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A concubinate ( Latin concubinatus ) is an often permanent and non-secret form of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman that is not regulated by marriage law. The female partner in a cohabiting relationship is called a concubine or co- sleeper . A term for the (dominant) male partner has not become established in German usage. Cohabitation is defined differently in Switzerland .


Cohabitation is the designation of a sexual, usually heterosexual, relationship or a marriage-like cohabitation between two people of different sex. It is essential that these people are not married to each other and that the relationship is not to be regarded as prostitution, i.e. the woman is not paid for a sexual service. The term does not describe a legal relationship, but a fact that is characterized by the absence of a marriage between the parties in order to describe legal consequences based on this. This includes, in particular, the legal status of children who come from such a relationship or the criminally sanctioned prohibition of such relationships, especially if they appear outwardly. The legal status of children from such a relationship can be extremely different depending on the historical and cultural context, from marital status (the concubine's child is considered to be the child of a wife) to the status of the legitimate child of the parent (but not his / her potential child) Wife), the legitimacy to the irrevocable social ostracism as a bastard . A cohabitation must therefore not be equated with polygamy , since the other wife is also fully married to her husband, regardless of the hierarchy between the wives. Rather, the use of the term concubinate (but not that of the concubine) is uncommon when a concubine is a member of a polygamous or polygamy household, regardless of the specific number of wives. Associated with the term concubine, however, is also a legal or social degradation of the concubine.

Outside Switzerland, the term “cohabitation” is still used today by mostly older, educated people who consider the negative assessments of the social and sexual behavior of couples associated with the use of the term to be appropriate (as a synonym for the term “ wild marriage ” in an upscale class of style ). In many countries, however, with regard to questions of the family relationship, it is legally irrelevant whether the biological parents of a child were or are married. Living together, including their regular sexual intercourse, is no longer prohibited and threatened with punishment. As a result, there is no longer any need to speak of “cohabiting” outside Switzerland by law. Also because of the negative connotations associated with the term, the term is increasingly less common in German-speaking countries.

“Concubinate” as a term occurs (mostly in historical contexts) when the persons involved (usually the man) are prevented from entering into a marriage, but are nevertheless interested in a sexual relationship or a cohabitation similar to a marriage. This can be for the purpose of gaining pleasure in an unloved woman or for the purpose of procreating an heir in the case of a sterile wife. One of the better-known literary examples of the latter case is the slave Hagar , with whom Abraham begat his son Ishmael . Reasons for a marriage impediment could be another marriage, the legal, economic or social impossibility of a divorce , the obligation to a celibate way of life, a lack of connubium due to a difference in class, different race or nationality or religion or the other legal or economic impossibility of another marriage etc. be. A completely different motive emerges with the early Ottoman rulers. They also married across religious borders (the most famous cases are those of the Serbian princesses Mara Branković and Olivera Lazarević ) in order to reinforce political alliances, as was the case in Europe. However, they refrained from fathering offspring with these women, in order not to allow their families to influence the succession to the throne, but instead used their concubines for this purpose. This form of relationship appears across all social classes and all cultures, from the European-Christian Middle Ages to the Empire of China , to the Empire of Japan and to the colonial society in the Dutch East Indies . Since the traditional definition of cohabitation always refers to heterosexual marriage, it is in principle not applicable to homosexual relationships, and not to all marital and marriage-related legal forms.

Cohabitation in ancient Rome

In ancient Rome , the term concubina was first used in the comedies of Plautus . The root of the word is concumbere , "to lie together".

The cohabitation between men and women without marriage , known as concubinatus , was particularly widespread among members of the Roman army and was partially recognized as a legal institution . In late antiquity , cohabitation was fought under Christian influence.

Cohabitation in Christian culture

Meaning of the word in Catholic canon law

According to Catholic canon law , marriages that were not concluded before the competent Catholic pastor within the scope of the Tridentine Council and the related marriage law were still considered cohabiting until the 20th century. This applied to marriages between evangelicals that were concluded before an evangelical pastor, as well as to mere civil marriages . For certain areas, however, the binding effect of the Tridentine decree for Protestant marriages was suspended, first by a papal constitution of Benedict XIV of November 4, 1741 ( Benedictina ) , so that the evangelical marriage could not be viewed as a concubin there.

