The Piceno people, also called Picenti, began to differentiate themselves from other Italic populations during the Iron Age. They had control over a vast area of the Middle Adriatic between the regions of the Marches and Abruzzo from the beginning of the ninth century BC up until the conclusion of the Roman expansionist invasion. Recent studies don’t make mention of a movement en masse of nearby populations, but rather a fusion of diversified provenience and cultures that only after much time gave life to the autochthonous people that we now call the Piceni, with Ascoli as their capital. The interest that the Romans had in dominating this area provoked a rebellion in the year 269 BC that succeeded, in spite of the defeats that Ascoli suffered, to conserve the city’s independence as civitas foederata.
The name “Ascoli”
Various theories exist regarding the origin of the city’s name. According to the Latin poet Silio Italic, the Pelasgi – a Greek population – led by King Aesis, had settled along the Adriatic coast and intermingled with the pre-existing populations that were present in the Piceno territory from before the neo-eneolithic age, making their settlement the present-day hill of the Annunziata, which is called still to this day Pelasgic Hill. From the root “as” taken from the mythical king’s name, one can possibly explain the place names such as Ascoli, Aso, Iesi.
… and the name Piceno
According to the version recounted by Strabone and Pliny the Younger, the Sabine peoples made their appearance in this territory in the instance of a ritual migration known as the primavera sacra.
In this voyage, guided by a woodpecker (picchio) – a bird sacred to Mars – or by Pico, mythical king and son of Saturn, one may explain the origin of the name Piceno.
At the start of year 91 BC another s event made its mark on the relations between Romans and the Piceni: the outbreak of the “Social War”, fought by the Italic peoples for the right to gain Roman citizenship. Ascoli played a fundamental role in that it signaled the beginning of the revolt. After the assassination of the Proconsol Quinto Caio Servilio and along with him all of the Romans having residence in Ascoli, Rome reacted by sending an army commanded by Gneo Pompeo Strabone; the defense was strenuous and the city capitulated only in the year 89 BC following a lengthy siege.
Evidence of the battles between Romans and Ascolans are the many acorn missiles made of lead that have been found along the Castellano Torrent and currently conserved in Ascoli’s Archeological Museum. Of particular interest are those that bear inscriptions, among which one that exhibits for the first time the name Italia.
The Piceno Civilization
The finds that came forth from the excavation in the territory – pottery, armaments, jewelry, etc. – are exhibited in grand quantity at the Archeological Museum.
The Stone Tablet of Castignano
One of the most interesting artifacts conserved in the Archeological Museum is the funerary stone tablet of Castignano, which presents a bustofedric inscription (that is, the writing changes direction on alternating lines), it is of a son who admonishes whoever dare attempt to profane the father’s (pateresh) and mother’s (materesh) tomb.
Where to stay in Ascoli Piceno
Hotels, B&Bs, apartments and country houses: search and make reservations here.