Maltese people facts for kids
|Regions with significant populations|
|Maltese, English, Italian|
|Related ethnic groups|
People have lived in Malta since around 5200 BC with the first people living there coming from Sicily. An important prehistoric Neolithic culture marked by Megalithic structures was on the islands, which were made a thousand years before the Pyramids of Giza, which means they were very old. The Phoenicians in the Mediterranean took over Malta from about 1000 BC, using the islands to expand their sea explorations and trade in the Mediterranean, until the Carthaginians took over and also expanded in the Mediterranean, but these were also defeated by the Romans in 216 BC.
Malta was then ruled by Byzantine, a Greek group that took over almost all of the Mediterranean, from the 4th to 9th century. Sometime around this point, the Vandals, a German tribe, ruled the islands. The islands were at one point invaded by the Arabs in AD 870. They allowed the people to believe in Christianity, and did not have children with the population, so they did not change much on the island, but they showed them citrus fruits and cotton, and water-moving systems. They hardly had any effect on the island or its people while they were there, but one thing that they did effect was the language. The Maltese language gained a lot from this.
From the advent of the Normans in 1090 to 1530, Malta was part of the 'Kingdom of Sicily'. This means that from 1091 to 1530, when the Order of St. John came to Malta, the original Sicilian population that moved there from Sicily in the beginning got bigger.
The French under the rule of Napoleon took over Malta in 1798. The British helped the Maltese to stop the French control two years later. The people of Malta were very happy that the British did this, and wanted Britain to rule it. As part of the 'Treaty of Paris' (1814), Malta became a colony in the British Empire.
Malta became a separate country from everyone on 21 September 1964 (Independence Day). Under the 1964 rules, Malta originally kept Queen Elizabeth II as the Queen of Malta, with a Governor-General working on her behalf in Malta. On 13 December 1974 (Republic Day), it became a republic within the Commonwealth, with the President as head of state. Malta joined the European Union on 1 May 2004 and joined the Eurozone on 1 January 2008.
The origins debate
Historians and Geneticists currently do not know where the Maltese people came from. The answer is difficult to find because of several things, such as Malta's invasions, with long parts in time where the population got smaller, before other people from the Mediterranean moved to Malta and married the Maltese. One unusual example of this is the exile to Malta of all of the male population from the town of Celano (Italy) in 1223, the stationing of a Norman and Sicilian garrison on Malta in 1240, the expulsion from Malta of Arabs (presumably, those who refused to convert to Christianity) commencing in 1245, the arrival of several hundred Catalan soldiers in 1283, the European repopulation of Malta that began in the 13th century, the settlement in Malta of noble families from Sicily and Aragon between 1372 and 1450, the arrival of several thousand Greek and Rhodian sailors, soldiers and slaves with the Knights of St. John, the introduction of several thousand Sicilian labourers in 1551 and again in 1566, the emigration to Malta of some 891 Italian exiles during the Risorgimento in 1849, and the posting of some 22,000 British servicemen in Malta from 1807 to 1979.
Historical and ethnic studies published and promoted by the various ruling classes during their governance over Malta provide little, if any, valuable guidance on the question of Maltese ethnicity, given that their conclusions appear to have been driven, in large part, by political expediency. Hence, Maltese history books published during the rule of the Knights of St. John, at a time when Malta and Gozo suffered repeated razzias at the hands of the Ottomans and Barbary corsairs, promoted the myth of a continuous, Roman Catholic, native Maltese population, that somehow survived despite the Arab conquest of Malta and the depopulation that followed. Studies and reports published during the British colonial period promoted the theory of Phoenician origins, in an attempt to distinguish the Maltese from their Sicilian and Italian neighbours, or in the case of the Catholic Church, to distinguish the Maltese from the Arab peoples that controlled Malta prior to the liberation of Malta by the Normans. By contrast, history books published during the Mintoff years following Independence began to question the earlier beliefs in a continuous, indigenous population of Christian Maltese and, in some cases, quietly promoted the theory of closer cultural and ethnic ties with North Africa. This new development was noted by Boissevain in 1991:
...the Labour government broke off relations with NATO and sought links with the Arab world. After 900 years of being linked to Europe, Malta began to look southward. Muslims, still remembered in folklore for savage pirate attacks, were redefined as blood brothers.
This latter development coincided with and reflected dramatic new (but short-lived) developments in Maltese foreign policy: Western media reported that Malta appeared to be turning its back on NATO, the United Kingdom, and Europe generally; Libya had loaned several million dollars to Malta to make up for the loss of rental income which followed the closure of British military bases in Malta; Malta and Libya had entered into a Friendship and Cooperation Treaty, in response to repeated overtures by Gaddafi for a closer, more formal union between the two countries; and, for a brief period, Arabic had become a compulsory subject in Maltese secondary schools.
The Phoenician origins theory
Some recent studies carried out by geneticists Spencer Wells and Pierre Zalloua of the American University of Beirut collected samples of Y-chromosomes from men living in the Middle East, North Africa, southern Spain, and Malta, places the Phoenicians are known to have settled and traded. According to the study, more than half (50 %) of the Y chromosome lineages that are seen in today's Maltese population could have come in with the Phoenicians. As to why there is such a significant genetic impact, Wells could only speculate, "but the results are consistent with a settlement of people from the Levant within the past 2,000 years, and that points to the Phoenicians."
The Phoenician background of the Maltese suggests possible tenuous cultural, religious, and linguistic links to Lebanese Maronites, (whom are also descended from Phoenicians revealed during National Geographic's Special), who speak a variety of Arabic, and are Christian. .
The Sicilian or Calabrian theory
This "Phoenician origins" theory has been contradicted by at least one major study, which found that "the contemporary males of Malta most likely originated from Southern Italy, including Sicily and up to Calabria," and that "[t]here is a minuscule amount of input from the Eastern Mediterranean with genetic affinity to Christian Lebanon." One of the authors of this study commented as follows on the Wells/Zalloua study:
"We are aware of conflicting conclusions published as an interview in the popular National Geographic magazine. Despite an intensive search we cannot find them reproduced in the mainstream scientific literature. We consider that data somewhat flawed, and furthermore, unsound. National Geographic is not a peer-reviewed academic journal and thus the weight of the evidence is poor compared to other peer-reviewed academic journals that are also in the public domain. One cannot be comfortable with data that have not passed the scrutiny of peer review....
[I]t seems to me that the simplest explanation that cannot be excluded by any of the scientific data thus far available is that Malta was indeed barely inhabited at the turn of the tenth century.
Repopulation is likely to have occurred by a clan or clans (possibly of Arab or Arab-like speaking people) from neighbouring Sicily and Calabria. Possibly, they could have mixed with minute numbers of residual inhabitants, with a constant input of immigrants from neighbouring countries and later, even from afar. There seems to be little input from North Africa."
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Maltese people Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.