Meaning of the word in Germany and Austria

In Germany and Austria, the terms concubinate and concubine are mainly used today to refer to illegitimate partnerships in earlier epochs. Not infrequently, these relationships, which in many cases were based on a lack of marriage options, such as a lack of marriage licenses, were prosecuted. For example, Article 95 of the Bavarian Police Criminal Code of 1862, which was in force until 1871, which was headed “cohabitation”, threatened “persons who continue to live together in an extramarital sex relationship” with a fine of up to 25 guilders or arrest for up to 8 days ordered the separation of the partners. The Bavarian Police Criminal Code of 1872 initially did not contain any provision against cohabitation, but was made punishable again in 1882 by inserting Art. 50a (fine or imprisonment for up to 8 days, in the event of repetition up to six weeks). The Bavarian State Criminal Law and Ordinance Act of 1957, as the successor to the Police Criminal Code, threatened the cohabitation according to Art. 25 with a fine or imprisonment for up to two weeks, but only if it resulted in "considerable public nuisance". On September 1, 1970, cohabitation in Bavaria was abolished. Today, marriage-like communities are generally no longer referred to as cohabiting and instead of a "concubine" one speaks of a (steady) girlfriend, partner or partner .

Meaning of the word in Switzerland

Due to the relatively late repeal of the penal provisions of the same name, the term cohabitation in Switzerland has largely lost the previously negative or ideological connotations that have remained in the rest of the German-speaking area ( Helvetism ). Cohabitation is used here as a synonym for terms such as “marriage without a marriage license ”, “ wild marriage ”, “ illegitimate cohabitation ”, “consensual cohabitation” or “marriage-like community”. The cohabitation of two people, regardless of gender, who do not have a marriage certificate, is called cohabitation, provided that the persons concerned are not related to each other. People of all ages live together with or without children.

People who live in a cohabiting relationship have a different legal and social protection than a married couple. Couples can secure themselves with a cohabitation contract.


If a couple has a marriage-like cohabitation, this is a cohabitation. A contract is not absolutely necessary, but this can prevent disputes in the event of a separation. Because it creates clarity about the division of finances, for example. The cohabitation can be dissolved at any time.

Until a few years ago there was a legally stipulated ban on cohabitation in parts of Switzerland , which, for example, read as follows in the canton of Zurich : "Cohabitation is prohibited. The municipal councils have to inform the governor of cohabitation. This enacts the necessary orders to terminate the relationship under threat of criminal prosecution for disobedience. ” The ban on cohabitation was only recently lifted in Switzerland (in the canton of Zurich in 1972, in the canton of Valais in 1995). Today there are hardly any legal provisions for cohabitation, financial claims (especially regarding tenancy law) are decided according to the rules for simple partnerships ( Art. 530 ff Code of Obligations ). The cohabiting partners can also regulate their financial claims differently through a contract, but such cohabiting contracts are rarely concluded.

Related terms

Related, sometimes with the same meaning for extramarital or not fully valid, but relatively permanent relationships are kebse , mistress , courtesan or hetaera . The outdated term Kebse (also Kebs or Kebsweib), which is only used in the dialect today , referred to a second or side marriage, the Kebsehe , while the hallmark of cohabitation is precisely the lack of marriage. The mistress, on the other hand, was the officially recognized mistress of an absolutist prince and played a quasi-official social role at his court. It was only after the end of absolutism, when the function of the mistress at court ceased to exist, that the terms concubine and mistress converged . The connections of the courtesans, who in the 16th to 19th centuries, maintained changing relationships in a socially elevated position, were not intended to be permanent, even if they were indeed of a certain duration. As courtesans refers to certain also socially recognized and formed Love Servants of the ancient world.

Cohabitation in the Old Testament

The term Pilegesch appears in the Old Testament . Etymologically, the term is related to the ancient Greek παλλακίς pallakis, the word for concubine. Legally, the Pilegesch were subordinate to the regular wives. According to the Jewish jurisprudence in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 21a), a Pilegesch did not have a marriage contract or a marriage ceremony.

Cohabitation in Islam

Cohabitation as such does not appear in the Koran itself. In various Muslim jurisprudence , as a rule, any extramarital sexual intercourse is prohibited. There was one exception here, however: A sexual relationship between a male Muslim and his female slave is permitted according to the Koran ( Sura 23 , 6) and the general understanding of the law based on the interpretation of the term 'Ma Malakat Aymanukum' (ما ملكت أيمانکم), 'those below your right hand '. Other Koran exegetes, however, vehemently contradicted this view and noted that cohabitation was completely forbidden by the Koran. The respective Islamic law schools pronounced different jurisprudence depending on the interpretation of the said verse.

Sexual intercourse was not only practiced for pleasure, but often served the goal of procuring offspring for the patron. The children who were begotten by the slave's master were free and had the same legal status as the children of one of his wives (e.g. as heirs). When a free child was born, the concubine was given the status of oneأمّ ولد / umm walad . The freedom of a slave's children depended on whether the patron recognized his paternity. The non-recognition was hardly feasible in practice, as the patron had to prove the forbidden sexual contact of his slave to another man. The legal status of the children of an umm walad was an extraordinary fact, because in other cultures the freedom of the children of a slave was mostly not guaranteed (Roman law). To be the mother of a free child always meant an upgrading of the status of the slave. Such an increase in importance was also reflected in the higher legal status of the slave, because after the birth of a free child, according to unanimous legal opinion, she could no longer be sold or loaned and was given freedom on the death of her master. According to Schacht (EI - umm walad), this regulation was not already enforced during Muhammad's lifetime, but only under the caliph Umar and was confirmed by the schools of law that were formed later. However, it must be taken into account that ummahat walad , unless they were released before the patron's death, continued to be slaves who had no custody of their children and to whom the patron continued to have full access rights. Which status an umm walad ultimately enjoyed depended primarily on its social acceptance. Under early Abbasid rule this was quite large. Individual concubines enjoyed even more freedom than free women at that time. You were z. Some of them famous, enjoyed great recognition and lived a luxurious life in palaces and apartments with their own slaves.

