under phoenician influence
From 1000 BC the power of the Phoenicians extended all over the Mediterranean.
The Phoenicians - a nation of traders from the present Lebanon - dominated the
most important trade routes and had strongholds at several points. Malta came
under Phoenician influence as well,
most probably since the 8th century BC. They called the island
, which meant something like 'safe harbour' in the Phoenician language. The
prehistoric temple of Tas-Silg was reconstructed and dedicated to the goddess
Astarte. In 1697 two candelabra were found with inscriptions in both the
Phoenician language and in Greek. These candelabra have been of great
importance for the deciphering of the Phoenician language. One of them is at
present in the Louvre in Paris, the other one is in the National Archaeological
Museum in Valletta.
The centre of power in the Phoenician empire shifted from the main land in
present Lebanon to the colony of Carthage in what is nowadays known as Tunisia.
Against the Carthaginians, the Romans fought several battles, the so called
During the second Punic war, in 218 BC, Malta fell into the hands of the
Romans. The Romans called the island
, probably a corruption of the Phoenician
. The present name Malta is derived from it.
The capital was also called Melita and was situated at the hilltop of the
present city of Mdina. But Melita was larger than Mdina and included parts of
In Rabat there are still some traces of the Roman presence in
Malta, like the mosaic floors of a Roman house from the 1st century AD.
Furthermore there are some catacombs in Rabat, subterranean burial complexes
that were in use during the Roman and early christian period.
saint paul's shipwreck
In the year 60 AD an event took place that is comprehensively described in the
Bible: the shipwreck of the apostle Paul
(Acts of the Apostles 27 and 28)
. According to the legend this shipwreck took place at St. Paul's Bay. Saint
Paul stayed in Malta for three months and performed a number of miracles, like
the healing of the father of Publius, the
Roman governor. Publius became the first bishop of Malta. Tradition has it,
that St. Paul converted the Maltese to christianity, but
there is no historical evidence to prove it. The first signs of the existence
of a christian community in Malta date back to not earlier than the fourth
century. Nevertheless Saint Paul is regarded as the one who brought
christianity to Malta; Saint Paul is the patron saint of Malta and the
cathedral of Mdina is dedicated to him.
There are not many Phoenician remains in Malta. The temple of
cannot be visited. In Gozo you can see the rock-cut Phoenician sanctuary at
Ras il-Wardija, behind the village of Kercem. To be able to find this temple, you will need a
good map and you should not be afraid of a long walk. In Western Malta you may
Phoenician tombs, most of which are indicated on good tourist maps.
Worthwhile is a visit to the Museum of Roman Antiquities in Rabat, usually
Here you can see the remains of a Roman patrician house,
of which some mosaic floors have been preserved reasonably well.
You can also visit several catacombs, like
St. Paul's Catacombs
St. Agatha's Catacombs, both in Rabat.
For those who want to follow in the footsteps of Saint Paul, a visit can be
San Pawl Milqi
in Burmarrad and
Saint Paul's Grotto
under the parish church of Rabat.