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Leviratic polyandry is a type of marriage structure where a set of brothers are married to the same woman at the same time. It was named after the Levi tribe, a group of ancient Israelites who historically practiced this marriage arrangement.
Leviratic polyandry is also called fraternal polyandry and adelphogamy.
Leviratic polyandry has been observed throughout history. It is still observed today in some parts of Tibet and Nepal. Throughout time, fewer people practiced Leviratic polyandry and other types of polyandry than polygyny, an arrangement where one man has multiple wives. However, it is the most common form of polyandry noted in history.
It’s believed Leviratic polyandry is a more common arrangement than other types of polyandry because it ensures a family’s often scarce resources don’t need to be divided among its male heirs. It also ensures all heirs carry on the same bloodline and family name. This was particularly important in the past when people had much shorter life expectancies and were at risk of dying before passing on their genetic makeup. Leviratic polyandrous families have a large labor force which also gives them an economic advantage.
While there are benefits of a Leviratic polyandrous arrangement, they can fall down when the brothers are unsatisfied with their spouse or do not have equal reproductive success. Some brothers also struggle to maintain a large household and seek more personal autonomy.
While Leviratic polyandry may be seen as more progressive for women than polygyny at first glance, the wife in this type of marriage is usually compelled to marry brothers chosen for her.