The Siege of 1429 in Malta's History
In 1429 a determined attempt was made by an army of 18,000 Moors from Tunisia under Kaid Ridavan to capture the Maltese Islands with the intention of using them as an advance post for further conquests.
In the rich tapestry of Maltese history, the Great Siege of 1565 often commands the spotlight, celebrated for its epic heroism and unwavering resolve. Yet, there exists a lesser-known but equally compelling chapter – the Siege of 1429. This overlooked event marked the first recorded siege of Mdina, the ancient capital of Malta, and cast the island into a gripping struggle against formidable odds.
The year was 1429, and Malta stood at a pivotal juncture in its history. Having recently freed itself from feudalism in 1426, the Maltese were fiercely guarding their newfound autonomy. With the might of the King’s Army in Malta and Gozo, reinforced by 300 territorial soldiers known as Tad-Dejma, Malta had taken the saying “in times of peace, prepare for war” to heart. These soldiers, consisting of all men reaching the age of 16, underwent rigorous training, held diligently on Sundays, with fines levied on the absentees ranging from a Karlin to 40.
But peace was soon to be disrupted. As North Africa came under the dominion of the Sunni Muslims known as the Hasidic, the Maltese Islands found themselves precariously positioned for conquest. In 1429, an audacious campaign was launched, led by Kaid Ridavan, sending an army of 18,000 Moors from Tunisia to Malta’s shores. In a David-and-Goliath showdown, the resilient Maltese, numbering between 16,000 to 18,000, with a mere 4,000 men under arms, stood resolute to defend their homeland. Their arrival marked the beginning of a three-day onslaught on the ancient walled city. Fierce battles raged, and Mdina bore the brunt of the siege.
The invaders, driven by their ambition to conquer, launched a psychological attack, placing bread at the city’s entrance to taunt the defenders. In response, the resourceful Maltese, under the cover of night, ventured out and placed ġbejniet, traditional Maltese cheeselets, atop the bread, defiantly demonstrating their resilience. Legends also shroud the Siege of 1429 in a deep religious aura.
It is said that St. Paul himself appeared on a white horse, wielding a dagger, in defence of the Maltese. This extraordinary event left such an indelible mark that in 1682, the Cathedral Chapter commissioned a painting by Mattia Preti, depicting St. Paul on a white horse defending the Maltese. This masterpiece still graces the chapel of the Annunciation in Mdina Cathedral. Additionally, Mgr Pietro Dusina’s Apostolic Visit led to the declaration of St. Paul as co-titular with Our Lady of the Assumption.
Maltese historians regard the Siege of 1429 as more challenging than the famous Great Siege of 1565, as the Maltese had to defend their homeland alone, without external support.
The Augustinians lost their monastery and church at Saqqajja, close to Mdina’s city walls, which were utterly destroyed by the invading forces. Kaid Ridavan is believed to have resided in that very monastery. Following its destruction, the Augustinians sought refuge at St. Peter’s Hospital and later at the Visitation church, both located in Mdina.
The Siege of 1429 stands as a remarkable testament to the resilience and valour of the Maltese people. In the face of overwhelming odds, they united to defend their homeland with unwavering determination. The legends surrounding this siege, from the defiant act with bread and ġbejniet to the miraculous appearance of St. Paul, continue to resonate through the ages, preserving the memory of their bravery.
As we reflect on this often-overlooked chapter of Maltese history, we pay tribute to those who fought valiantly during the Siege of 1429 and celebrate their enduring spirit. It remains a testament to the indomitable will of a people determined to protect their cherished homeland, against all odds.