A Microcosm of the Mediterranean
The history of Malta began in 5200 BC, when the Maltese islands were first settled by stone age farmers who had arrived from the larger island of Sicily. In 117 BC, the Maltese Islands were a thriving part of the Roman Empire. When the Empire split into eastern and western divisions in the 4th century, Malta fell under the control of the Greek speaking Byzantine Empire, which was ruled from Constantinople. The Norman period was productive for Malta; it became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Sicily which also covered the island of Sicily and the southern half of the Italian Peninsula. In 1530 Charles I of Spain gave the islands to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in perpetual lease. These knights were a military religious order and are now known as the Knights of Malta. They had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522. The Knights' reign ended when Napoleon captured Malta on the way to Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1798. The occupying French forces were deeply unpopular with the Maltese, due particularly to the French forces' hostility towards Catholicism. The French financial and religious policies angered the Maltese who then rebelled, forcing the French to retreat within the city fortifications. Great Britain sent ammunition and aid to the Maltese, and Britain also sent the navy, which blockaded the islands. In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire and was used as a shipping way-station and fleet headquarters. During World War II, Malta played an important role due to to its proximity to Axis shipping lanes. Following the war, the Labour Party pursued a goal of integration with Britain, but abandoned it when it became clear that the British would not accept total integration. Eventually, Malta received its independence on September 21, 1964, known as Independence Day. Malta initially retained Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta and thus Head of State, until December 13, 1974 when Malta became a republic within the British Commonwealth (known as Republic Day.) The President became head of state. Malta joined the European Union on May 1, 2004. Following the European Council of 21 June to 22 June 2007 it joined the Eurozone on January 1, 2008.