History of Malta

History of Malta
History of Malta
Coat of arms of Malta.svg
This article is part of a series
Ancient history
Għar Dalam phase
Ġgantija phase
Saflieni phase
Tarxien phase
Phoenician and Greek colonisations
Carthage and Rome
Middle Ages
Arab period
Fatimid Caliphate
Kingdom of Sicily
Crown of Aragon
Knights Hospitaller
Siege of Malta (1565)
Modern history
French conquest
British Period
Siege of Malta (1940)
The integration question and the Referendum
Independence and Constitutional Monarchy
Republic of Malta
European Union membership
Timeline of Maltese history

Malta Portal
v · Malta has been inhabited since it was settled around 5200 BC from Sicily.[1] It was settled by the Phoenicians (who called the island Maleth meaning "safe haven") and later the Greeks who named the island Μελίτη (Melite) meaning "honey sweet" in reference to Malta's endemic variety of bee.




  • 5000 First Human settlers. Ghar Dalam phase.
  • 3600-2500 Megalithic temples constructed.
  • 2000-1400 Bronze-using people.
  • 800-480 Phoenician rule.
  • 700-600 Greek influence.
  • 480-218 Carthaginian rule.
  • 264-146 Punic Wars.
  • 218 Roman rule begins.


  • 60 Shipwreck of St. Paul the Apostle.
  • 117-138 Islands become municipal under Emperor Hadrian.
  • 395 Roman rule ends.
  • 395-870 Byzantine rule.
  • 454 Islands occupied by the Vandals (?)
  • 464 Islands occupied by the Goths (?)
  • 533 Islands restored to Byzantine rule (?)
  • 870-1090 Arab rule.
  • 1048 First Byzantine attempts to regain islands.
  • 1090-1194 Norman conquest.
  • 1122 Arab uprising.
  • 1144 Second Byzantine attempt to regain islands.
  • 1154 John made Bishop of Palermo and Malta.
  • 1154-1205 Genoese influence.
  • 1194-1266 Swabian rule.
  • 1224 Final expulsion of Arabs from Sicily and Malta.
  • 1266-1283 Angevin rule.Creation of the University
  • 1282 Sicilian Vespers.
  • 1283-1412 Catalan-Aragonese rule.
  • 1412-1530 Catalan-Aragonese and Castilian rule.
  • 1350 Establishment of Maltese Nobility.
  • 1350-1357 First incorporation into Royal Domain.
  • 1393-1397 Time of the Tyrants.
  • 1397-1420 Second incorporation into Royal Domain.
  • 1397 Università established. Petitions to Sicily.
  • 1420 Feudal possession of Don Antonio Cardona.
  • 1425 Revolt against Don Consalvo de Monroy.
  • 1429 Tunisian Saracens attempt capture of islands.
  • 1428-1530 Last incorporation into Royal Domain.
  • 1530 Knights of St. John take possession.
  • 1551 Dragut's raid on Gozo.
  • 1561 Inquisition officially established.
  • 1565 Great Siege. Malta besieged by Turks but the Knights helped by the Maltese resist and win.
  • 1566 Founding of Valletta.
  • 1568 Jean Parisot de la Valette buried in Valletta.
  • 1571 Battle of Lepanto occurs. Christian victory over Turks.
  • 1573 Foundation stone laid for St. John's Co-Cathedral.
  • 1578 Consecration of St. John's Co-Cathedral.
  • 1592 Founding of Jesuits College.
  • 1615 Wignacourt Aqueduct completed.
  • 1676 School of Anatomy and Surgery founded at the Sacred Infirmary.
  • 1732 Manoel Theatre dedicated.
  • 1768 Jesuits expelled and property transferred to the Knights by Papal Order.
  • 1769 Conversion of Jesuits College to a University.
  • 1775 Uprising of the priests.
  • 1784 Creation of a legal code.[2]
  • 1792 Possessions of the Knights of St. John located in France seized by the government.
  • 1798 French invasion. Knights of St. John expelled. Inquisition abolished.
  • 1799 French occupation. revolt against the French. Dun Mikiel Xerri executed by the French.

