A Lawyer's History of Malta

Home Greek - 700-480 BC
Greek (700-480 BC)


The rivalry between the Greeks and the Phoenicians stemmed from a desire to control the waterways of the Mediterranean. According to the most commonly accepted theories, the Greeks took over control over Malta and Gozo towards 700 BC. How it happened is not known. What is known is that, while the Phoenicians were superior to the Greeks in commercial activity, they were not used to fighting against powerful adventurers except in the most favourable circumstances. It is probable that the Phoenicians handed over the islands to the Greeks by agreement. This hypothesis would explain what one commentator, Bres, accepted as certainty, namely, that the Phoenicians remained on the island occupying the shores, while the Greeks lived in the internal parts of the island. Another commentator, Bochart, believed the Phoenicians and the Greeks alternated or took turns as supreme rulers of the islands. Even if this is correct, the Greek influence still dominated the constitution of the government and the laws generally.

The Greek nation consisted of four races: the Dorians, the Aeolians, the Ionians and the Achaeans, each with their distinctive dialect, customs and political constitutions. It was argued by one scholar, GA Vassallo, that as the Dorians had established themselves in Sicily in 732 BC and given the close proximity of Sicily to Malta, it is most likely that the Greek colony established in Malta would have been Doric. A better theory was that of Bres and accepted by Heeren: Malta, like Catania and other Sicilian cities, would have been an Ionic colony and a branch of Chalcis, a city of Euboea. They reached this conclusion from the fact that the Ionians introduced the Attican dialect into their colonies and that dialect was used in Malta.

The Euboeans were themselves an Athenian colony. However, apart from an annual tribute (debt) paid to the motherland, they had their own independent government. A general council in Chalcis protected everybody’s interests and rights.


It is not known with any certainty which laws governed the colony of Malta during the Greek domination. Assuming the Greeks went to Malta from Chalcis, it would be reasonable to believe that the island would have adopted the laws of Caronda from Catania, Sicily, probably between 668 BC and 730 BC.

To ensure the independence of public meetings, Caronda prohibited the bearing of arms at those meetings under penalty of death. One day Caronda himself was caught going to a public meeting to quell a riot bearing arms. When accused of violating his own law, he committed suicide. With the immorality of suicide, one of the most moral legislators of antiquity faded into the history books.

It is a great pity that very little remains of the laws of Caronda, praised by Aristotle for the precision and nobility of language. The following are some of the known principles on which the laws were based:

  • The existence of God, protector of every good
  • The communication of God with the just
  • Purity of thought
  • Truth in words
  • Honesty of work
  • The estrangement of the wicked
  • Charity
  • Education

Knowing the evils of ignorance, the laws of Caronda prescribed that the children of the citizens should be taught literature at public expense. The law clearly implied the principle of mandatory public education paid for by the state.


Marriage was monogamous; faithfulness was the primary duty of spouses.  Everyone was expected to love their lawful wife, from whom one should only try to have children. Extra marital affairs were prohibited. Adultery was punishable by public scorn and second marriages were discouraged when there were children from the first marriage, under penalty of dishonour and infamy. Divorce was only permissible for a just cause. Reverence of parents extended right up to the land of ultimate repose.


Property was based on necessity of life. Since the individual was considered insignificant before the state, private buildings were not allowed to exceed public buildings in magnificence and splendour.

Crime and Punishment

Punishment was the medicine required to liberate souls from injustice, the worst evil that man can experience. To successfully impute a crime it was necessary to prove the will to commit it. The worst crime was contempt of the gods, the voluntary ill-treatment of relatives, and disobedience of the magistrates and the laws. Adultery was punishable by public ridicule. Slanderers had to wear a tamarisk crown on their head, a punishment believed to be so disgraceful that some escaped it by suicide. Deserters and those reluctant to bear arms had to stay in the marketplace dressed as women.

Judicial Institutions

The magistrates, performing a similar role as parents, were liked, obeyed and worshipped, as they were the protectors of the city and the community well-being. In the administration of justice, the magistrates were expected to treat citizens as their own children, to be just and not allow themselves to be carried away by love nor by hatred. It was their duty to denounce premeditated crimes: it was indeed an act of public sympathy, a service rendered to the state.

External Relations

Assistance was provided to oppressed citizens, whether in one’s own country or in a foreign land. Foreigners honoured in their own country must be welcomed in one’s own country. Hospitable Jove, god common to all peoples, saw and judged those who fulfil or violate the duties of hospitality: with the former he rejoiced, and on the latter he took revenge.

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