According to Festus the name Picenum derives from the fact that the insignia of the Sabines who migrated towards Asculum Picenum (present-day Ascoli Piceno) was a woodpecker (picus), a bird sacred to Mars, which aligh t ed on their standard; and from this they took the name Piceni or Picentes. The discovery of various cemeteries scattered between the rivers Foglia to the north and Pescara to the south, in Abruzzi, has revealed the existence – from the eighth to the first centuries B.C. – of what is known as the Picene culture, which flourished in the area in central Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea until it was conquered by the Romans. The most important burial sites, with rich grave goods, have been found at Novilara (province of Pesaro), Numana and Fabriano (province of Ancona), Matelica and Pitino (province of Macerata) and Belmonte Piceno (province of Fermo).
After being the site of a Bronze Age settlement and then an important Picene town, in about 390 B.C. Ancona became the home of a group of refugees who arrived from the Greek colony of Syracuse, in Sicily; living side by side with the Picenes, they set up a thri ving port that traded with the eastern Mediterranean. The nearby town of Numana, an old Picene port, also had important trading relations with the Greek civilization. In the fourth and third centuries B.C., the central and northern Marches up to Esino were occupied by the Gallic tribes known as the Senones. The most important settlements of this people – who produced splendid jewellery now exhibited at the Museo archeologico nazionale delle Marche – have been found at Arcevia and Senigallia. After the battle of Sentinum in 295 B.C. between an alliance of the Gauls and the Samnites and one of the Romans and Picenes, in the area between Camerino and Sassoferrato, the Romans occupied the territory of the Gauls, stressing its cultural distinctiveness by calling it ager Gallicus. Over the next twocenturies they conquered the rest of the region, building roads, such as the Via Flaminia, which still links Rome to Fano, and the Via Salaria, which they used to transport salt from Porto d’Ascoli. Along them, the Romans founded colonies and municipia (provincial cities whose citizens had the privileges of Roman citizens), evidence of which is still clearly visible today in the grid plans of a number of towns (Pesaro, Fano, Senigallia, Jesi, Ascoli Piceno) and in the ancient monuments, such as Trajan’s Arch at Ancona; on the Via Flaminia, the Arch of Augustus at Fano, Vespasian’s tunnel (76 A.D.) in the Gola del Furlo, and bridges, such as Ponte Mallio at Cagli, Ponte Grosso at Pontericcioli (Cantiano area); on the Via Salaria, Porta Gemina and Ponte del Solestà at Ascoli Piceno. The equestrian group in gilded bronze found at Cartoceto di Pergola is particularly interesting, as is the sculpture in bronze attributed to Lysippus found in the waters off Fano and currently on display at the Getty Museum in Malibù, California. Numerous relics from Picene, Gallic and Roman times are to be found in the archaeological museums (Ancona, Arcevia, Urbino, Pesaro, Pergola, Cingoli, Urbisaglia and Ascoli Piceno) and the numerous archaeological parks (Fossombrone, Sassoferrato, Castellone di Suasa, San Severino Marche, Urbisaglia, Falerone and Cupra Marittima).