
  • Typically has a lower social status compared to a wife and lacks legal rights and protections as a spouse.


  • Is legally married to her partner and recognized as such by society.
  • Usually has a socially and legally acknowledged position, with rights and duties outlined by marriage laws.

Concubine Examples

Examples of Concubine in Conversations

Historical Context

  • Person A: Did you know that in ancient times, kings and emperors often had concubines in addition to their wives?
  • Person B: Yes, concubines often had a lower status, but they lived in the royal palace.

Cultural Differences

  • Person A: In some cultures, having a concubine was common and even expected for wealthy men.
  • Person B: That’s true, but the practice varied greatly from one society to another.

Examples of Concubine in Texting and Social Posts

Clarifying meaning in texts:

  • Texter A: I’m reading this novel set in ancient China, and it’s full of politics involving the emperor’s concubines.
  • Texter B: Oh, so they weren’t his wives?
  • Texter A: No, a concubine is like a secondary partner, not a wife.

Social media posts referencing history or literature

Just finished a book on Roman history. The role of concubines was complex and often controversial. #ancienthistory #romanempire”

Other Examples of Concubine

  • In literature: Authors might use the term “concubine” to describe a character’s role in historical fiction, indicating her relationship status and societal position.
  • In historical documentaries: The word may be used in documentary scripts to describe the social hierarchies of past societies where concubinage was practiced.

Usage of Concubine in Different Contexts

Historical Societies

Traditionally, the term “concubine” pertains to a woman who lived with a man and had a relationship somewhat akin to marriage without the legal or formal recognition. In many past societies, concubines held an official status that was inferior to that of a wife.

Literature and Drama

When you encounter the term in literature, it’s often used to reflect the complex social hierarchies of historical times. Authors may use the term to set the scene and provide a backdrop for their stories, illustrating the dynamics of family and power during a particular era.

Modern Usage

Today, the term is rarely used in formal contexts due to its historical implications and references to gender inequality. However, you might still find it in discussions of historical or sociological topics.

Legal Context

In contemporary legal discussions, the term “concubine” might still arise in reference to historical laws or in the context of societies where the practice continues under different legal recognition.

Here’s a brief table showing the contrasts in the term’s application:

Context Usage of “Concubine”
Historical A woman in a long-term relationship without marital status
Literature To depict social status in narratives
Modern Discussions Rare, usually referencing past or non-Western societies
Legal In historical or cultural law discussions

More About Concubine Terminology

Terms Related to Concubine

  • Historical Use: This term is often associated with societies that recognized men having multiple female partners with varying statuses.
  • Legal Status: Sometimes the legal recognition was given to such relationships, distinguishing them from marriage.
  • Social Standing: A concubine typically holds a lower social rank than a wife within a household.

Synonyms for Concubine

Common synonyms for the word “concubine” include:

  • Mistress
  • Paramour
  • Courtesan

These synonyms can vary slightly in meaning and connotation but generally relate to the concept of a woman in a long-term, non-marital relationship with a man.

Antonyms for Concubine

Opposite terms illustrate the distinction from formal and socially sanctioned unions:

  • Wife
  • Spouse
  • Partner

These terms signify a legally and socially recognized consort, often with equal household status.

Concubine Word Family

Familiarity with the word family surrounding “concubine” can help you understand its usage and variations:

  • Concubinage: Refers to the state or condition of living with a concubine.
  • Concubinal: An adjective describing something relating to a concubine.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the role of a concubine in historical contexts?

In historical contexts, a concubine was a woman who lived with a man and was engaged in a continuous sexual relationship without being legally married to him. Notably, in various societies and eras, concubines often had recognized rights and a place in the social hierarchy, although less than that of a wife.

How does the status of a concubine differ from that of a consort?

A consort generally refers to the spouse of a reigning monarch, possessing formal status and recognition. In contrast, a concubine’s status was lower than that of a wife or consort; concubines did not enjoy the same social and legal privileges as consorts and were often seen as providing companionship and additional offspring.

Can you explain the concept of a concubine in Islamic traditions?

In Islamic traditions, the term for a concubine is often translated as ‘right-hand possess’ or ‘those whom your right hands possess’. These were enslaved women captives who bore children for their masters. Notably, their children were considered legitimate, and they received certain protections under Islamic Law.

What term is used to describe a male equivalent of a concubine?

The male equivalent of a concubine is typically referred to as a ‘concubinus’ in Latin. However, this term and its practice were much less common historically, with far fewer societies recognizing or recording instances of such relationships.