Malta has been inhabited since prehistoric times, as can be seen by the numerous megalithic temples and other archaeological finds, the oldest of which date back to 3800 BC. Some of the oldest and best preserved free standing buildings in the world can be found in Malta. Around 1,000 BC the islands became a Phoenician trading post and the main island was called Malat, meaning safe place. The Phoenicians were in fact the first people to occupy the islands. Later came the Greeks and the Carthaginians. After the destruction of Carthage in 218 BC, Malta was taken over by the Roman empire and renamed Melita. History says that, around 60 AD, St Paul was shipwrecked and washed up on the Maltese shores, where he proceeded to convert the inhabitants to Christianity, and they have continued to be Christian up to modern times.
After some time under Byzantine rule, Malta was conquered in 870 by the Muslim Arabs who influenced its language and culture. The Arab influence can be found in the Maltese language which, despite being heavily Romanised, was originally derived from vernacular Arabic.
The country remained under Arab rule until 1090 when it was conquered by Count Rogerio I of Sicily and controlled by the Kingdom of Sicily until the 16th century. In 1266, the Maltese islands and Sicily were taken over by Charles I of Anjou who gave them to Peter III of Aragon in 1283. In 1530, in an attempt to strengthen the southern borders of his domain against the advances of the Ottoman empire, Charles V of Spain gave the islands to the Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, a religious military order founded at the beginning of the crusades. The fate of Malta and this military monastic order, nowadays known as the “Order of Malta”, were bound together for the next three centuries.
Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the islands in 1798 and the French ruled for two years. When the French General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois surrendered in 1800 to Great Britain, the British settled on the island and transformed it into an important, strategic naval base. As part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a British Empire colony in 1814 and became a port of call and the headquarters of the British fleet until the mid 1930s. The island played a vital role in the Second World War: firstly, because it was so close to the Axis shipping lanes and secondly, because of the courage of its people who stood up to German and Italian attacks, which led to it being awarded the George Cross, the highest British civil medal of honour which can still be seen on the country’s flag today.
The archipelago achieved self-rule in 1947 and became fully independent on 21 September 1964. Malta was declared a republic in 1974.
Shortly after its independence, Malta was admitted to the Council of Europe. It is a member of the Commonwealth and the United Nations.
In 1990, the country formally applied to join the European Union, which finally happened in May 2004.