History of Caronia

See Caronia guide for highlights and historic monuments

The very early history of Caronia is fascinating because of the important role it played for Sicily and is covered in some detail below the more 'recent' history, simply because little actual trace exists of the earlier settlements here.

From the 5th century BC to the 2nd century BC

After the dominance of Syracuse and Athens it was the turn of Carthage. In the 5th century BC the territory of the Nebrodes was garrisoned by mercenaries native to Campania, engaged by Himilcone (died 394 BC), who in this way intended to gain control of the north coast.

Kale Akte was teetering in the midst of the Syracusans and Carthaginians strategic interests. It remained neutral between the opposing parties, taking care to strengthen its economy.

After the death of Ducetius, particularly from the 4th to the 2nd century BC until the Roman times we do not have significant historical data.

Ancient Roman Caronia

With the Roman conquest of Sicily, a new historical phase opened for "Kalakte.” The discovery of numerous coins, referring to the period 241-210 BC, shows that in Roman times the city had the right to coin money, which testifies to the importance and prosperity of the city in the early Roman period.

After the victory of the Romans in the First Punic War it was regarded as a “decumana city", that is forced to pay an annual tribute to Rome. The city also had an intense cultural life, and among its most distinguished citizens tradition recalls the name of Caecilius of Calacte (1st century BC), author of the famous treatise "On the Sublime." G. Grote wrote that:

“the Greek narrators of the Augustan age, Dionysius of Halikarnassus (late first century BC) and Krekilius of Kalakte, not only blamed the style of Plato (429-347 BC) for excessive, overstrained, and misplaced metaphors, but Krekilius goes so far as to declare a decided preference for Lysias (445-380 BC) over Plato [8].

During the Imperial Age, Calacte was a "stipendiaria" city, or a tributary town subject to pay an “annual taxation” to Rome.

Byzantines, Arabs and Normans - After the Roman era

With the arrival of the Byzantines the economic life of the small town was focused primarily in the town of “Marina di Caronia”, which was later abandoned with the arrival of the Arabs. With regard to the position of the village during the Byzantine era, much light has been thrown by the excavations carried out around 1999:

"[...] Although limited in extent, the excavation has provided interesting data about the Hellenistic settlement of Kale Akte. It’s likely that the town of the 5th century was at the top of the hill around the castle, but on this time we do not know anything. Putting together the data, we conclude that from the second century BC to the early Imperial Age the residential neighborhoods of the city were extended on the steep slopes of the hill below the summit (...) Other (...) excavations under the medieval city, could provide some important information about the original settlement founded in the fifth century BC by Ducetius [...]" [9].

During the Arab period, Calacte became part of the so-called "Valdemone”, one of three major jurisdictions into which the Arabs divided Sicily. "Qaruniah" in the Arab period appeared as a small village on the hill, and the population was engaged in agriculture and farming. The Arabs occupied this part of Sicily until 1061.

With the arrival of the Normans, in the period around 1000, the ancient "Kale Akte" or "Calacte" finally took the name "Caronia". Around the 11th century Caronia was still a small village on the hill; the coast was abandoned, although the port, as Al Idrisi (1099-1165) told us, was still in working order:

"Off 12 miles [from Tusa] we meet 'Qaruniah', in which the “Val Demone” starts; and in it stands a fortress from a recent age. 'Qaruniah' owns gardens, water, vines, trees and has a harbour beach; here are set a trap for fishing tuna" [18].

Another mention of Caronia in medieval documents dates back to 1178, in relation to the Abbey of “Santa Maria di Maniace”, near Bronte, at the foot of Etna; the Abbey, which was originally a Basilian Monastery, had already passed for some years to the Benedictine monks in 1174 and it had been subjected to the Benedictine Abbey of Monreale. In the document of 1178, the Archbishop of Messina Nicholas gave Timothy, Abbot of St. Mary of Maniace, jurisdiction over Caronia.

In a document of Frederick III of Aragon (1272-1337), prior to 1266, Caronia is given in fief to the Count Francesco Ventimiglia senior (died 1338). We observe that the investiture of the County of Caronia was very solemn; in front of the monarch in 1354 came Francesco Ventimiglia Junior (died 1391), recounting that:

"at the time of King Frederick III, his father, Francesco Ventimiglia senior (...) asked the king to unite the lands of Collesano, Caronia and Gratteri to make a County. Frederick III agreed to the request and he invested Francesco Ventimiglia 'per Vexillum' and in front of many nobles and his peer group, Collesano, Caronia and Gratteri were annexed to his County." [19].

