previous next


MESSA´NA or MESSE´NE (Μεσσήνη in almost all Greek authors, but the Doric form Μεσσάνα, which is found in Pindar, was universally in use among the citizens themselves, and was from them adopted by the Romans, who always write the name Messana: Eth.Μεσσήνιος and Eth. Μεσσάνιος, Eth. Messanensis: Messina), an important city of Sicily, situated on the strait which divided that island from Italy, nearly opposite to Rhegium, and only a few miles from Cape Pelorus, the NE. extremity of the island. It was originally called ZANCLE (Ζάγκλη: Eth. Ζαγκλαῖος), a name said to be of Siculian origin, derived from Ζάγκλον, which in the language of that people meant a sickle, and was obviously applied to the spot from the peculiar configuration of the curved spit or point of sand which encloses its port. (Thuc. 6.4; Steph. Byz. s. v. Ζάγκλη; Strab. vi. p.268; Diod. iv, 85.) From this derivation of the name it would appear probable that there was a Siculian settlement on the spot, before it was occupied by the Greeks; but no mention of this is found in history, and all ancient writers describe Zancle as a Chalcidic colony. According to Thucydides it was at first founded by a band of pirates from the Italian Cumae, itself a colony of Chalcis; but the advantageous situation of the place soon led to the establishment there of a more regular colony, consisting of settlers from Chalcis and the other cities of Euboea, at the head of whom were Perieres of Chalcis and Crataemenes of Cumae, who became the joint founders or Oekists of the new colony (Thuc. 6.4). This statement of Thucydides is confirmed in its leading points by Pausanias; while Scymnus Chius, as well as Strabo, though agreeing in its Chalcidic origin, represent it as founded immediately from the Chalcidic colony of Naxos in Sicily. (Paus. 4.23.7; Scymn. Ch. 284-286; Strab. vi. p.268.) From this last version we may infer that it was looked upon as of more recent origin than Naxos, and therefore not founded till after 735 B.C.; but we have no clue to the precise, or even approximate date, of its establishment. Of its early history we know scarcely anything; but we may probably infer that it rose early to a flourishing condition, from the circumstance that the Zanclaeans were able before the close of the seventh century B.C. to establish two colonies on the N. coast of the island: Mylae, about 30 miles W. of Cape Pelorus, and Himera, much further to the W. (Thuc. 6.5; Scymn. Ch. 288; Strab. vi. p.272.) The latter grew up into a great and powerful city, but Mylae appears to have continued for the most part a mere dependency of Zancle. (Strab. l.c.

The Zanclaeans appear to have been still desirous of extending their colonial system in this direction, and were endeavouring to induce fresh settlers from the Ionian cities of Asia to co-operate with them in this enterprise, when the fall of Miletus in B.C. 494 gave a fresh impulse to emigration from that quarter. A large body of Samians, together with some of the surviving Milesians, were in consequence induced to accept the invitation of the Zanclaeans, and set out for Sicily, with the purpose of establishing themselves on the N. coast between Mylae and Himera, which was commonly known as “the Fair Shore” ( Καλὴ Ἀκτή.) But having arrived, on their way, at Locri Epizephyrii, they were here persuaded by Anaxilas, tyrant of Rhegium, to take a treacherous advantage of the absence of the Zanclaean troops, who were engaged in military operations elsewhere, and surprise the city of Zancle itself. That city was at this time under the government of a despot named Scythes, to whom Herodotus gives the title of king. On finding themselves thus betrayed, the Zanclaeans invoked the assistance of the powerful Hippocrates, despot of Gela; but that monarch in his turn betrayed them, and instead of aiding them to recover possession of Zancle, made common cause with the Samians, whom he confirmed in the possession of the city, while he threw Scythes into prison, and reduced the greater part of the Zanclaeans into captivity. (Hdt. 6.22-24; Thuc. 6.4; Scymn. Ch. 293; Arist. Pol. 5.3.) By this sudden revolution, the Samians found themselves in undisputed possession of Zancle, but they did not long enjoy their new acquisition. Not many years afterwards they were in their turn reduced to subjection by Anaxilas himself, who is said to have expelled them from the city, which he peopled with a mixed body of colonists, while he gave to it the name of Messene, in remembrance of the land of that name in Greece, from which his own ancestors derived their descent. (Thuc. 6.4; Hdt. 7.164; Strab. vi. p.268.)

