Not much is known about the first inhabitants of Le Marche, who lived along the coast as far back as 23,000 years ago. The first archaeological evidence is from the Piceni tribe, whose 3000-year-old artefacts can be seen in the Museo Archeologico in Ascoli Piceno. The Romans invaded the region early in the 3rd century BC, and dominated the area for almost 700 years. At the fall of the Roman Empire, Le Marche was sacked 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 for good. On Christmas Day 800 AD, Pope Leo III crowned him emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. However, he was never 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, Le Marche entered into 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 stayed that way until Italian unification in 1861.