Here Today, Gone To-Malta:

A brief summary of how the Roman Empire affected the islands it controlled.

Rachel Kelsall. October 15, 2016.

This story starts, as most stories do, with the fall of Phoenicia in 332 BC. After the Phoenician Empire fell, the island of Malta came under the control of Carthage, a former Phoenician colony. The people of Carthage were a peaceful and socially content people, with Aristotle once remarking, “The Carthaginians have never had any rebellion worth speaking of, and have never been under the rule of a tyrant.” Which in the time of people like Lachares was quite an achievement, as Lachares was a ruler of Athens once described as “of all tyrants the most inhuman towards men, and the most sacrilegious towards the gods”. This became a peaceful time for the people of Malta whose focus became olives, carob and textiles. However, this peace was destroyed, as it usually is, by the Romans.

The First Punic War led to the island being conquered by the Roman Marcus Atilius Regulus. Who continued on an expedition to Africa until the people of Carthage captured him in 255 BC. After being held captive Regulus was sent by the rulers of Carthage to Rome to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the war. It is reported that he urged the Roman Senate to refuse the proposals of the Carthaginians before going back to Carthage, against the wishes of the Roman people, to fulfil the terms of his parole. Sources from that period claim he was then, in keeping with the traditions of the time, tortured to death. Although some historians have suggested that the story of the torture of Regulus was simply made up as a way to excuse the torturing of two Carthaginian prisoners of war by Regulus’s widow. How romantic.

After the failure of Regulus’s expedition, the island returned to the Carthaginians, this would have been a happy ending for the people of Malta; however, like bears after Goldilocks, Punic Wars come in threes. And the second of these Punic wars meant Malta was conquered again in 218 BC by Roman Consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus. Malta then became a Foederata Civitas, or allied city, this designation meant that Malta fell within the jurisdiction of the province of Sicily and did not have to pay tribute. Due to this leniency on the part of the Romans Malta continued to thrive as a hub of trade, being assessed by many as an island of impressive wealth. The leniency also caused the Romanization of the island to be slow and unimposing. This is indicated in the examples of Roman coins found on the island, as the last Roman coins minted on the island have inscriptions in Ancient Greek, such as MEΛΙΤΑΙΩ, “meaning of the Maltese” as well as Punic designs, this showed the continued influence of other cultures on the island.

Due to the death of Theodosius I, in 395 AD, the Roman Empire was divided for the last time and Malta fell under the control of the Western Roman Empire. Theodosius I was an Emperor known as ‘The Great’, less impressive when you consider over 100 people in history share that title. One of the more notable aspects of Theodosius’ rule was his fighting with the Goths. (The Goths were an East Germanic people of course, not fans of ‘Black Veil Brides’).

During the Migration Period in the first millennium AD, more interestingly called Völkerwanderung by the Germans, the Romans lost control of Malta. Leaving it to be conquered an estimated eight more times before we reach present day.


The Maltese Cross: A Strategic History of Malta

Doing Business with Malta

Further Reading:

Brief History of the islands of Malta and Gozo