The exact period of this revolution cannot be determined with certainty; but the first settlement of the Samians at Zancle cannot be carried back further than B.C. 493, while their subsequent expulsion or [p. 2.335]subjection by Anaxilas must have occurred some years prior to his death in B.C. 476. It is certain that at that period he had been for some time ruler both of Rhegium and Zancle, the latter of which, according to one account, he had placed under the nominal government of his son Cleophron or Leophron. (Diod. 11.48; Schol. ad Pind. Pyth. 2.34.) It is certain, also, that before the close of his reign Zancle had assumed the name of Messene or Messana, by which it has ever since been known. The error of Pausanias, who carries back the whole settlement, and with it the reign of Anaxilas to the close of the Second Messenian War, B.C. 668, has been sufficiently refuted by Bentley (Diss. on Phalaris, pp. 204--224.) It is probable that he confounded the Second Messenian War with the Third, which was really contemporaneous with the reign of Anaxilas (Clinton, F. H. vol. i. p. 257); and it is not unlikely that some fugitives from the latter were among the fresh settlers established by Anaxilas at the time of the colonisation of Messana. It is probable also that the Samians were by no means absolutely expelled, as stated by Thucydides, but continued to inhabit the city together with the new colonists, though deprived of their exclusive ascendancy. (Hdt. 7.164; Siefert, Zancle-Messana, p. 16.)

The Messanians for some time followed the fortunes of their neighbours of Rhegium: they passed, after the death of Anaxilas, under the government of Micythus, and subsequently of the two sons of Anaxilas: but, after the death of Hieron, and the expulsion of his brother Thrasybulus from Syracuse, they took the opportunity, in conjunction with the other cities of Sicily, to drive out their despots and assert their freedom and independence, B.C. 461. (Diod. 11.59, 66, 76.) A large body of the foreign settlers, who had been introduced into Sicily by the tyrants, were upon this occasion established in the territory of Messana, a proof that it was at this period still thinly peopled: but the city seems to have participated largely in the prosperity which the Sicilian republics in general enjoyed during the period that followed, B.C. 460--410. The great fertility of its territory, and the excellence of its port, were natural advantages which qualified it to become one of the first cities of Sicily: and this appears to have been the case throughout the period in question. In B.C. 426. their tranquillity was, how-ever, interrupted by the arrival of the Athenian fleet under Laches, which established itself at Rhegium, on the opposite side of the straits ; and from thence made an attack on Mylae, a fortress and dependency of the Messanians, which, though occupied by a strong garrison, was compelled to surrender. Laches, with his allies, hereupon marched against Messana itself, which was unable to resist so large a force, and was compelled to accede to the Athenian alliance. (Thuc. 3.86, 90; Diod. 12.54.) But the next year (B.C. 425) the Messanians hastened to desert their new alliance, and join that of the Syracusans; and from thenceforth their port became the chief naval station of the combined Syracusan and Locrian fleets. (Thuc. 4.1, 24, 25.) They themselves, also, on one occasion, took courage to make a vigorous attack on their Chalcidic neighbours of Naxos, and were able to defeat the Naxians themselves, and shut them up within their walls; but were in their turn defeated by the Siculians and Leontines, who had hastened to the relief of Naxos, and who for a short time laid siege, but without effect, to Messana itself. (Thuc. 4.25.) The Messanians were included in the general pacification of Sicily, B.C. 424; but were themselves still divided by factions, and appear at one time to have for a short period passed under the actual dominion of the Locrians. (Id. 5.5.) At the time of the Athenian expedition to Sicily (B.C. 415) they were again independent, and on that occasion they persisted in maintaining a neutral position, though in vain solicited by the Athenians on one side, and the Syracusans on the other. An attempt of the former to make themselves masters of the city by treachery proved wholly ineffectual. (Diod. 13.4 ; Thuc. 6.48, 74.) A few years later, the Messanians afforded a hospitable refuge to the fugitives from Himera, when that city was taken by the Carthaginians, B.C. 409 (Diod. 13.61), and sent an auxiliary force to assist in the defence of Agrigentum against the same people. (Id. 86.)