As we see, the investiture was 'per Vexillum' or, according to ancient feudal rules - a vexillum was given to the Count for each fief.

From the 14th century onwards

Throughout the 14th century Caronia remained in the possession of the Counts Ventimiglia. Later, Caronia was given in fief to the family of the Centelles, and in 1444 to that of the Cardona. In 1544 it passed to the Counts Pignatelli, who held the estate until 1812.

With the abolition of feudalism, Caronia freed itself of all feudal burdens but the castle remained with the Pignatelli family until 1939 [20].

Caronia today concentrates its efforts on nature and resort tourism with the presence of the Nebrodi Park and the beaches of “Marina di Caronia”, “Torre del Lauro” and “Canneto”, but also as a cultural tourist destination, as the medieval town and castle offer tourists many cultural attractions.

Ancient Caronia

The name of Caronia, formerly known as "Kale Akte" (literally “the Beautiful Shore”) is inextricably linked to that of its founder, Ducetius (died 44 BC) and his attempts to steal the Sicules from the overflowing Greek colonization.

In truth the Greeks knew this part of Sicily very well, even before the foundation of Ducetius, and indeed there was an earlier attempt to found a colony on the "Beautiful Shore", but it failed.

First attempt to found Kale Akte

This trial run to found "Kale Akte" was an unsuccesful attempt, and the story was told by Herodotus (5th century BC), according to whom, the Samians, after the failure of the Ionian revolt against the Persians, were encouraged by Zancle to found a new colony in the area called "Kale Akte." They went on to the northern coast of Sicily (about 493 BC) with some Milesians, and with the aim of founding a city. Herodotus wrote:

"[...] The people of Zankle sent some messengers to invite the Ionians to 'Kale Akte', wishing to establish in that place an Ionian city. 'Kale Akte', as it is called, is in Sicily, in the part that overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea. Accepting this prompting, the Samians, sole among the Ionians, with some fugitives from Miletus, set out.

While traveling to Sicily, the Samians arrived in the lands of Locri Epizephiri, in the period in which the people of Zankle and their king, whose name was Scytes, were besieging a Sicilian town which they wanted to conquer. Getting wind of this, the tyrant of Rhegion Anaxilaos (500-476 BC), who was then at war with the Zancleans, joined forces with the Samians, and persuaded them to abandon their journey towards Kale Akte, to seize Zankle, while it was empty of its men

The Samians agreed and they conquered Zankle. When the Zankleans learned that their town had been taken, they returned to rescue it, calling to their aid Hippocrates (died 491 BC), tyrant of Gela, who was their ally. But Hippocrates, when he arrived with his army, put Scytes, Zankle monarch, and his brother Pythogenes in chains for having lost the city and he sent them away to the city of Inyx [...]" [1].

This story of Herodotus foreshadows a very complex reality, in which there came into play the interests of the most powerful Greek cities of Sicily, and in particular the divergent interests of Anaxilaos, the tyrant of Rhegion, which aimed at commercial and political hegemony over the Straits of Messina, and at the possessions of Zancle and Hippocrates of Gela.

Hippocrates had imposed Scytes as a Tyrant of Zancle, who in practice depended on him. When the Samians and the Milesians arrived in Sicily, Anaxilaos convinced them to change ideas and to seize Zancle, which also was unguarded because Scytes was engaged in a siege of a Sicilian town. The Samians and Milesians occupied Zancle.

Scytes asked Hippocrates for a hand to retake the city, but Hippocrates began to side with the Samians and the Milesians, by sending his son Cadmus to govern the city, and removing Scytes from office. The result of this policy was twofold: first Anaxilaos  failed to seize Zancle, which was still controlled by Hippocrates through his son, and on the other hand, the possible foundation of "Kale Akte" was not achieved [2].

So the foundation of the new city was accomplished by Ducetius. Therefore, it is in this context of strong tension between the Greeks among themselves and against the indigenous element formed by the Sicules and by the Sicanians that we should look at the powerful figure of Ducetius and the foundation of "Kale Akte."

The adventure of Ducetius was told by Diodorus (90-27 BC), who wrote:

"[...] Ducetius, after spending a short time in Corinth [in exile], broke the agreements, and with the excuse that the gods had given him a prophetic response for which he would found Kale Akte, sailed to the island with a number of settlers; some Siculians also took part in this adventure, among whom Archonides Prince of Herbita. He [that is ‘Ducetius’], therefore, was occupied in the colonization of Kale Akte. [...]" [3].

