When the Chalcidian from the island of Euboea founded a colony at Zancle on the Sicilian coast of today's Messina Strait around 730 BC the area was already inhabited by indigenous peoples, from whomthe name of Zancle probably comes, which means 'sickle', named for the shape of the promontory on which their village stood.

In the first half of the 5th century, the city fell into the hands of the tyrant of Reggio, Anassilaos (500 c.-476 B.C.). That led to a number of Dorian settlers from Messenia settling in the city, who came to prevail over the Chalcidian people - it is to the 'Messeni', therefore, that we owe the new name of the city, Messana - today Messina.

During the struggles between the Greek cities, Messina was subjected to the tyranny of Agathocles (360-289 B.C.), and at his death, to the occupation by the so-called Mamertini who gave the city to the Romans in 264 BC.

The Greek city probably extended between the Zaera and Portalegni rivers, on the slopes of the Gonzaga, Castellaccio and Victory Tower hills, but the ruins are difficult to identify.

Some ruins of a temple, probably dedicated to Poseidon, have been found in the Church of Annunziata dei Catalani, in the Cathedral and in Santa Maria la Cattolica. More certain remains of a Greek necropolis were excavated to the south of Messina and on the slopes of the Gonzaga hill.

From ancient coins we know the coat of arms of Messina: on the obverse was a two-wheeled chariot drawn by mules, on the reverse a hare.

In Roman times Messina played an important role in the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.), and later it was a federate ('ally') city.

After the fall of the Roman Empire Messina declined, but it recovered itself in the 14th century under the rule of the Aragonese, and later the Spaniards (17th century). The town revolted against occupation by Spain, but was retaken after a siege of four years and severely punished (the University and Mint were closed).

In the eighteenth century it had another decline, but did well again under the rule of the Bourbons before Messina entered into the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.