It appears certain that Messana was at this period, one of the most flourishing and considerable cities in Sicily. Diodorus tells us, that the Messanians and Rhegians together could equip a fleet of not less than 80 triremes (14.8); and their combined forces were viewed with respect, if not with apprehension, even by the powerful Dionysius of Syracuse. (Id. 44.) But though unfavourably disposed towards that despot, the Messanians did not share in the strong sympathies of the Rhegians with the Chalcidic cities of Naxos and Catana [RHEGIUM], and pursued an uncertain and vacillating policy. (Diod. 14.8, 40, 44.) But while they thus sought to evade the hostility of the Syracusan despot, they were visited by a more severe calamity. Himilcon, the Carthaginian general, who had landed in Sicily in B.C. 396, having compelled Dionysius to fall back upon Syracuse, himself advanced with a large army from Panormus, along the N. coast of the island. Messana was the immediate object of the campaign, on account of the importance of its port; and it was so ill prepared for defence, that notwithstanding the spirited resistance of its citizens, it was taken by Himilcon with little difficulty. Great part of the inhabitants made their escape to the surrounding country; but the rest were put to the sword, and not only the walls of the city levelled to the ground, but all its buildings so studiously destroyed as, according to the expression of Diodorus, to leave scarcely a trace of where it had formerly stood. (Diod. 14.56-58.)

After the defeat and expulsion of the Carthaginans, Dionysius endeavoured to repeople Messana with the fugitive citizens who survived, to whom he added fresh colonists from Locri and Medma, together with a small body of Messanian exiles, but the latter were soon after transferred to the newly founded city of Tyndaris. (Diod. 14.78.) Mean-while, the Rhegians, who viewed with dissatisfaction the footing thus established by Dionysius on the Sicilian straits, endeavoured to obtain in their turn an advanced post against the Messanians by fortifying Mylae, where they established the exiles from Naxos, Catana, and other cities, who had been driven from their homes by Dionysius. (Id. 14.87.) The attempt, however, proved abortive : the Messanians recovered possession of Mylae, and continued to support Dionysius in his enterprises against Rhegium. (Id. 87, 103.) After the death of that despot, we hear but little of Messana, which appears to have gradually, but slowly, risen again to a flourishing condition. In B.C. 357 the Messanians [p. 2.336]are mentioned as sending assistance to Dion against the younger Dionysius; and after the death of Dion, they repulsed an attempt of Callippus to make himself master of their city. (Diod. 16.9; Plut. Dio 58.) At a somewhat later period, however, they fell under the yoke of a tyrant named Hippon, from whom they were freed by Timoleon, (B.C. 339), and at the same time detached from the alliance of Carthage, to which they had been for a time compelled to adhere. (Diod. 16.69; Plut. Tim. 20, 34.)

