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Culture: History & Civilisation

‘The Capestrano Warrior’ (6th Century BC), a nearly 7ft rock and marble Piceni sculpture.

Photo by Sailko, licensed under CC BY 3.0

Heart of the ancient Piceno civilisation (900-400 BC)

Archaeology has revealed human settlements in Le Marche which date from at least 400,000 years ago. This region is characterised by the civilization of the Piceni, a pre-Roman, unique population. According to ancient Roman historians, such as Pliny and the Greek Strabo, the Piceni were a group of young Sabines who crossed the Appenines about 9 centuries B.C. The Piceni settled in a territory corresponding to the Le Marche region and the coastal part of Abruzzo, including Pescara. They were clever farmers and skilful craftsmen, capable of creating their own civilization and a good quality of life.

The Piceni owe their name to the woodpecker (picus in Latin), their symbol, itself a witness of a tradition in processing wood. Their culture emerged long before Rome and was enriched by the contribution of other populations who settled in the area and then integrated completely with the Piceni, themselves becoming Piceni. Pelasgians inhabited the Aegean Sea before the invention of the Greek language; at least some of them left for the Piceno after the eruption which destroyed the island of Thera (Santorini); then came the Liburnians, who later taught the Romans how to build ships and become invincible seamen. They came from the other side of the Adriatic Sea and founded the towns of Castrum Truentum (San Benedetto del Tronto) and Liburnum (Livorno), important ports even today. Piceni were also traders of goods, including metals, terracotta and amber, the latter came from northern Europe, in an area by the Baltic Sea. Fighting for their independence, they formed a big army to try to stop Roman expansion, but after few battles were defeated and became an important part of the Roman empire (268 B. C.), till its end.

Arc of Trajan, Ancona (114 – 117 AD),

Photo by Derekambrosio, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Piceni and the Romans

The last battle was fought not far from the mouth of the river Tronto, and the Romans took advantage of an earthquake which took place just before it, when the two armies were facing each other. Soldiers of both armies were frightened, but the Roman commander, Sempronius the Wise, promptly reared his horse back and cried that it was a sign of the earthquake goddess, Tellure. The Roman soldiers instantly took this as a battle cry and eventually won the battle so the Piceno became part of the Empire (V Regio). Rome gained many riches in terms of food and associated lifestyle.

Historians and writers of ancient Rome, like Pliny (The Elder) or Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis) wrote that three things were excellent in the Piceno: olives, good bread, and pork sausages. Marcus Valerius Martialis also mentioned the Pane Picentino (i.e., Piceno), a cake that required nine days of preparation and which could be stored. Once prepared, people ate it after dipping it into milk and honey.

In about seven centuries, the Piceno gave Rome illustrious personalities like Titus Betutius Barrus, who according to Cicero was considered the best orator of his time; Ventidius Bassus, who fought and beat the Parthians (Persians), and Lucius Flavius Silva Nonius Bassus, conqueror of the famous fortress of Masada (Israel). Around Fermo and its territory, the Romans founded a new colony, giving land to their veterans who could live the rest of their lives with their families. Those land partitions have preserved precious biodiversity today, as each property had its own wheat field, orchard, vineyard, and kitchen garden. The Romans did much building in the Piceno towns including roads and cisterns, many of which are still in very good condition like those in Fermo (Firmum Picenum). They also built theatres, one of them in Falerone (falerius Picenum) remained and used as a theatre today, even after two millennia.

Roman Necropolis, Montefiore dell’Aso

(1st - 2nd Century AD)

Amphitheatre, Urbisaglia (2nd Century BC)

Photo by FAM1885, licensed under

CC BY-SA 3.0


Roman Gilt Bronzes of Cartoceto di Pergola (50-30 BC)

6th Century Piceni Breastplate

From the Medieval Period to the Unification of Italy

The Romans dominated the area for almost 700 years. At the fall of the Roman Empire, Le Marche was plundered by the Goths, Vandals, Ostrogoths and, finally, the Lombards.

In the middle of the 8th century AD, Pope Stephen II decided to call upon foreigners to oust the ungodly Lombards. The first to lead the charge of the Frankish army was Pepin the Short, but it was his rather tall son Charlemagne who finally took back control from the Lombards. On Christmas Day 800 AD, Pope Leo III crowned him emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. However, he was not recognised as such by the Eastern Byzantine church, which had control of much of Le Marche’s Adriatic coast at the time.

After Charlemagne’s death (A.D.814.), Le Marche entered centuries of war, anarchy, and general Dark Ages mayhem. In central Italy, two factions developed, that of the Guelphs – who backed papal rule – and the Ghibellines – who backed rule by the emperor. The Guelph faction eventually won out and Le Marche became part of the Papal States, held under close watch by a succession of popes, while much of Europe was busy enjoying the Renaissance. It remained that way until Italian unification in 1861.

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