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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
A small island 96 km S of Capo Passero. It was a Phoenician trading
post until the Carthaginians colonized the island for strategic reasons in the
6th c. B.C. Its Punic tradition persevered throughout the Classical period. Malta
was annexed by Rome in 218 B.C. and incorporated into the province of Sicily,
with whom it had formed strong trading ties over the previous century. Cicero,
in citing the Maltese as victims of the despoliations by the Quaestor of Sicily,
Q. Verres, draws a picture of quiet prosperity at the beginning of the 1st c.
B.C. The island declined in the following troubled years of piratical raids and
the civil wars from which, despite the appointment of a Procurator by Augustus,
it was unable to recover until the mid 1st c. A.D. By the early 2d c., Malta and
the neighboring island of Gozo (Gaulos) were granted municipal status, but their
history in the later Empire is obscure; under Justinian they became once again
part of Sicily and in 553 are mentioned as a bishop's see from the suffragio of
The Carthaginians founded capital towns on commanding inland positions
on each island, but owing to continuous occupation of these sites ever since,
little now can be seen. Of the town of Melita, present-day Mdina and Rabat, apart
from a short section of the town wall, only the site of a large town house is
preserved as the "Roman Villa" Museum, which contains the majority of
Punic and Roman finds to be seen on Malta. In its earlier phases the house dates
to the 3d and 2d c. B.C., but it was extended in the Augustan period with a set
of rooms arranged on a peristyle atrium, decorated with sculpture, architectural
ornament, and mosaics to Roman taste. The numerous tombs of the period that honeycomb
the rock along the roads leading S from the town do, however, attest the size
of the population. Most notable are the extensive catacombs, the largest and most
elaborate of which, St. Paul's and St. Agatha's, are predominantly Christian,
of the 4th and 5th c. A.D. Smaller, finer ones in country districts--at Salina
Bay and Mintna--are earlier. Purely pagan complexes exist at Hal Barca and Tac
Caghqi, near Rabat. Of the town of Gaulos, modern Victoria, on Gozo, only the
general plan of the ancient grid of streets may be traced in the warren of Arab
alleys, but the small museum on the citadel contains several fine pieces of sculpture
and chance finds from the town.
The original Phoenician trading settlement and later Carthaginian
port lay on the shores of Marsascirocco Bay in the S of Malta, but in the 3d c.
B.C. trade with Magna Graecia led to the development of harbor facilities at Grand
Harbor which faces NE. During drainage operations in the 18th c. on the silted-up
inner basin at Marsa, large warehouses and evidence of a wharf (1350 m long) were
found. Further wharves and storehouses were excavated in the same region in 1947
and 1959. Other rich finds, among them large baths with polychrome mosaics of
fishes indicate a wealthy port.
Although a corresponding decline in the importance of Marsascirocco
may be inferred, the sanctuaries that grouped around the old harbor flourished
into the 1st c. A.D. Temples to Melqart (Herakles) and Astarte (Hera) are attested
by many chance finds; and the site of the latter at Tas Silk, on the ridge of
the Delimara promontory, has been excavated (1963-68). A Copper Age megalithic
temple was taken over in the 6th c. B.C. as the sanctuary of the Punic temple,
entered from the W through a finely paved colonnaded courtyard. In the 3d c. B.C.
this courtyard was surrounded with a further portico and a high "temenos"
wall, 28 m of which survive on the S side. A complex of ancillary buildings was
laid out to the N, and the large cistern at Bir Ricca was probably constructed
to supply the site. Despite evidence of repairs made in the 1st c. A.D. the temple
appears to have fallen into disuse soon after; a Christian basilica was built
within the colonnaded court in the 4th c.
At Ras-il-Wardija, on the edge of cliffs 90 m high on the extreme
SW tip of Gozo, another sanctuary was discovered in 1965-67. A small inner chamber
was cut into a low rock face, fronted with a monumental facade, in the 3d c. B.C.