But Messana did not long enjoy her newly recovered freedom. Soon after the establishment of Agathocles at Syracuse, that monarch turned his arms against Messana, and, though his first attempts, in B.C. 315, were unsuccessful, and he was even compelled to restore the fortress of Mylae, of which he had for a time made himself master, a few years later, B.C. 312, he succeeded in establishing his power at Messana itself. (Diod. 19.65, 102.) But the severities which he exercised against the party which had opposed him completely alienated the minds of the Messanians, and they readily embraced the opportunity of the defeat of the tyrant at Ecnomus in the following year, B.C. 311, to throw off his yoke and declare in favour of the Carthaginian alliance. (Id. 19.110.) The death of Agathocles, soon after, brought upon the Messenians even heavier calamities than his enmity had done. The numerous bands of mercenary troops, chiefly of Campanian, or at least Oscan, extraction, which the despot had assembled in Sicily, were, after his death, compelled by the Syracusans, with the support of the Carthaginians, to quit the island. But, having arrived with that object at Messana, where they were hospitably received by the citizens, and quartered in their houses, they suddenly turned against them, massacred the male inhabitants, made themselves masters of their wives, houses, and property, and thus established themselves in undisputed possession of the city. (Pol. 1.7; Diod. 21.18, Exc. H. p. 493; Strab. vi. p.268.) They now assumed the name of MAMERTINI (Μαμερτῖνοι), or “the children of Mars,” from Mamers, an Oscan name of that deity, which is found also in old Latin. (Diod. l.c.; Varr. L. L. 5.73.) The city, however, continued to be called Messana, though they attempted to change its name to Mamertina: Cicero, indeed, in several instances calls it “Mamertina civitas” (Cic. Ver. 2.5, 46, 3.6, 4.10, &c.), but much more frequently Messana, though the in-habitants were in his time universally called Mamertini. The precise period of the occupation of Messana by the Mamertines is nowhere stated. Polybius tells us that it occurred not long before that of Rhegium by the Campanians under Decius, which may be referred to the year 280 B.C., while it must have taken place some time after the death of Agathocles in B.C. 289: the year 282 is that commonly assigned, but within the above limits this is merely conjectural.

The Mamertines now rapidly extended their power over the whole NE. angle of Sicily, and made themselves masters of several fortresses and towns. The occupation of Rhegium by the Campanian's, under very similar circumstances, contributed to strengthen their position, and they became one of the most formidable powers in Sicily. The arrival of Pyrrhus in the island (B.C. 278) for a time gave a check to their aggrandisement: they in vain combined with. the Carthaginians to :prevent his landing; but, though he defeated their forces in a battle and took several of their fortresses, he did not attack Messana itself; and on his return to Italy the Mamertines sent a large force across the straits which attacked the army of the king on its march, and inflicted on him severe losses. (Plut. Pyrrh. 23, 24; Diod. 21.7. p. 495.) The Mamertines, however, soon found a more formidable enemy in Hieron of Syracuse, who, shortly after the departure of Pyrrhus from Sicily, established himself in the possession of the chief power in that city. His efforts were early directed against the Mamertines; and after. the fall of Rhegium, which was taken by the Romans in B.C. 271, he invaded their territory with a great army, reduced the fortress of Mylae, and defeated the Mamertines in a battle on the banks of the river Longanus, with such slaughter that they were on the point of surrendering Messana itself without a blow; and the city was saved only by the intervention of a Carthaginian force under Hannibal. (Pol. 1.8, 9; Diod. 22.13. pp. 499, 500.) The events which followed are obscurely known to us, and their chronology is very uncertain; but the Mamertines seem to have found that they were no longer able to stand alone against the power of Hieron; and, while one party was disposed to throw themselves into the arms of the Carthaginians, another sought protection from the power of Rome. The latter ultimately prevailed, and an embassy sent by the Mamertines, to invoke the alliance of the Romans, first gave occasion to the intervention of that people in the affairs of Sicily, and became the origin of the First Punic War, B.C. 264. (Pol. 1.10; Diod. 23.1; Zonar. 8.8; Oros. 4.7; Liv. Epit. xvi.)

