Ancient Roman Empire

How did ancient Romans influence Malta and its people?

The ancient Roman empire spanned from about 145 B.C. to 476 A.D., and it is said to have been one of the most powerful in history.

The Romans conquered vast amounts of land and their empire was spread out throughout Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa.

The Roman empire map captioned below, shows the various countries that the Romans ruled during that period. (The red, dark orange and green shaded areas represent countries that were under Roman rule). That is how powerful the ancient Roman empire was in those days!

The Ancient Roman Empire and Malta

It was during the Punic wars (in 218 B.C.), that the Romans took control of the island of Malta from the Carthaginians. They called the island Melita, which was probably derived from Malat, the name that the Phoenicians had given to the island.

The Carthaginians were seen as a threat to the emerging Roman empire and Malta had just the perfect location in helping the Romans to expand their empire.

The Roman era is a very important period in the history of Malta, since the Maltese islands prospered immensely under Roman rule.

It was during this period that Malta became famous for its honey, fine cloth for dresses and sailcloth. It was also during this period that Christianity was introduced to the islands. In A.D. 60, St. Paul was shipwrecked on Malta’s shores and he is credited to have converted the locals to Christianity during his short presence.

Following the fall of the Roman empire, the islands went through a very tough period and very little is known about this period.

This period has come to be referred to as the European Dark Ages, wherein researchers sometimes use mere speculation in trying to describe what happened during those years. Malta seems to disappear completely and Maltese life in the dark ages is a topic that baffles scientists and researchers to this day.

Legends indicate that the islands were attacked by barbarians but no definite evidence was ever found.

Traces of the Ancient Roman empire on the Maltese islands

Domvs Romana (Roman Villa and Museum)

The villa most probably was the property of a rich Roman merchant. It was first discovered in 1881. The museum was built in 1921 during the second round of excavations. The museum is filled with exhibits from the Roman period that include an olive-pipper, tombstones, marble statues, terra-cotta ornaments, glassware, lamps, mosaic and even theatrical masks.

The “star” of the villa is the square mosaic-covered atrium, enclosed by 16 columns. The Domvs Romana is the island's most treasured site from the Ancient Roman Empire period.

The villa is situated just outside Mdina, which is one of the top attractions in Malta. Entrance fee is Euro 4.66. Open daily from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

St.Paul’s Catacombs

The catacombs are subterranean burial chambers that were very common during those times. Dubbed by some, as the most fascinating remains of the ancient Roman empire's legacy on the islands, the catacombs are set on a number of different terraced levels.

At the entrance, you will find a primitive chapel where people gathered to pray and mourn during the ritual burials. This is considered to be Malta’s first church. From here on it’s a series of labyrintine passageways.

In one of the chambers which has a heavy stone door that is still functional, you can experience complete darkness. Many Jewish menorah symbols can also be seen carved in stone.

The best approach to explore the catacombs is to wander around and doubling back on yourself.

St. Paul’s catacombs are located in St. Agatha Street, Rabat Malta. Entrance fee is Euro 4.66. Open daily from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

A word of advice: if you suffer from claustrophobia, you may want to reconsider visiting this site.

Roman Baths

Located in Mgarr, Malta, these are remains of what was once a Roman villa or country house. They were excavated in 1929 and although very little is left of the villa, the baths are still in fairly good shape.

They depict the “luxurious” lifestyle that the Romans led while in Malta. The baths consist of a warm bath with mosaic flooring, a cold water bath plus a hot steam room. It is said that the villa and baths belonged to a wealthy and established Roman man.

The site is nowadays enclosed by boundary walls. Entrance is free (just ask for the keys at the house nearby).

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