A deep rectangular pool with rock-cut steps down one side lies to the right of
the entrance, and the forecourt was terraced down to the cliff edge, with associated
rooms to the W. Like Tas Silk the site shows strong Hellenistic influences but
remains essentially Punic in character. It was abandoned in the 1st c. A.D.
The islands were famed for their fine textiles, and the widespread
production of olive oil is evident. The late Punic villa at Birzebbugia, overlooking
Marsascirocco Bay, was built round a small central court which covered a cistern,
with a staircase leading off to an upper story, which probably contained the living
quarters. The ground floor houses the press-beds and rooms for processing olive
oil, and there is possible evidence for the production of cloth. A small plunge
bath was added in the Roman period. The villa at Ras-ir-Raheb, near the W cliffs
of Malta, though fragmentary, appears to have been a larger version of the same
plan. San Pawl Milqi, on the slopes above Bur Marrod close to Salina Bay, is traditionally
the site of Publius' villa where the shipwrecked St. Paul was received in 60 A.D.
The main constructional phase on the site is a large residential and agricultural
complex, laid out regularly around a peristyle courtyard; it has produced fine
architectural fragments of the 2d c. B.C. Beneath the court are traces of an earlier
phase. In the 1st c. A.D. this area was damaged by fire and in the rebuilding
the living quarters were extended to the W where the walls are decorated with
painted wall plaster. The olive oil processing rooms are well preserved. The excavators
believe that the Pauline tradition can be confirmed by the special treatment given
to one room of the villa in the later Roman period, providing several extra entrances
and a small antechamber to the W. A series of later chapels was built over the
spot, ending with the present 16th c. chapel of San Pawl Milqi. A double defensive
wall was built round the villa, probably in the 3d c.; its foundations can be
seen on the S side.
Near Ghajn Tuffieha, an abundant spring on the S side of the fertile
Puales Valley, a set of Roman baths was excavated in 1929. Their size has suggested
a municipal establishment or at least a large villa, dated to the late 1st or
early 2d c. A.D. They comprise an open-air natatio, a set of small changing rooms
with mosaic and hexagonal tiled floors, a tepidarium with a fine shield mosaic,
a caldarium with a hypocaust of arched brick pilae, and a nine-seat marble latrine.
A surprising survival is the tower of a 3d c. B.C. "towered"
house of the type popular in Hellenic Egypt, preserved to the height of the overhanging
cornice as part of the parish priest's house at Zurrieq. Other interesting monuments
include the circular defensive towers built on the approaches to the town of Melita.
Their date is problematic: those of Ta Gawhar, Ia Wilgia, Ta Cieda L'Imsierah,
and the Santi Gap may belong to the 3d c. A.D.; but others, it-Torriet and Misrah
Hlantun, certainly reflect earlier crises.
A. Claridge, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites,
Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from
Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
Melita (Melite: Eth. Melitaios, Melitensis: Malta), an island in the
Mediterranean sea, to the S. of Sicily, from the nearest point of which it is
distant 47 geogr. miles, but 55 from cape Pachynum. Strabo gives this last distance
as 88 miles, which is greatly overstated; while Pliny calls it 84 miles distant
from Camarina, which equally exceeds the truth. (Strab. vi. p. 277; Plin. iii.
8. s. 14.) The island is about 17 miles long, and between 9 and 10 in breadth,
and is separated only by a narrow channel from the adjoining island of Gaulos,
now Gozo. Notwithstanding its small extent, the opportune situation of Melita
in the channel between Sicily, and Africa, and the excellence of its harbours,
must have early rendered it a place of importance as a commercial station, and
it was occupied, probably at a very early period, by a Phoenician colony. (Diod.
v. 12.) The date of this is wholly uncertain, and it is called by later writers
for the most part a Carthaginian settlement (Scyl. p. 50. § 110; Steph. B. s.
v.), which it certainly became in after times; but there can be no doubt that
Diodorus is right in describing it as originally a Phoenician one, established
by that people as an emporium and harbour of refuge during their long voyages
towards the west. The same author tells us that in consequence of this commercial
traffic, the colony rose rapidly to prosperity, which was increased by the industry
of its inhabitants, who practised various kinds of manufactures with great success.
