The Brief History of Malta (in 2 minutes)


 

A brief History of Malta in 2 minutes (major historical events)

Maltese holidays are bound to be enhanced the country's history which is rich and varied, with a handful of recorded sieges and colonialism. Today we’ll be going over almost a millennium worth of history in a matter of minutes. But before we being, we'd like to share with your this 6 minute video of the history of Malta by the eclectic LindyBeige.

If you're looking for a more detailed timeline of Malta history, keep scrolling past the video!

 

The Maltese islands have a lot going for them: sandy beaches, near-constant sunlight, and global cuisine you can get to in a matter of seconds are just a few of the highlights of visiting the island - however, it’s not all party nights and afternoons sleeping in!

Malta has one of the most varied histories of the world, and with over 8000 years of it which we can clearly identify, culture vultures visiting the island will need to extend their stay just so they can get the full picture of what it was like living on the most coveted island in the Mediterranean.

The strategic geographical position and rich farmland made Malta a jewel for everyone looking to trade in the Mediterranean: the island had easy access to both mainland Europe and lower Africa, as well as the Middle East, and whoever conquered the island would have their choice of trading ports for the taking.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, of course.

Sieges and forceful takeovers are as part of Maltese history as Freedom Day and fighting for independence, and if you’re visiting the island, then you should definitely know a part of the story of how Malta came to be, without having to spend most of your holiday reading up.

Here’s our brief history of Malta in under 2 minutes.

Date Unknown - Island Formation

Malta forms part of an underwater ridge that connects North Africa and Sicily, but before it was an island, Malta was completely submerged underneath the water. It was only after the Strait of Gibraltar closed that the sea level lowered enough to reveal the islands, which were then still connected to both North Africa and Sicily, and remained that way for a long time.

Don’t believe this?

Maltese archaeologists have found the remains of animals that were indigenous to Europe and North Africa, such as elephants and hippopotami, particularly in Ghar Dalam.

5900 BC - The First Settlers

You can count the information we know about the first settlers on Malta on one hand!

We know they were probably immigrants from Sicily, looking for new land to live on. We know that they were builders and farmers and hunters who brought domestic animals with them to the islands to sustain themselves and start farming communities.

  • We know they built the temples dotted around the island.
  • We know they lived in the caves around Malta, and that they somehow had contact with other cultures.
  • We know that they went away after a few centuries, and that the islands remained uninhabited.
  • We know they were pagan.

The roots of Maltese culture was seeded in the Neolithic era.

 

3850 BC - The Second Settlers

The Ggantija Temples are built by a second wave of settlers coming back to Malta from Sicily. We know practically nothing about them or their practices, as information is very limited on this period of time in the Maltese islands.

The settlers disappeared without a trace around 2350BC, leaving behind their temples and their open-air dwellings.

 

870 BC - The Phoenicians Arrive

The Phoenicians arrived in Malta from Lebanon. They called it ‘Maleth’, safe haven, and used the island primarily as a trading post on their way to other countries.

It’s been suggested that the Phoenicians populating Malta were from Tyre, the famous dye-producing capital of the Levant whose fortune is built on the purple dye excreted by Murex snails found in the Mediterranean.

Although very little visibile influence is left, the effects of the Phoenicians on Malta are noticeable even today - place names, numbers, and the Maltese language are all very close to the Arabic language, and to this day, Maltese remains the only Semitic-based language in Europe… which is also written in a Roman script!

600 BC - Carthage

Carthage takes over the island.

Malta’s role in the Mediterranean is now exclusively as a trading post that links Africa to Sicily. Hellenistic features crop up, however there’s no evidence to suggest that Malta was ever a Greek colony.

255 BC - The Start of Roman Rule

Romans take the island from the Phoenician soldiers, and by 218 BC, Malta has its own senate and people’s assembly.

The Romans build an administrative base in Mdina, under the name ‘Melite’; like with ‘Maleth’, the island soon becomes known as ‘Melite’. Some Roman-era villas remain to highlight the prosperity of Roman rule in Malta, and the islands grew rich.

The Roman Catholic religion was introduced. Despite that, Punic-Hellenistic religions and influences remained until 1 B.C..

 

533 BC - Byzantines

Briefly, the Byzantines land in Malta. They improve and build defensive structures along the walls.

Very little is known about the Byzantines’ need for Malta, however the high amount of ceramics left behind suggest that Malta was very important.

870 AD - The Arab Rule Begins

Malta is nearly completely destroyed when invaders from North Africa descend on the island and ransack the island. All inhabitants are massacred.

 

1048 - Repopulisation

Muslims and their slaves repopulate the islands and rebuild the city of Melite, renaming it ‘Medina’.

The orange and lemon trees that fill many of the island’s gardens are planted, and new methods of irrigation are created.

1127 - Norman Rule

Roger II of Sicily gives Malta to Normal rule. Malta passes through multiple hands and rulers at this time as a belonging of the crown of Sicily. Muslim religion in Malta is slowly stamped out, replaced by the Christian religion.

