Ancient Phoenicians: Who were they and how did they end up in Malta?

The ancient Phoenicians were a nation of traders. They started expanding their power in the twelfth century B.C. Their power extended to various countries in the Mediterranean and they conquered the key trade routes in the region. Coming from the present Lebanon, ancient Phoenicians established a post on Malta and remained here from 800 – 218 B.C.

Researchers are still uncertain on whether the Phoenicians have in fact colonized the Maltese islands or not. However, concrete evidence such as inscriptions in Phoenician, pottery and bronze items found here, clearly indicate that some form of Phoenician civilization was present in Malta and not for a brief time either.

It is said that the Phoenicians lived peacefully among the Maltese. 

phoenician alphabet

The Phoenician Alphabet

The Ancient Phoenicians and their link to the Maltese Language

Many claim that the Maltese language is of Punic origin. Two candelabra were found on the islands with Phoenician and Greek inscriptions. These valuable items were crucial in defining and understanding the Phoenician alphabet and language. One of these candelabra is in the National Archaeological Museum in Valletta.

It is also believed that the islands’ names have Phoenician origins, Malta deriving from Malat and Gozo island from Gaulos.

The Phoenicians left very little architecture and written words behind them, and to this day historians are still struggling with trying to decipher the Phoenician culture and way of life. Their stay on the Maltese islands is an enigma in itself, because while Malta’s location in the heart of the Mediterranean sea must have been one of the main reasons for their presence, too many questions still remain unanswered.

Why did the Phoenicians choose to settle in Malta, an island which had no raw materials?

Mdina was the first urban settlement under Phoenician “rule”. Why is it that they chose this area to settle in, when it is a well known fact that the Phoenicians always settled near the shores? And how come they integrated so effortlessly with the Maltese, when in other countries they always kept to themselves?

What is clear though is that Phoenician influence on the Maltese islands is not to be underestimated.

In 2004, the National Geographic Magazine published the results of a research project carried out by genetic scientists, that revealed that close to a third of Maltese people today, have genes that can be traced back to ancient Phoenicians! Of all the Mediterranean nations that were researched, it seems that the Maltese had the highest proportion!

So it may very well be, that while you’re here and chatting away to a local, you may in reality be talking to a descendant of an ancient Phoenician :)

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