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MALTA (Gr. Melitē). An island situated in a strategically important position some sixty miles (one hundred km.) south of Sicily. It was colonized by the Phoenicians about 1000 b.c. and became part of the empire of Carthage some four centuries later. Rome acquired the island in 218, but the Carthaginian language continued to be spoken. Hence Luke’s phrase “the barbarous people” (Acts.28.2kjv), “barbarous” used in the Greek sense of “foreign-speaking.” Malta was the scene of Paul’s shipwreck (Acts.27.27ff.). Acts.28.3 speaks of a snake on Malta; there are none there today.——EMB

MALTA mol’ tə (Gr. Μελίτη, G3514, KJV MELITA, Acts 28:1). A Mediterranean island lying between Sicily and Africa.

Located ninety m. from Syracuse, the great commercial center of the western Mediterranean, Malta occupied a strategic position in the ancient world. Endowed with good harbors safe from the stormy waters of the sea, it offered a convenient haven for commercial traffic moving both E-W and N-S. Some eighteen m. long and eight m. wide, it was barren and arid, with few natural resources other than building stone. The eastern half, however, was somewhat productive, olive oil, wool, and lapdogs being mentioned as commodities which were profitable.

Malta shows evidences of early habitation. There are remains of Neolithic culture antedating 2000 b.c., and also traces of a Bronze Age culture from about the 14th cent. b.c. Then follows a blank period lasting until about 1000 b.c., when the Phoenicians colonized the island, drawn by its favorable location for trade. The result was an outburst of commercial activity which made the island prosperous. A colony was even established in N Africa.

Next to control Malta were the Carthaginians, who ruled the Mediterranean from the 6th to the 3rd centuries b.c. Their presence is attested by coins and inscrs., although these are meager when compared to the Gr. material found there. This suggests that ties to Carthage were not very strong, nor relations cordial. The Carthaginians were very harsh in their treatment of the people and levied oppressive taxes upon the island. During the 3rd cent. b.c. Carthage and Rome engaged in a series of wars for mastery of the western Mediterranean, and in the course of the struggle Malta passed into Rom. hands (218 b.c.), though Carthaginian and Gr. elements remained strong for a long time afterward.

The Romans granted Malta the status of a municipium, which allowed them to control their own domestic affairs. It seems, too, that the island acquired Rom. citizenship, although it is not clear just when this took place. Cicero and others speak of the beauty and elegance of the houses on Malta, and of the prosperity of the island, indicating a high degree of civilization and wealth. Under Augustus the island was seemingly administered by a procurator (q.v.), who was known by the people of Malta as “chief” or “first man” of the island (Gr. ὁ πρω̂τος), Acts 28:7. Tradition has it that the Publius who held this position when Paul was shipwrecked there was the first Christian convert in Malta, and that from this time there developed a Christian community. Catacombs from the 4th and 5th centuries a.d. give evidence of Christian influence on the island.

When Rome fell, approximately at the end of the 4th cent., the island became Byzantine in culture, and finally in the 9th cent. passed into the hands of the Arabs.


Oxford Classical Dictionary; Pauly-Wissova, Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, XV, 543-547; EBr.