The Phoenicians appreciated the strategic value of the Maltese
Islands and started to make use of them. Presumably they founded the
cities of Malta and Gaulos in the Centre of the islands while
rock-cut tombs indicate their presence inland and the introduction
of their religious cult related with Astarte as evidenced by the
When the Phoenician homeland was overrun by the Assyrians and
Babylonians, the Carthaginians took over the Island and started
using them as a trading post. While a Maltese government system
similar to that of the Carthaginans seems to have evolved, Maltese
trade gained in reputation particularly in the production of
Various Punic artifacts give an indication of the life-style of the
people at the time. Votive offerings including amulets, jewellery,
inscribed papyri, bowls and urns have been found in various tombs. A
terracotta sarcophagus, dating from about 500 B.C., and found at
Ghar Barka, Rabat, represents the figure of a woman and is Egyptian
Greek culture may have also influenced the islands: a votive cippus
dedicated to Melkart, Lord of Tyre, has Punic script accompanied by
Greek, while early Roman coins bear Greek inscriptions. The cippus
helped to have the Phoenician alphabet deciphered.
The Roman took Malta during the Second Punic War when Titus
Sempronius Longus invaded it in 218 B.C. 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 inhabitants prospered and according to Diodorus Siculus they
became wealthy and increased in reputation. They built country
houses embellished with mosaic floors, thermae and marble statues
while the cities of Melita and Gaulos gained in importance. When the
Praetor Verres pillaged the island, he was immediatly accused by the
Roman orator Cicero.
The A.D. 60, St. Paul was shipwrecked in Malta. His companion St.
Luke noted that the Maltese were 'barbarians' implying that they
spoke neither Greek nor Latin.
Christianity started to spread. Christian communities started
organising their own holy places and dug catacombs which are
exceptionally well laid and excavated. The Maltese catacombs,
notably those of St. Paul's and St. Agatha, are unique among those
still existing: they have agape tables which served for libation
There followed an obscure period during which the Islands were
occupied by the Byzantines.