Carthage was originally a Phoenician city-state situated on the North African coast, which eventually rose to became the most powerful of the lot. In around the mid-6th Century BC the Maltese Islands, along with most other Phoenician colonies in the western Mediterranean, came under its dominion. While the Carthaginians further established Malta's role as a trading post linking southern Italy and Sicily to Tripolitania, the Greeks founded their own settlements in the region as part of their quest for Magnia Graecia. This phenomenon exposed Malta to Hellenistic culture giving the Island a rich multicultural status, amply reflected by archaeological remains from this era.
Carthaginian & Hellenistic Influence in the Central & Western Mediterranean. The two powers had been at war for the control of Sicily since 580 BC
Pottery and other artefacts from this period bear Punic, Greek and other influences, but the best example of this profusion of cultures is perhaps the Cippi of Melqart, with their bi-lingual inscriptions. This local equivalent of the Rosetta Stone1 enabled the translation of the Punic text and confirms the contemporary use of Greek in Malta during this period. Other finds such as candelabra with dedications in both Punic and Greek further attest local use of both these languages. The Phoenician alphabet is the oldest verified consonantal alphabet and it is generally believed to be at least partially related to most modern alphabets. It became known as Punic or Carthaginian after the establishment of Carthage led to an influx of Berber languages, and was still spoken up to the 6th century AD.
Above: The Cippus featured on Maltese stamp from a set issued in 1965, with inset Punic and Greek Script Left: Comparison Chart showing the Phoenician Alphabet and its Greek and English equivalents
Another testimonial to the multicultural aspect of the Maltese Islands of the Carthaginian era and subsequent Roman period is the coinage bearing inscriptions and legends from all three cultures. Over the first and second centuries BC, Greek legends substituted Punic ones while maintaining the use of Punic iconographic motifs. Latin would eventually replace Greek script and in turn remain accompanied by Hellenistic motifs.
A Maltese Roman era Semis Coin with Punic symbols & Greek Script. The Obverse shows the Goddess Astarte with Osiris on the reverse side.
Hellenistic influence can also be observed in architecture, at the tas-Silg temple and the remains of a tower in Zurrieq. The painting shown below features a 1770s depiction of the Zurrieq structure and although captioned as Greek, the building comprises elements of Punico-Egyptian and Hellenic architectural inspiration. Despite this synergy of influences and cultures, the trading ability of the Phoenicians and their dominance of maritime trade routes garnered much envy from other rising cultures of the period.
Greco-Punic Building in Zurrieq, Malta
The growing rivalry and antagonism between the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks would soon be overcome by a new, much greater threat in the form of Rome's quest for Empire. The multicultural phenomenon and impact on the language spoken in Malta becomes more interesting with the onset of the Punic Wars and despite the eventual annihilation of Carthage by the Romans. Roman writer and historian Titus Livius stated that when Malta was invaded by Tiberius Sempronius Longus in 218 BC during the second Punic War. Rome was still a republic while Malta was a Carthaginian possession defended by a garrison of about 2000 soldiers under general Hamilcar. Heavily outnumbered, the Carthaginians gave up without a fight, effectively ending Punic rule on the Islands. The archipelago was then incorporated as part of the Roman Province of Sicily.
Tiberius Sempronius Longus Carthaginian Officer & Civilian Militia Man Titus Livius
After the taking over of our Islands, other writers such as Cicero and Diodorus state that the islands enjoyed a good standard of living through the first century BC. The resulting prosperity and multicultural symbiosis of Punic, Hellenic and Roman influences are well-attested by archaeological evidence. Under Punic administration the Islands had become an important centre for the manufacture of textiles and a range of other commodities. This legacy was carried on under Roman rule ensuring further progress and wealth. To read more about the Punic Wars and Roman phase of Maltese history, click the appropriate link below
1. The Rosetta Stone is large granite-like slab inscribed in three languages which included Egyptian, enabling modern scholars to decipher this language for the first time.
The Maltese Cross: A Strategic History of Malta - Dennis A. Castillo. Carthage / Magnia Graecia / Phoenician & Punic Languages - Wikipedia.org
Images Carthage - Hatem Bourial via Webdo.tn The Carthaginian Republic - Theancientworld.net Magna Graecia - Future Perfect at Sunrise via Wikipedia.org Punic Alphabet - Adam Reisman via Quora.com Malta Definitive Issue 1d Stamp, 1965 - AAFM Collection Maltese Semis Coin from 160 BC - John Gatt via Coinsofmalta.com Greek House in Casal Zurrico by Houel, Jean-Pierre Laurent Punic Wars - Pending Upload
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