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Malta Ancient Civilizations
The Maltese islands were first settled in 5200 BC by stone age farmers who had arrived from the larger island of Sicily, possibly the Sicani. The extinction of the dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants has been linked to the earliest arrival of humans on Malta.
The Sicani were the only known tribe known to have inhabited the island at this time and are generally regarded as related to the Iberians. The population on Malta grew cereals, raised domestic livestock and, in common with other ancient Mediterranean cultures, worshiped a fertility figure represented in Maltese prehistoric artifacts as exhibiting the large proportions seen in similar statuettes, including the Venus of Willendorf.
Pottery from the Għar Dalam phase is similar to pottery found in Agrigento, Sicily. A mysterious culture of megalithic temple builders then either supplanted or arose from this earliest period of Maltese civilization. The surviving monuments they constructed on Malta and Gozo are the oldest standing stone structures on Earth. The temples were used from 4000–2500 BCE and were constructed with a distinctive architecture, typically a complex trefoil design.
There is some evidence that their rituals included animal sacrifice, however information from this period is tentative. The culture apparently disappeared from the Maltese Islands around 2500 BCE with historians and archeologists speculating that the temple builders fell victim to famine or disease. War is discounted as a likely cause as archeological digs have yielded little or no evidence of weapons.
During 3500 BC, these people built some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world in the form of the megalithic Ġgantija temples on Gozo, other early temples include those at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. Thereafter, the Maltese Islands were depopulated for several decades until the arrival of a new influx of Bronze Age immigrants, a culture that cremated its dead and introduced smaller megalithic structures called dolmens to Malta.
Around 700 BC, the Ancient Greeks settled on Malta, especially around the area now occupied by Valletta. A century later, Phoenician traders, who used the islands as a stop on their trade routes from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to Cornwall, joined the natives on the island. The Phoenicians inhabited the area now known as Mdina and its surrounding town of Rabat, which they called Maleth. The Romans also made use of this city, designating it Melita.
After the fall of Phoenicia, in 400 BC the area came under the control of Carthage, a former Phoenician colony. During this time the people on Malta mainly cultivated olives and carobs, and produced textiles.
During the First Punic War of 218 BC, tensions led the Maltese people to rebel against Carthage and turn control of their garrison over to the Roman Republic consul Sempronius. Malta remained loyal to Rome during the Second Punic War and the Romans rewarded it with the title Foederata Civitas, a designation that meant it was exempt from paying tribute or the rule of Roman law, although at this time it fell within the jurisdiction of Sicilia province.
In 117 BC, the Maltese Islands were a thriving part of the Roman Empire, being promoted to the status of Municipium under Hadrian. During 60 AD, in the north of the island at Saint Paul's Bay, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ named Saint Paul was shipwrecked on the shores. Tradition holds he stayed in Malta for three months, introducing Christianity and performing various miracles. This is documented in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles.
When the Roman Empire split into Eastern and Western divisions in the 4th century, Malta fell under the control of the Greek speaking Byzantine Empire which was ruled from Constantinople. Although Malta was under Byzantine rule for four centuries, not much is known from this period. There is evidence that Germanic tribes, including the Goths and Vandals, briefly took control of the islands before the Byzantines launched a counter attack and retook Malta.
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