Malta

Maltese Harbour

Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta (Repubblika ta’ Malta), is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. With a population of about 475,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world’s tenth smallest and fifth most densely populated country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km². The official languages are Maltese and English, with Maltese officially recognised as the national language and the only Semitic language in the European Union.

Malta has been inhabited since approximately 5900 BC. Its location in the center of the Mediterranean has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, with a succession of powers having contested and ruled the islands, including the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British.
Most of these foreign influences have left some sort of mark on the country’s ancient culture.

Malta became a British colony in 1815, serving as a way station for ships and the headquarters for the British Mediterranean Fleet. It played an important role in the Allied war effort during the Second World War, and was subsequently awarded the George Cross for its bravery in the face of an Axis siege, The British Parliament passed the Malta Independence Act in 1964, giving Malta independence from the United Kingdom as the State of Malta, with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and queen. The country became a republic in 1974. It has been a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations since independence, and joined the European Union in 2004; it became part of the eurozone monetary union in 2008.

Malta has a long Christian legacy and its Archdiocese is claimed to be an apostolic see because Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on “Melita”, according to Acts of the Apostles, which is now widely taken to be Malta. While Catholicism is the official religion in Malta, Article 40 of the Constitution states that “all persons in Malta shall have full freedom of conscience and enjoy the free exercise of their respective mode of religious worship.”

Malta is a popular tourist destination with its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, Valletta, and seven megalithic temples which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world.


 

Etymology

The origin of the name Malta is uncertain, and the modern-day variation is derived from the Maltese language.[citation needed] The most common etymology is that the word Malta is derived from the Greek word μέλι, meli, “honey”. The ancient Greeks called the island Μελίτη (Melitē) meaning “honey-sweet”, possibly for Malta’s unique production of honey; an endemic subspecies of bees live on the island. The Romans called the island Melita, which can be considered either a Latinisation of the Greek Μελίτη or the adaptation of the Doric Greek pronunciation of the same word Μελίτα.
In 1525 William Tyndale used the transliteration “Melite” in Acts 28:1 for Καὶ διασωθέντες τότε ἐπέγνωμεν ὅτι Μελίτη ἡ νῆσος καλεῖται (“And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita”) as found in his translation of The New Testament that relied on Greek texts instead of Latin. “Melita” is the spelling used in the Authorized (King James) Version of 1611 and in the American Standard Version of 1901. “Malta” is widely used in more recent versions, such as The Revised Standard Version of 1946 and The New International Version of 1973.

Another conjecture suggests that the word Malta comes from the Phoenician word Maleth, “a haven”, or ‘port’ in reference to Malta’s many bays and coves. Few other etymological mentions appear in classical literature, with the term Malta appearing in its present form in the Antonine Itinerary (Itin. Marit. p. 518; Sil. Ital. xiv. 251).


 

History of Malta

Malta has been inhabited from around 5900 BC, since the arrival of settlers from the island of Sicily. A significant prehistoric Neolithic culture marked by Megalithic structures, which date back to c. 3600 BC, existed on the islands, as evidenced by the temples of Bugibba, Mnajdra, Ggantija and others. The Phoenicians colonised Malta between 800–700 BC, bringing their Semitic language and culture. They used the islands as an outpost from which they expanded sea explorations and trade in the Mediterranean until their successors, the Carthaginians, were ousted by the Romans in 216 BC with the help of the Maltese inhabitants, under whom Malta became a municipium.

After a probable sack by the Vandals, Malta fell under Byzantine rule (4th to 9th century) and the islands were then invaded by the Aghlabids in AD 870. The fate of the population after the Arab invasion is unclear but it seems the islands may have been repopulated at the beginning of the second millennium by settlers from Arab-ruled Sicily who spoke Siculo-Arabic.

The Muslim rule was ended by the Normans who conquered the island in 1091. The islands were completely re-Christianised by 1249.
The islands were part of the Kingdom of Sicily until 1530 and were briefly controlled by the Capetian House of Anjou. In 1530 Charles V of Spain gave the Maltese islands to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in perpetual lease.

The French under Napoleon took hold of the Maltese islands in 1798, although with the aid of the British the Maltese were able to oust French control two years later. The inhabitants subsequently asked Britain to assume sovereignty over the islands under the conditions laid out in a Declaration of Rights, stating that “his Majesty has no right to cede these Islands to any power…if he chooses to withdraw his protection, and abandon his sovereignty, the right of electing another sovereign, or of the governing of these Islands, belongs to us, the inhabitants and aborigines alone, and without control.” As part of the Treaty of Paris in 1814, Malta became a British colony. It ultimately rejected an attempted integration with the United Kingdom in 1956 after the British proved reluctant to integrate.