Ducetius is seen by some historians as the "champion" of Sicilian nationalism against the pervasive presence of the Greeks in Sicily. Diodorus said that five years before the foundation of Kale Akte, Ducetius met the Sicules in a league to fight against the Greek colonies in eastern Sicily.

His intention was to unify all the indigenous element, pulled together by a kind of anti-Hellenic "nationalism". The Sicules saw Ducetius as the national hero who would lead them to the rescue against the Greeks.

The modern history, despite many doubts on the independence of Ducetius from some Greek-Sicilian cities (such as Syracuse and Agrigento) and even Athens, recognizes that:

“for about a decade, Syracuse and Agrigento did not want or were unable to stem this extraordinary ethnic and social movement, which from the Sicilian town of Menai [the probable birthplace of Ducetius] (...) spread like wildfire to the Hellenized periphery" [4].

Ducetius, in his policy for a self-government in favour of the Sicules, met with a favourable response from Archonides, the founder of "Alaisa" (Tusa), who favored the foundation of "Kale Akte" and it was assumed that their alliance was a kind of primeval "Siculian unity” , but on which we miss the details:

"The action of Ducetius against Motyon (...) had a sure cover thanks to Erbita, whose lord Archonides certainly in 452, as later in 448, was an ally of the Prince of Noai [Ducetius]" [5].

Beyond the "details", we can say with absolute certainty that the “separatist tendencies” of the Sicules was not an ideological fact. We are certain that the Greeks of Sicily, especially in some cities with a strong aristocratic component such as Locri, tended to enslave the Sicules, who of course aimed to avoid this [6]. Musti notes that indigenous people who came from a lowly background:

"by tradition are remembered as the 'Sicules' (...) They were a servile social class for domestic services and services to be performed in the city or nearby of it." [6].

Early mentions of Kale Akte

The name "Kale Akte" is attested to "[...] in a funerary inscription relating to a certain 'Eschilus', son of Apollodorus, native of 'Calacte', who died in the first century AD". "Calacte" is one of the many names of Kale Akte, which over the centuries was called "Kalakta", "Caleate", "Caliate", Calate "," Calao ", “Colan” and ‘Caronia’ [...]".

The bronze coins of 'Kale Akte' appear in emissions after 210 BC as "a head of Athena / owl (with a weight ranging from 8 to 4 grams), a head of Dionysus / bunch of grapes (with a weight ranging from 4 to 2 grams), a head of Apollo / lyre (2-ounce), a head of Heracles / club (about one gram), a head of Hermes / caduceus (about 1 gram and a half) . All the coins quoted the legend 'Kalaktinon'." [7].

Some coins refer to the local characteristics of the territory; for example, the coin with Dionysus and the bunch of grapes would clearly indicate a major source of wealth of Sicily, or the cultivation of the vineyard.

Origins of the name Caronia

With regard to the etymology of Caronia, we can only provide a plausible explanation. Caronia appeared on the maps in the period  around 1000 :

"[...] We can not determine the year of the foundation of Caronia; an Arab Chronicler [Leo the Deacon?] fixed it at 960 (...) In the spoken language, 'Caronia' had different names. In some maps it became  'Callonia', 'Callora', 'Carone', 'Calonia', 'Calor' and 'Cardonia'" [10].

The problem is its meaning, which definitely avoids being immediate to grasp. Normally one says that Caronia is linked to its wood, one of the largest of Sicily and called the "Wood of the Caronie". For example, M. Pasqualino supposed a "calòn lignum," or a "beautiful wood", "so named for its vast wood" [11].

However, this assertion does not dispels the doubts about the fundamental meaning of Caronia. According to Carlo Tagliavini [12]: "it is probable that in the 'koine' Latin language there was the word 'Caronia' [but it is not] proved" and he refers to the Dictionary of W. Meyer-Lübke [13] which under "Caronia" refers to various terms such as " caralnia aus carnalia", from the Latin word "caro" [flesh]. But this definition, although true, does not explain much.

More interesting may instead be a recent suggestion by Philippe Barra, who, under "La charrignerie", observes:

“We note in that place a term derived from 'charogne' [carcass] (from the Vulgar Latin 'Caronia', from 'carnis' [meat]) (...) used in a metaphorical  sense as 'bois' (wood)] [14].

This assumption is acceptable, since in Caronia there is the largest wood of Sicily (and the “Museum of the Wood”). The tourist who goes onto the slopes of Etna, on the Nebrodi and Madonie, is surprised by the expanse of trees.

We think that the etymology linked to the semantic field pertaining to the "wood" is substantially correct. In support of this assumption we will add an early but acute etymological remark of Herri Meier, who derived the name "Caronya" and "Caronia" from Latin "robigo," a term that in some languages has the sense of ‘Corteza de los àrbores’ [tree bark] [15].

On the other hand, historically, the economy of Caronia was tied for centuries to the exploitation of timber, and one of the oldest crafts that were practiced in the town at least until the 1950's was that of carter. In the "Glossarium ad scriptores Mediae et infimae Latinitatis", under "Caronia", we read:

"[...] Caronia. The  square or  street where  the 'Carones' live , or the manufacturers of farm-carts.'[…]” [16].

As written by A. Buttitta, since Caronia had the largest wood of Sicily, every day the carters supplied with timber the surrounding  areas:

"[...] The ovens were fueled with natural combustible, that the shopkeepers bought from the 'carrittera' (carters) and mule drivers (…) Each cart could carry up to ninety firewoods  and until the 50s there were 10-12 carts daily making the cartage" [17].

Although we obviously can not know for certain if it was the late-Latin term "Carones" [indicating the "carters", that is carters the manufacturers] that gave the city its name, or the opposite, we think that also this datum related to the material life of the city and to one of the oldest crafts of Caronia, reinforces the theory that the etymology of "Caronia" is linked to the semantic field of "wood".

See the Caronia travel guide if planning a visit.


1. See Herodotus, 6.22 .2 and 6.23.1-4

2. See about these events L. Pareti, “Storia della regione Lucano-Bruzzia nell'antichità”, Ed. History and Literature, 1997: 206-207

3. See Diodorus, 12.8.1-4

4. See" Athaenaeum ", 1990, Vol 68: 488

5. See “Annali della Scuola normale superiore di Pisa. Classe di lettere e filosofia”, 1977, Volume 7:  1338 footnote 40 and "Mediterraneo Antico", 1999: 191-192

6. See on this aspect about the slavery of the Sicules, the  study by D. Musti, “Sviluppo e crisi di un’oligarchia greca”[" The Development and crisis of a Greek oligarchy"]. in "Studi Storici", 1977, 18: 70

7. See G. Nenci-G. Vallet, , “Bibliografia Topografica della colonizzazione greca in Italia e nelle isole tirreniche” ["Topographical Bibliography of Greek colonization in Italy and the Tyrrhenian islands"], Scuola Normale Superiore, 1977: 8-9

8. See George Grote, “Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates”, London, 1867, Vol. I: 213

9. See M.C. Lentini, Adam Lindhagen and Kristian Goransson, “Excavations at Sicilian Caronia, ancient Kale Akte”, 1999-2001. In “Opuscula Romana”, 27, 2002: 79-108

10. See “Sicilia Archeologica”, 1982: 66

11. Vocabolario siciliano etimologico, italiano, e latino, 1785, p.271

12. “Le Origini delle lingue neolatine”, "Patron, 1964: 173

13. The "Romanisches Etimologisches Wörterbuch" by Meyer-Lübke (Heidelberg, 1911: 134

14. See P. Barra, “Toponymes et microtoponymes du Mont Beuvray (Saône-et-Loire, Nièvre)”, Association bourguignonne de dialectologie et d'onomastique, 1988 : 37

15. See Meier Herri, “Quelques  descendents de 'robigo'”, in “Bulletin Hispanique”, Tome 52, No. 1-2, 1950:  76-77

16. See Charles du Fresne du Cange, "Glossarium ad scriptores Mediae et infimae Latinitatis", Parisiis, 1733, Vol II : 324

17. See A. Buttitta-G. Aiello, “Le forme del lavoro. Mestieri tradizionali in Sicilia [" The forms of work. Traditional crafts in Sicily "], Flaccovio , 1988:  364

18. See Al Idrisi," The Book of Roger ", edited by M. Amari, Salviucci , 1863: 29

19. See E. Mazzarese Fardella, “I Feudi comitali di Sicilia dai Normanni agli Aragonesi”, 1974: 82-83

20. See Wolfgang Krönig, “Il castello di Caronia in Sicilia. Un complesso normanno del XII secolo”, Edizioni dell'Elefante, 1977: 22. Krönig is one of the most eminent contemporary scholars of Caronia