Malta Prehistory

By | December 26, 2021

The stone civilization had magnificent manifestations in Malta. The beauty and abundance of Neolithic monuments give the island a first-rate importance in European prehistory. Few but sure are the traces of the Paleolithic period, attested by human teeth and by bones of mammals of geological age prior to ours, found in the cave of Ghar Dalam. The Neolithic period is represented by all sorts of megalithic monuments: dolmens, menhirs, fortified villages, caverns with walls carved and adorned with reliefs and paintings, etc. Particularly interesting are the large constructions, for now known only by the examples of the island, which have an almost horseshoe shape on the outside closed by a curved wall like an exedra, into which the entrance opens. The perimeter and internal walls are made up of large, sometimes huge slabs of stone (up to m. 6 × 3 × 7.50), upright and juxtaposed with each other with great precision of work. The interior of these monuments is made up of two or more elliptical cells, communicating with each other, which at least in part show that they have been covered by a kind of vault or cap with jutting rows of stones. The thresholds of the doors, some bases or podîs, some niches are decorated with large engraved punctuation, with systems of spirals, with motifs taken from plant forms, and even with animal figures placed in a row. It cannot be doubted that these buildings have been used for religious purposes, not only as temples, but also as places of deposit of votive gifts, materials for worship ceremonies, etc. Of the same age is a large sacred cave in Hal Saflieni near Casal Paola, artificially adapted, with several communicating rooms for doors and windows, and decorated with large series of spirals painted on the ceilings. This vast, dark and complex cave probably lent itself to the exercise of divination practices (oracles, incubations, etc.). Of the materials found, in addition to the weapons and tools of silica and obsidian, in addition to the bones of certain parts of the body of cattle and sheep (sacrificial offerings), the terracotta vases, sometimes large, always of excellent dough, smoothed to stralucido and very rich in decorations engraved mostly with geometric motifs. Numerous terracotta and stone figurines were also found, especially of naked women or women dressed in pleated skirts, all of enormous plumpness. Some of these figurines were represented lying on little beds, perhaps in memory of sacred incubations. In the megalithic building of Hal Tarxien the lower part of a larger than life statue was also found, in stone, also representing an extremely fat woman. For Malta 2002, please check

That all this very characteristic facies of civilization is prior to the age of metals appeared in a sure way from the well-established position of a cremation necropolis with remains of copper and bronze and with extremely crude pottery, completely different from the previous one. above the Neolithic layer of the temple of Hal Tarxien (pr. tarscièn). The non-abundant remains attributable to the Bronze Age are devoid of any artistic character. There are also few documents from the early Iron Age, with which we touch on the protohistoric period of Phoenician settlement.

In any case, the Neolithic civilization has the greatest importance which, due to its high development and its antiquity, claims in Malta a cultural primacy in the Mediterranean, probably prior to that of Crete and free, apparently, from cultural and ethnic as well as eastern as well as northern.

Antiquity. – In addition to having a very important position for sailors in the Mediterranean, the islands of the Maltese archipelago are equipped with excellent ports and this explains how they were inhabited since the most remote times (see above: Prehistory). In historical times the Phoenician merchants who were colonizing the coasts of North Africa arrived in Malta and for the trade of which these islands must have had an exceptional importance. They founded colonies or commercial farms there and the Maltese islands were also part of the dominion of Carthage for some time.

In the first Punic war Malta was conquered with great massacres by Attilio Regolo who was preparing the expedition to Africa, but, after the failure of this, the island returned to the Carthaginians. The Romans took possession of it, however, and definitively, in 218: the garrison commanded by Amilcare surrendered to Tiberio Sempronio. Since then the group of islands was part of the Roman province of Sicily. Malta was then a municipality, like Gaudos, and the islands had the quattuorviri iuri dicundo and a municipal senate, while a procurator, dependent on the proconsul of Sicily, represented the central government. The place where the Melita once stoodRoman was that of the current Old City, towards the interior of the main island. During the sec. I d. C. mention it Pliny and Diodorus Siculus who boasts the comfortable ports, the wealth of the residents “skilled in all kinds of arts and crafts” especially in weaving light and very soft cloths, the wealth of well decorated houses.

In 58 d. C., in the bay later known as St. Paul’s, the ship in which the apostle, with the evangelist Luke, went to Rome was wrecked. The castaways remained in Malta for three months, sowing the seeds of Christianity that flourished there extraordinarily.

Malta Prehistory