Malta became independent on 21 September 1964 (Independence Day). Under its 1964 constitution, Malta initially retained Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta, with a Governor-General exercising authority on her behalf. On 13 December 1974 (Republic Day) it became a republic within the Commonwealth, with the President as head of state. On 31 March 1979, Malta saw the withdrawal of the last British troops and the Royal Navy from Malta. This day is known as Freedom Day and Malta declared itself as a neutral and non-aligned state. Malta joined the European Union on 1 May 2004 and joined the Eurozone on 1 January 2008.

Prehistory

Pottery found by archaeologists at the Skorba Temples resembles that found in Italy, and suggests that the Maltese islands were first settled in 5200 BC mainly by Stone Age hunters or farmers who had arrived from the Italian island of Sicily, possibly the Sicani. The extinction of the dwarf hippos , giant swans and dwarf elephants has been linked to the earliest arrival of humans on Malta. Prehistoric farming settlements dating to the Early Neolithic period were discovered in open areas and also in caves, such as Għar Dalam.

The Sicani were the only tribe known to have inhabited the island at this time and are generally regarded as being closely related to the Iberians. The population on Malta grew cereals, raised livestock and, in common with other ancient Mediterranean cultures, worshiped a fertility figure represented in Maltese prehistoric artifacts exhibiting the proportions seen in similar statuettes, including the Venus of Willendorf.

Pottery from the Għar Dalam phase is similar to pottery found in Agrigento, Sicily. A culture of megalithic temple builders then either supplanted or arose from this early period. Around the time of 3500 BC, these people built some of the oldest existing free-standing structures in the world in the form of the megalithic Ġgantija temples on Gozo; other early temples include those at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra.

The temples have distinctive architecture, typically a complex trefoil design, and were used from 4000 to 2500 BC. Animal bones and a knife found behind a removable altar stone suggest that temple rituals included animal sacrifice. Tentative information suggests that the sacrifices were made to the goddess of fertility, whose statue is now in the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. The culture apparently disappeared from the Maltese Islands around 2500 BC. Archaeologists speculate that the temple builders fell victim to famine or disease, but this is not certain.

Another archaeological feature of the Maltese Islands often attributed to these ancient builders is equidistant uniform grooves dubbed “cart tracks” or “cart ruts” which can be found in several locations throughout the islands, with the most prominent being those found in Misraħ Għar il-Kbir, which is informally known as “Clapham Junction”. These may have been caused by wooden-wheeled carts eroding soft limestone.

After 2500 BC, the Maltese Islands were depopulated for several decades until the arrival of a new influx of Bronze Age immigrants, a culture that cremated its dead and introduced smaller megalithic structures called dolmens to Malta. In most cases, there are small chambers here, with the cover made of a large slab placed on upright stones. They are claimed to belong to a population certainly different from that which built the previous megalithic temples. It is presumed the population arrived from Sicily because of the similarity of Maltese dolmens to some small constructions found on the largest island of the Mediterranean sea.

Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Roman

Phoenician traders colonised the islands sometime after 1000 BC as a stop on their trade routes from the eastern Mediterranean to Cornwall, joining the natives on the island. The Phoenicians inhabited the area now known as Mdina, and its surrounding town of Rabat, which they called Maleth. The Romans, who also much later inhabited Mdina, referred to it (and the island) as Melita.

After the fall of Phoenicia in 332 BC, the area came under the control of Carthage, a former Phoenician colony. During this time the people on Malta mainly cultivated olives and carob and produced textiles.

During the First Punic War, the island was conquered after harsh fighting by Marcus Atilius Regulus. After the failure of his expedition, the island fell back in the hands of Carthage, only to be conquered again in 218 BC, during the Second Punic War, by Roman Consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus. After that, Malta became Foederata Civitas, a designation that meant it was exempt from paying tribute or the rule of Roman law, and fell within the jurisdiction of the province of Sicily. Punic influence, however, remained vibrant on the islands with the famous Cippi of Melqart, pivotal in deciphering the Punic language, dedicated in the 2nd century BC. Also the local Roman coinage, which ceased in the 1st century BC, indicates the slow pace of the island’s Romanization, since the last locally minted coins still bear inscriptions in Ancient Greek on the obverse (like “ΜΕΛΙΤΑΙΩ”, meaning “of the Maltese”) and Punic motifs, showing the resistance of the Greek and Punic cultures.

The Greeks settled in the Maltese islands beginning circa 700 BC, as testified by several architectural remains, and remained throughout the Roman dominium. They called the island Melite (Ancient Greek: Μελίτη). At around 160 BC coins struck in Malta bore the Greek ‘ΜΕΛΙΤΑΙΩΝ’ (Melitaion) meaning ‘of the Maltese’. By 50 BC Maltese coins had a Greek legend on one side and a Latin one on the other. Later coins were issued with just the Latin legend ‘MELITAS’. The depiction of aspects of the Punic religion, together with the use of the Greek alphabet, testifies to the resilience of Punic and Greek culture in Malta long after the arrival of the Romans.

