Malta (Anc. Melita), a British possession in the Mediterranean, including the islands of Malta, Gozo, and Oomino, and the uninhabited islets of Cominotto and Fihia, the entiro group lying between lat. 35° 43' and 36° 5' K and Ion. 14° 10'and 14° 35'E., about 60 m. S. W. of the southernmost point of Sicily, and 200 N. of Tripoli in Africa; area, about 145 sq. m.; pop. in 1872, 143,799, exclusive of the troops. The area of Malta proper is about 100 sq. m.; pop. about 130,000. There are neither lakes nor rivers in the island, and no forests or brushwood; and most of the surface is a calcareous rock exposed to the winds from the African deserts, and but thinly covered with an artificial soil, chiefly brought from Sicily. This is; however, by careful cultivation made to yield abundant crops of cotton, grains beans, and grass, and excellent fruits, of which the orange, olive, and fig are renowned. In summer the heat is excessive day and night. The sirocco prevails especially in autumn, and there is little land or sea breeze. But in winter the climate is delightful. The atmosphere is so clear that at all times of the year the summit of Mt. Etna may be distinctly seen during the rising or setting of the sun, although at a distance of 130 m.
The E. portion of the island contains all the towns and villages, and is separated by a ridge from the W. part, which, although less densely settled, is well cultivated, and abounds with the wild thyme and other odoriferous plants, attracting bees, which furnish excellent honey. There are about 25,-000 head of live stock, including about 6,000 cattle. Cotton is the staple product, and gives rise to an extensive manufacture of cotton goods. The cabinet work of Malta enjoys a high reputation. Soap, leather, macaroni, and iron bedsteads are manufactured to some extent. The goldsmiths are noted for their elegant workmanship, and the Maltese artisans are generally able and intelligent. They are excellent seamen, and their services are in great demand in the Mediterranean. But the bulk of the people are either employed in agricultural labor or in stone cutting. - The island of Gozo or Gozzo, about 9 m. long and 5 m. broad, lies N W. of Malta, and is separated from it by a channel 3 m. wide. It is surrounded by a belt of rocks and shoals, with openings leading to several small harbors. The interior is very rocky and hilly, with a thin soil, which however is very fertile. Grain and fruit are raised in abundance; but the most important crop is cotton, much of which is spun on the island.
There are salt works at Port Maggiore, on the S. side, and an alabaster quarry in the northwest. The highest point of land is near the centre of the island, and is crowned with the fort of Rabato. The principal town is Rabato (pop. about 2,000), and there are several villages. The island contains a great natural curiosity called the Giant's Tower, and several Roman monuments. Comino, about 2 m. long and 1 1/2 m. broad, lies in the channel between Malta and Gozo. The surface is very hilly and the coast deeply indented. The principal settlement is Santa Maria. - The Maltese are derived from an Arabic stock; it is probable, however, that the Arab conquerors have been mixed up with the previous Punic population. Greek is supposed to have been m ancient times the medium of conversation of the higher classes, as English is at the pres-ent day. The present common language is the lingua franca, a patois of the Arabic, mixed with Italian and other languages. The com-plexion of the Maltese is almost as dark as that of the natives of Barbary. The dress of the working classes is a short loose waistcoat covering a cotton shirt, short loose trousers, woollen caps in winter and straw hats in summer, and a kind of sandals resembling those. of the ancient Romans. The women are dark complexion, and are small, delicate, and generally graceful, and wear in the streets a black veil (faldetta). The dress consists mostly of a cotton shift, blue striped petticoat corset with sleeves, and a loose jacket covering the whole.
Drunkenness is almost unknown, and the people, although coarser in their appearance, are less vindictive and impulsive than other races of southern Europe. They are fond of poetry, especially in the rural districts, where the taste for improvisation prevails extensively. In music they prefer ncisy instruments, as the tambourine, mandoline, and particularly the bagpipe, which accompany the national dances. They marry at an early age. Many of them seek employment in the Levant, where they are however exceed- ' ingly unpopular on account of their crafty and treacherous nature, and they are generally em-! ployed only in the meanest labors. The families ennobled by the knights of Malta have dwindled down to a small number; and the few which remain are not very affluent. The national religion is Roman Catholic, under tin-direction of a bishop and more than l,00o priests, the church property being considerable. The number of Protestants is about 5,000, whose places of worship consist only of a few chapels.
