To understand the never-ending debate of Monogamy Vs Polygamy, let’s take a look at the essence of relationships that prevailed between men and women in ancient times.
Mahabharata: The Great Indian War
Long ago, there lived Pandavas and Kauravas in Hastinapura, the capital city of the Kuru Kingdom in India. Pandavas and Kauravas were the two rival Kuru clans who fought the “Kurukshetra War”, famously described as the “Mahabharata War” in the Indian epic poem ”Mahabharata”. The two families fought the Kurukshetra War for the throne of Hastinapur. Now, the Kuru clan of “Pandavas” involved the five Kuru Princes namely Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva. Whereas, the rival Kura clan “Kauravas” involved cousin Kuru Princes of Pandavas, namely, Dhuryodhana, Dushasana, and 98 other sons.
Showcase of Polygamy In Mahabharata
As the story goes, the bond of marriage was either a way to keep a woman’s heart or was a strategic means to develop friendly alliances with the neighboring Kingdoms or States.
To name a few, Pandavas’ ancestor King Shantanu had two wives – Ganga and Satyavati. Further, Pnadavas’ father King Pandu had two wives – Kunti and Madri. Also, Arjuna, the third Pandava brother had four wives namely, Draupadi, Subhadra, Ulupi, and Chitrangada.
Similar events happened with Lord Krishna, the King of Dwarka and the maternal cousin of Arjuna. According to sources, Lord Krishna had 8 primary wives and 16,100 secondary wives.
All these epic marriages have one thing in common. The royal kings had varied wives. These Princes married different women at different junctures of their life and under different circumstances. The marriages of Arjuna and Lord Krishna were in reverence to a woman’s respect and desires. Or they were a means to maintain friendly relations with the neighboring kingdoms thereby serving the interests of civilization as a whole.
Now, let’s dig into Rome’s history and find out what sexual union meant for the great emperors of Rome.
Julius Caesar and his Unusual Sexual Inclinations
Julius Caesar was a great military and political leader of ancient Rome. But, he was also rumored to be driven by lust and have unusual sexual preferences. He had three wives and was alleged to have casual romantic relationships with unmarried women, sex workers and even men of a certain age.
Julius Caesar’s Polygynous Behavior
His affair with Cleopatra, the ruler of ancient Egypt, is in fact legendary. Cleopatra was a mistress to Julius Caesar and during their relationship even got pregnant with Caesar’s child. Caesar was married to his third wife when he had a child with Cleopatra.
As said, his casual sexual liaisons were just not limited to women. He was even rumored to have a sexual relationship with Nicomedes, the king of Bithynia. Although many biographers make a mention of this relationship in their work, it still remains a subject that needs verification.
Caesar is not the only Roman emperor alleged to have slept with multiple women or indulged in extramarital lovemaking. Other legendary Roman emperors like Augustus, Claudius, etc. are also said to have sexual relations with multiple women.
The idea is to point towards the fact that marriage in ancient Rome was not at all a romantic affair. It was an arrangement between two families that improved either parties’ wealth and class.
Not only that, concubinage too was legal. This was a practice that permitted a man and slave woman to live together outside of their existing formal marriages. However, these women (known as concubines) did not have the legal status enjoyed by the wives of these men.
What Do The Holy Scriptures Say?
Sacred scriptures of many religions allow men to take concubines. Here’s a verse from Quran:
“And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of (other) women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then (marry only) one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline (to injustice)”.
Similarly, Bible has instances of kings having concubines. In one of the verses, it makes a mention of King Solomon having 300 concubines along with 700 wives.
So, what inference can we draw from all these religious as well as historical references? Is monogamy natural to us humans? Like it or not, the answer is no! Our evolutionary biology says that “sexual monogamy” over “social monogamy” is quite rare in humans as well as animals. In other words, mating with multiple partners comes naturally to us humans over sexual union with a single partner.
Now, the question arises that in monogamy vs polygamy, why monogamy is the order of the modern-day given that humans are naturally inclined to have multiple sexual partners? Why our culture and society is going against nature and imposing monogamy on humans?
Well, David P Barash, a renowned biologist, and professor of psychology reveal certain possible arguments as to why monogamy exists in his book Out of Eden.
1. The Helplessness of Infants Keeps Mother and Father Together
a. Infant Vulnerability
One of the possible reasons for human beings to accept monogamy is because human infants are born quite immature. They are born in a needy state and require the care and nourishment of their parents for a good number of years. This means that both the parents need to invest a considerable amount of time and effort in the upbringing of their offspring. This gives reproductive success to both parents.
However, in the case of polygynous species, there is little involvement of males in the upbringing of the offspring. This is because the polygynous male has to divide his efforts between multiple female partners and their offspring. Further, he also needs to be cautious of other males attempting to snatch his own chance of mating with other females.
b. Higher Dependability of Both Male and Female Partners On Each Other
The certainty of mutual benefit could possibly be another reason for monogamy to come into existence. This mutual benefit exists where both male and female partners play their part. Males help females in rearing the offspring in terms of fulfilling needs such as arranging food etc. Whereas females satisfy their male partners sexually. That is the female actively participates in welcoming male partners frequently to engage sexually with her.
This reduces the chance of male partners leaving their female counterparts. The higher the commitment of each of the partners to play their part, the higher would be the interest of both the partners to stay together.
2. Men Are The Biggest Losers Under Polygyny
Polygyny does more good to women than to men. You might be wondering how is this a possibility? How can a man having access to multiple female partners be at the losing end? This seems quite opposite to the typical inclination of a human male who gets delighted with the very thought of engaging with multiple partners.
Well, if we see it from the perspective of our evolutionary biology, this inclination comes naturally to both males and females. Polygyny no doubt is unfavorable for females in terms of acting as co-wives to a particular male. But in such a setup they at least get the opportunity to mate with men.
This is not the case when it comes to men under polygyny as only powerful and wealthier men get most of the women. Since such first-rate men are few in number, there is a huge lot of men who are left at the bottom of the pyramid. Now, these third-rate men are forced to stay unmated which creates frustration among them.
This frustration would invite social evils like violence. Such inferior men would go to the extent of killing men or harassing women in order to get reproductive success. Therefore, to bring quality to society and reduce the number of such frustrated bachelors, monogamy is the order of the day. This is to increase the odds of all the men at least getting to mate with a partner in a lifetime.
3. Monogamy Assures That Men Are The Real Daddys
In the case of a polygynous setup, males do not have the genetic certainty of their offspring from a specific female partner. Due to internal fertilization within women, men in a polygynous setup become all the more insecure about the genetic certainty of their offspring. This genetic uncertainty restricts males from investing too much time and commitment in the nourishment of their offspring under a polygynous setup. Furthermore, in such a setup, instead of nourishing their offspring, males invest more time in mating with other women. Also, they spend much time driving back males who act as a threat in their way of maintaining a sexual relationship with other females. So what could have been done to increase the commitment of such males towards their offspring?
Well, possibly, monogamy is the answer. Monogamy brings confidence in fathers that the offsprings they are nourishing genetically belong to them. This in turn increases the commitment of males in terms of paternal investment towards their offspring.
Furthermore, it may be a possibility that women were compelled to remain in a monogamous setup by men due to the challenge involved in granting heritage. Polygamy brings along the disadvantage of dividing males’ riches between numerous offspring from multiple female partners. Thus, a pool of wealth gets split into smaller fractions which may be a disadvantage to the offspring receiving such wealth.
Hence, it could be a possibility that in order to avoid such a situation, monogamy was encouraged as a mating system among humans.