|The strategic importance of Malta was
recognized by the Phoenicians, who occupied it, as did, in turn, the
Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans. The apostle Paul was shipwrecked
there in A.D. 60. With the division of the
Roman Empire in A.D. 395, Malta was assigned
to the eastern portion dominated by Constantinople. Between 870 and
1090, it came under Arab rule. In 1091, the Norman noble Roger I, then
ruler of Sicily, came to Malta with a small retinue and defeated the
Arabs. The Knights of St. John (Malta), who obtained the three habitable
Maltese islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino from Charles V in 1530,
reached their highest fame when they withstood an attack by superior
Turkish forces in 1565. Napoléon seized Malta in 1798, but the French
forces were ousted by British troops the next year, and British rule was
confirmed by the Treaty of Paris in 1814.
Malta was heavily attacked by German and Italian aircraft during World War II but was never invaded by the Axis powers. It became an independent nation on Sept. 21, 1964, and a republic on Dec. 13, 1974, but it remained in the British Commonwealth. In 1979, when its alliance with Great Britain ended, Malta sought to guarantee its neutrality through agreements with other countries. Although Malta applied for membership in the European Union, when the Labour Party won the election in Oct. 1996, it froze Malta's EU application and withdrew from the NATO Partnership for Peace program in an effort to maintain its neutrality. When the Nationalist Party won the Sept. 1998 elections, however, it revived the EU accession bid, and in May 2004 Malta joined the EU. In July 2005, it ratified the proposed EU constitution.