31 December 2010

Does Avoiding Alcohol Encourage Polygamy?

[I]f you are in a polygynous relationship in the developed world you are probably either of Mormon Fundamentalist or Muslim faith, both of which forbid the consumption of alcohol . . . [and] pre-industrial societies with polygyny as the dominant marriage institution consume less alcohol than those with monogamy.

From here (citing Squicciarini, Mara and Jo Swinne “Women or Wine? Monogamy and Alcohol.” AAWE Working Paper No. 75).

One theory is that industrialization favors both alcohol consumption and monogamy, but early LDS society seems a poor fit to this model, and both widespread use of alcohol and the demise of polygny far pre-date industrialization.

Polygyny virtually vanished in the West by the time of the late Roman empire. Alcohol consumption was rampant and exaulted in the West by the time that the Myceneans took over in Greece, if not earlier, a millenium or more earlier. The Byzantines had polygny at some some level pretty much until it fell, as did the Ottomans that followed.

Judaism appears to been polygynous at least through the early Iron Age (ca. 1000 BCE), but had probably ceased to be by the dawn of the Rabbinic period, ca. 70 CE, and has accepted alcohol consumption to some extent, although not necessarily to excess, for all of its history.

Perhaps the more relevant point is that a prohibition on alcohol consumption is a measure of how powerful a grip a religion has on its participants, and hence, how much capacity it has also to influence marital practices of its members.


Maju said...

I think that polygyny was always rare in Europe, at least formally speaking (slaves, affairs and prostitutes were also forms of polygyny but informal ones). All we know from classic antiquity is that monogamy was the norm. I know of no formally polygynous man in all European history, except maybe among Huns and other such epiphenomena. Etruscans, Romans, Greeks, Medieval Europeans, ancient Vikings and even Jews and Roma... all practiced formal monogamy.

Correct me if I am wrong anyhow.

As for alcohol, its preeminence must be blamed in part to Christianization, which persecuted all drugs but alcohol (wine specially plays an important role in Christian mythology and rituals). Other drugs, notably opium (which was normally consumed by Romans, specially after certain age) but also cannabis and a very diverse array, suffered from the inquisitorial intolerance of Christians. Greek wine was usually "spiced" with a variety of other additives (drugs), that's why they diluted it in brutal amounts of water, this is a usually misunderstood fact. Romans were more austere initially but eventually they also became almost fully Hellenistic, with all the consequences.

But I fail to see any clear correlation between alcohol and polygyny. Just a coincidence between a couple of Judaic sects (Islam and Mormons). In Africa for example polygyny is quite common yet high-grade beer is as well.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

"I know of no formally polygynous man in all European history"

Martin Luther approved a polygnous marriage of a minor noble, but it was rare and lesser religious authorities were unsure if it was permitted.