The Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium was originally an integral part of, and eventually the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces, after the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D. Between 324-337 A.D., Emperor Constantine I the Great reorganised the empire establishing the new capital of the Roman Empire in Byzantium, and giving it his name - Constantinople in 330 A.D. (now known as Istanbul, in Turkey).
Constantine legalised Christianity, and Emperor Theodisius I endorsed it as the Empire's official state religion during his reign (379-395 A.D.). Thenunder the reign of Heraclius (610–641 A.D.), the empire's military and administration were restructured replacing Greek for official use rather than Latin. Over the centuries, although the Roman state and its traditions were maintained, the empire eventually moved away from its Latin roots and oriented towards Greek culture instead, developing its own version of Christianity known as Eastern Orthodox. This shift is clearly reflected in Byzantine coinage, as we shall demonstrate further on.
The Empire continued to exist for an additional thousand years, with its citizens referring to it as the Roman Empire, and to themselves as Romans. At its peak, it would become one of the most dominant and powerful forces of the era, boasting a rich culture, solid economy, and strong military tradition. In the 6th Century, Emperor Justinian I would reconquer and restore vast amounts of territories including Italy, the Balkans and most of the North African Coast.
Most of these gains would be reversed by the end of the 9th Century. The period between 867-1180 A.D. would see a resurgence however, including the reconquest of various territories, but the inception of the Crusades and growing threat from other cultures, especially that of Islam, would eventually find Constantinople being sacked in 1204 A.D. The next 150 years would see the Empire disintegrate, as civil wars and external threats took their toll. The wind sown with the crusades, had now become a whirlwind, as a new dominant force surged over the horizon of world history, and eventually many a shore. Whatever was left of the Byzantine Empire was crushed by the Ottoman Turks with the inevitable fall of Constantinople in 1453.
As for the Maltese Islands, little is known about the period following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the transition to Byzantine rule. The first documented instance of Byzantine presence in Malta was in 533 A.D., in the formof general Belisarius, who landed here while on his way to North Africa. The islands were integrated 2 years later into the Byzantine Province of Sicily, with the main settlements remaining the city of Melita, and the Citadel site in Malta and Gozo respectively. The relatively high quantity of Byzantine ceramics found on the islands suggest that Malta might have had an important strategic role within the empire from the 6th to 8th centuries. The shift of theByzantine Empire's culture and traditions from Latin to Hellenistic was reflected here too, with evidence suggesting the presence of a Greek Orthodox community, and Greek being adopted as the official / administrative language.
Not much is known about the language spoken by the locals, but it was probably an evolution of Punico-Latin dialect of sorts, which invariably would have been influenced by Greek with the passing of time, following the pattern witnessed in social, artistic and other aspects including architecture. A series of military campaigns would see the islands contested by various powers, even after the the Islamic take-over of the islands in the late 860s A.D.
Map image source: Encyclopaedia Brittanica Inc, 1994. Other images from our archives and some place-holders from open-source E-Sites. Christogram image by Uploadalt. 'A Concise History of Malta' by Cassar, Carmel - Mireva Publications, 2000. ISBN 1870579526. 'The Castellu di la Chitati the medieval castle of the walled town of Mdina', by Stephen Spiteri - Arx Online Journal of Military Architecture and Fortification (1–4), 2004-7. 'Iz-Zmien nofsani Malti' by Charles Dalli, - PIN Publications, 2002 - ISBN 99932-41-17-2. 'Malta 870-1054 : Al-Himyari’s Account and its Linguistic Implications' by / Joseph M. Brincat - Said International, 1995.