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The Maltese ( ) are an ethnic group associated with the Southern European nation of Maltamarker, and with the Maltese language. Malta is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Seamarker. Included within the ethnic group defined by the Maltese people are the Gozitans ( ) who inhabit Malta's sister island, Gozomarker.


Malta has been inhabited from around 5200 BC, since the arrival of settlers from the island of Sicily. A significant prehistoric Neolithic culture marked by Megalithic structures, which date back to c. 3600 BC, existed on the islands, as evidenced by the temples of Mnajdra, Ggantijamarker and others. The Phoeniciansmarker colonized Malta from about 1000 BC, bringing their Semitic language and culture, and becoming the direct male-line ancestors of about a half of the modern Maltese population. They used the islands as an outpost from which they expanded sea explorations and trade in the Mediterranean until their successors, the Carthaginiansmarker, were ousted by the Romans in 216 BC with the help of the Maltese inhabitants, under whom Malta became a municipium.

After a period of Byzantine rule (4th to 9th century) and a probable sack by the Vandals, the islands were invaded by the Fatimids in AD 870. The Arabs generally tolerated the population's Christianity, and their language subsequently shifted to Siculo-Arabic.

The Muslim rulers were expelled from the islands by the Normans in 1090, and their leader Roger I of Sicily was welcomed by the native Christians. The islands were part of the Kingdom of Sicily until 1530, and were briefly controlled by the Capetian House of Anjou. In 1530 Charles I of Spain gave the Maltese islands to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in perpetual lease.

The French under Napoleon took hold of the Maltese islands in 1798, although with the aid of the British the Maltese were able to oust French control two years later. The inhabitants subsequently asked Britain to assume sovereignty over the islands under the conditions laid out in a Declaration of Rights, stating that "his Majesty has no right to cede these Islands to any power...if he chooses to withdraw his protection, and abandon his sovereignty, the right of electing another sovereign, or of the governing of these Islands, belongs to us, the inhabitants and aborigines alone, and without control." As part of the Treaty of Paris Malta became a British colony, ultimately rejecting an attempted integration with the United Kingdom in 1956.

Malta became independent on September 21, 1964 (Independence Day). Under its 1964 constitution Malta initially retained Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta, with a Governor-General exercising executive authority on her behalf. On December 13, 1974 (Republic Day) it finally became a republic within the Commonwealth, with the President as head of state. On March 31, 1979 Malta saw the withdrawal of the last British troops and the Royal Navy from Malta. This day is known as Freedom Day and Malta declared itself as a neutral military base. Malta joined the European Union on May 1, 2004 and joined the Eurozone on January 1, 2008.


The culture of Malta is a reflection of various cultures that have come into contact with the Maltese Islandsmarker throughout the centuries, including neighbouring Mediterraneanmarker cultures, and the cultures of the nations that ruled Maltamarker for long periods of time prior to its independence in 1964.

earliest inhabitants of the Maltese Islands are believed to have crossed over from nearby Sicily sometime before 5000 BCE. The culture of modern Malta has been described as a "rich pattern of traditions, beliefs and practices," which is the result of "a long process of adaptation, assimilation and cross fertilization of beliefs and usages drawn from various conflicting sources." It has been subjected to the same complex, historic processes that gave rise to the linguistic and ethnic admixture that defines who the people of Malta and Gozo are today.

Maltese culture has both Semitic and Latin European origins; however, the Latin European element is more readily apparent in modern Malta for two key reasons: the fact that Latin European cultures have had more recent, and virtually continuous impact on Malta over the past eight centuries through political control; and the fact that Malta shares the religious beliefs, traditions and ceremonies of its Sicilian neighbor.


Maltese people speak the Maltese language, a Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet in its standard form. The language is descended from Siculo-Arabic, a dialect of Arabic spoken in Sicily and surrounding Southern Italy from the ninth century. In the course of Malta's history, the language has adopted large amounts of vocabulary from Sicilian, Italian, English, and to a smaller degree, French. The official languages of Malta are English and Maltese, with Italian also widely spoken.

