Malta in the Middle Ages

Malta in the Middle Ages


Aerial view of Mdina

photo credit: r muscat

Malta played a strategic role in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages, due to its location between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The tiny island also was centred around a plethora of conflicts between the Byzantine and Islamic empires. The Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of Malta, were the most prominent rulers of the island. They built a number of fortifications, including the famous fortifications of Valletta, Birgu, and Senglea. We know we have piqued your interest, so come along and enjoy this insightful read on Malta’s historical exchanges in the Middle Ages.

Malta under the Byzantine


When Belisarius, a general of the Byzantine Empire, travelled from Sicily to North Africa in 533, it’s possible that he stopped in Malta. By 535, Malta had been included in the Byzantine province of Sicily. Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Marsa, and Xlendi are said to have acted as harbours throughout the Byzantine period, with the cities of Melite (where now Rabat and Mdina stand) on the island of Malta’s mainland and the Citadel on Gozo being the principal towns. Due to the unusually large number of Byzantine pottery that has been discovered in Malta, it is possible that the island played a crucial strategic role throughout the 6th to 8th centuries. Muslim expansion began to threaten the Mediterranean in the late 7th century. During this period, as shown by the defensive walls that were constructed around the basilica at tas-Silġ in the early eight century, the Byzantines presumably strengthened Malta’s defences

The Arab Conquest of Malta

The Arabs first arrived in Malta in 870 AD, when they conquered the island from the Byzantine Empire. The Arab presence on Malta lasted for over 250 years, during which time they left a significant impact on the island’s culture and history.

Under Arab rule, Malta became an important center of trade and commerce in the Mediterranean. The Arabs introduced new agricultural techniques and crops, such as citrus fruits and cotton, which helped to boost the island’s economy. They also built a number of fortifications and structures, including the Medina, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Arab influence is still visible in Malta today, particularly in the island’s language and names of towns and cities. Additionally, the island’s traditional architectural style, characterized by its narrow winding streets and small houses, is thought to be influenced by Arab architectural styles.

the normans in malta

The Normans arrived in Malta in 1091 AD, after they conquered the island from the Arabs. The Normans ruled Malta for over 70 years, during which time they transformed the island into an important center of Christianity in the Mediterranean. The Normans built a number of churches and monasteries on Malta, including the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina. They also built fortified towns, such as the “Three Cities.” These fortifications were built to protect the island from the frequent raids that plagued the Mediterranean at the time.

The Normans also introduced new agricultural techniques, such as irrigation and terracing, which helped to increase food production on the island. They also established a number of feudal estates, which brought stability to the island and helped to boost the economy. With the Norman conquest, Christianity was once more the main religion in Malta. It was the last Arab bastion in the area to be retaken by the rising Christians. Count Roger I of Sicily attacked Malta in 1091 and made the Muslim rulers of the island his vassals.

Long after Arab sovereignty ended, the islands continued to be mostly populated by Muslims. The Arab government was maintained, and Muslims were permitted to openly practise their faith up to the 13th century. Incidentally, the Maltese resisted an attempt by Hafsid Saracens to conquer Malta in Septembre 1429. In addition to plundering the land, the invaders enslaved roughly 3,000 locals. All Maltese Muslims had to convert to Christianity by the end of the 15th century, and they were compelled to hide their past identities by Latinizing their names or taking new surnames.

The Normans were eventually driven out of Malta in 1160 AD by the Arabs, but their legacy on the island can still be seen in the form of the fortified towns they built, as well as in the island’s architecture, language, and place names.

the end

The Middle Ages are sometimes undervalued and misunderstood, or at least misinterpreted, in terms of their significance to the development of civilisation. They are frequently seen as the gloomy period of complete or near-complete savagery. This misconception is unequivocally erroneous. Human growth and civilization progressed during the Middle Ages, supporting the development of medicine. Malta was a multicultural phenomenon, with a trail of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian civilisations coexisting on such a tiny island.