Seems entirely sensible to me

Dr Mark Collard, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen and currently the Canada Research Chair at the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, believes that changes in society had led to a desperate shortage of marriage partners.

The growth of polygamy and social inequality in the Late Iron Age meant that richer men took many wives, or concubines, causing an in-balance in the male-female sex ratio.

Suddenly young poor men had little chance of securing a wife unless they became rich and well-known quickly, says Prof Collard. And raiding was a shortcut to heroism and treasure, he believes.

“What is clear is that the sex ratio would have been substantially biased and increasing through time, and even small amounts of bias can have a big effect,” he said.

“In a population where just a few powerful older men are able to have multiple concubines you end up with a large number of young single men quite rapidly. Some men would have two to three wives, but the Norse sagas say that some princes had limitless numbers.

“So raiding was away to build up wealth and power. Men could gain a place in society, and the chance for wives if they took part in raids and proved their masculinity and came back wealthy.

“Because polygynous marriage increases male-male competition by creating a pool of unmarried men, it increases risky status-elevating behaviour.”

Thus monogamy leads to rather more peaceful societies.

27 thoughts on “Seems entirely sensible to me”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    “What is clear is that the sex ratio would have been substantially biased and increasing through time, and even small amounts of bias can have a big effect,”

    Which is why the fall out from China’s one child policy is such a concern.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    Matthew L – “Monogamy or enough polyandry to balance the polygyny.”

    That is idiotic. There are only so many effeminate dickless wonders who would accept sharing a wife. Those young men are not fighting because they don’t have options. They should shag a sheep if they wanted. They don’t have the options they want, and the rewards for violence – many wives – is so great. Sharing a wife ranks somewhere closer to a ewe than to a harem

  3. So Much For Subtlety

    Ireland is the great example of a society that went from insanely violent – with young men pushed out to attack others – to peaceful monogamy due to the arrival of Christianity.

    But the good professor has got it the wrong way around. It does not take wealth to cause polygamy. As Napoleon Chagnon showed, in Yanomamo society (and by extension all hunter and gather societies) being a good hunter and a known murderer of other men means more wives and a lot more children. Young men have always been killers. The invention of a money-type economy just means that there is another, less important, way to acquire women.

  4. Am I correct in thinking more men than women identify as gay, while more women than men identify as bisexual? That tinkers with the balancing a bit, though obviously more relevant in some societies (or even towns) than others.

  5. So Much For Subtlety

    Matthew L – “What do I care who she shags while I’m off with my side piece?”

    Well good for you Matthew. But have you ever considered that perhaps you are not representative of actual men? If you are fine raising someone else’s children, that is fine by me. I try not to be judgemental. But there is zero evidence that many men agree with you. Societies that allow men to have many wives have mildly stable marriages. Societies that allow women to have many husbands do not exist to a first order approximation and where they do, marriages are weak and unstable.

    MyBurningEars – “Am I correct in thinking more men than women identify as gay, while more women than men identify as bisexual?”

    Being Gay dates from the nineteenth century. It is of limited use in understanding the rest of the world for most of history.

  6. “Societies that allow women to have many husbands do not exist to a first order approximation”

    Marriages, no. Sexual relationships, yes, definitely. Although “allow” is perhaps the wrong word… “fail to prevent”, maybe.

  7. What do I care who she shags while I’m off with my side piece?

    I asked a polyamorist this once. He said he never cared who his wife shagged or fell in love with as he had his own mistresses. The marriage fell apart almost immediately – shagging some other bird in the lead-up to the wedding day usually doesn’t get things off to a good start – but what I did note is that the guy was somewhat of a loser, i.e. he drank a lot, was always losing his job, and had no assets. So what did he have to lose?

    What I’d like to do is ask a polyamorist who has paid for a nice, big house by working his arse off for a decade how he feels about shagging his side-piece in a dirty motel while is wife brings back some loser of no fixed abode to the family home. That has to grate a little, I should imagine. Also, who does the laundry? The problem is I’ve never found a polyamorist who has both self-respect and tangible assets so thus far my question remains unanswered.

  8. Then can our welfare state please stop subsidising polygamous marriages.

    I wondered how many posts it was going to take – Mornington Crescent on a Sunday morning..:)

    Thus monogamy leads to rather more peaceful societies.