(Diod. l. c.) But notwithstanding this account of its prosperity we have scarcely
any knowledge of its history. The notice of it by Scylax as a Carthaginian colony,
seems to prove that it had not in his day received a Greek settlement; and indeed
there is no trace in history of its having ever fallen into the hands of the Greeks
of Sicily, though its coins, as well as inscriptions, indicate that it received
a strong tincture of Greek civilisation; and at a later period it appears to have
been in a great measure Hellenised. Some of these inscriptions point to a close
connection with Syracuse in particular, but of the origin and nature of this we
have no account. (Boeckh, Corp. Inscr. Gr. 5752, &c.) In the First Punic War we
find Melita still in the hands of the Carthaginians; and though it was ravaged
in B.C. 257 by a Roman fleet under Atilius Regulus, it does not appear that it
fell permanently into the hands of the Romans. At the outbreak of the Second Punic
War it was held by a Carthaginian garrison under Hamilcar, the son of Gisgo, who,
however, surrendered the island to Tib. Sempronius, with a Roman fleet, B.C. 218
(Liv. xxi. 51): and from this time it continued without intermission subject to
the Roman rule. It was annexed to the province of Sicily, and subject to the government
of the praetor of that island. During the period that the Mediterranean was so
severely infested by the Cilician pirates, Melita was a favourite resort of those
corsairs, who often made it their winter-quarters. (Cic. Verr. iv. 4. 6, 47.)
Notwithstanding this it appears to have been in the days of Cicero in a flourishing
condition, and the great orator more than once during periods of civil disturbances
entertained the project of retiring thither into a kind of voluntary exile. (Cic.
ad Att. iii. 4, x. 7, 8, 9, &c.)
The inhabitants of Melita were at this period famous for their skill
in manufacturing a kind of fine linen, or rather cotton, stuffs, which appear
to have been in great request at Rome, and were generally known under the name
of vestis Melitensis. (Cic. Verr. ii. 7. 2, iv. 46; Diod. v. 12.) There is no
doubt that these were manufactured from the cotton, which still forms the staple
production of the island.
Melita is celebrated in sacred history as the scene of the shipwreck
of St. Paul on his voyage to Rome, A.D. 60. (Act. Apost. xxviii.) The error of
several earlier writers, who have transferred this to the Melita on the E. coast
of the Adriatic (now Meleda), has evidently arisen from the vague use of the name
of the Adriatic, which is employed in the Acts of the Apostles (xxvii. 27), in
the manner that was customary under the Roman Empire, as corresponding to the
Ionian and Sicilian seas of geographers. The whole course and circumstances of
the voyage leave no doubt that the Melita in question was no other than the modern
Malta, where a bay called St. Paul's Bay is still pointed out by tradition as
the landing-place of the Apostle. (The question is fully examined and discussed
by Mr. J. Smith, in his Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul, 8vo. Lond. 1848; also
in Conybeare and Howson's Life of St. Paul, vol. ii. p. 353, &c.)
No other mention is found of Melita during the period of the Roman
Empire, except in the geographers and the Maritime Itinerary, in which last the
name already appears corrupted into its modern form of Malta. (Strab. vi. p. 277;
Plin. iii. 8. s. 13; Mel. ii. 7. § 18; Ptol. iv. 3. § 37; Itin. Marit. p. 518;
Sil. Ital. xiv. 251.) After the fall of the Roman Empire it fell for a time into
the hands of the Vandals; but was recovered from them by Belisarius in A.D. 533
(Procop. B. V. i. 14), and appears to have continued from this time subject to
the Byzantine empire, until it was conquered by the Arabs in A.D. 870.
