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Eight Thousand Years of Maltese Maritime History

Trade, Piracy, and Naval Warfare in the Central Mediterranean

Ayse Devrim Atauz

Publication Year: 2008

For millennia, Malta has always been considered a site of strategic importance. From the arrival of the Phoenicians through rule under Carthage, Rome, Sicilian Arabs, Normans, and Genovese, to the Order of St. John ("Knights of Malta"), the advent of the Napoleonic Wars, and even World Wars I and II, the Maltese islands have served as re-provisioning stations, military bases, and refuges for pirates and privateers.

Building on her systematic underwater archaeological survey of the Maltese archipelago, Ayse Atauz presents a sweeping, groundbreaking, interdisciplinary approach to maritime history in the Mediterranean. Offering a general overview of essential facts, including geographical and oceanographic factors that would have affected the navigation of historic ships, major relevant historical texts and documents, the logistical possibilities of ancient ship design, a detailed study of sea currents and wind patterns, and especially the archaeological remains (or scarcity thereof) around the Maltese maritime perimeter, she builds a convincing argument that Malta mattered far less in maritime history than has been previously asserted.

Atauz's conclusions are of great importance to the history of Malta and of the Mediterranean in general, and her archaeological discoveries about ships are a major contribution to the history of shipbuilding and naval architecture.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. ix


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p. xi

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pp. xiii-xiv

Water is unquestionably the most important natural feature on earth. By volume, the world’s oceans compose 99 percent of the planet’s living space; in fact, the surface area of the Pacific Ocean alone is larger than that of all land masses combined. Water is as vital to life as air. Indeed, to test whether the moon or other planets can sustain life, NASA looks for signs of water. ...

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p. xv

The subject of this book is the maritime history of the Maltese Islands, from the first human occupation until the present day. It is the first time that a comprehensive history covering the eight thousand years of Maltese history has been attempted. I was inspired to study the complete record of Maltese maritime history during the time I spent conducting the first systematic underwater ...

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p. xvii

I thank Kevin Crisman for his generous support throughout this project and his advice on its development and organization. Regarding the historical scope of this book, I thank James Bradford for inspiring my interdisciplinary approach to history and archaeology. Cemal Pulak and Filipe Castro provided valuable advice as well. ...

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pp. 1-4

Two basic characteristics of the Maltese Islands determined almost everything in their history: (1) they are located at the middle of the narrow passage separating the western and eastern basins of the Mediterranean Sea, and (2) they are very small. ...

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1 Ancient History of Malta: From Prehistory to the Arab Conquest

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pp. 5-37

The first evidence of seafaring activity in the Mediterranean dates to about 10,000 BC, based on the archaeological discoveries of obsidian that originates from the island of Melos at Franchti Cave on mainland Greece. This crossing was not a very difficult one, but the appearance of deep-sea fish bones in the same site about 8000–7000 BC and evidence of Neolithic settlers of Anatolian ...

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2 Medieval Malta: From the Period of Muslim Occupation to the Arrival of the Order of Saint John

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pp. 38-72

Historical texts, archaeological sites, and ethnographic evidence clearly point to a period between the late ninth and late thirteenth centuries during which the Maltese Islands were under the Muslim sphere of political and cultural influence. Then, between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Maltese population transformed from Muslim beliefs to devout Roman Catholicism ...

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3 The Order of Saint John in Malta

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pp. 73-88

By the time the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem reached the central Mediterranean island of Malta, it had already existed for over four centuries. The Order was originally founded in the eleventh century as a hospice for the care of pilgrims in Jerusalem. In time, it grew into a religious and Hospitaller brotherhood, which dedicated its service to poor and sick pilgrims. ...

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4 Naval Organization of the Order of Saint John

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pp. 89-139

The general concept guiding the military and naval organization of the Order was known as “shield and sword.”1 The “shield” of the Order was the network of mighty fortifications built around its bases in Rhodes, Malta, and all its other territories, such as Cos, Halikarnassos, and Tripoli.2 The shield's purpose was to resist amphibious attacks and provide security to the base center. It seems that the shield always overwhelmed ...

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5 Naval Functions of the Order of Saint John

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pp. 140-165

When Charles V offered Malta to the Knights in 1523, he proposed three functions for the Order: (1) to provide an additional naval base for Spanish fleets, (2) to resist Ottoman aggression, and (3) to defend its own territory against pirate attacks.1 Placing the Order at the middle of the Mediterranean was also a subtle political move in anticipation of the Franco-Ottoman naval alliance that was being negotiated in the 1520s.2 ...

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6 Maltese Population, 1530–1798

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pp. 166-173

The arrival of the Order of Saint John on October 26, 1530, was an important turning point in Maltese history. It was the first time that Malta’s rulers had been resident on the island since the time of the little-known cultures of the Neolithic period. Curiously, the local Maltese population almost entirely disappeared from the historical record in this period, during which the emphasis ...

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7 Conclusions

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pp. 174-180

The maritime history of Malta is essentially a small part of the history of major foreign powers competing for military and commercial supremacy in the Mediterranean. The competition in and around Malta waned from the sixteenth century onward, but the archipelago played virtually no role in either the development or the resolution of these conflicts. The inflated importance of the islands in modern ...

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pp. 181-183

The following is a brief outline of Maltese history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Because, for several reasons, the fall of the Order of the Knights of Saint John provided a logical point at which to conclude, the past two hundred years of Maltese maritime history are ancillary to the study of the topic. Not until the fall of the Order did the archipelago first come under the absolute ...

Appendix A

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pp. 185-193

Appendix B

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pp. 195-198

Appendix C

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pp. 199-207

Appendix D

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pp. 208-283


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pp. 285-344


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pp. 345-364

Index [Including About Author]

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pp. 365-379

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045498
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813031798
Print-ISBN-10: 0813031796

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 3 b&w figures, 13 maps
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 767540473
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Eight Thousand Years of Maltese Maritime History

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Malta -- History.
  • Malta -- History, Naval.
  • Malta -- Commerce -- History.
  • Piracy -- Malta -- History.
  • Underwater archaeology -- Malta.
  • Malta -- Antiquities.
  • Mediterranean Region -- History.
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