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I have been trying to find an answer to the above question. In pre-Roman and Roman Britain were the Celtic peoples promiscuous or did they have only one married partner? Is there strong enough evidence to point either way? I found this so far:

We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women,” the Celtic lady retorted disdainfully, “for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest.”

~~ Dio Cassius quoting the reply of a Celtic wife to a jeering accusation of promiscuity from a Roman matron.

However, there are also stone carvings from Celtic culture that appear to show married couples. Also, see chapter 19 of Cornelius Tacitus' "Germania":

They live in a state of chastity well secured, corrupted by no seducing shows and public diversions, by no irritations from banqueting. Of learning and of any secret intercourse by letters, they are all equally ignorant, men and women. Amongst a people so numerous, adultery is exceedingly rare; a crime instantly punished. For, to a woman who has prostituted her person, no pardon is ever granted. However beautiful she be, however young, however abunding in wealth, a husband she can never find.

Which is it, or both?

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    What has your research shown you so far? – sempaiscuba Sep 18 '17 at 17:15
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    what is a "promiscuous people"? (ancient) example? (I, obviously, know the word, I question your assumption that such a thing as a "promiscuous people" ever existed) – sds Sep 18 '17 at 17:51
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    @sempaiscuba We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women,” the Celtic lady retorted disdainfully, “for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest.” ~~ Dio Cassius quoting the reply of a Celtic wife to a jeering accusation of promiscuity from a Roman matron. This implies promiscuity, but there are also carvings showing a married Celtic couple. – Charlie Sep 18 '17 at 17:52
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    Why would they be mutually exclusive? Individuals can be promiscuous before being married. – justCal Sep 18 '17 at 18:25
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    People's idea of how many partners constitutes 'promiscuous' varies greatly. Need to rephrase (I'm reluctant to edit as I'm not sure what you are asking). – Lars Bosteen Sep 27 '17 at 3:17
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The perception that the Celts were promiscuous seems to be based on, at least in part, ancient writers’ interpretations of marital relationships and / or a superficial knowledge of Celtic customs and culture.

On the latter point, Strabo admits to lacking evidence according to David Rankin in Celts and the Classical World,

... Strabo who says that Britons not only cohabit with the wives of others, but with their own sisters and mothers: he admits, however, that he has no reliable evidence for these assertions.

On the former, according to John King in Kingdoms of the Celts,

Both Caesar and Dio Cassius describe types of communal marriage or polyandry, with kinsmen sharing wives and the descent becoming in effect matrilinear.... it is perfectly possible that multiple marriage was common among the Celts, at least in Gaul.

Rankin is goes into more details on Celtic marriages:

Certainly we know that both Irish and Welsh systems of marriage recognised various marital categories. Also categorised were unions not of marital status, but which also were taken into account from the point of view of compensatory payments, as were the more permanent bonds. It would be easy for foreign observers to remain unaware of the various ramifications of a system which recognised, say, eight or nine categories of union, and in the case of Old Irish Law, three classes of legitimate wife.

This must have seemed very alien to Roman observers (assuming they even understood it), especially considering

The city states of Greece and Rome had highly organised political structures which allowed no place for women in power. Greeks and Romans were all the more astonished at the relative freedom and individuality of Celtic women.

Rankin mentions the Greek city states here but he fails to note that Spartan women had more rights than those in other Greek city states, and that Spartan women could sleep with another man for the purpose of procreation if the husband agreed. As a consequence, Spartan women were regarded as being promiscuous by other Greeks, a point which actually lends weight to Rankin’s argument.

We should also consider, as John King does, that

Dio Cassius no doubt intended his account to be shocking to the Roman sensibility, and the accounts of polyandry have subsequently been attacked as no more than propaganda to discredit the Celts as barbarians

Further, this kind of propaganda was used to combat potential ‘lapses in Roman morality’ as shown in the case of a queen of the Brigantes in northern England (cited by King)

Queen Cartimandua's elopement and alleged sexual promiscuity....scandalized Roman society, and was long cited as an exemplar to Roman matrons of the misery awaiting them if they succumbed to barbarian patterns of lasciviousness.

The issue of promiscuity inside and outside of marriage does not seem to have been considered by Roman writers, and one of these writers – Caesar – broke his marriage vows quite a few times. One wonders also if they considered the large number of brothels, prostitutes (male and female) and mistresses that Romans at all social levels indulged in.

It seems fitting to conclude with Rankin’s observation on the whole matter of sexual relationships:

Of any tribe’s customs, those most liable to misunderstanding by alien observers are those which concern sex.

Other sources:

Paul Cartledge, 'The Spartans'

D. M. MacDowell, 'Spartan Law'

Ray Laurence, 'Roman Passions'

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