Phoenician and Roman Antiquities

Phoenician Ruins at Gozo.
Phoenician Ruins at Gozo.
Images from: Report on the Phoenician and Roman antiquities in the group of the islands of Malta By A. A. Caruana. Published in 1883.
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Report on the Phoenician and Roman antiquities in the group of the islands of Malta. By A. A. Caruana.  Published in 1883.

Between the primitive Phoenician period and the Roman occupation, an early Greek colony settled in the islands of Malta, contemporarily with the colonies led from Chalcis (Egripo in the island of Negropont) by the Athenian Theocles and other Greek emigrants in Sicily, by whom, as Thucydides, book IV, ch. III, relates, were founded Leontium, Catana, Taurominium, Zancla (Messina), &c., and with those led by Archias from Corinth by whom Syracuse was erected.  Subsequently, the Carthaginians held these islands up to the beginning of the second Punic war.
I understand the Phoenician and Roman antiquities as the limit of the survey called for by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, although it would seem to me, that it ought to comprehend the other monuments of Malta and Gozo between these two periods.
2.  The group of the islands of Malta, lying in the Lybian sea on the sinuous line bordering Europe to the South, consists of two chief islands, Malta and Gozo, with the minor island of Comino, nearly midway between the two, which from the nature and superposition of its strata shows evidently to be the crest of the intervening land, submerged into the sea.  On the two opposite shores of the two main islands traces of wheels and forrows, showing the passage of carts, are still apparent, even at some distance on the bottom of the Flieghi (Channels) separating the three islands.


The direction of the longer axis of the whole group is S.E. – N.W.  which, with the two intervening channels, is 29 miles in length.  Latitude of Valletta, chief town of Malta, 35° 53′ 55″ North; longitude, East of Greenwich, 14° 30′ 45′. Latitude of North Wert point of Gozo, 36° 3′ 45′ North; longitude, East of Greenwich, 14° 8′.
According to the survey of Lieut. Worsely, R.E., in 1824, the length of Malta is 17.5 miles; the breadth 8.38; the circuit, 86; the area, 95 square miles.
The length of Gozo is 9 miles; the breadth, 4.5; the circuit, 23.5; the area, 20 square miles.


The length of Comino is 1.12 miles; the breadth, 1; the circuit, 6.75; the area, 1 square mile.


The least distance separating the two main islands, from the most western part of Malta, is 2.9 miles. Height, in the two main islands nearly the same, 700 feet above the level of the sea, with a slight dip towards the N.E. and E.N.E.


3.  Scilax, in B.C. about 350, states that the three islands were inhabited by Carthaginians ‘Haud procul a Mereurii’ promouiorio insula ires sunt parvoe, Melita, Gaulos, Lampas, a “Carthaginensibus habitatae,” although some by Lampas understand Lampedousa.  Diodorus writes, that the three islands were previously inhabited by the Phoenicians.  Some Scholars by the Cosyra of Ovid and Pliny, and the Hephaestia of old Geographers, understand Comino, called Lampas by Scilax.  Gozo is called Glaucon by Ptolemy.  We are informed by the old Nubian Geographer, that after the Conquest of these islands by the Arabs, in 870, they were respectively named Malta, Ghaudosh, and Kemmuna, which denominations they retain still by the natives.


Ptolemy mentions the existence of a Chersonesus in the island of Malta. Some of our ancient writers understood by it the peninsula on which Senglea is erected. But the bearing of the Maltese Chersonesus pointed out by Ptolemy is to the West; consequently, it cannot be but the western extremity in which are the lands of Kammieh, Tafflia, tal-Bakrat, l-Ahrash, el Marfa, &c.  joined with the Melleha hill by a low land isthmus, estimated by Commendatore Abela about 657 yards wide, having Melleha bay on the North and Bdum Shacca on the South.


4.   The islands of Malta have no claim upon a prehistoric existence of man.  In the excavations undertaken in the last 20 years, no fossiliferous caverns containing human bones, held at present as characterizing the ages of prehistoric man, have been found; nor are any records preserved in the history of these islands of any discoveries of rude or polished stone tools, referring to those two stone ages.

5.   Moreover, we have no monuments belonging to an historical period previous to the Phoenicians, though all the old historians and geographers, amongst whom Cluverius, Busching, Abela, D’Anville, and Malte-Brun, agree in admitting the aboriginal existence of the Phoenicians, a Cyclopian race, in Iperia, by which designation they recognize the old name of the island of Malta.


From one or two passages in the VI and Vll books of the Odyssey, it is presumed that this race under Nausithous, son of Neptune and Periboea daughter of Eurimedon, was driven away to Corfu by the depredations of the Cyclops of Sicily, or by the Phoenicians.
Commendatore Abela, who wrote his “Malta Illustrata” in 1647, and others, ground their opinion about the existence of this race of giants, on the discovery of some huge ribs and bones, and large teeth, found in several localities, and support it by the existence of the megalithic monuments in Malta (Abela, book II, not I).


