Punic and Roman Times

The Phoenicians appreciated the strategic value of the Maltese Islands and started to make use of them. Presumably they founded the cities of Melita and Gaulos in the Centre of the islands while rock-cut tombs indicate their presence inland and the introduction of their religious cult related with Astarte as evidenced by the Tas-Silg Temple.

When the Phoenician homeland was overrun by the Assyrians and Babylonians, the Carthaginians took over the Islands and started using them as a trading post. While a Maltese government system similar to that of the Carthaginians seems to have evolved, Maltese trade gained in reputation particularly in the production of textiles.

Various Punic artifacts give an indication of the life-style of the people at the time. Votive offerings including amulets, jewellery, inscribed papyri, bowls and urns have been found in various tombs. A terracotta sarcophagus, dating from about 500 B.C., found at Ghar Barka, Rabat, represents the figure of a woman and is Egyptian in style.

Greek culture may have also influenced the islands: a votive cippus dedicated to Melkart, Lord of Tyre, has Punic script accompanied by Greek, while early Roman coins bear Greek inscriptions. The cippus helped in the deciphering of the Phoenician alphabet.

The Romans took Malta during the Second Punic War when Titus Sempronius Longus invaded it in 218 B.C. Under Roman rule, the Maltese were considered as confederates and allies. They had their own government, while during the troublesome period of the Republic in Rome, they were placed under a Pro Praetor in Sicily.

The inhabitants prospered and according to Diodorus Siculus they became wealthy and increased in reputation. They built country houses embellished with mosaic floors, thermae and marble statues while the cities of Melita and Gaulos gained in importance. When the Praetor Verres pillaged the island, he was immediately accused by the Roman orator Cicero.

In 60 A.D. St. Paul was shipwrecked in Malta. His companion St. Luke noted that the Maltese were 'barbarians' implying that they spoke neither Greek nor Latin.

Christianity started to spread. Christian communities started organising their own holy places and dug catacombs which are exceptionally well laid and excavated. The Maltese catacombs, notably those of St. Paul's and St. Agatha, are unique among those still existing: they have agape tables which served for libation rites.

Then followed an obscure period during which the Islands were occupied by the Byzantines.


Key Dates - Ancient Civilisations

Arrow c.750 B.C. - Arrival of the Phoenicians
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Arrow c.480 B.C. - The Carthaginian Period
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Arrow c.256 B.C. - Malta attacked by the Romans
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Arrow c.218 B.C. - Malta taken by the Romans
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Arrow 41 B.C. - The Maltese are allowed municipal privileges
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Arrow 60 A.D. - Apostle St Paul shipwrecked in Malta
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Arrow 395 A.D. - Final division of the Roman Empire