Punic Wars were to last for over a hundred years and
during this struggle between the Carthaginians and the
Romans, Sicily and its appendage, the Maltese islands,
were to occupy central stage in the theatre of war for
the control of the Mediterranean. By the end of the
First Punic War, in 241 BC, the whole of Sicily had
been ceded to the Romans but the Carthaginians were
allowed to retain the Maltese Islands.
Peace did not last long, however, because in 218 BC
a second war broke out and, learning from their past
mistakes, the Romans were determined to capture the
islands. Apparently the invasion did not present great
difficulties and it has been suggested that the Phoenicians
on the Island turned against their Carthaginian cousins
and handed over the garrison to the invading Romans.
The Maltese were treated more like allies than as a
conquered people which lends some substance to the "collaboration"
theory. The Maltese kept their Punic traditions and
language and their gods. The two larger islands were
renamed Melita and Gaulos and it has been tentatively
suggested that the name Melita was not a Romanized version
of the Phoenician Malet, but derived from mel (honey)
for which the islands were then famous. With Carthage
destroyed in the Third Punic War, and the Greeks overcome,
the Mediterranean became a Roman Lake - the Mare Nostrum
- the areas of conflict of imperial conquest now being
the lands bordering this sea.
The Romans built the city of Melita, itself hearing
the same name as that of the island, the city was built
over an older, Punic settlement in what is now the Rabat/Mdina
area in Malta, and also another town in Gozo under what
is now Victoria (Rabat).