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Ancient Zancle (so-called for the sickle shape of its harbor) existed as a native Sicilian settlement before the arrival of the Greeks in 756 BC. Expanded to form a thriving port city during the Greek colonization of Sicily, Messina remained prominent for centuries. The Romans recognized its strategic importance. To the Saracens, who never controlled much of Calabria, it was the northern and eastern limit of a Muslim dominion. To the Normans, Messina was an essential foothold in their conquest of the island during the eleventh century, though their first ships actually landed at a point on the Ionian coast south of the city in the middle of the night.

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