Malta was an important cultic center for earth-mother worship in the 4th
millennium B.C. Recent archeological work shows a developed religious
center there long before those of Sumer and Egypt. Malta's written
history began well before the Christian era. Originally the Phoenicians,
and later the Carthaginians, established ports and trading settlements
on the island. During the second Punic War (218 B.C.), Malta became part
of the Roman Empire. During Roman rule, in A.D. 60, Saint Paul was
shipwrecked on Malta at a place nowl called St. Paul's Bay. In 533 A.D.
Malta became part of the Byzantine Empire and in 870 came under Arab
control. Arab occupation and rule left a strong imprint on Maltese life,
customs, and language. The Arabs were driven out in 1090 by a band of
Norman adventurers under Count Roger of Normandy, who had established a
kingdom in southern Italy and Sicily. Malta thus became an appendage of
Sicily for 440 years. During this period, Malta was sold and resold to
various feudal lords and barons and was dominated successively by the
rulers of Swabia, Aquitaine, Aragon, Castile, and Spain.
In 1523, a key date in Maltese history, the islands were ceded by
Charles V of Spain to the rich and powerful order of the Knights of St.
John of Jerusalem. For the next 275 years, these famous "Knights of
Malta" made the island their kingdom. They built towns, palaces,
churches, gardens, and fortifications and embellished the island with
numerous works of art and culture. In 1565, these knights broke the
siege of Malta by Suleiman the Magnificent. The power of the knights
declined, however, and their rule of Malta was ended by their surrender
to Napoleon in 1798.
The people of Malta rose against French rule and, with the help of the
British, evicted them in 1800. In 1814, Malta voluntarily became part of
the British Empire. Under the United Kingdom, the island became a
military and naval fortress, the headquarters of the British
Mediterranean fleet. During World War II, Malta survived a siege at the
hands of German and Italian military forces (1940-43). In recognition,
King George VI in 1942 awarded the George Cross "to the island fortress
of Malta--its people and defenders." President Franklin Roosevelt,
describing the wartime period, called Malta "one tiny bright flame in
the darkness." Malta obtained independence on September 21, 1964.
source: State Department Background Notes 1995
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