Before the arrival of the promised aid from Rome the Carthaginian party had again prevailed, and the citadel was occupied by a Carthaginian garrison; but this was expelled by the Mamertines themselves on the arrival of C. Claudius; and soon after the consul Appius Claudius landed at Messana, and drove off in succession the Carthaginians and Hieron, who had just before concluded an alliance against the Mamertines, and laid siege to the city with their combined forces. (Pol. 1.11, 12; Diod. 23.1, 3 p. 501; Zonar. 8.8, 9; Dio Cass. Exe. Vat. 58--60.) Messana was now protected by a Roman garrison, and, during the whole course of the war which followed, continued to be one of their chief strong-holds and the principal station of their fleets. The importance of its harbour, as well as its ready communication with Italy, rendered it a point of vital importance to the Romans; and the Mamertines either continued steadily faithful or were kept under by the constant presence of a Roman force. (Pol. 1.21. 25, 38, 52; Diod. 23.18. p. 505, 24.1. p. 508; Zonar, 8.10, 12.) At the close of the war the Mamertines obtained a renewal of their treaty, and continued to enjoy henceforth the nominal privileges of an allied city (foederata civitas), while they in reality passed under the dominion of Rome. (Cic. Ver. 3.6) Even in the time of Cicero we find them still retaining this privileged condition; and though this alone would not have sufficed to protect them against the exactions of Verres, the Mamertines appear to have adopted the safer policy of supporting the praetor in all his oppressions and conciliating him by bribes, so that they are represented by the orator as the accomplices, as well as defenders, of all his iniquities. (Cic. Ib. 2.5, 46, 4.8, 67, &c.)

Messana was certainly at this time one of the most. populous and. flourishing places in Sicily. Cicero [p. 2.337]calls it a very great and very rich city ( “civitas maxima et locupletissima,” Verr. 5.17), and extols the advantages of its situation, its port, and its buildings. (Ib. 4.2.) Like all other allied cities, it had its own senate and magistrates, and was legally subject to no other contributions than the furnishing ships and naval supplies in case of war, and the contributing a certain proportion of the corn furnished by Sicily to Rome at a given rate of remuneration. (Ib. 5.17--22.) Nor does Messana appear to have suffered severely from any of the wars that caused such ravages in Sicily, though it narrowly escaped being taken and plundered by Athenion during the Servile War, B.C. 101. (Dio Cass. Fr. Val. p. 534.) In the Civil War, B.C. 48, it was the station of a part of the fleet of Caesar, which was attacked there by that of Pompey under Cassius, and the whole of the ships, thirty-five in number, burnt; but the city itself was protected by the presence of a Roman legion. (Caes. B.C. 3.101.) At a somewhat later period it was the head-quarters and chief stronghold of Sextus Pompeius during his war with Octavian, B.C. 36; and its capacious harbour became the station of the fleet with which he commanded the coasts of Sicily, as far as Tauromenium on the one side and Tyndaris on the other. It was from thence also that Pompeius, after the total defeat of his fleet by Agrippa, made his escape with a squadron of only seventeen ships. (Appian, App. BC 5.97, 103, 109, 122; D. C. 49.1-12; Strab. vi. p.268.)

It was in all probability in consequence of this war that Messana lost the privileged condition it had so long enjoyed; but its inhabitants received in exchange the Roman franchise, and it was placed in the ordinary position of a Roman municipium. It still continued to be a flourishing place. Strabo speaks of it as one of the few cities in Sicily that were in his day well peopled; and though no subsequent mention of it is found in history under the Roman Empire, it reappears during the Gothic wars as one of the chief cities and most important fortresses in the island,--a rank it had undoubtedly held throughout the intervening period. (Strab. vi. p.268; Plin. Nat. 3.8. s. 14; Ptol. 3.4.9; Mel. 2.7.16; Procop. B. G. 1.8, 3.39.) The wine of the neighbourhood of Messana, known as Vinum Mamertinum, enjoyed a great reputation in the days of Pliny; it was first brought into vogue by the dictator Caesar. (Plin. Nat. 14.6. s. 8.)

Throughout the vicissitudes of the middle ages Messina continued to be one of the most important cities of Sicily; and still ranks as the second city in the island. It has, however, but few remains of antiquity. The only vestiges are some baths and tesselated pavements, and a small old church, supposed to have formed part of a Roman basilica. (Smyth's Sicily, p. 118.) Another church, called S. Giovanni de' Fiorentini is believed, but wholly without authority, to occupy the site of the Sacrarium or family chapel of Heius, from which Verres purloined a bronze statue of Hercules, attributed to Myron, and one of Cupid, which was believed to be the work of Praxiteles. (Cic. Ver. 4.2,3.)