Education is promoted by the university of Valetta, colleges at Citta Veccbia and several other places, and about 50 public and 100 private schools. - The value of imports paying duty in 1871 was $87,400,000; of exports, $87,500,000. The number of steamers arrived in 1871 was 1,7:;7. tonnage 1,466,000; of sailing vessels arrived, 2,064, tonnage 519,000; total number of vessels, 4,691, tonnage 1,985,000. The direct trade with the United States is inconsiderable, but a large number of American vessels are engaged in the trade of foreign countries with Malta. A new government grading dock, capable of receiving the largest men-of-war, has been recently opened, and new submarine telegraphs have been laid connecting Malta with Algiers and Alexandria. The hydraulic lift dock, completed in 1873, is of great benefit to commerce, especially to the steamers of the India route, as by means of it vessels ean be repaired without discharging their cargo. The revenue in 1870 was £158,630 expenditures, £171,788; public debt, £,9,202. - Malta is a crown colony, the local government being conducted by a governor who is at the same time commander-in-chief, assisted in legislative matters by a council of 18 members, of whom 10 are official and 8 elective.
The British troops and their families in December, 1872, numbered 6,752 persons. The duties of the native regiment, called the Malta fencibles, are exclusively local, and their maintenance is defrayed out of the revenues of the islands. The central position, military strength, and excellent harbor, one of the most commodious and convenient in the Mediterranean, render the possession of Malta of great importance to Britain, and make it very advantageous for the accommodation and repair of the men-of-war and merchant ships frequenting the Mediterranean. The storehouses or carkatori for grain are excavated in the rock, making Malta an excellent centre of the corn trade between the Mediterranean and Black seas. - Besides Valetta and Citta Yee-chia. and a few other towns, Malta possesses about 40 casals or hamlets, chiefly remarkable fur their picturesque churches. The former capital of Malta was Citta Vecchia. The present capital, Valetta, is one of the best fortified places in the world, and serves as a st itioii for the Mediterranean fleet. - The ancient Me-lita was important as a commercial centre among the nations of antiquity, and it was occupied probably at a very early period by a Phoenician colony. Afterward it became a Carthaginian settlement.
At a later period it appears to have been in a measure Ilellenized, thoush there is no historical evidence of its having been in the possession of the Greeks. In 257 B. C. it was ravaged by a Roman fleet under Atilius Regulus; and surrendering to the Romans at the beginning of the second Punic war. it was annexed to the province of Sicily. It became notorious as a resort of the Cili-cian pirates, hut was in a flourishing condition in the days of Cicero, who during periods of disturbance entertained the project of retiring thither. The Maltese cotton fabrics (vestis Melitensis) were in great demand in Rome, and they were probably manufactured from the cotton which-still forms the principal product of the island. In sacred history Malta is cele-brute as the supposed scene of the shipwreck of St. Paul on his voyage to Italy (A. 1). GO); though according to some critics Melita (now Meledai in the Adriatic, on the coast of Dal-inatia, was more probably the island visited by the apostle. After the fall of the Roman empire the island was for some time in the possession of the Vandals, but was taken from them by Buliaarius (533), and was subject to the Kvzantme empire until the latter part of the 9th century, when it was conquered by the Arabs. It was wrested from them at the close of the 1lth century by Count Koger, the Normal, conqueror of Sicily, and it was united with Sieily until the early part of the 16th century when Charles V . took possession of that county and of Malta as heir of Aragon. Under this emperor the knights of Malta (see Saint John, Knights of) became its sovereigns, and held it till 1798, when the French expedition to Egypt under Napoleon seized the island.
After the battle of the Nile the inhabitants rose in insurrection and compelled the French to shut themselves up in the fortress of Valetta. They were subjected to a stringent blockade until Sept. 5, 1800, when, reduced by famine, they surrendered to the English, who had come to the assistance of the Maltese. The island has since remained under British rule.