The Romans in Malta
The Maltese archipelago consists of three inhabited islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino and two other uninhabited islands. They lie in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, 95 km south of Sicily and 288 km north of North Africa. The total area is 316 square km (Malta - 246; Gozo - 67; and Comino - 3).
The first inhabitants of Malta originated from Sicily, and settled there circa 5000 BC. The megalithic temple builders reached the island circa 4000 BC. The unique megalithic temples, which pre-date England's Stonehenge, were erected between 3600 BC and 2500 BC. However, the civilisation which built them soon collapsed, and Bronze Age settlers moved in.
The Phoenicians appreciated the strategic value of the Maltese Islands and started to make use of them as a centre for their trading activities, arrived in the 8th century BC.
The entry of the Carthaginians increased the Island's strategic importance and attracted the attention of Rome. 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. The Romans fought three major wars against the Carthaginians, known as the Three Punic Wars.
The Romans took Malta during the Second Punic War when Titus Sempronius Longus invaded it in 218 BC. 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 Propraetor in Sicily.
The Romans called the island Melite, probably derived from the Phoenician Malat. The present name Malta is derived from it. The capital was also called Melite and was situated at the hilltop of the present city of Mdina. But Melite was larger than Mdina and included parts of modern-day Rabat.
In Rabat there are still some traces of the Roman presence in Malta, like the mosaic floors of a Roman Domus from the 1st century AD. Furthermore there are some catacombs in Rabat which are subterranean burial complexes that were in use during the Roman and early Christian period. The Romans also built several villas in the countryside.
This website explores various aspects of the Roman rule and provides information on Roman heritage in the Maltese Islands.