British take the islands under their protection in the name of the King of Two Sicilies. Battle of Aboukir Bay.

  • 1800 French occupation ends. British rule begins.
  • 1802 Treaty of Amiens.
  • 1813 The Bathurst Constitution.[3]
  • 1814 Treaty of Paris. Malta declared free of the plague.
  • 1815 Congress of Vienna affirms Treaty of Paris.
  • 1819 The Università dissolved.
  • 1828 Vatican Church-State proclamation. Right of Sanctuary revoked.
  • 1831 See of Malta made independent of See of Palermo.
  • 1833 Construction begins on Mosta dome.
  • 1835 First Council of Government under British rule.
  • 1839 Abolition of Press censorship. Laying of cornerstone for St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral.
  • 1846 Carnival riots.
  • 1849 Council of Government with elected members under British rule.
  • 1869 Opening of the Suez Canal.
  • 1870 Referendum on Ecclesiastics serving on Council of Government.
  • 1881 Creation of Executive Council under British rule.
  • 1882 Anglo-Egyptian Bank founded in Malta.
  • 1883 Malta Railway begins operation.
  • 1885 First postage stamps issued.
  • 1886 Surgeon Major David Bruce[disambiguation needed ] discovers microbe causing Malta Fever.
  • 1887 Council of Government with "dual control" under British rule.
  • 1888 Construction begins on Royal Opera House.

Simmons-Rampolla agreement.

  • 1903 Return to the 1849 form of Council of

Government under British rule.

  • 1904 Tram service begins.
  • 1905 Dr. Themistocles Zammit discovers source

of Malta Fever.

  • 1912 Dun Karm writes his first poem in Maltese.
  • 1914-18 World War I starts; Malta becomes known as the Nurse of the Mediterranean.
  • 1919 Sette Giugno riots. National Assembly convened by Dr. Filippo Sciberras.
  • 1921 Self-government granted under British rule.

First Parliament opens. Joseph Howard named Prime Minister.

  • 1923 "Innu Malti" played first time in public.

Dr. Francisco Buhagiar becomes Prime Minister.

  • 1924 Sir Ugo P. Mifsud becomes Prime minister.
  • 1927 Sir Gerald Strickland becomes Prime Minister.
  • 1930 Constitution suspended because of Church actions under British rule.
  • 1931 Malta railway closes.
  • 1932 Constitution restored under British rule.

Sir Ugo Mifsud becomes Prime Minister.

  • 1933 Constitution withdrawn under British rule.

Malta reverts to the Crown Colony status it held in 1813.

  • 1934 Malti and English become dual official


  • 1935 Rediffusion Radio begins.
  • 1936 Constitution revised to provide for nomination of members to Executive Council under British rule.
  • 1939 Constitution revised to provide for an elected Council of Government under British rule.

Germany invades Poland.

  • 1939-45 World War II begins.
  • 1940 First air raids of the Great Siege of World

War II.

  • 1941 Italian e-boat attack on Grand Harbour. HMS Illustrious damaged, bombed, repaired and departs. Pearl Harbour bombed by Japanese.
  • 1942 Award of the George Cross to the people of Malta. Operation Pedestal Convoy arrives in Grand Harbour.
  • 1943 Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill visit Malta. George VI arrives in Grand Harbour for a visit. Invasion of Sicily from Malta. Surrender of the Italian Fleet in Malta.
  • 1945 Churchill and Roosevelt meet in Malta prior to the Yalta Conference with Joseph Stalin.
  • 1946 National Assembly results in 1947 constitution under British rule.
  • 1947 Self-government restored under British rule.

Dr. Paul Boffa becomes Prime Minister.

  • 1948 Red Flag incident.
  • 1949 N.A.T.O. Treaty signed.
  • 1950 Dr. Enrico Mizzi becomes Prime Minister from September to December. Dr. Georgio Borg Olivier becomes Prime minister in December.
  • 1953 Coronation incident.
  • 1955 Dom Mintoff becomes Prime Minister. Roundtable Conference held.
  • 1956 Referendum on Integration with Britain.

Incident at Rediffusion.

  • 1958 Caravaggio incident. Dom Mintoff resigns as Prime Minister. Dr. Georgio Borg Olivier declines forming alternative government.

Colonial governor takes direct administration under British rule.

  • 1959 Interim Constitution provides for an Executive Council under British rule.
  • 1961 Blood Commission provides for a new constitutionallowing for a measure of self-government and recognizing the "State" of Malta.
  • 1962 Dr. Georgio Borg Olivier becomes Prime Minister.

Stolper report delivered.

  • 1964 "Innu Malti" recognized as the national anthem. Referendum on Independence Constitution. Malta granted independence, becoming a sovereign nation within the British Commonwealth.
  • 1968 Central Bank established.
  • 1970 Malta enters an Association agreement with the European Community.
  • 1971 Dom Mintoff becomes Prime Minister. Sir Anthony Mamo becomes the first Maltese national to be named Governor-General.
  • 1972 Military base agreement signed by Malta, the United Kingdom and other N.A.T.O. nations. The King's Own Malta Regiment disbanded. Change to decimal monetary system. Government bars the United States Naval Forces from using Malta as a liberty port.
  • 1973 Formation of Air Malta.
  • 1974 Malta becomes a Republic, remaining in the Commonwealth. Sir Anthony Mamo elected first President. Government increases its control over the University.
  • 1975 Barclays Bank International, Ltd. taken over to become Mid-Med Bank.
  • 1976 Dr. Anton Buttigieg becomes second President.
  • 1979 Military base agreement terminated. British forces leave. First Referendum Day celebrated.
  • 1981 The Malta Labour Party wins the general election by its majority of seats in Parliament, but the Opposition Nationalist Party has the absolute majority of votes.
  • 1982 Agatha Barbara becomes third, and first female, President.
  • 1984 Dr. Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici becomes Prime Minister after the resignation of Prime Minister Dom Mintoff.
  • 1987 Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami becomes Prime Minister.
  • 1988 Freeport Corporation organized.
  • 1989 First gathering of Knights of St. John in Malta since their departure in 1798. U.S./Soviet Summit meets in Malta. Dr. Vincent Tabone elected fourth President.
  • 1990 Government formally applies for full membership in the European Community. Pope John Paul II makes the first Papal visit. Prof. Guido De Marco elected President of 45th Annual UN General Assembly.
  • 1991 Agreement signed for Malta Cable Television.

Two Vatican Agreements between the Malta Government and the Holy See signed in Rome. New Delimara Power Station opened.

  • 1992 Nationalist Party wins election. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in Malta for the 50th Anniversary of the awarding of the George Cross.

New Air Terminal opened. 50th Anniversary of Operation Pedestal celebrated. Stock Exchange opened. Maritime Museum opened in Vittoriosa. Dr. Alfred Sant elected Leader of the Malta Labour Party.

  • 1993 Malta receives positive response, subject to a list of prior conditions, from the European Community. First University degree courses offered in Gozo. Government signs the International Convention banning the use of chemical weapons. The Fifth Games of the Small States of Europe held in Malta. First elections for Local Councils held.
  • 1994 Dr. Ugo Mifsud Bonnici elected fifth President.
  • 1996 Malta Labour Party wins the elections Dr. Alfred sworn in as Prime Minister of Malta.
  • 1997 Malta's application to join the EU is 'frozen'. MLP government instead seeks industrial free trade

zone and closer relations to EU but not membership.

  • 1998 Dr. Alfred Sant calls for election following vote of no-confidence. Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami is elected Prime Minister.
  • 1999 Prof. Guido de Marco appointed President of Malta.


Malta stands on an underwater ridge that extends from North Africa to Sicily. At some time in the distant past Malta was submerged, as shown by marine fossils embedded in rock in the highest points of Malta. As the ridge was pushed up and the straits of Gibraltar closed through tectonic activity, the sea level was lower, and Malta was on a bridge of dry land that extended between the two continents, surrounded by large lakes. Some caverns in Malta have revealed bones of elephants, hippopotami, and other large animals now found in Africa, while others have revealed animals native to Europe.


One of the so-called "fat ladies" of ancient Malta, unearthed at Tarxien.
The Neolithic temple of Mnajdra

Man first arrived in Malta around 5200 BC. These first Neolithic people probably arrived from Sicily (about 100 kilometres/60 miles north), and were mainly farming and fishing communities, with some evidence of hunting activities. They apparently lived in caves and open dwellings. During the centuries that followed there is evidence of further contacts with other cultures, which left their influence on the local communities, evidenced by their pottery designs and colours.

One of the most notable periods of Malta's history is the temple period, starting around 3600 BC. The Ggantia Prehistoric Temple in Gozo is the oldest free-standing building in the world (photo). Many of the temples are in the form of five semicircular rooms connected at the centre. It has been suggested that these might have represented the head, arms and legs of a deity, since one of the commonest kinds of statue found in these temples is a fat woman — a symbol of fertility. The Temple period lasted until about 2500 BC, at which point the civilization that raised these huge monoliths seems to have disappeared. There is much speculation about what might have happened and whether they were completely wiped out or assimilated.

After the Temple period came the Bronze Age. From this period there remains of a number of settlements and villages, as well as dolmens — altar-like structures made out of very large slabs of stone. One surviving menhir, which was used to build temples, still stands at Kirkop; it is one of the few still in good condition. Among the most interesting and mysterious remnants of this era are the so-called cart ruts as they can be seen at a place on Malta called Clapham Junction. These are pairs of parallel channels cut into the surface of the rock, and extending for considerable distances, often in an exactly straight line. Their exact use is unknown. One suggestion is that beasts of burden used to pull carts along, and these channels would guide the carts and prevent the animals from straying.

Phoenicians and Greeks

The society that built these structures eventually died out or at any rate disappeared. Phoenicians from Tyre colonized the islands around 1000 BC, using them as an outpost from which they expanded sea explorations and trade in the Mediterranean. They named the island Malat ("refuge") and lived in the area now occupied by the city of Mdina and its suburb Rabat.

In the late 8th century BC, a Greek colony called Melite (from the Doric Greek word for "honeybee") was founded on the main island. The name is thought to be in reference to an endemic species of bee on the island, and the distinctive honey it produces.

Carthage and Rome

The islands later came under the control of Carthage (400 BC) and then of Rome (218 BC). The islands prospered under Roman rule, and were eventually distinguished as a Municipium and a Foederata Civitas. Many Roman antiquities still exist, testifying to the close link between the Maltese inhabitants and the people of Rome.

In AD 60, the New Testament records that Saint Paul was shipwrecked on an island named Melite, which many Bible scholars and Maltese conflate with Malta; there is a tradition that the shipwreck took place on the shores of the aptly named "Saint Paul's Bay".

In 440 the island was captured by the Vandals, which had recently occupied the Roman province of Africa. It was recovered by the east Roman general Belisarius in 533, along with the other Vandal possessions, and remained a part of the east Roman province of Sicily for the next 340 years.

Arab Period

Malta was occupied by the Fatimids, who exerted 220 years of influence ( from 870 to 1090 CE/AD ) on the existing civilization. In addition to their language, Siculo-Arabic, cotton, oranges and lemons and many new techniques in irrigation were introduced. Some of these, like the noria ("waterwheel"), are still used, unchanged, today. Many place names in Malta date to this period. The Phoenician city of Mdina was extensively modified in this period.

Kingdom of Sicily

Between 1194 and 1530 the Kingdom of Sicily ruled the Maltese islands and a process of full latinisation started in Malta.

In 1091, count Roger I of Sicily, made an initial attempt to establish Norman rule of Malta and was greeted by the few native Christians. In 1127, his son Roger II of Sicily succeeded. This marked the gradual change from an Arab cultural influence to a European one. In 1191, Tancred of Sicily appointed Margaritus of Brindisi the first Count of Malta. Until the 1224 AD/CE, however, there remained a strong Muslim segment of society.

Map of Malta in the XVI century, when Italian was declared the official language by the Knights of Malta

Malta was an appendage of Sicily for nearly 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, Anjou, the Crown of Aragon, the Crown of Castile, and Spain. Eventually the Crown of Aragon, which then ruled Malta, joined with Castile in 1479, and Malta became part of the Spanish Empire.

Malta's administration thus fell in the hands of local nobility who formed a governing body called the Università.

After the Norman conquest the population of the Maltese islands kept growing mainly through immigration from the north (Sicily and Italy), with the exile to Malta of the entire male population of the town of Celano (Italy) in 1223, the stationing of a Norman and Sicilian garrison on Malta in 1240 and the settlement in Malta of noble families from Sicily between 1372 and 1450. As a consequence of this one major academic study found that "the contemporary males of Malta most likely originated from Southern Italy, including Sicily and up to Calabria".[4]

Knights of St. John

Re-enactment of 16th century military drills conducted by the Knights of St. John. Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta, Malta, 8 May 2005.

In the early 16th century, the Ottoman Empire started spreading over the region, reaching South-East Europe. The Spanish king Charles V feared that if Rome fell to the Turks, it would be the end of Christian Europe. In 1522, Suleiman II drove the Knight Hospitallers of St. John out of Rhodes. They dispersed to their commanderies in Europe. Wanting to protect Rome from invasion from the South, in 1530, Charles V handed over the island to these Knights.

For the next 275 years, these famous "Knights of Malta" made the island their domain and made the Italian language official. They built towns, palaces, churches, gardens, and fortifications and embellished the island with numerous works of art and enhanced cultural heritage.

The order of the Knights of St. John was originally established to set up outposts along the route to the Holy Land, to assist pilgrims going in either direction. Owing to the many confrontations that took place, one of their main tasks was to provide medical assistance, and even today the eight-pointed cross is still in wide use in ambulances and first aid organisations. In return for the many lives they saved, the Order received many newly conquered territories that had to be defended. Together with the need to defend the pilgrims in their care, this gave rise to the strong military wing of the Knights. Over time, the Order became strong and rich. From hospitallers first and military second, these priorities reversed. Since much of the territory they covered was around the Mediterranean region, they became notable seamen.

The Great Siege

From Malta the knights resumed their seaborne attacks of Ottoman shipping, and before long the Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent ordered a final attack on the Order. By this time the Knights had occupied the city of Birgu, which had excellent harbours to house their fleet. Also Birgu was one of the two major urban places at that time, the other most urban place being Mdina the old capital city of Malta. The defences around Birgu were enhanced and new fortifications built on the other point where now there is Senglea. Also a small fort was built at the tip of the peninsula where the city of Valletta now stands and was named Fort St. Elmo.

On 18 May 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to Malta. By the time the Ottoman fleet arrived the Knights were as ready as they could be. First the Ottomans attacked the newly built fort of St. Elmo and after a whole month of fighting the fort was in rubble and the soldiers kept fighting till the Turks ended their lives. After this they started attacking Birgu and the fortifications at Senglea but to no gain.

After a protracted siege ended on 8 September of the same year, which became known in history as "the Great Siege", the Ottoman Empire conceded defeat as the approaching winter storms threatened to prevent them from leaving. The Ottoman empire had expected an easy victory within weeks. They had 40,000 men arrayed against the Knights' nine thousand, most of them Maltese soldiers and simple citizens bearing arms. Their loss of thousands of men was very demoralising. The Ottomans made no further significant military advances in Europe and the Sultan died a few years later.

After the War

The year after, the Order started work on a new city with fortifications like no other, on a peninsula called Gholja Sciberras which the Ottomans had used as a base during the siege. It was named Valletta after Jean Parisot de Valette, the Grand Master who had seen the Order through its victory. Since the Ottoman Empire never attacked again, the fortifications were never put to the test, and today remain one of the best-preserved fortifications of this period.

Unlike other rulers of the island, the Order of St. John did not have a "home country" outside the island. The island became their home, so they invested in it more heavily than any other power. Besides, its members came from noble families, and had amassed considerable fortune due to their services in the route to the Holy Land. The architectural and artistic remains of this period remain among the greatest of Malta's history, especially in their "prize jewel" — the city of Valletta.

However, as their main raison d'être had ceased to exist, the Order's glory days were over.

French conquest

Over the years, the power of the Knights declined; their reign ended in 1798 when Napoleon Bonaparte's expeditionary fleet stopped off there en route to his Egyptian expedition. Napoleon asked for safe harbour to resupply his ships, and when they refused to supply him with water, Napoleon Bonaparte sent a division to scale the hills of Valletta. Grand Master Hompesch capitulated.

During his very short stay (six days), Napoleaon accomplished quite a of reforms, notably the creation of a new administration with a Government Commission, the creation of twelve municipalities, the setting up of a public finance administration, the abolition of all feudal rights and privileges, the abolition of slavery and the granting of freedom to all Turkish slaves (2000 in all). On the judicial level, a family code was framed and twelve judges were nominated. Public education was organised along principles laid down by Bonaparte himself, providing for primary and secondary education. Fifteen primary schools were founded and the university was replaced by an ’Ecole centrale’ in which there were eight chairs, all very scientific in outlook: notably, arithmetic and stereometry, algebra and stereotomy, geometry and astronomy, mechanics and physics, navigation, chemistry, etc.[5]

He then sailed for Egypt leaving a substantial garrison in Malta. Since the Order had also been growing unpopular with the local Maltese, the latter initially viewed the French with optimism. This illusion did not last long. Within months the French were closing convents and seizing church treasures. The Maltese people rebelled, and the French garrison of General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois retreated into Valletta. After several failed attempts by the locals to retake Valletta, they asked the British for assistance. Rear Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson decided on a total blockade, and in 1800 the French garrison surrendered.

British rule

In 1800, Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire. Under the terms of the 1802 Treaty of Amiens, Britain was supposed to evacuate the island, but failed to keep this obligation – one of several mutual cases of non-adherence to the treaty, which eventually led to its collapse and the resumption of war between Britain and France.[citation needed]

Although initially the island was not given much importance, its excellent harbours became a prized asset for the British, especially after the opening of the Suez canal. The island became a military and naval fortress, the headquarters of the British Mediterranean fleet.

Home rule was refused to the Maltese until 1921 although a partly elected legislative council was created as early as 1849, and the locals sometimes suffered considerable poverty.[6] This was due to the island being overpopulated and largely dependent on British military expenditure which varied with the demands of war. Throughout the 19th century, the British administration instituted several liberal constitutional reforms[7] which were generally resisted by the Church and the Maltese elite who preferred to cling to their feudal privileges.[8] Political organizations, like the Nationalist Party, were created or had as one of their aims, the protection of the italian language in Malta.

In 1919, there were riots over the excessive price of bread. These would lead to greater autonomy for the locals.[citation needed] Malta obtained a bicameral parliament with a Senate (abolished in 1949) and an elected Legislative Assembly. The Constitution was suspended twice. In 1930 it was suspended that a free and fair election would not be possible following a clash between the governing Constitutional Party and the Church[9] and the latter's subsequent imposition of mortal sin on voters of the party and its allies. In 1934 the Constitution was revoked over the Government's budgetary vote for the teaching of Italian in elementary schools.[10]

Language issue

Before the arrival of the British, the official language since 1530 (and the one of the educated elite) had been Italian, but this was downgraded by the increased use of English. In 1934, English and Maltese were declared the sole official languages.

In 1934, only about 15% of the population could speak Italian fluently.[11] This meant that out of 58,000 males qualified by age to be jurors, only 767 could qualify by language, as only Italian had till then been used in the courts.[11] This injustice carried more weight than concerns over fascism.[citation needed]

World War II

Before World War II, Valletta was the location of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet's headquarters. However, despite Winston Churchill's objections,[citation needed] the command was moved to Alexandria, Egypt, early in the war.[Elliot] At the time of the Italian declaration of war (10 June 1940), Malta had a garrison of less than four thousand soldiers and about five weeks' of food supplies for the population of about three hundred thousand. In addition, Malta's air defences consisted of about forty-two anti-aircraft guns (thirty-four "heavy" and eight "light") and four Gloster Gladiators, for which three pilots were available.

Being a British colony, situated close to Sicily and the Axis shipping lanes, Malta was bombarded by the Italian and German air forces. Malta was used by the British to launch attacks on the Italian navy and had a submarine base. It was also used as a listening post, reading German radio messages including Enigma traffic.[citation needed]

The first air raids against Malta occurred on 11 June 1940; there were six attacks that day. The island's biplanes were unable to defend due to the Luqa Airfield being unfinished; however, the airfield was ready by the seventh attack. Initially, the Italians would fly at about 5,500 m, then they dropped down to three thousand metres (in order to improve the accuracy of their bombs). Major Paine stated, "[After they dropped down], we bagged one or two every other day, so they started coming in at [six thousand metres]. Their bombing was never very accurate. As they flew higher it became quite indiscriminate."[citation needed] Mabel Strickland would state, "The Italians decided they didn't like [the Gladiators and AA guns], so they dropped their bombs [thirty kilometres] off Malta and went back."[citation needed]

By the end of August, the Gladiators were reinforced by twelve Hawker Hurricanes which had arrived via HMS Argus. During the first five months of combat, the island's aircraft destroyed or damaged about thirty-seven Italian aircraft. Italian fighter pilot Francisco Cavalera observed, "Malta was really a big problem for us—very well-defended." On Malta, 330 people had been killed and 297 were seriously wounded. In January 1941, the German X. Fliegerkorps arrived in Sicily as the Afrika Korps arrived in Libya.

On 15 April 1942, King George VI awarded the George Cross (the highest civilian award for gallantry) "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."

Attempted integration with the United Kingdom

After World War II, the islands achieved self-rule, with the Malta Labour Party (MLP) of Dom Mintoff seeking either full integration with the UK or else "self-determination (independence), and the Partit Nazzjonalista (PN) of Dr. George Borg Olivier favouring independence, with the same "dominion status" that Canada, Australia and New Zealand enjoyed.

In December 1955, a Round Table Conference was held in London, on the future of Malta, attended by Mintoff, Borg Olivier and other Maltese politicians, along with the British Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd. The British government agreed to offer the islands their own representation in the British House of Commons, with the Home Office taking over responsibility for Maltese affairs from the Colonial Office.

Under the proposals, the Maltese Parliament would retain responsibility over all affairs except defence, foreign policy, and taxation. The Maltese were also to have social and economic parity with the UK, to be guaranteed by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), the islands' main source of employment. A referendum was held on 14 February 1956, in which 77.02 per cent of voters were in favour of the proposal,[12] but owing to a boycott by the Nationalist Party, only 59.17 per cent of the electorate voted, thereby rendering the result inconclusive.

In addition, the decreasing strategic importance of Malta to the Royal Navy meant that the British government was increasingly reluctant to maintain the naval dockyards. Following a decision by the Admiralty to dismiss 40 workers at the dockyard, Mintoff declared that "representatives of the Maltese people in Parliament declare that they are no longer bound by agreements and obligations toward the British government..." [13] In response, the Colonial Secretary sent a cable to Mintoff, stating that he had "recklessly hazarded" the whole integration plan.[14] This led to the islands being placed under direct rule from London, with the MLP abandoning support for integration and now advocating independence.

While France had implemented a similar policy in its colonies, some of which became overseas departments, the status offered to Malta from Britain constituted a unique exception. Malta was the only British colony where integration with the UK was seriously considered, and subsequent British governments have ruled out integration for remaining overseas territories, such as Gibraltar.[15]


On 21 September 1964, Malta became an independent state. This is celebrated as Independence Day or Jum l-Indipendenza in Maltese.

Republic Day

Malta became a republic on 13 December 1974, with the last Governor-General, Sir Anthony Mamo, as its first President. The Gieh ir-Repubblika Act, promulgated the following year, abolished all titles of nobility in Malta and mandated that they not be further recognized.

Freedom Day

On 1 April 1979 the last British forces left the island after the end of the economic pact to stabilise the Maltese economy. This is celebrated as Freedom Day (Jum Il-Ħelsien) on 31 March. Celebrations start with a ceremony in Floriana near the War Memorial. A popular event on this memorable day is the traditional regatta. The regatta is held at the Grand Harbour and the teams taking part in it give it their best shot to win the much coveted aggregate Regatta Shield.

Constitutional amendment

The elections of 1971 saw the Malta Labour Party under Dom Mintoff win by just over 4000 votes and again in 1976 by a slightly higher margin. Between 1976 and 1981 Malta went through difficult times and the Labour government demanded that the Maltese were to tighten their belts in order to overcome the difficulties Malta was facing. There were shortages of essential items; the water and electricity supplies were systematically suspended for two or three days a week. Political tensions increased, notably on Black Monday when following an attempted assassination of the Prime Minister, the Times of Malta's premises were burned to the ground and the house of the Leader of Opposition was attacked.

The 1981 general elections saw the PN gaining an absolute majority of votes, yet the MLP winning the majority of Parliamentary seats under the Single Transferable Vote and Mintoff remained Prime Minister, leading to a constitutional crisis. The PN, now led by Eddie Fenech Adami, mounted a campaign demanding that Parliament should reflect the democratic will of the people; despite this, the MLP government remained in power for the full five year term. Mintoff resigned as Prime Minister and appointed Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici as his successor in 1984. After a five-year debate, Dr. Fenech Adami reached an agreement with Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici to change the constitution whereby the party that won an absolute majority of votes had the right to govern, irrespective of the parliamentary seats won in constituencies. The general elections that followed in 1987 saw the PN achieve such a majority of votes. The new PN administration sought to improve Malta's ties with Western Europe and the United States.

EU membership

The Nationalist Party advocated Malta's membership in the European Union presenting an application on 16 July 1990. This became a divisive issue, with Labour opposing membership. Labour won the 1996 general election and Malta's application was frozen. On being returned to office in 1998 the Nationalist Party reactivated the application. Malta was formally accepted as a candidate country at the Helsinki summit of December 1999.[16]

Negotiations were concluded late in 2002 and a referendum on membership in 2003 saw 90.86% casting a valid vote of which 53.65% were "yes" votes. Labour stated that it would not be bound by this result were it returned to power in the following general election that year. In the circumstances, elections were called and the Nationalist Party won another mandate. The accession treaty was signed and ratified and Malta joined the EU on 1 May 2004. A consensus on membership was subsequently achieved with Labour saying it would respect this result.

In the context of EU membership, Malta joined the eurozone on 1 January 2008.

See also


  • Stephenson, Charles. The Fortifications of Malta 1530–1945. Great Britain: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2004.
  • Attard, Joseph. Britain and Malta. Malta: PEG Ltd.1988.
  • Luke, Sir Harry. Malta – An Account and an Appreciation. Great Britain: Harrap, 1949.
  • Elliot, Peter. The Cross and the Ensign. Great Britain. Patrick Stephens. 1980.

External links

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