    Guess that explains why crocs are so aggressive…

  9. “how he feels about shagging his side-piece in a dirty motel while is wife brings back some loser of no fixed abode to the family home”

    Why does it have to be in a dirty motel? The poly people I know all share access to the marital bed so both partners can bring people back about half the time and visit their other partners at their homes the other half.

    “Also, who does the laundry?”

    Same as in any healthy marriage – it’s a shared duty depending on who has the time when it needs doing.

  10. So Much For Subtlety

    NiV – “Marriages, no. Sexual relationships, yes, definitely. Although “allow” is perhaps the wrong word… “fail to prevent”, maybe.”

    So your comment was a waste of time except for a little bit of social status signalling on your part? Right.

    Matthew L – “Same as in any healthy marriage – it’s a shared duty depending on who has the time when it needs doing.”

    For various definitions of “healthy”. Care in the Community is really not working out.

  11. So Much For Subtlety

    Matthew L – “Have you ever been married or lived with a romantic partner for any length of time?”

    Men who do typically female chores have less sex than those that do not. Mainly caused, it seems, by female disgust.

    The real question is whether you have ever been married or lived with a romantic partner for any length of time.

  12. Seems a bit of a just so story. Why not cut the chief’s head off? Why not steal some women from the next village instead of crossing the North Sea? Why not organise the spare males into an army to make a local powerbase and take over other fjords?

    Between crossing the north sea and back, and reinterpreting the local political structure to their own benefit why would a bunch of heavily armed fit armed men choose the North Sea

    Plus there is some speculation that an appreciable amount of viking raids were not done by the Norse but by the blokes a few bays up the road.

  13. The poly people I know all share access to the marital bed so both partners can bring people back about half the time and visit their other partners at their homes the other half.

    Which assumes they are of similar socio-economic status and nobody is freeloading. Which, from what I’ve read, is highly unlikely: usually one person has all the sex while the other has all the headaches.

    I suspect the people you know are painting somewhat of a rosy picture, as polyamorists are prone to doing. Most of what I know about it – the believable stuff – comes from people who used to do it but quit because it was a disaster. One of them told me that it can work, but only if it is done very, very discreetly – meaning, they don’t tell other people they are doing it. So unless the people you know are very, very close friends or relatives, I suspect you’re being fed a line.

  14. Between crossing the north sea and back, and reinterpreting the local political structure to their own benefit why would a bunch of heavily armed fit armed men choose the North Sea

    Maybe the heavily armed fit men had figured out that if one of them can overthrow the chief and take all his women, the new chief would then be spending all his time fighting off claimants rather than enjoying his riches and shagging all his women.

    Or maybe they just preferred English women to the locals.

  15. SMFS: I’ve spent three years out of the last eighteen not living with a girlfriend or wife (or both). Your turn now.

    Tim: What makes you think that your experience is more representative than mine?

  16. What makes you think that your experience is more representative than mine?

    Because you are quoting your friends who share their bed-hopping stories with you, and implying there are no serious issues of the sort which affect even monogamous couples. Whereas I am quoting those who have experienced polyamory and identified the shortcomings, and those shortcomings would make sense to anybody.

  17. I’m not implying that at all. In my experience poly relationships fail at about the same rate as monogamous relationships.

  18. So Much For Subtlety

    Doug – “Seems a bit of a just so story. Why not cut the chief’s head off? Why not steal some women from the next village instead of crossing the North Sea? Why not organise the spare males into an army to make a local powerbase and take over other fjords?”

    Because if they could-a they would-a. If the King is in power then by definition he has sufficient support from large men with axes to stay in power. A young man might well not consider the odds good in that case. If the odds were good, Norway would have had a new King and no one would have cared. A bunch of defenceless Irish monks on the other hand look a much better bet.

  19. In my experience poly relationships fail at about the same rate as monogamous relationships.

    Yet two of the leading causes of arguments in mongamous relationships – money: who is spending how much, when, on what, and on whom and how the home is run and by whom – are strangely absent from your friends’ polyamorous relationships.

  20. BiND, about China. Quite.
    Keeping those blokes gainfully employed is the difference between peace and war. Civil or otherwise.

    I strongly suspect that ISIS can be 95% explained by sexual frustration…

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