The present population is principally derived from an Arabic stock;
but it is probable that the Arab conquerors here, as well as in Africa, have been
to a great extent amalgamated with the previously existing Punic population. The
inscriptions discovered at Malta sufficiently prove that the Greek language was
at one time in habitual used there, as well as in the neighboring island of Sicily;
and one of these, which is bilingual, shows that Greek and Punic must have been
both prevalent at the same period. (Boeckh, Corpus Inscr. Gr. 5752-5754.) The
former was probably the language of the more cultivated classes, in the same manner
as Italian is at the present day.
Diodorus justly extols the excellence of the ports of Melita, to which
that island has always been indebted for its importance. (Diod. v. 12.) The ancient
geographers all mention a city of the same name with the island, but its precise
site is nowhere indicated; there is, however, good reason to believe that it was
the same with that of the old capital of the island, now called Medina (i, e.
the city ), or Civita Vecchia, situated almost in the centre of the island; the
modern town of La Valletta, which is the present capital, was not founded till
1566. Cicero speaks of a celebrated temple of Juno on a promontory not far from
the town (Cic. Verr. iv. 4. 6); but the expression is too vague to prove that
the latter was situated close to the sea, like the modern Valletta. Ptolemy also
notices the same temple, as well as one of Hercules, evidently the Phoenician
deity Melkart. (Ptol. iv. 3. § 37.) The ruins of both these temples are described
by Quintino, who wrote in 1536, as existing in his time; but the grounds of identification
are not given. The only considerable ruins now existing in the island are those
on the S. coast, near a place called Casal Crendi, which are described in detail
by Barth. (Arch. Zeitung, 1848, Nos. 22, 23.) These are evidently of Phoenician
origin, and constructed of massive stones, in a very rude style of architecture,
bearing much resemblance to the remains called the Torre dei Giganti, in the neighbouring
island of Gozo. Some slight vestiges of buildings near the port called Marsa Scirocco
may perhaps be those of the temple of Hercules; while, according to Fazello and
Quintino, those of the temple of Juno were situated in the neighbourhood of the
Castle of S. Angelo, opposite to the modern city of Valletta. (Quintini Descript.
Ins. Melitae, p. 110, in Burmann's Thes. vol. xv.; Fazell. de Reb. Sic. i. 1.
Ovid terms Melita a fertile island (Fast. iii. 567); an expression
which is certainly ill applied, for though it was, in ancient as well as modern
times, populous and flourishing, and probably, therefore, always well cultivated,
the soil is naturally stony and barren, and the great want of water precludes
all natural fertility. Cotton, which at the present day is extensively cultivated
there, was doubtless the material of the fine stuffs manufactured in the island;
and the excellence of its soft stone as a building material accounts for the splendour
of the houses, extolled by Diodorus (v. 12). Another peculiar production of the
island was a breed of small dogs, noticed by Strabo and other authors, though
some writers derived these from the Melita in the Adriatic. The breed still exists
in Malta. (Strab. vi. p. 277; Athen. xii. p. 518; Plin. iii. 26. s. 30.) The freedom
from venomous reptiles which Malta enjoys, in common with many other secluded
islands, is ascribed by the inhabitants to the miraculous intervention of St.
Paul. (Quintino, l. c. p. 117.)
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited September 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)
Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
The modern Malta, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, about
seventeen miles long and nine in breadth. It was colonized by the Ph?nicians,
and afterwards belonged to the Carthaginians, from whom it was taken by the Romans
in the Second Punic War (B.C. 216). It is celebrated as the island on which the
Apostle Paul was shipwrecked; though some writers erroneously suppose that the
Apostle was shipwrecked on the island of the same name off the Illyrican coast.
The inhabitants manufactured fine cloth (Melitensia, sc. vestimenta); and the
lapdogs (catuli Melitaei) were much petted by Roman ladies. Cicero speaks of it
as the home of pirates, but himself often thought of making it a place of exile.
The Ogygia of Homer is sometimes identified with Malta. In the fifth century A.D.
it was taken by the Vandals, then by the Goths, and in 870 by the Arabs.
This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Perseus Project index
Total results on 22/5/2001: 39 for Melita, 321 for Malta.
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