History of Milazzo


See Milazzo guide for highlights and historic monuments

Milazzo, in the Province of  Messina, has excited scholars’ curiosity ever since the 18th century. The history of Milazzo is deeply rooted in the ancient “Mylài”, and excavations have allowed experts to study the ancient settlement.

The history of archeology in Milazzo begins with the discovery of some large necropolis: one dating back to the Bronze Age (14th century BC) and another in “Piazza Roma” ( of the 10th and 7th century BC). The oldest tombs document the rite of incineration, when the ashes were mostly collected in jars. From the 6th century AD  the sarcophagus were used instead, built with rows of stacked mud bricks.

Foundation of the ancient city of Milazzo

Historically, Milazzo was founded by Zancle (Lat. "Messana"-Messina) in 716 BC, according to the testimony of Eusebius [263-330 AD]. It’s a difficult task to define with absolute certainty the date of the foundation, however, according to the very accurate studies of M. Miller, we can state that:

"[…] As we have seen, Philistos's era year of 756-5 is probably his date for the foundation of Zancle, for the surviving dates of two Zanklaian colonies are chronographically connected with it. Chersonesos Mylai is dated by Eusebius to 717-6 which is 39×1 years later than 756-5, but seems not be connected with other dates […]” [9].

Milazzo is also defined in ancient sources as "Froùrion" ("Fortress"), a term that refers to its function as a "military outpost" of Zancle-Messana-Messina. Its history is intimately connected with the mother-city, which shared its fate. Its dependence on Zancle-Messana is confirmed by the fact that, unlike other colonies, ‘Mylài’ didn’t ever enjoy the autonomy of minting  its own coins.

Roman times in Milazzo

In Roman times the inhabitants of Milazzo enjoyed the privilege of Roman citizenship and it was also the scene of fierce battles between the Romans and Carthaginians, such as the naval battles between Caius Duilius (3rd century AD) and the Carthaginians, and Marcus Agrippa (63-12 BC) against Sextus Pompey (67-35 BC).

Entering the Middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages  the Arabs settled permanently in Milazzo and they built the Castle, which included the Donjon with its tower and eight great towers - the castle was later modified by the Normans and the Swabians. It was later completed with the so-called Aragon Walls and in the 16th century the building of the Spanish Walls began.

During the 16th, 17th and 18th century the town gradually changed its urban planning, extending towards the flat area.

Today Milazzo is a tourist city that offers a lot both from the cultural point of view and for bathing. In fact, the Bay has two beaches, one of gravel (west) and another sandy (to the east). It is also the starting point for all connections with the Aeolian Islands, carried out through a service of hydrofoil boats and ferries.

Origins of the name Milazzo

We begin with a scholarly curiosity, of which G. Scoglio wrote

"[...] Milazzo simply means ‘slip-knot’, namely ‘slip-knot of Messina’, because Messina keeps the settlement like a 'slip-knot' or a ‘halter’ of an animal; if we remove this slip-knot, it runs away. I remember that the noble Peter of Antioch, my father, told me that Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250) told him that if (...) Messina loses Milazzo, it will not escape for a long time  and will fall into enemy hands" [1].

The ancient sources  handed down to us the former name of Milazzo, or "Mylài" (according to Strabo [58-c.25 BC]), and borne witness to in Latin sources as "Milae". To be more precise, the name of ethnic "Mylài" was "Mylài-tai", as Hecataeus of Miletus (550-476 BC] told us [2].

Already in the 18th century some scholars, among many hypotheses, assumed that the term "Mylài" could be interpreted as "moles", "rock":

"[...] According to Francesco Maurolico (1494-1575), Milazzo derived from 'moles', to indicate a 'very large mass of stone', put together and rooted in the earth; a view shared by P. Francesco Napoli, who said that the word derives from the Greek "mylàx," which in our language means 'large stone' [...] " [3].

This clearly made reference to the size of the Promontory Mountains. We note that even today this etymology is proposed by various sources, including  the most important scientific journals. For example, in the "Quaderni di Semantica", we read that:

"Milazzo [derives] from the Greek accusative “mylàs” ("size")"[4].

But according to the most authoritative critics it seems that the term refers to the special fertility of the countryside around Milazzo and they suggest that the name correctly derives from the Greek word "Mylài", "Mylàs", but with the meaning of "millstone". Along this line of interpretation is G.B. Pellegrini:

"[...] 'Mylài', 'Milae' (Pliny), in Cusa, 439, 'Mylài' ethnic Mylaios (Diodorus Siculus), Latinized as ‘Milacium’ , ‘Melacium’. Derived from the Greek and Byzantine 'tas Mylàs', accusative of  'ai Mylài' ('millstone'), but through the Arabic intermediary, i.e. from Arabic 'milàs', which gave rise to 'Milazzo' [...]" [5].

Even more specific in reporting the relationship with the fertility of the soil is G. Pirrone:

"[...] Milazzo is 'Mylai', according to Thucydides and Diodorus Siculus, from the Greek 'Myle', 'millstone': and millstones for grinding grain and oil mills to grind the olives did not fail some since those times. As Falzello wrote, 'the town of Mile is fruitful and abundant in wheat, wine, oil and grazing of animals' [...]" [6].

In conclusion the meaning of Milazzo is the “fertile town”, or “the city grinding grain and squeezing olives in oil-mils”.

There must be some truth in this, even taking into account that in ancient times "Milae" was called “Aurea Chersoneso” as ["Golden Chersonese"] by the Romans (from "Kersos" (earth) and "Nesos" (island) = peninsula) - it was also called “aurea” ["golden"] with reference to the fact that the fertility of its soil seemed very similar to Malacca, the fertile land with which the Romans, according to Strabo and Pliny, had extensive trade relations" [7].

See the travel guide for Milazzo when planning your visit.

References

1. See G. Scoglio, “Monforte San Giorgio e il suo territorio nel Medioevo” [" Monforte St. George and its territory in the Middle Ages], " Editrice Uniservice , 2007: 52

2. See Federica Cordano, “Antiche fondazioni Greche: Sicilia e Italia meridionale”, ["Ancient Greek foundation in Sicily and southern Italy"], Sellerio, 1986:  46 note 24

3. See, “La Sicilia in prospettiva” [ “Sicily in perspective”, Palermo 1709, Vol II:  237

4. See "Quaderni di Semantica", Il Mulino, 1988, Vol. 9: 156

5. See G.B. Pellegrini, “Toponomastica Italiana”, Hoepli, 1990: 81-82

6. See G. Pirrone, “L'isola del sole, architettura nei giardini di Sicilia” ["The Island of the Sun, Architecture in the Gardens of Sicily "], Electa, 1994:  13

7. See “Rivista Marittima”, 1894: 322

8. See “Kokalos”, 2002: 392

9. See M. Miller, “The Sicilian Colony Dates” , Suny Press, 1970, p. 184