Early descriptions of the Maltese Archipeligo

This article will provide five early descriptions from antiquity, that I know of, regarding the Maltese Archipeligo. They come from Diodorous Siculus, Gnaeus Naevius, Livy, Strabo, and Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Our first description comes from, Diodorous Siculus, an Ancient Greek Historian. In his book, 'The Library of History,' written in the 1 century BC, he recounts many ancient events and countries. One of them is the Maltese Archipeligo, as stated in Book 5 Chapter 12:

For off the south of Sicily three islands (The two that are mentioned in the extract, Melitê and Gaulus, are now apart of Malta as a nation) lie out in the sea, and each of them possesses a city and harbours which can offer safety to ships which are in stress of weather. The first one is that called Melitê (Malta),which lies about eight hundred stades from Syracuse, and it possesses many harbours which offer exceptional advantages, and its inhabitants are blest in their possessions; for it has artisans skilled in every manner of craft, the most important being those who weave linen, which is remarkably sheer and soft, and the dwellings on the island are worthy of note, being ambitiously constructed with cornices and finished in stucco with unusual workmanship. This island is a colony planted by the Phoenicians, who, as they extended their trade to the western ocean, found in it a place of safe retreat, since it was well supplied with harbours and lay out in the open sea; and this is the reason why the inhabitants of this island, since they received assistance in many respects through the sea-merchants, shot up quickly in their manner of living and increased in renown.
After this island there is a second which bears the name of Gaulus (Gozo), lying out in the open sea and adorned with well-situated harbours, a Phoenician colony.

As Siculus states, in those days, Malta was a Phoenician colony. The Phoenicians were a group of wandering traders, originating in modern day Lebanon, who travelled all throughout the Mediterranean.

Our second description comes from Gnaeus Naevius, a Roman, epic poet. In his poem, "The Punic War," he makes brief mention of the Roman destruction of Malta, during the First Punic War:

The Roman crosses over to Malta, an island unimpaired; he lays it waste by fire and slaughter, and finishes the affairs of the enemy.

Our third description from Livy, a Roman Historian, makes mention of Malta during the 2nd Punic War. This account can be found in Book 21 of the History of Rome:

The consul having dismissed Hiero with the royal fleet, and left the praetor to defend the coast of Sicily, passed over himself from Lilybaeum to the island Melita, which was held in possession by the Carthaginians. On his arrival, Hamilcar, the son of Gisgo, the commander of the garrison, with little less than two thousand soldiers, together with the town and the island, are delivered up to him: thence, after a few days, he returned to Lilybaeum, and the prisoners taken, both by the consul and the praetor, excepting those illustrious for their rank, were publicly sold. When the consul considered that Sicily was sufficiently safe on that side, he crossed over to the islands of Vulcan, because there was a report that the Carthaginian fleet was stationed there: but not one of the enemy was discovered about those islands. They had already, as it happened, passed over to ravage the coast of Italy, and having laid waste the territory of Vibo, were also threatening the city. The descent made by the enemy on the Vibonensian territory is announced to the consul as he was returning to Sicily: and letters were delivered to him which had been sent by the senate, about the passage of Hannibal into Italy, commanding him as soon as possible to bring assistance to his colleague. Perplexed with having so many anxieties at once, he immediately sent his army, embarked in the fleet, by the upper sea to Ariminum; he assigned the defence of the territory of Vibo, and the sea-coast of Italy, to Sextus Pomponius, his lieutenant-general, with twenty-five ships of war: he made up a fleet of fifty ships for Marcus Aemilius the praetor; and he himself, after the affairs of Sicily were settled, sailing close along the coast of Italy with ten ships, arrived at Ariminum, whence, setting out with his army for the river Trebia, he joined his colleague.

Our fourth brief description, comes from Ancient Greek Geographer, Strabo, in his work "Geography" - 6.2.11. Strabo makes mention of Malta's (Melita) location.

Off Pachynus (Today's Capo Passero in Siciliy) lie Melita, whence come the little dogs called Melitaean, and Gaudos, both eighty-eight miles distant from the Cape.

Our fifth and final description, comes from Roman lawyer, Marcus Tullius Cicero, in his prosecution speech against governor of Sicily, Caius Verres, titled: 'Against Verres.'

There is an island called Melita, O judges, separated from Sicily by a sufficiently wide and perilous navigation, in which there is a town of the same name, to which Verres never went, though it was for three years a manufactory to him for weaving women's garments. Not far from that town, on a promontory, is an ancient temple of Juno, which was always considered so holy, that it was not only always kept inviolate and sacred in those Punic wars, which in those regions were carried on almost wholly by the naval forces, but even by the bands of pirates which ravage those seas. Moreover, it has been handed down to us by tradition, that once, when the fleet of King Masinissa was forced to put into these ports, the king's lieutenant took away some ivory teeth of an incredible size out of the temple, and carried them into Africa, and gave them to Masinissa; that at first the king was delighted with the present, but afterwards, when he heard where they had come from, he immediately sent trustworthy men in a quinquereme to take those teeth back; and that there was engraved on them in Punic characters, “that Masinissa the king had accepted them ignorantly; but that, when he knew the truth, he had taken care that they should be replaced and restored.” There was besides an immense quantity of ivory, and many ornaments, among which were some ivory victories of ancient workmanship, and wrought with exquisite skill.

The remains of the Temple of the Roman goddess Juno, Cicero refers to, can be found today at the sanctuary site of Tas-Silġ.