Maltese became an official language of Malta in 1934, replacing Italian and joining English. There are an estimated 371,900 speakers in Malta of the language, with statistics citing that 100% of the people are able to speak Maltese, 88% English, 66% Italian, and 17% French, showing a greater degree of linguistic capabilities than most other European countries. In fact multilingualism is a common phenomenon in Malta, with English, Maltese and Italian, used in everyday life. Whilst Maltese is the national language, it has been suggested that with the ascendancy of English language shift may begin, however this has been discredited by contemporary studies.


The Constitution of Malta provides for freedom of religion but establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion.

The Church in Malta is described in the Book of Acts ( ; ) to have been founded by its patrons Saint Paul the Apostle and Saint Publius, who was its first bishop. The Islands of St. Paul (or St. Paul's Islets), are traditionally believed to be the site where Saint Paul was shipwrecked in the year 60 CE, on his way to trial and eventual martyrdom in Romemarker.

Freedom House and the World Factbook report that 98% of the Maltese are Roman Catholic, making the nation one of the most Catholic countries in the world.

National symbols

Various symbols have identified the island over its history, the most common is the Maltese cross, the symbol used by the Knights of Malta and now a symbol of the Maltese nation. It appears on the reverse of the Maltese 1 euro and 2 euro coins introduced in January 2008.

Maltese emigration

The Maltese diaspora occurred after the World War II and well into the 1960s/70s as a result of the contemporary political climate, under a socialist government. Many Maltese left the island for the United Kingdommarker, Australia, Americamarker and lesserly Canadamarker, where sizable expatriate communities exist. Successive generations of Maltese-Australians, British-Maltese and Maltese-Americans maintain a link with their ancestral home, visiting Malta or being visited abroad by local musicians and public personalities. The Maltese language is still spoken by many expatriates, and is often taught to their children.


Y-Dna haplogroups are found at the following frequencies in Malta : R1 (35.55% including 32.2% R1b), J (28.90% including 7.80% J1), I (12.20%), E (11.10% including 8.9% E1b1b), F (6.70%), K (4.40%), P (1.10%). J, K, F and E1b1b haplogroups consist of lineages with differential distribution within Middle East, North Africa and Europe while R1 and I are typical in West European populations.

Population links

The first settlers of Malta were from the island of Sicily. However, the result of the influences on the population after this have been fiercely debated among historians and geneticists. The origins question is complicated by numerous factors, including Malta's turbulent history of invasions and conquests, with long periods of depopulation followed by periods of immigration to Malta and intermarriage with the Maltese by foreigners from the Mediterraneanmarker, Western and Southern European countries that ruled Malta.

The many demographic influences on the island include:
  • The Phoenician colonisation around 1000 BC.
  • The exile to Malta of the entire male population of the town of Celanomarker (Italy) in 1223
  • The stationing of Norman French and Sicilian Italian troops on Malta in 1240
  • The removal of all remaining Arabs from Malta in 1224
  • The arrival of several hundred Catalan (Spain) soldiers in 1283
  • Further waves of European repopulation throughout the 13th century
  • The settlement in Malta of noble families from Sicily (Italy) and Aragonmarker (Spain) between 1372 and 1450
  • The arrival of several thousand Greek Rhodianmarker sailors, soldiers and slaves with the Knights of St. John
  • The introduction of several thousand Sicilian laborers in 1551 and again in 1566
  • The emigration of some 891 Italian exiles to Malta during the Risorgimento in 1849
  • The posting of some 22,000 British servicemen in Malta from 1807 to 1979, as well as other British and Irish that settled in Malta over the decades
  • The mass Maltese diaspora occurring after World War II and well into the 1960s and 70s. Many Maltese left the island for the United Kingdommarker, Australia and USAmarker, with many regularly returning to their ancestral home.

Present views

Confirming the idea that the first settlers on Malta were Sicilian, studies on the Y-chromosomes of men have indicated that the Maltese population has Southern Italian origins, with little genetic input from the Eastern Mediterranean. However, a study carried out by geneticists Spencer Wells and Pierre Zalloua of the American University of Beirutmarker showed that more than 50% of Y-chromosomes from Maltese men could have Phoenecianmarker origins.

Historical accounts

Over time, the various rulers of Malta published their own view of the ethnicity of the population. The Knights of Malta promoted the idea of a continuous Roman Catholic presence, and the British colonial rule disregarded a genetic and cultural connection between the Maltese and Italians in an attempt to counteract growing Fascist power in the area.

See also

External links


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