Islamic jurisprudence thus forbade sexual control, even if this was generally unrestricted for the master of a slave, whenever there had been contact with a blood relative or if a third party could have asserted a sexual right to the slave .

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Konkubinat  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Gen 16: 1-11  EU
  2. ^ Raimund Friedl : The concubinat in imperial Rome from Augustus to Septimius Severus (= Historia Einzelschriften, Volume 98). Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 1996 (Diss. Tubingen 1994), ISBN 3-515-06871-6 , p. 32
  3. ^ Kai Brodersen , Bernhard Zimmermann : Metzler Lexikon Antike. 2nd, revised and expanded edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-476-02123-8 , p. 306.
  4. Article 95 BayPStGB, (online)
  5. ;
  7. ^ The Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality, and Gender, edited by Adrian Thatche . S. 178 : "On the other hand a pilegesh may be in some cases part of a mans harem but is not one of his actual wives. This category cover those instances in which such kings as David, Solomon, Saul and the Judge Gideon are specified as having both wives and concubines "
  8. Louis M. Epstein: The Institution of Concubinage among the Jews . S. 153 .
  9. Michael Lieb, Milton and the culture of violence, p. 274, Cornell University Press .
  10. ^ Marc Lee Raphael, Agendas for the study of Midrash in the twenty-first century, p. 136, Dept. of religion .
  11. ^ Nicholas Clapp, Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen, p. 297 .
  12. ^ Ibid. The Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality, and Gender edited by Adrian Thatche . S. 179 : "Both wives and concubines could bear a man's children but Genesis 25: 6 may indicate that the children of pilegesh may less likely inherit a man's property after his death."
  13. Sanhedrin 21a. Retrieved in 2019 : "Rav Yehuda quotes Rav as explaining that nashim (wives) are properly married with ketuba (marriage contract) and kiddushin (official marriage ceremony), while pilagshim have neither ketuba nor kiddushin."
  14. Koran, Sura 23, 6 ( Memento from October 13, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  15. Mohammad Asad: The Message of the Quran, Surah 4:25 [Commentary 32] . “(Translation) This section clearly states that sexual relations with the female slave can only take place on the basis of marriage, in this respect there is no distinction between them (note of the slave) and the free woman; consequently the cohabitation is excluded. This passage lays down in an unequivocal manner that sexual relations with female slaves are permitted only on the basis of marriage, and that in this respect there is no difference between them and free women; consequently, concubinage is ruled out. "
  16. Mohammad Asad: The Message of the Quran, Surah 23: 6, [Commentary] . "Lit.," or those whom their right hands possess "(aw ma malakat aymanuhum). Most of the commentators assume unquestioningly that this relates to female slaves, and that the particle aw ("or") denotes a permissible alternative. This conventional interpretation is, in my opinion inadmissible inasmuch as it is based on the assumption that sexual intercourse with one's female slave is permitted without marriage: an assumption which is contradicted by the Qur'an itself (see 4: 3, {24}, {25} and 24:32, with the corresponding notes). Nor is this the only objection to the above-mentioned interpretation. Since the Qur'an applies the term "believers" to men and women alike, and since the term azwaj ("spouses"), too, denotes both the male and the female partners in marriage, there is no reason for attributing to the phrase aw ma malakat aymanuhum the meaning of "their female slaves"; and since, on the other hand, it is out of the question that female and male slaves could have been referred to here, it is obvious that this phrase does not relate to slaves at all, but has the same meaning as in 4:24 - namely, "those whom they rightfully possess through wedlock" (see note [26] on 4:24) - with the significant difference that in the present context this expression relates to both husbands and wives, who "rightfully possess" one another by virtue of marriage. On the basis of this interpretation, the particle aw which precedes this clause does not denote an alternative ("or") but is, rather, in the nature of an explanatory amplification, more or less analgous to the phrase "in other words" or "that is", thus giving to the whole sentence the meaning, "... save with their spouses - that is, those whom they rightfully possess [through wedlock] ...", etc. (Cf. a similar construction 25: 62 - "for him who has the will to take thought - that is [lit.," or "], has the will to be grateful".) "
  17. Mustafa Islamoglu: Kuran-Meali, Sura 23: 6, [Commentary] .