In the ancient city of Athens, concubinage was a very common phenomenon. An ongoing sexual relationship would be arranged between an upper class man, usually already married and a free or enslaved woman of a lower status with Athenian origins. It was forbidden for a man to have a concubine from another city or country. If this law was violated the penalty would be severe. This kind of relationship would not be bound by the legal act of marriage and therefore it could cease to exist at any given moment. Due to the fact that concubinage was socially accepted it was not considered to be adultery in case the man was already married.
The rules of this sexual relationship gave almost the same social rights to the concubine as to a married woman. She would have the same protection from her partner if for example she was threaten or insulted by someone. He would also have the right to murder a potential lover that his concubine may have had if he could catch them in bed together. The man would demand that his concubine is faithful to him. The concubine would serve and take care of her partner while his wife would be devoted to the upbringing of the children. In hierarchy she would be situated between the lawful wife and the illegal courtesan. Even though concubinage was not recognized by the law in the same degree as marriage in some regions of ancient Greece it would be considered as an equal act.
In ancient Greece the societies that were formed had a Patriarchic character and men had more choice and privileges in relation to their sexuality. An unmarried woman was not respected if she would follow her sexual instincts. Even concubinage was regarded as a relationship of an inferior status. Children that were the fruit of such a relationship would also have less political rights than the lawful children and were not granted as citizens of Athens. In some cases though, the children of a concubine could have a claim to the inheritance of their father when he died.
The main factors that would define whether a woman would be more suitable to be a spouse or a concubine were her origins, social status and heritage.
On the other hand married women did not approve or accept the fact that their husband had the right to engage in a sexual relationships outside the marriage. Therefore the sexual competition between the spouse and the concubine would be very intense, especially in cases where the wife could not have children. Such cases could even result to murder.
As we can see, human sexuality was not restricted by the institution of marriage in Ancient Athens. We can find numerous examples of this kind of interpersonal sexual relations in the writings of Homer. Agamemnon enslaved Chryseis, a Trojan woman and kept her as his concubine considering her as war prize. He later admits that her beauty and intelligence is greater than his wife’s Clytemnestra. His son Achilles also kept Vryseis imprisoned until he loved her wholeheartedly. Phoenix suggests that his father would prefer his concubine than his lawful spouse. This references are a proof for the existence and wide acceptance of concubinage in ancient Greek societies. In later works, such as the plays of Aristophanes, we find evidence that the public status and reputation of a concubine had been rectified greatly in the social and family structures of ancient Athenian communities. The concubine takes a place in the home of her partner having equal political rights to his spouse.