Despite monogamy being the norm of sexual relationships in mainstream society today, the practice is far less common either in nature or in history. In fact the patriarchal foundations of most ancient cultures further facilitated polygamy according to which men were allowed to take as many wives and concubines as their resources or social status permitted. Cultural privileges and political compulsions were other common reasons for men keeping large harems and households with multiple wives. Here is a list of men who had some of the largest number of wives and partners in history much to the envy and incredulity of men today.
Everything about Biblical times seems larger than life and the same goes for wives too. King Solomon known for his wisdom, his wealth and his writings, apparently had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, known as secondary wives, according to the Bible I Kings. Many of his wives were foreign princesses from lands of which God had previously instructed the Israelites to avoid intermarrying. The only wife whose name was mentioned in the Bible is Naamah, an Ammonite and was the mother of Rehoboam, Solomon’s successor. Part of the reason for so many wives could have been the prevailing custom of giving daughters in marriage to seal political alliances. Thus smaller kings in order to finalize treatises with a mighty emperor like King Solomon would offer him female relative in marriage. These wives were considered symbols of alliances between the two kings and their territories.
Apart from wives, King Solomon was also known for his fabulous wealth and large empire. He became ruler in approximately 967 B.C.E. and his kingdom extended from the Euphrates River in the north to Egypt in the south. His crowning achievement was the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Over time the King became a symbol of deep wisdom and the spirit of justice – qualities which undoubtedly helped him to conquer, rule and earn the loyalty of such a massive empire.
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Fat′h Ali Shah Qajar
Fat′h Ali Shah Qajar was the 2nd Qajar or king of Persia which corresponds to present-day Iran. The king lived from 1772 to 1834 and his reign lasted for 37 years from 1797 to 1834. Over this time he married around 158 women1, most of whom were princesses. The names of all his wives are listed in the book, Tarikh-e Azodi by Soltan Ahmad Mirza Azod-ed-Dowleh. Not surprisingly his family included 260 children and 786 grandchildren, even though not all his wives bore him children.
Asentus Ogwella Akuku
Popularly known as Akuku Danger, this man from Kenya is believed to have more than a hundred wives. His nickname could be a nod to his prolific marital partners apparently because women would be so attracted by his dangerously handsome looks, that they could not say no to his marriage proposal. Akuku began his marriage spree in 1939 when he got his first wife; he became polygamist some 70 years ago at the age of 22 and then went on to marry more than 100 women in his lifetime. He divorced 85 wives for infidelity and outlived 12 of his wives, marrying the last one in 1992. In many African tribes having several wives was a sign of wealth and status for a man; thus with more than a hundred wives, Danger Akuku represented the ultimate symbol of traditional manhood. Not surprisingly Akuku had 160 children and had to establish two elementary schools solely to educate his children, as well as a church for his growing family to attend. Kenya’s legendary polygamist died in 2010 at the ripe old age of 94 due to natural causes2.
Mohammed Bello Abubakar
Another serial polygamist from Africa was Mohammed Bello Abubakar, a Nigerian Islamist cleric who was however less lucky in his marital spree. Over his adult life, Abubakr took 86 wives and fathered 170 children. Unlike cultural predispositions or political compulsions, in Abubakar’s case, the numerous wives seemed to be attracted to his reputation as a healer, or so he claimed. He had worked as a preacher and Imam and lived with his family in an entire apartment block. Many of Mohammed’s wives were much younger than he was and a few were even younger than some of his elder children.
However his marital prowess did not go down well with conservative Muslims of his country. Islam allows a man to have four wives but Mohammed claimed that the Quran did not set a punishment for offenders like him and hence he did not deserve any punishment for this particular offense.
Nevertheless, Abubakr was arrested in 2008 by Islamic authorities and tried before a Sharia court which upholds Islamic law. The court ordered Abubakr to divorce 82 of his wives even after which he persistently refused to obey and was thus was sentenced to death. In the end, Abubakr conceded to Sharia decree and agreed to the mass divorce in September 2008, after which the sentence was lifted.
Warren Steed Jeffs
In Western countries, mainstream culture is largely monogamist even though there are certain marginal religious groups like the Church of Latter Day Saints which practice polygamy and allow men to take more than one wife. Warren Steed Jeffs is one such man who is believed to have married 80 women and have 250 children. He was the president of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints Church - a Mormon fundamentalist organization based in Colorado City, Arizona from 2002 when he succeeded his father Rulon Timpson Jeffs. Shortly after the latter’s death, Warren asserted his own leadership of the FLDS Church and subsequently married all but two of his father's widows, figuratively making him the stepfather of many of his siblings and solidifying his political position in the community. However in 2007 he had to step down from the FDLS leadership after FBI declared him on their Top Ten Most Wanted List for case of rape, polygamy, tax evasion and kidnapping. Jeffs was captured, tried and was sentenced for life imprisonment in 2007.
Rulon Timpson Jeffs
Another FDLS leader and father of Warren Steed Jeffs, Rulon Timpson Jeffs lived 1909 to 2002 during which he married 75 women. Popularly known to church members as Uncle Ron, he fathered 65 children and after his death was survived by 20 wives.
This shepherd-turned business from Saudi Arabia has married 58 women over a period of 50 years. His first marriage happened when he was only 14 years of age. Al-Sayeri claims that all his marriages have cost him more than $1.6 million in wedding expenses and settlements for divorced wives. He however has made it a principle to keep the same three wives for the past two decades. Only the fourth wife is changed every year since according to him “it’s the one for renewal”.
Yet another leader of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Brigham Young was also famous as a pioneer figure who led settlements in western part of United States. He was not only the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1847 until his death in 1877, but also he founded Salt Lake City, and served as the first governor of the Utah Territory, United States.
In a 76 year long life, Brigham Young was believed to have acquired 55 wives of whom, 21 had never been married before 16 were widows 6 were divorced and 6 even had living husbands. At the time of Young's death, 19 of his wives had predeceased him, he was divorced from ten and 23 survived him while the status of four was unknown. Also Young had 56 children by 16 of his wives, out of which 46 reached adulthood.
The founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon when aged only twenty-four, and in the next fourteen years he went on to gather thousands of followers, establish cities and temple and create a lasting religious culture.
Joseph Smith is believed to have married 34 women during his lifetime, with ages ranging from 14 to 60. Despite his personal charisma and religious convictions Joseph Smith was compelled to keep his other wives a secret in the initial days of the Church and it would be a long while before even his first wife would be reconciled to the practice of “plural marriages”, taught in the LDS doctrine.