previous next


παλλακή, παλλακίς). A concubine.

1. Greek

The παλλακή or παλλακίς occupied at Athens a kind of middle rank between the wife and the harlot (ἑταίρα). Demosthenes defines the position of each by saying that the harlot ministers to pleasure only, the concubine serves, while the wife is for the purpose of bearing children and acting as the faithful steward of her husband's goods (c. Neaer. 122, p. 1386). Thus Antiphon speaks of the παλλακή of Philoneos as following him to the sacrifice, and also waiting upon him and his guest at table. If her person were violated by force, the same penalty was exigible from the ravisher as if the offence had been committed upon an Attic matron; and a man surprised by the quasi-husband in the act of criminal intercourse with his παλλακή, might be slain by him on the spot, as in the parallel case. (See Adulterium.) It does not, however, appear very clearly from what political classes concubines were chiefly selected, as cohabitation with a foreign (ξένη) woman was strictly forbidden by law, and the provisions made by the State for virgins of Attic families must, in most cases, have prevented their sinking to this condition. Sometimes, certainly, where there were several destitute female orphans, this might take place, as the next of kin was not obliged to provide for more than one; and we may also conceive the same to have occurred with respect to the daughters of families so poor as to be unable to supply a dowry. The dowry, in fact, seems to have been a decisive criterion as to whether the connection between a male and a female Athenian, in a state of cohabitation, amounted to a marriage. If no dowry had been given, the child of such union would be illegitimate; if, on the contrary, a dowry had been given, or a proper instrument executed in acknowledgment of its receipt, the woman was fully entitled to all conjugal rights. It does not appear that the slave who was taken to her master's bed acquired any political rights in consequence; the concubine mentioned by Antiphon is treated as a slave by her master, and after his death undergoes a servile punishment.

2. Roman

According to an old definition, an unmarried woman who cohabited with a man was originally called pellex or paelex (Gell. iv. 3), but afterwards by the more decent appellation of concubina (Dig. 50, 16, 144). Concubinatus is cohabitation other than marriage between free persons who were both unmarried, or between an unmarried free man and an ancilla. In the older times this was viewed as an offence deserving punishment (Liv.x. 31; xxv. 2); but when the possibility of a lasting affection between persons who had not conubium came to be recognized, the cohabitation of an unmarried man with his liberta or ancilla (Plaut. Epid. iii. 4, 29, 30) was regarded without censure. In Cicero's time ( De Orat. i.40.183) the name of concubina would have applied to a woman who cohabited with a man who had not divorced his wife; but this was not considered lawful concubinage in after-times. The Lex Iulia de Adulteriis of Augustus imposed severe penalties on adulterium, incestus, and stuprum (q. v.); but by the Lex Iulia and Papia Poppaea concubinatus was legalized and exempted from the penal provisions of the earlier statute (Dig. 25, 7, 3, 1), though an honesta femina who wished to become a concubina was not dispensed from them unless she made an express declaration of her intention or testatio (Dig. ib. 3, pr.). But a man who already had an uxor could not have a concubina at the same time (Dig. 50, 16, 144), nor apparently could a man have more than one concubina at a time; and widowers who already had children, and did not wish to contract another legal marriage, took a concubina, as we see in the case of Vespasian (Suet. Vesp. 3), Antoninus Pius, and M. Aurelius.

Concubinatus differed from lawful marriage in three especial respects.

  • 1. In the relation of the parties, there being no affectio maritalis (Sent. Rec. ii. 20).
  • 2. In the loss of reputation to the woman if honesta. Yet there is an inscription in Fabretti (p. 337) to the memory of Paullianus by Aemilia Prima, concubina eius et heres, which seems to show that the term concubina was not one that a woman need be ashamed of.
  • 3. In its legal effects: it was not a marriage, and therefore the rules as to dos, donatio propter nuptias, donatio inter virum et uxorem, had no application; nor were the children in patria potestas, though their paternity was recognized; they could be legitimated, and under the emperors were entitled to maintenance, even from the legitimate children after the father's death (Nov. 89, 12, 6); also, they had some rights of succession on the father's dying intestate.

By later emperors concubinatus was discouraged, but it was not made generally unlawful until the ninth century, by Leo the Philosopher.

Cohabitation between two slaves was called contubernium, a name also applied to that between a slave and a free person (Paul.ii. 19, 6).

hide References (5 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (5):
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 31
    • Plautus, Epidicus, 3.4
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 1.40
    • Suetonius, Divus Vespasianus, 3
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 4.3
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: