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ZANKLE later Messene (Messina) Sicily.

A city at the NE tip of Sicily on the Straits ca. 10 km to the S of Cape Pelorus in the narrow alluvial plain between the foothills of the Peloritan mountains and the small sickle-shaped peninsula which creates a natural harbor.

At first it was a nest of Chalcidian pirates within Sikel territory. Toward the middle of the 8th c. B.C. the site received, with the name of Zankle, a colony of Greeks from Euboia and from Italic Kyme (Thuc. 6:4, 5-6). Its formidable position in control of the trade routes across the straits accounts for the city's prosperity throughout the archaic period. It participated in the foundation of Rhegion (Strab. 6.257); on the Tyrrhenian side of the Peloritan mountains it occupied Mylai; it sent sub-colonies to Matauros (against Etruscan claims on the Lower Tyrrhenian Sea) and in 649-648 B.C. to Himera (as a bulwark against Carthaginian expansion on the W Tyrrhenian). From the beginning of the 5th c. B.C. Zankle's supremacy shifted to Rhegion; with Anaxilas' help some Ionians from Samos occupied the city, but shortly afterwards, in 486 B.C., Anaxilas settled a group of Messenians at the site, changing its name to Messene (Thuc. 6.4.5-6). From then onward, because of its geographical position, the city remained spectator rather than actor during historical events. After the Mamertine occupation in 284 B.C., which changed its name to Mamertina (Diod. 21:18), the city carried out an expansionist policy against the Sikels, at times with help from the Phoenicians, who finally invaded it; hence, in 264-263 B.C., Messene's request for help from Rome and the outbreak of the first Punic war. In the 1st c. B.C. it was still civitas foederata (Cic. Verr. 3.6.13). During the Imperial period it must have been one of the many maritime cities for commercial transit, since its existence was conditioned by the harbor activities. It was occupied by the Muslims in 843.

The modern city lies over the ancient. The borders of the Classical town, however, seem marked to the N by the Roman necropolis (1st-3d c. A.D.), to the SW by the large arc of the Hellenistic-Roman cemetery in the area of the Orti della Maddalena; recent reports confirm that the Hellenistic site also included the hill of Montepiselli (acropolis?) to the W. In this whole area very few monumental remains have been recorded: traces of Roman houses and various finds between the Duomo and Via Garibaldi; a thick wall (Mamertine fortification) in two sections of Via Università and Via Garibaldi. A grandiose chamber tomb with dromos, walls and funerary beds (klinai) perfectly preserved, has been uncovered in Piazza Avignone. It is datable between the end of the 4th c. and the 3d c. B.C., and is the first monument of Classical Messina to be preserved and opened to visitors. Almost nothing was known of Zankle's topography except for the archaic sanctuary (8th-7th c. B.C.) located at the tip of the harbor sickle. Excavation has identified a section of the archaic habitation area, at the point where the sickle-shaped zone joins the mainland (present city block 224-Hotel Reale); these are remains of houses separated by means of stenochoria, which follow an orthogonal system and are built with river stones (two to the thickness of the wall) set on virgin soil, in a layer rich with proto-Corinthian pottery (a section of the excavation has been reconstructed in an area adjacent to the original find spot, within the garden of the Villa Comunale on Via T. Cannizarro). The finds are housed in the National Museum of Messina.


G. Vallet, Rhégion et Zancle (1958)MPI; P. Orsi, “Messana,” MonAnt (1916)MPI.


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    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.4.5
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