In the 1st century BC, Roman Senator and orator Cicero commented on the importance of the Temple of Juno, and on the extravagant behaviour of the Roman governor of Sicily, Verres.
During the 1st century BC the island was mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Diodorus Siculus: the latter praised its harbours, the wealth of its inhabitants, its lavishly decorated houses and the quality of its textile products. In the 2nd century, Emperor Hadrian (r. 117–38) upgraded the status of Malta to municipium or free town: the island local affairs were administered by four quattuorviri iuri dicundo and a municipal senate, while a Roman procurator, living in Mdina, represented the proconsul of Sicily.
In 58 AD, Paul the Apostle was washed up on the islands together with Luke the Evangelist after their ship was wrecked on the islands. Paul the Apostle remained on the islands three months, preaching the Christian faith. The island is mentioned at the Acts of the Apostles as Melitene (Greek: Μελιτήνη).

In 395, when the Roman Empire was divided for the last time at the death of Theodosius I, Malta, following Sicily, fell under the control of the Western Roman Empire. During the Migration Period as the Western Roman Empire declined, Malta came under attack and was conquered or occupied a number of times.
From 454 to 464 the islands were subdued by the Vandals, and after 464 by the Ostrogoths. In 533 Belisarius, on his way to conquer the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa, reunited the islands under Imperial (Eastern) rule. Little is known about the Byzantine rule in Malta: the island depended on the theme of Sicily and had Greek Governors and a small Greek garrison. While the bulk of the population continued to be constituted by the old, Latinized dwellers, during this period its religious allegiance oscillated between the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Byzantine rule introduced Greek families to the Maltese collective. Malta remained under the Byzantine Empire until 870, when it fell to the Arabs.

Arab period and the Middle Ages

Malta became involved in the Arab–Byzantine wars, and the conquest of Malta is closely linked with that of Sicily that began in 827 after Admiral Euphemius’ betrayal of his fellow Byzantines, requesting that the Aghlabids invade the island.
The Muslim chronicler and geographer al-Himyari recounts that in 870, following a violent struggle against the defending Byzantines, the Arab invaders, first led by Halaf al-Hadim, and later by Sawada ibn Muhammad, looted and pillaged the island, destroying the most important buildings, and leaving it practically uninhabited until it was recolonised by the Arabs from Sicily in 1048–1049.
It is uncertain whether this new settlement took place as a consequence of demographic expansion in Sicily, as a result of a higher standard of living in Sicily (in which case the recolonisation may have taken place a few decades earlier), or as a result of civil war which broke out among the Arab rulers of Sicily in 1038. The Arab Agricultural Revolution introduced new irrigation, some fruits and cotton, and the Siculo-Arabic language was adopted on the island from Sicily; it would eventually evolve into the Maltese language.

The Christians on the island were allowed to practice their religion if they paid jizya, a tax for non-Muslims for exemption from military service, but non-Muslims were exempt from the tax that Muslims had to pay (zakat).

Norman conquest

The Normans attacked Malta in 1091, as part of their conquest of Sicily. The Norman leader, Roger I of Sicily, was welcomed by Christian captives. The notion that Count Roger I reportedly tore off a portion of his checkered red-and-white banner and presented it to the Maltese in gratitude for having fought on his behalf, forming the basis of the modern flag of Malta, is founded in myth.

Malta became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Sicily, which also covered the island of Sicily and the southern half of the Italian Peninsula.
The Catholic Church was reinstated as the state religion, with Malta under the See of Palermo, and some Norman architecture sprang up around Malta, especially in its ancient capital Mdina. Tancred, King of Sicily, the second to last Norman monarch, made Malta a fief of the kingdom and installed a Count of Malta in 1192. As the islands were much desired due to their strategic importance, it was during this time that the men of Malta were militarised to fend off attempted conquest; early Counts were skilled Genoese privateers.

The kingdom passed on to the dynasty of Hohenstaufen from 1194 until 1266. During this period, when Frederick II of Hohenstaufen began to reorganise his Sicilian kingdom, Western culture and religion began to exert their influence more intensely. Malta was declared a county and a marquisate, but its trade was totally ruined. For a long time, it remained solely a fortified garrison.

A mass expulsion of Arabs occurred in 1224, and the entire Christian male population of Celano in Abruzzo was deported to Malta in the same year. In 1249 Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, decreed that all remaining Muslims be expelled from Malta or compelled to convert.

For a brief period, the kingdom passed to the Capetian House of Anjou, but high taxes made the dynasty unpopular in Malta, due in part to Charles of Anjou’s war against the Republic of Genoa, and the island of Gozo was sacked in 1275.

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