A brief overview of Maltese Pre-History.
The Megaliths that were used to build temples
ancestors about five and a half thousand years ago, preceding the Pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge are amongst the earliest form of architecture known to historians. They still stand today and are considered amongst the oldest places of worship in existence, listed by the UNESCO
as World Heritage Sites
. Seven megalithic temples are to found on the islands of Malta
, each a result of an individual development. The ‘Ggantija’ complex on the island of Gozo is remarkable for its superhuman achievements dating from the Bronze Age
(3,600 BC). On the island of Malta, the temples of ‘Hagar Qim’, ‘Mnajdra’ and ‘Tarxien’ are unique architectural masterpieces
, given the very limited resources of their builders. The ‘Ta' Hagrat’ and ‘Skorba’ complexes bear witness to the development of the temple tradition in Malta. The ‘Hal Saflieni’ Hypogeum is an enormous subterranean
structure excavated with cyclopean rigging to lift huge blocks of coralline limestone
around the year 3,000 BC. The Hypogeum, possibly conceived as a sanctuary
, has been a necropolis
since prehistoric times. The prehistory of the Maltese islands has been divided into phases, each named for the different styles of ceramic wares excavated by archaeologists from various sites around the islands. The corresponding BCE
dates are calibrated radiocarbon
Immigrants crossed over from Sicily around 5000 BCE. They were farmers and they brought over domesticated animals and various seeds. The pottery of this first phase known as 'Ghar Dalam' (a rough translation would be Dark Cave)– from a cave in the south of Malta – has similarities to that found in Monte Kronio, close to Agrigento in Sicily and dates to around 5000-4500 BCE. After a century had passed the 'Grey Skorba' (4500 BCE)pottery (from the dull grey ware which followed the Ghar Dalam ceramics) started to be given a reddish coating, and this became recorded as the Red Skorba phase.
The 'Zebbug' (The word literally translated means 'olives' but refersd to an area in Malta that bears the same name) phase ware with its different worked clay, and decorated pear-shaped ceramics, was introduced to Malta by a new group of immigrants that followed the previous population. These new immigrants developed into an independent insular population which seems to have lived quietly for some 500 years – this included the next Mgarr phase. Then, inexplicably, they started to suddenly construct Malta's magnificent temples.
During the 'Ggantija'(the word is related to the word for 'huge' but only shares the same radical) phase the first temples were built, and a lot of ceramic ware was decorated with a new technique – surface scraping of the ware, after firing.
The Saflieni (named after the area in which most development in this phase occurred) phase followed that, and introduced new pottery styles and decorations. The apex of the temple culture was reached in the 'Tarxien' (again named after the area) phase. During these centuries many temples were built, refurbished and enlarged. Tarxien ceramics were richly decorated and many elaborate designs were used. At the end of this phase the temple culture mysteriously disappeared, and it seems that the islands were abandoned for some time.
Following an interval of some decades, the islands became repopulated. These new people settled the islands during the Bronze (and Iron) phase. They cremated their dead and although these new people had a knowledge of metallurgy, in many respects their way of living was paradoxically inferior to that of the people of the Tarxien period. Bronze age people in some cases used the ruins of the temples as cremation cemeteries. Architecturally the only remains connected with this period are the small megalithic structures known as 'dolmens'. These dolmens are very similar to some found in the south of Italy. The ceramics from this period are dull and unimpressive.
In the 'Borg in-Nadur' (complicated, 'Borg' refers to stone, or a collection of stones, in archaic Maltese and 'Nadur' refers to a hilltop in the same ancient dialect)phase we see the introduction of fortified villages, and the use of shallow storage pits dug out of the rock. Most of the ceramics of this phase have open forms and stand on a conical base.
The last period of Malta's prehistory
is the 'Bahrija' (literally moth
but refers to the region) phase. This is not a 'real' phase, but represents a new culture that settled on the hill of Bahrija in Malta
. These Iron Age
people must have arrived from the South
, and they shared the island
with the people of 'Borg in-Nadur'.
By 700 BCE
took over the islands, most probably peacefully. The people came originally from what is today Lebanon
. The Phoenicians stayed in Malta using its sheltered harbours, and when they choose Carthage
as their main city, in about 480 BCE
became a Punic
colony. Around 255 BCE
, during the first Punic war
, the islands were plundered by the Roman navy
. With the second Punic war
, the islands were taken over by the Romans
, and in 218 BCE Malta
became part of the Republic of Rome
. More about Malta here.