Knowledge of the early inhabitants of Marche draws mostly from the writings of later Roman historians, who already had limited information for their research. As a result, the character of the ancient indigenous peoples is somewhat hazy.
Prior to the 4th century BC, the first people to inhabit the region in any numbers were the Piceni, a warlike tribe that had the totem of picus (woodpecker), which was also the sacred bird of the war god Mars. The Piceni lived on the eastern seaboard of Marche, and their name survives in their old capital, Ascoli Piceno. In addition, the Umbri tribes, who also dwelt in the neighboring region of Umbria, made some mountainous parts of Marche their home. Both tribes have left us few relics of their passage.
In the 4th century BC, exiles from Magna Graecia colonized much of the region. The most notable city they founded was Ancona, and it was the northernmost point of Greek influence on the Italian peninsula. During the early Middle Ages, the region marked the edge of the Holy Roman Empire.
In the Dark Ages between the 5th and 10th-century, following the collapse of Rome, the people of Marche were too busy defending against foreign invaders to bother much with the finer points of art or architecture. The few churches and monasteries that remain from this period tend to be in the oriental Byzantine style with eclectic touches from more barbarian cultures.
The region's historical peak was achieved in the 15th-century under Federico da Montefeltro, whose court at Urbino became one of Europe's leading cultural centers. Much of Urbino's former grandeur survives, as evidenced in Federico's magnificent Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, now home to a regional art collection.