The Origin of the Caracena Family of Spain

©Fernando Caracena 2016

Ancient Caracena of Jaen

A previous post, The Caracena name in history, discusses the origin of that surname from Mediterranean sources, such as tribal and place names, which are thousands of years old. 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 as claimed by others, Carcacena) in Roman times, then its name was changed to some Arab name after being conquered by the Moors, and after its reconquest, was changed to its present name.Later a town in northern Spain, after being retaken from the Moors, was renamed from its Arabic designation to Caracena.

The Moorish Conquest of Spain

The invading Muslims had swept northward unusually rapidly across Spain starting in 711 AD until encountering strong resistance from Christians in the Cantabrian Mountains at the Battle of Covadonga (718 or 722), where the remnants of the Visigothic nobility fled and allied themselves with the Asturians after their defeat by the Moors. Together with these mountain people, they gave the Moors their first major defeat.

The rapid conquest of Spain by the Moors, and earlier by Germanic tribes, says something about the character of the Spanish population. The rapid halt of Islam in the northern mountains also says something about the character of northern Spaniards.

Some Spanish Anthropology

Spain has played a rich anthopological role in European prehistory. In the stone ages, it may have represented a favored route of European migrations in the face of advancing and retreating glaciers. Our more certain knowledge of the people of Spain comes from written history. The ancient Greeks called the people that they encountered along the Mediterranean shore, Iberians. Who were these people? Why did they not speak an Indo-European language? Their language became Indo-European when as a result of  conquest by the Romans, they adapted Latin, which became the basis of the various languages of Spain. Iberians however,  were not the only ancient people of Spain.

The Celts had migrated into the north-western part of Spain and across Portugal to the Pacific Ocean. These people were known to the Roman conquerors as Celtiberians. Today, there are traces of this culture in northern Spain, particularly in the province of Galicia, where one can sometimes see men dressed in kilts and hear the sound of bagpipes, and more conventional instruments. Carlos Nunes played some of his Galican music at a Library of Congress concert.   The ancient Celts did speak an Indo-European language.

There was also a group of people that the Romans called the Vascones, who were the ancient Basques that lived in the Pyrenees and along the rivers and valleys draining from these mountains. Gascony in France is an area once dominated by Basques. Because the Basques still speak a non-Indo-European language, some people think that they may be remnants of the original Iberians. A song sung in it, can give the listener an idea of the sound of the Basque language Their distinct features that makes it unlikely that they are remnants of the ancient Iberians of the central Spain. It is more likely, as some scholars in the British Isles claim that the Basques represent an ancient root that is common to those in Northwestern Europe, which goes back to the hunter gathering Cro Magnon people. These people living in relative isolation  of the Pyrenees an blood group RH- preserve a culture that is perhaps much older than that of the rest of Europe. Their ancient dances are also suggestive of this.


An Ethnic Divide made Spain an easy Conquest

The bulk of the population in the southern half of Spain at the time of the Visigothic invasion was a Hispano-Roman group of pacifist farmers, shepherds and town's people, over which swept the waves of conquerors. The Visigoths, a Romanized tribe of Germanic barbarians, were the previous overlay of conquerors, which once defeated in the South by the Moors, retreated rapidly to their northern stronghold in Spain, into an area that they and their allies defended strongly. The Visigoths had a history of fierce fighting. They had invaded and sacked Rome, after which they settled in South-Western France. Meanwhile, other Gothic tribes had invaded an taken over Northwestern Spain. The Visigoths drove out these other Goths: the Suebi, the Vandals and the Alans into North Africa.

The Visigoths generally held themselves aloof from the Hispano-Roman population, establishing a pattern that became the basis for the idea of nobility in Spain. The Visigoths, Germanic Northern Europeans, were very light complected compared to Hispano-Romans (see post on the pigmentation  of Europeans). You could see the blueness of their veins through their white, transparent skin. The hispano-Romans were dark and their veins were not that visible. The Visigoths were the original "blue bloods". This early distinction in Spain between noble and commoner was almost racial.

The defeat of the Muslims in the valleys of the Cantabrian Mountains marked the beginning of the Reconquista in Spain. Afterwards, the Spaniards of the northern kingdom of Asturias began the prolonged and difficult task of retaking the Iberian territory from the Moors.