One of these giants’ teeth, found at Gozo in 1658, was presented by Grand Master De Redin to Pope Alexander VII; and Canon Agius de Soldanis, “Gozo Antico e Moderno” ch. IV, records that the skeleton of a giant (!) was discovered in excavating the foundations of Fort Manoel, Malta, at the time of Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena, about 1725.


Juvenal, Sat. XV, ridicules the story of the several races of giants.  Indeed, Malta would have been too small a Brobdingnag for such a race of Antheuses and Orions.  None of the ribs and bones referred to, which it would be the domain of Palaeontology to characterize, or any drawings of them, are preserved.  The accurate drawing of one of the teeth, given by Abela, tab. XII, “Malta Illustrata,” shows that it was of a fossil species of hypopotamus of which lately many have been discovered by Captain Spratt, Dr. Adams, and myself, together with large quantities of bones of elephants &c., washed down, at the time when Malta formed part of the African continent, into the natural fissures of these islands. Moreover, the epoch of megalithic monuments, whether Keltic or Phoenician, is pretty well known, and an important bilingual inscription, Phoenician and Greek, found on one of our monuments, leaves no doubt about their Phoenician origin.  Nor is there any reason why our megalithic monuments should have been built by a more colossal race, than the race which constructed and raised the pyramids, obelisks, and other like monuments, in old Memphis and Thebes.
There remain one or two rhapsodical passages, still much to be controverted, in favour of this mythical Phoenician race, with which I am unconcerned in this Report.
6. The circumstances of the earliest Phoenician settlement, probably from Tyre, in these islands are connected with their expulsion from the land of Canaan by Joshua; consequently, its date, computed on the chronology of Clinton and Champollion, may be fixed about 1500 B.C.
The Phoenicians established a monarchical form of Government in these islands, coining their own Phoenico-Maltese and Gozo currency; and one of their earliest Reguli was Battus, praised by Ovid, Fast III, for his hospitality to Anna, expelled by Hiarbas from Carthage, after the death of Didon her sister.


A Greek colony, probably a branch of the colony of Syracuse, about 700 B.C., settled in the central and elevated sites of these islands. During the same period, the Phoenicians, a commercial race, lived on the sea shores, and up to A.D. 58 they still spoke a Phoenician language or dialect, as we gather from the XXVIII ch. of the Acts of the Apostles, that the seafaring population of Malta spoke neither Greek nor Latin at that epoch.  Several Maltese coins with Phoenician types and Greek legend prove that the two races lived peacefully together in Malta.
The Government of these islands under the Greeks was aristo-democratic, formed of the Senate, and a popular representation, and it was administered by a Hierotite and two Archons.
Up to 216 B.C., we find the Carthaginians holding sway over these islands.  Masters of Sicily, the Carthaginians snatched the islands of Malta by force from the Greeks, probably, according to Heeren, in B.C. 480,. and occupied them as conquerors.  It is unknown what kind of rule these islands were subject to, under the Carthaginians; but from the welcome given to the Romans and the consequent good treatment of the natives by them, it appears that the Carthaginians, though originating from the same Phoenician parent-stock, were hated by the natives.
In 216 B.C., took place the conquest of these islands by the Romans, led by the Consul Titus Sempronius Gracchus.  The Carthaginian garrison, about 2000 men, under the command of Hamilcar son of Giscon, were made prisoners of war.
L’ Abbe Fourmont “Acad, des Inscrip” tom. IX, pag. 167, admits of an early settlement in Malta from Lydia, the fabled original land of the Etruscans, PL 5, 29, 80, by whom, he asserts, Malta was called Lyda. This absurd opinion is based on an incorrect reading of the penultimate word, in the Inscription Melitensis prima, by Fourmont. Neither Herodotus, nor Thucydides, nor Diodorus, in the history of the Lydian migrations led by Tyrrhenus, mention the island of Malta.

Other settlements of Volaterrans and Tyrrhenians migrating from Etruria to Malta, daring the Phoenician and Greek periods, are mentioned by Comm. Abela, Campomanes, l’Abbe Navarro, and Marquis Barbaro, deceived by the apocryphal publication styled “Hetruscarum Antiquitatum fragmenta” by Curzio Inghirami in Florence 1636, and Francfort 1637, in which it is clearly stated that a colony from Volaterrae settled in Malta. The imposture of Inghirami, who asserted that these fragments containing the history and religious rites of the Etrurians were discovered by him at the foot of Mount Scarnello, was detected and proved by Allacci, Simone, and Fabricio. Vide Bres book IV, ch. V.

Hence, we may broadly extend the first part of the survey of the Antiquities of Malta from 1500 to 216 B.C.  A farther limit would drag us, nearly, to the epoch of Osymandias of Egypt, which is beyond our scope.
For the sake of perspicuity, I shall report on the numerous Maltese Antiquities in separate classes.

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