ASCOLI PICENO1 (anc. Ausculum) a town and episcopal see of the Marches, Italy, the capital of the province of Ascoli Piceno, 17 m. W. of Porto d’ Ascoli (a station on the coast railway, 56 m. S.S.E. of Ancona), and 53 m. S. of Ancona direct, situated on the S. bank of the Tronto (anc. Truentus) at its confluence with the Castellano, 500 ft. above sea-level, and surrounded by lofty mountains. Pop. (1901) town, 12,256; commune, 28,608. The Porta Romana is a double-arched Roman gate; adjacent are remains of the massive ancient city walls, in rectangular blocks of stone 2 ft. in height, and remains of still earlier fortifications have been found at this point (F. Barnabei in Notizie degli scavi, 1887, 252). The church of S. Gregorio is built into a Roman tetrastyle Corinthian temple, two columns of which and the cella are still preserved; the site of the Roman theatre can be distinguished; and the church and convent of the Annunziata (with two fine cloisters and a good fresco by Cola d’ Amatrice in the refectory) are erected upon large Roman substructures of concrete, which must have supported some considerable building. Higher up is the castle, which now shows no traces of fortifications older than medieval; it commands a fine view of the town and of the mountains which encircle it. The town has many good pre-Renaissance buildings; the picturesque colonnaded market-place contains the fine Gothic church of S. Francesco and the original Palazzo del Comune, now the prefecture (Gothic with Renaissance additions). The cathedral is in origin Romanesque,2 but has been much altered, and was stored in 1888 by Count Giuseppe Sacconi (1855-1905). The frescoes in the dome, of the same date, are by Cesare Mariani. The cope presented to the cathedral treasury by Pope Nicholas IV. was stolen in 1904, and sold to Mr J. Pierpont Morgan, who generously returned it to the Italian government, and it was then placed for greater safety in the Galleria Corsini at Rome. The baptistery still preserves its ancient character; and the churches of S. Vittore and SS. Vincenzo ed Anastasio are also good Romanesque buildings. The fortress of the Malatesta, constructed in 1349, has been in the main destroyed; the part of it which remains is now a prison. The present Palazzo Comunale, a Renaissance edifice, contains a fine museum, chiefly remarkable for the contents of prehistoric tombs found in the district (including good bronze fibulae, necklaces, amulets, &c., often decorated with amber), and a large collection of acorn-shaped lead missiles (glandes) used by slingers, belonging to the time of the siege of Asculum during the Social War (89 B.C.). There is also a picture gallery containing works by local masters, Pietro Alamanni, Cola d’ Amatrice, Carlo Crivelli, &c. The bridges across the ravines which defend the town are of considerable importance; the Ponte di Porta Cappucina is a very fine Roman bridge, with a single arch of 71 ft. span. The Ponte di Cecco (so named from Cecco d’ Ascoli), with two arches, is also Roman and belongs to the Via Salaria; the Ponte Maggiore and the Ponte Cartaro are, on the other hand, medieval, though the latter perhaps preserves some traces of Roman work. Near Ascoli is Castel Trosino, where an extensive Lombard necropolis of the 7th century was discovered in 1895; the contents of the tombs are now exhibited in the Museo Nazionale delle Terme at Rome (Notizie degli scavi, 1895, 35).
The ancient Asculum was the capital of Picenum, and it occupied a strong position in the centre of difficult country. It was taken in 268 B.C. by the Romans, and the Via Salaria was no doubt prolonged thus far at this period; the distance from Rome is 120 m. It took a prominent part in the Social War against Rome, the proconsul Q. Servilius and all the Roman citizens within its walls being massacred by the inhabitants in 90 B.C. It was captured after a long siege by Pompeius Strabo in 89 B.C. The leader, Judacilius, committed suicide, the principal citizens were put to death, and the rest exiled. The Roman general celebrated his triumph on the 25th of December of that year. Caesar occupied it, however, as a strong position after crossing the Rubicon; and it received a Roman colony, perhaps under the triumvirs, and became a place of some importance. In A.D. 301 it became the capital of Picenum Suburbicarium. In 545 it was taken by Totila, but is spoken of by Paulus Diaconus as the chief city of Picenum shortly afterwards. From the time of Charlemagne it was under the rule of its bishops, who had the title of prince and the right to coin money, until 1185, when it became a free republic. It had many struggles with Fermo, and in the 15th century came more directly under the papal sway.
See N. Persichetti in Romische Mitteilungen (1903), 295 seq.(T. As.)
1 The epithet distinguishes it from Ascoli Satriano (anc. Ausculum), which lies 19 m. S. of Foggia by rail.
2 It contains a fine polyptych by Carlo Crivelli (1473).
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