Around 1000 AD, Spaniards captured the area of the Duero River near the present town of Caracena from the Muslims. Soon thereafter the town was renamed from its Arab name to its present name of Caracena. The Duero River area was devoid of people (called in Spanish, un despoblado) because it had been a no-man's-land. These despoblados were repopulated by the efforts of adelantados, who were noblemen or rich people (ricos) licensed by the king to enter an empty area with settlers and given the right to be its governor. Castles abandoned by the Moors also required restaffing and re-fortification. By the way, the techniques  of conquest and resettlement learned in this part of history, later employed in the spread of the Spanish Empire in the New World.

Knights and other nobles were invited to join the battle of reconquest, even by the pope, who declared the first crusade against the infidels in Spain. Article:

The church [in Spain] consisted of several influential organizations. The most important were the monasteries and the military religious orders. Monasteries participated in the Christian reconquest, and several bishops and abbots led armies. As the idea of a crusade grew in popularity, the pope encouraged another religious institution in Spain, the military orders. The most important of these included the orders of Santiago, Calatrava, and Alcantara. Knights in the orders took religious vows to fight the infidels, and they played a significant military role in the reconquest between 1150 and 1250. The orders were granted tracts of land to support the reconquest, and those who were admitted gained the status of nobles. Later, the orders grew wealthy and lost their original purpose.

Knights arrived in the Caracena area from various quarters: from Asturias came those who were largely of Visigothic ancestry; from Navarra came Basques; and others arrived from various European Countries, most likely France. Some knight arriving in the town and training at the castle was granted a coat of arms bearing the name Caracena, which is the registered coat of arms of the Carcena family descended from this knight. The original knight appended the name "de Caracena" to his surname, whatever it was. In those days a surname was a modified form of a person's father's name, for example (father->surname): Rodrigo->Rodriguez Fernando->Fernandez,  Gonzalo->Gonsalez, etc.  At some point in history, this practice stopped and the surnames were frozen an passded from father to son unmodified. Some of my ancestors carried a separate surname, to which the title, "de Caracena", was added.  At some time in history, my ancestors dropped their own surnames in favor of the more prestigious title, Caracena, which was used as their own surname.

File:Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.jpg

"La batalla de las Navas de Tolosa" is a painting by Francisco de Paula van Halen (1814-1887), which hangs on display in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. From Wikimedia Commons, it is public domain in the United States of America. This battle took place on 16 July 1212 and was an important turning point in the Reconquista.

History shows that Caracena knights were involved in several significant battles of the Reconquista. As the warring front advanced, so did the Spanish frontier. The family, being a warrior class, advanced southward with the advance of that frontier, until by the end of the Reconquista, in 1492, the family was located in Southern Spain. No doubt some of the fighting men of the de Caracena family were present at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.

The importance of all the above history to the history of our family is that it gives an approximate date to the origin of our particular surname around 1000 AD. By the early 1500s, the last of the Moors had been driven out of Spain, and many of the de Caracena family were residing in Southern Spain, particularly in the outskirts of Seville, where they were in position to set out for the New World in search of adventure and wealth.

The nearly 500 years of service in the Reconquista implies that my ancestors were a genetic mix different from the village Spaniard. The soldiering families tended to intermarry, forming an ethnic group distinct from the local population and the Moors that were left behind. This group consisted of a nucleus of northern Spaniards, mixed with an assortment of adventurous Europeans. B. Netanyahu in his voluminous book, "History of the Inquisition", suggests that Jews in Spain had gone into many professions. Some even had become knights. So the genetic mix of my ancestors may have included some Jews.

Twenty Generations

Allowing twenty five years per generation, some twenty generations of Caracenas may have been involved in the reconquista. During that time, whatever their original ethnic background, they would have married into other such warring families. When the reconquista was over, they were part of a residue of Spaniards who had this common military background and intermarriage.

There are three sources for the modern Caracena surname: the major nobility (grandes de España),  the minor nobility, hidalgos (gentlemen) and caballeros (knights), and the Jews who also acquired the surname by adding the place name to their own surname.


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