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History of Malta

Malta's history begins with the ancient Greeks who initially settled the island in about 700 BC. The Greeks were followed by numerous people from the Mediterranean Sea area landing and intermarrying with the locals; including groups from the Middle East, North Africa, and finally Rome.

Malta remained under Roman rule for hundreds of years and was quickly Christianized, perhaps encouraged by St. Paul who landed on the island during his ministry. In the 300s, when the Roman Empire was divided, Malta fell under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, based out of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul).

In the 900s the island was ruled over by a North African Islamic group, the Fatimids, who introduced both Islam and a new Semitic language. This rule didn't last long though as the Norman conquest in Sicily trickled to Malta in the late 1000s as the people, generally, welcomed this new Christian ruler.

Under the rule of the state of Sicily and the Norman rulers, Malta became a very important strategic land as it fell on the Mediterranean trade routes; this led to relatively massive military build-up on the island as forts were built and trading harbors were established. However, as rulers in Sicily and mainland Europe changed so did the rulers over Malta, creating little long-term stability.

In the 1200s the Muslims were forced to leave the islands or convert to Christianity. Shortly afterwards the rulers of Aragon (in modern-day Spain) took control of the islands and ruled over the tiny nation until the early 1400s, when power shifted back to Sicily.

The 1500s again saw much change for the islands as they sat between Europe and Africa, making them an ideal location for a fight between the Barbary pirates (off the North African coast) and the powers in Europe. This again militarized the nation as the Knights of Malta fended off the Barbary Coast pirates and made the islands a symbol of Christianity.

After the pinnacle of the violence in the Mediterranean Sea subdued, Malta was again mostly forgotten. This ended in about 1800 when Napoleon took over the islands and implemented many of the same reforms the French Revolution preached. This didn't last long though as the British came in less than five years later to take the islands, however this was primarily a welcomed change as the islands became a part of the British Empire.

During the inter-war period (between World War I and World War II (WWII)) in the early 1900s, Malta formed a greater independent identity, but remained under British control. Despite this, during WWII the Maltese fought with the British and tried to disrupt the important Axis shipping lanes between Europe and North Africa. With British help, the islands were not taken during the war.

In the 1960s and 1970s Malta negotiated with the British to gain full independence. They quickly claimed neutrality and have, mainly, remained out of the international political circles until the early 2000s when Malta joined the European Union (EU).

This page was last updated: March, 2013