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The city has been a human settlement for thousands of years. The Assyrians called the city Meliddu. Strabo says that the city was known "to the ancients"  as Melitene (Greek Μελιτηνή), a name adopted also by the Romans following Roman expansion into the east. According to Strabo he inhabitants of Melitene shared at that time with the nearby Cappadocians and Cataonians the same language and culture. The site of ancient Melitene lies a few kilometres from the modern city in what is now the village of Arslantepe and near the dependant district center of Battalgazi (Byzantine to Ottoman Empire). Present-day Battalgazi was the location of the city of Malatya until the 19th century, when a gradual move of the city to the present third location began. Battalgazi's official name was Eskimalatya (Old Malatya); until recently, it was a name used locally.

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