Malta: The Medieval Millennium

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Book Reviews | History | Malta | Sicily


19 January 2020

Last year I travelled to Malta and visited the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, which is an underground tomb and ceremonial cave first used by men around 7000 years ago. I stood beneath red ochre painted rooves that I could have reached out and touched if I wanted to. I did want to, but I also know the havoc the oils on human hands can wreak on such beautiful things. Ergo I resisted that powerful temptation.

Malta's history has been an interesting one, isolated and dry in the middle of the Mediterranean between so many great civilizations. Charles Dalli's Malta: The Medieval Millennium details the centuries during the late Byzantine empire, the Muslim conquests and Christian conquests, through when the Spanish crown handed the island over to the Knights Hospitaller as they left their old base on Rhodes.

The British were the last to conquer Malta and left their mark of language, as they often do, behind when they left. Sadly they'd didn't depart before establishing driving on the left which unfortunately led me to enter traffic circles in the wrong direction, to the peril of myself and other motorists. Dalli's book is in the English language and has plenty of sources therein to fall back on, although it also draws from Latin, Arabic, Italian and, of course, Maltan originals.

Malta's history is one of a back and forth between European and African spheres of influence befitting its geographical location between them. By the end of the 11th century with the conquest of Roger the Norman of Sicily, Malta was basically in the European sphere for good although raids did still occur from Africa. Thereafter Malta's shared the fate of Sicily as the Italian royal houses struggled for dominance. Eventually the Aragonese came out on top though, which is why the kings of Spain still have a right of residence there.

Often the Medieval Period is misnamed the Dark Ages, no doubt because the shifting borders and houses and alliances seem incredibly comlicated to modern eyes used to the simple borders of the few dozen European countries today. Dalli adequately demonstrates in this work that the millennium between Byzantium and the Knights is anything but dark in Malta, and indeed in Sicily as well. While in Malta I also took a jaunt up to Catania where I saw a Norman castle on the volcanic coast created by erutions of Etna.

While there were no pictures allowed in the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, I did take a number of pictures at other archeological sites and places of interest around the island during my short stay.



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