The Caracena name in history

© Fernando Caracena 2012

Photo: The Caracena coat of arms:<br />
En gules, una torre, de plata, con un ave pasante, de su color. Tres plumas de avestruz.<br />

The Caracena name existed in the ancient civilizations before people used surnames in the current sense. One of the first ways of using a surname was to append the name of one's father, for example: Erik Thorvaldsson (son of Thorvald), known in history as Erik the Red, was the father of Leif Ericson, whose son carried the name Leifson, etc. At some time in history, people kept the same surname through generations. The descendants of a Leif were forever known as by the surname, Leifson. Another way that people acquired surnames is through place names. Such topographic names are called toponymic.  The Caracena surname is toponymic.

Caracena is an ancient Mediterranean name, perhaps of Greek origin. There is an ancient archaeological site near the town of Chania on the Island of Crete(video), called Caracena Cavern.

Caracena is also the name of a tribe that formed part of the Harpini group in pre-Roman Italy. The name may have been transplanted to Italy during the time of the Greek empire. The plural form, Caraceni, is the more common form of the surname in Italy, but the surname, Caracena, also appears. The following quote is taken from the above Caracena refernce:

Delle tre tribù sannitiche: Caracena, Pentra e Caudina sui monti di Vitulano si stanziarono i Sanniti Caudini che occupavano la valle chiusa tra i monti di Vitulano al Nord e quelli di Suessola a Sud.

La capitale del Sannio Caudino fu la città di Caudium.


The Caracena tribe was part of the Samnites, who existed in south central Italy several hundred years B. C., and werer related to the Sabines, whose women according to history contributed to the founding of the city of Rome. See the following quote from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

The eastern Italics

A great part of the central and southern Italian peninsula was occupied in protohistoric and historic times by populations forming a vast ethnic and linguistic unit—the eastern Italics or Umbro-Sabellians. To the south, in the mountains of the Abruzzo, lived the Samnites, who later spread into Campania, Lucania, and what is now Calabria. In the centre were the Vestini, Paeligni, Marrucini, Marsi, Aequi, Volsci, and Sabini. Farther north lived the Umbri. The origin and relationship of all these peoples is unclear. Ancient ethnographic traditions bearing on central Italy link the Samnites to the Sabines and the Sabines to the Umbri, locating their primitive centre of dispersion in the Rieti basin and in the area of Amiternum. Their diffusion was attributed to the mass emigration of an entire generation in search of a new homeland (so-called sacred spring).


The Samnites from Molise (the Caraceni, the Pentri, and the Frentani) in the 5th and 4th centuries BC occupied Campania--where they vanquished Etruscans and Greeks and assumed from the local tribes the name Opici, or Osci--as well as Lucania (with the Hirpini or Lucani), reaching what is now Calabria--where they took the name Bruttii--and finally Sicily. Defeated by Rome in the Samnite wars (4th and early 3rd centuries BC), the Samnites tried for the last time, in the period of the Social War (90-83 BC), to counterpose to the Romans an Italic nationality of their own. A considerable difference existed between the culture of the mountain Samnites--organized in confederate tribes centred on fortified villages and in the 5th and 4th centuries still retaining aspects of the "iron culture"--and the high civilization of the Campani and Lucani established in the ancient cities of Capua, Nola, Nocera, and Paestum and dominated by Greek and Etruscan influence.


A member of the ancient warlike tribes inhabiting the mountainous centre of southern Italy. These tribes, who spoke Oscan and were probably an offshoot of the Sabini, apparently referred to themselves not as Samnite but by the Oscan form of the word, which appears in Latin as Sabine .

Four cantons formed a Samnite confederation: Hirpini, Caudini, Caraceni, and Pentri. The league probably had no federal assembly, but a war leader could be chosen to lead a campaign. Although allied with Rome against the Gauls in 354 BC, the Samnites were soon involved in a series of three wars (343-341, 316-304, and 298-290) against the Romans. The Samnites, though intermittently successful, were finally defeated and surrounded by Latin colonies.

Although reduced and depopulated, the Samnites later helped Pyrrhus and Hannibal against Rome. They also fought from 90 BC in the Social War and later in the civil war against Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who defeated them at the of the Colline Gate (82 BC).

The longest and most important inscription of the Samnite dialect is the small bronze Tabula Agnonensis, which is engraved in full Oscan alphabet. “


An Italian wine labled Caracena (video), is made from grapes grown in the Samnio district of Italy.


Lending support to a Greek origin of the name 'Caracena' is the fact that it was given to an area of Alexander the Great's conquest at the mouth of the Tigris Euphrates River. It was called the Caracena Kingdom, and a major city was named Alexandria Caracena. A friend suggested that Caracena was derived from the word Saracen[a]. I think that perhaps it is the other way around.


Caracena was transferred to Spain by occupying Romans

In February 1998, a friend took me from Madrid to the province of Soria, where I met the mayor of the town of Caracena (Ildefonso Valverde Lozano) coming up the street on a donkey. We chatted for a while. He told me that originally the town had not been named Caracena. He could not remember the original name, but it had been changed to Caracena after being retaken from the Moors. A legend has it that the name owes its existence to the manner in which the town was taken by surprise from the Arabs during their supper1. However, according to a rabbi Cassorla’s notes that flashed briefly on the Internet several years ago, the town of Cazorla in southern Spain had originally been called Caracena (or perhaps Carcacena), then its name was changed to Cazorlaafter its reconquest. The Spaniards retook the town of Cazorla from the Moors in 1232 AD. Actually, Caracena and Carcacena appear to be two different versions of the original Roman name, as is suggested by one Portuguese reference to the marqués de Caracena as “marqués de Carcacena” in referring to the battle of Montes Claros. Both forms of the surname are found in Brazil.

In Spain, I was told that during the reconquista (the retaking of Spain from the invading Moors) Spanish populations that had lived under Moorish rule were exchanged for those that had inhabited northern provinces, thereby insuring the loyalty of people near the frontier. Since, the town of Cazorla was large enough to have two castles and a palace, it was larger than any of the towns that now bear the name Caracena or its derivatives. Should its population have been relocated to Soria after its retaking, and if the citizens of that town wished to take their town name with them, then the population may have had to be split up into several smaller towns, each of which incorporated Caracena into their new town's name. Perhaps that is the origin of the various Caracena towns: Caracena, Caracena del Valle and Caracenilla [little Caracena].

In Spain there are two common sources for toponyminc surnames: nobility and Jews. The town of Caracena in Soria had both a castle and a Jewish ghetto. Various levels of nobility  used the  title 'don' and appended 'de Caracena' to their surname: knights and lords of that castle and town, señores de Caracena. The area around the town was eventually elevated to a marquesado (like a county), and the title of Marques de Caracena was created for the nobility who owned, defended and collected taxes from, that town. Before Colombus sailed, Spain had seen mass conversions of the Jews, particularly after the pogroms of the 1390s. At that time, Jews and converts were displaced from their native towns. Some of them walked away with the name of their native town as their surname or, as part of their surname.

Thus there are three sources for the Caracena surname: the major nobility (grandes de España),  the minor nobility, hidalgos (gentlemen) and caballeros (knights), and the Jews who added the place name of their home town to their surname.


1When taken by surprise by the Christians, the Arabs occupying the castle said, “Pues esta noche nos a costado cara cena.”

This entry was posted in Caracena, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *