One of Malta's main attractions to tourists all over the world is its very long and interesting history. Fortunately, the islanders have carefully preserved archaeological remains for the past thousands of years.
The earliest archaeological remains on Malta date from about 3800 BC. At one time Malta's megalithic monuments were considered proof of Phoenician settlement, but modern archaeology has established that they were built by prehistoric humans and, indeed, are among the oldest human monuments in the Mediterranean basin.
Evidence supports the landing of Carthaginians
in the 8th century BC; they apparently ruled harshly and levied high tribute upon the inhabitants. Malta was granted the privileges of a municipium after coming under Roman control in 218 BC.
In AD 60, during Roman times the Apostle Paul
was shipwrecked in the bay that bears his name and according to tradition, he converted the inhabitants to Christianity. With the division of the Roman Empire
in 395, Malta was assigned to the eastern portion dominated by Constantinople
. Later, in 870, the Arabs
made themselves the island's masters.
For two years, the French
stole many Maltese treasures from the hearts of the citizens. Finally, the Maltese had had enough and organised a successful revolution against the French. The 1802 Treaty of Amiens returned the islands to the Knights of Malta. The Maltese protested and acknowledged the king of Great Britain as the sovereign of Malta provided the Roman Catholic church was maintained and the Maltese Declaration of Rights was honoured. These conditions were accepted by the British and ratified in the 1814 Treaty of Paris. Malta's political status under Britain underwent a series of vicissitudes in which constitutions were successively granted, suspended, and revoked.
The Maltese economy became a function of British demands for Malta's military facilities, and the famous Dockyard
developed into the economic mainstay of the islands. During World War I the Maltese provided a local garrison and many naval seamen. Malta became self-governing in 1921, although Britain shared power and responsibility with Maltese ministers. In 1936 Malta reverted to a colonial regime.
After Italy entered World War II
, Malta was subjected to severe aerial attacks from German and Italian bombers. On April 15, 1942, George VI awarded the George Cross
, Britain's highest civilian decoration, to the islands, the first time that a medal was conferred upon any part of the Commonwealth.
On Sept. 21, 1964, Malta attained independence within the Commonwealth and later (in 1974) became a republic. In 1979, when its alliance with Great Britain ended, Malta sought to guarantee its neutrality through agreements with other countries. In October 1981 the Soviet Union signed an agreement pledging to support the country's neutral status. Malta also sought an agreement with the United States.