History of Cagnano Varano

See Cagnano Varano guide for highlights and historic monuments

The small town of Cagnano Varano is situated on a hill which, according to tradition, was the seat of the Italic town of Uria, mentioned in Ancient Roman times by Pliny (23-79 AD) and Strabo (58-25 BC). A. Zaccagni Orlandini tells some stories of the city:

"[...] Cagnano is about one mile from Lake Varano. They say that its origin is ancient, but Giustiniani found no documents proving this. Certainly, under the dominion of the Norman kings it was given in fief to famous people, along with other lands of the Gargano, and it was then granted to the Cernitore family, then to the Della Marra de Barulo...

... In the early 17th century it belonged to the family of De Vargas; King Alfonso ceded his rights about the town to his mother-in-law, the Marquise de Arpaia, who ruled it as a duchy. Later it came to Marra, to Vargas Caravaglio and then to the Roman family of the Pallavicino [...]"  [1].

Ancient Cagnano Varano

About the antiquity of the city, recent studies certainly have more contemporary data than Zaccagni Orlandini. For example, we know that Cagnano Varano:

"developed especially since the third century AD, following the immigration of people of one or more coastal centers abandoned for reasons still not too clear (...) Cagnano Varano consists of an old centre, located at some distance from the lake in an elevated position" [2].

Indeed, as regards the ancient site of the town, it seems to be the ancient settlement of Uria, and:

"we should recall the discovery of a Roman necropolis under Cagnano Varano, which is related to the town of Uria. In the area, as early as 1878, there were found graves, coins and ornaments during the construction of a road" [3].

More explicit still is E. Rossi, who affirms that the town, which may have been destroyed by an earthquake, is located by most scholars at the bottom of Lake Varano, between Cagnano and 'Fornaro Tower', in accordance with  Strabo [4].

Origins of the name Cagnano Varano

According to the major linguistic studies of G.B. Pellegrini, "Cagnano" is a "praedial place-name" ie the name of the town is derived from a 'proper' name:

"[...] the praedial place-names ... are very common and often allow us to draw inferences of the geographical and historical character (of a place) and about the process and the intensity (or lack) of the Romanization. These names, generally readily identifiable, are accompanied with traces of centuriation (the Roman practice of formally dividing up the countryside). By archaeological study, we can derive important clues or evidence, even in the absence of direct historical sources ...

... The praedial place-name normally consists of an anthroponym, almost always a noble Roman name (...) accompanied by a suffix. One of the most common suffixes is ‘-anum,-a,-ani.’ In this sense "Cagnano" comes fromy the anthroponym "Cannius", which gave rise to various place names, like "Cagnano" in Vicenza, Cagnano Amiterno (Aquila), Cagnano Varano (Foggia), Pontecagnano Faiano (Sassari), and many in France[...]" [5].

The historical significance of praedial-place names was also highlighted by R. Ruta, who, in an article about the Romanization of the Italian regions, wrote about the use of praedial place names.

"[...] their use prevailed from the early Imperial Age, to identify the 'Fundi' (agricultural lands) or 'Praedia' with names derived from those of the former landowners; the place names serve to shed new light on agricultural structures in the area of Bari and Puglia in the Roman age...

... Moreover, the territory of Apulia was particularly pleasing to the Romans, since it, according to the geographer Strabo, 'could produce large quantities of everything (...) and you see beautiful pastures and tree plantations.’ Here some colonies of veterans were founded, and the land confiscated from conquered local peoples were divided with the system of 'centuriatio' and assigned to soldiers as a reward for military fatigues' " [6].

the great linguist G. Rohlfs is also in perfect agreement with the idea of a noble praedial place-name, and observes the presence of some praedial anthroponyms (showing ancient Romans landowners) in Sicily:

"[...] In the province of Messina, we have four names formed with the names of ancien Latins landowners, but with the Greek form of the Latin suffix  (i.e. the names are accented on the last syllable), that are ‘Cagnan-ò’ (Cagnano),' Frezzan-ò', ‘Magnan-ò’ and ‘Simiglian-ò’. In fact we are in an area where the Greeks had the strength to resist from the ancient times until the 12th century [...]" [7].

Rohlfs also note that in the names of "Cagnan-ò' and ‘Frezzan-ò’ there are contained the Latin names of landowners, i.e. “Canius” (or “Cannius”) and “Flaccius”.

In conclusion,based on these important studies, "Cagnano" means "land belonging to Canius”.

Among other things, the excavations have also unearthed some stones with the name "Canius" precisely in an Italian place called  "Cagnano" near "Amiternum" (an ancient city founded by the Sabines, near L'Aquila):

"The family name 'Canius' which is the origin of the Cagnano name near “Amiternum”, was found engraved on a stone tomb dedicated to “Quintus Canius C.F. Labeo” and his wife, apparently resident in the area" [8].

Close to this hypothesis, which certainly has a good chance being correct, there is another very attractive and also ultimately relevant idea. According to this hypothesis, the etymology of Cagnano derives from a ‘Ca-Janus’  (“house of Janus”), with reference to the fact that the worship of the God Janus was particularly widespread in the Gargano. Michele Vocino, in a study of the early 20th century, recalled that the tradition tells us that "Gargano" comes from "Janus":

"[...] The tradition derives ‘Gargano’ from the Hebrew-Phoenician word 'charchar' which means 'heat', 'fire'. But most critics found the word "Gargano" to be a corruption of the Phoenician-Latin phrase 'Argo Iani', i.e. 'Ship of Janus' " [9].

Among other things, to further strengthen this hypothesis, right next to Cagnano Varano some coins were found with the effigy of Janus:

"[...] In the North, towards the Cagnano-Carpino road, a large building was found (...) Here, there are some bones, iron nails, a bone awl worked, and a coin (an 'axis librarius') imprinted with above Janus-Faced" [10].

Despite the ample evidences in favour of the cult of Janus in the Gargano, it is quite hard to believe that "only" the place of Carcano in Puglia has this etymology, while the word "Carcano", widespread in Italy, refers, in "all" Italian regions, to the praedial place-name "Canius”. We observe only that the statistics are certainly "against" the possible hypothesis that Cagnano comes from "Janus".

In the nineteenth century, next to the word "Carcano" was added "Varano", because of its proximity to Lake Varano, a source of income for fishermen and for local tourism.

See also the travel guide for Cagnano Varano visitor information.


1. See Zaccagni A. Orlandini, " Natural, Historical and Statistical Chorography of  Italy”, Florence, 1845:  107-108

2. see L. Pedreschi," The Lagoon Centers of the Italian Peninsula," in " Culture and School " , 1991, No. 117: 137 and 140

3. See “Greek and Roman Miscellaneous”, 1965, Vol. 21: 215

4. “Uria Garganica” "in" Third Greek and Roman Miscellanea”, Rome, 1971: 211 ff.

5. See G.B. Pellegrini, "Italian toponymy" Hoepli, 1990: 305-311

6. See R. Ruta," The Land as an Archive, a Research of Historical Geography ", in" Culture and School ", 1991, No. 117: 134

7. See G. Rohlfs," The place names in Romance languages”, Gunter Narr Verlag, 1985:  14 and note 8

8. see P. Bonacini "Garfagnana by the Lombards at the End of the ‘Marca Canossana’", Aedes Muratoriana, 1996: 10

9. See M. Vocino," The Spur of Italy ", Scotti, 1914: 75

10. See A. D'Amicis, "Excavations in the 1953 in  Carpino Plain”, Scorpio, 1958: 59