The Maltese language, cut off from its Arabic source, begins to develop.

1436

The first known documentation of Malta having a distinct language dates back to 1436 - when the language was known as lingua maltensi. Before this time, in the 800s, the Maltese spoke Arabic Maltese due to the colonialism from the Aghlabid Arabs.

The language progressively evolved into its own mother tongue. 

1530 - The Rule of the Knights

The knights came to Malta and eventually colonised it in 1530 leading to major changes to the Maltese islands. For starters, the Knights made Italian the official language of Malta.

The Knights Hospitaller made Malta their new home after they were driven out of Rhodes. The island was gifted to them by Charles V, who feared that the Ottoman Empire would invade Rome from the South and wanted to safeguard against it.

For the Knights Hospitaller, this was the chance to have a permanent home, and they took it very seriously.

Banks, hospitals, and public spaces were meticulously planned and built, works of art and beautiful architecture was commissioned and designed.

Malta’s location in the middle of the sea, however, meant that for them to protect the island, they needed to become able seamen - which they did! They attacked Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent’s ships and wrecked his vessels until he ordered an attack on Malta.

 The marine cities were fortified and the Maltese islands were made into a militant force.

1565 - The Great Siege

40,000 Turkish troops descended on the 9,000 strong Maltese islands.

For 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, Turkish troops tried and failed to bring about the ruination of the Maltese islands. When they left, it was in shame, and the Siege of Malta was celebrated and renowned throughout 16th Century Europe, garnering mention by Voltaire.

Today, it’s considered one of the nails-in-the-coffin of the Ottoman Empire’s slow defeat.

Many great books have been written about this seige, with one of the best stories being The Sword and the Scimitar by David Ball and 

The Knights throw heart and soul into rebuilding the broken cities.

Soon after the siege, Jean Parisot de Valette; the Grand Master at the time, began the works on Valletta. Unfortunately, he died in 1568, only 2 years before the city was completed. 

1798 - The French Take Over

Napoleon Bonaparte wants Malta for himself; after he sends troops to scale the hills of Valletta, Grandmaster Hompesche capitulates and signs over the Maltese Islands to the French.

Napoleon only stays for six days, long enough to abolish slavery, increase the reach of education in Malta to everyone, create 12 new municipalities for Malta, and set up a public finance administration.

He leaves, and the French take over. They do not prove popular with the Maltese people, as they’re more interested in ransacking churches and closing convents than taking care of the islands. They only rule the islands for 2 years.

1800s

After the French ruined terms with the Maltese after ransacking their churches, the Maltese wrote to the English and asked for help.

Lord Horatio Nelson blockaded the French until they surrended the island to the English. In 1800, the Maltese Islands became a protectorate of the British Islands, who mostly saw it as a military and naval fortress.

In 1813, the Maltese islands were struck by a devastating plague, which killed off a third of the Maltese population in a matter of months. The plague spread from the Lazaretto Quarantine Harbour on Manoel Island, took to Valletta, and then to the rest of the Maltese Islands, bar Senglea, who avoided the plague completely.

In 1883, the Malta Railway is set up; it closes only fifty years later.

In 1885, the first postage stamps are printed.

1900s 

While Malta doesn’t serve in World War I, the island becomes a floating hospital, and gains the name ‘the Nurse of the Mediterranean’ due to the number of wounded soldiers taken to the island for recuperation.

In 1919, the Sette Giugno riots break out, and lead to increased autonomy for the Maltese islands. This is where the schism between the Maltese and the United Kingdom begin, widening steadily in the coming years.

In World War II, Malta is heavily bombed. It retaliates, causing astronomical amounts of damage to Italian air crafts, although it sustained more losses than the Italians. Malta’s actions during the war gets it a medal from King George - the George Cross, for bravery in the face of the enemies - which is now on the Maltese flag.

A new constitution in 1947 restores self-rule in Malta.

In 1953, the Queen neglects to invite a Maltese delegate to the Coronation; this only hastens the end of British rule in Malta. Furthermore, Malta’s decreasing importance after the war means that the British government no longer want to maintain the military dockyards, and following the dismissal of Maltese workers, the plans are set in motion for independence.

Malta campaigns, and wins, independence in 1964.

In 1974, Malta becomes a Republic, and the last British troops leave Malta completely in 1979. Malta is now a complete state in its own right - with its own language, history, and national antem. For the first time in millenia, Malta is not colonised or belonging to someone else.

2004 - Malta joins the EU

After years of independence, Malta took to a referendum to debate whether joining the EU would be a profitable decision. After numerous debates, Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and adopted the euro, short after; in 2008.

In 2018, Valletta was declared the Capital City of Culture in Europe.

We’re sure you now understand why Malta is known to be a history hub. No matter how many times you’ve been to Malta, the history is overflowing and the places left to visit are insurmountable!

Looking to visit the islands to experience the history for yourself? Book now!

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