The celebrated port of Messana, to which the city owed its chief importance in ancient as well as modern times, is formed by a projecting spit or tongue of sand, which curves round in the form of a crescent or sickle (whence the name of Zancle was supposed to be derived), and constitutes a natural mole, rendering the harbour within perfectly secure. This singular bulwark is called by Diodorus the Actè (Ἀκτή), and its construction was attributed by fable to the giant Orion (Diod. 4.85), though there can be no doubt of its being of perfectly natural formation. The harbour within is said by Diodorus to be capable of containing a fleet of 600 ships (14.56), and has abundant depth of water, even for the largest ships of modern days. The celebrated whirlpool of the Charybdis is situated just outside the Actè, nearly opposite the modern lighthouse, but out of the track of vessels entering the harbour of Messina. (Smyth's Sicily, p. 123.)

Though the city itself is built close to the harbour on level ground, immediately at the back of it rise steep hills, forming the underfalls of a range of mountains which extends from the neighbourhood of Cape Pelorus to that of Tauromenium. This ridge, or at least the part of it next to Cape Pelorus, was known in ancient times as the MONS NEPTUNIUS; but a part of the same range forming one of the underfalls near Messana is called, both by Dio.. dorus and Polybius, the Chalcidic mount (τὸ Χαλκιδικὸν ὄρος, Pol. 1.11; ς῾ λόφος καλούμενος Χαλκιδικός, Diod. 23.1), and was the position occupied by Hieron of Syracuse when he laid siege to Messana, B.C. 264. But neither this, nor the position taken up by the Carthaginians at the same time at a place called Sunes or Eunes (Σύνεις, Pol.; Εὐνεῖς, Diod.), can be identified with any degree of certainty.

The coins of Messana are numerous and interesting, as illustrating the historical vicissitudes of the city. There exist:--1. Coins of Zancle, before the time of Anaxilas, with the name written in old characters ΔΑΝΚΑΕ, a dialectic form of the name. 2. Coins of Messana, with the Ionic legend ΜΕΣΣΕΝΙΟΝ and types taken from the coins of Samos. These must be referred to the period of Anaxilas immediately after his conquest of the city, while the Samian colonists still inhabited it. 3. Coins of Messana, with the type of a hare, which seems to have been adopted as the ordinary symbol of the city, because that animal is said to have been first introduced into Sicily by Anaxilas. (Pollux, Onom. 5.75.) These coins, which are numerous, and range over a considerable period of time, show the gradual preponderance of the Doric element in the city; the ruder and earlier ones having the legend in the Ionic form ΜΕΣΣΕΝΙΟΝ, the latter ones in the Doric


[p. 2.338]

form ΜΕΣΣΑΝΙΟΝ or ΜΕΣΣΑΝΙΩΝ. 4. Coins struck by the Mamertines, with the name of ΜΑΜΕΠΤΙΝΩΝ. These are very numerous, but in copper only. (Millingen, Trans. of Roy. Soc. of Lit. vol. i. pt. ii. pp. 93--98; Eckhel, vol. i. pp. 219--224.)


hide References (44 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (44):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.48
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.59
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.66
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.54
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.61
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.44
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.58
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.78
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.76
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.4
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.40
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.56
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.8
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.69
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.9
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.22
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.24
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.164
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.23.7
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.86
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.1
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.25
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.48
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.5
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.74
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.11.97
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.12.122
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.11.103
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.12.109
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.90
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.5
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.8
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 14.6
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.24
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.4
    • Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 23
    • Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 24
    • Plutarch, Timoleon, 34
    • Plutarch, Dion, 58
    • Plutarch, Timoleon, 20
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 4.85
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.102
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.65
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.4
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: