Syracuse was founded in 734 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth, who called it Sirako ("swamp"). The settlers found the land to be fertile and the native tribes to be reasonably well-disposed to their presence. The city grew and prospered, and for some time stood as the most powerful Greek city anywhere in the Mediterranean.
In the late 5th century BC, Syracuse found itself at war with Athens, which sought more resources to fight the Peloponnesian War. The Syracusans enlisted the aid of a general from Sparta, Athens' foe in the war, to defeat the Athenians, destroy their ships, and leave them to starve on the island (see Sicilian Expedition). Not long after, in the early 4th century BC, the tyrant Dionysius managed to fight a war against Carthage and keep that power from capturing the whole of Sicily.
Perhaps the most famous Syracusan was the natural philosopher Archimedes. Among his many inventions were various military engines, used to resist a Roman siege. The city held out for three years, but fell in 212 BC.