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Italian Maltese

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Title: Italian Maltese  
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Italian Maltese

Italian Maltese are the Maltese people who supported Italian irredentism in Malta and believe the Maltese islands are part of Italy.


During the Middle Ages the Maltese islands were integrated with Sicily (even during the Arab conquest). The Normans united politically Malta to their Kingdom of Sicily and since then practically all the history of the Maltese islands was connected to southern Italy until Napoleonic times.

Officially Malta (even if ruled for some centuries by the Knights of Malta) was part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until the Congress of Vienna in 1814, when was given to Great Britain.

Indeed the Italian language was official in Malta until the 20th century, the nobility of Malta was made of Italian families (who moved to Malta mainly in the 13th century) and the culture of Malta was fully integrated with the Italian one even because based on Roman Catholicism.

After Great Britain obtained the islands after the Congress of Vienna, a process of Anglicisation has started to be promoted by the British authorities in Malta. This process has been done together with a process of de-Italianisation of Malta, according to some Maltese irredentists like Carmelo Borg Pisani.


The Normans from the Duchy of Normandy conquered Sicily and the Maltese Islands in 1091 and Roger I of Sicily was warmly welcomed by the few native Christians of Malta. He started a process of latinisation.

During the Norman period Malta became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Sicily which also covered the island of Sicily and the southern half of the Italian Peninsula. The Catholic Church was re-instated as the state religion with Malta under the See of Palermo.

Most of the early counts were skilled Genoese soldiers and knights. In 1191, Tancred of Sicily appointed Margaritus of Brindisi the first Count of Malta. Until the 13th century, however, there remained a strong Muslim segment of society.

Malta was an appendage of Sicily for nearly 440 years.

Indeed the Kingdom of Sicily with Malta passed on to the House of Hohenstaufen from 1194 as part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

Under Frederick I all remaining Muslims were expelled from Malta (in 1224[1]). Since then Malta has been a stronghold of Roman Catholicism in the central Mediterranean sea.

After the Norman conquest the population of the Maltese islands kept growing mainly through immigration from the north (Sicily and Italy), with the exile to Malta of the entire male population of the town of Celano (in Abruzzo, Italy) in 1223, the stationing of a Norman and Sicilian garrison on Malta in 1240 and the settlement in Malta of noble families from Sicily mainly between 1372 and 1450. As a consequence of this one major academic study found that "the contemporary males of Malta most likely originated from Southern Italy, including Sicily and up to Calabria".[2]

The Order of Saint John brought prosperity to the island, raising it to the social levels of a contemporary European town (from 17,000 in 1530 to 96,000 in 1797). The Knights of Malta chose the Italian language as their official language.

The British gained military control of Malta in 1800. However, in the first years Italian kept on enjoying its de facto official status. After all, Malta was still formally part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. It was only in 1814 with the Congress of Vienna that Malta formally became a British Crown Colony and the first attempts at Anglicisation were made. These were weak efforts and so were the results: in 1842, when only 11% of the total population of Malta was literate, all literate Maltese learned Italian while only 4.5% could read, write and speak English.

Efforts grew stronger in the later 19th century. In 1878 a Royal Commission (the Rowsell-Julyan-Keenan Commission) recommended in its report the Anglicisation of the educational and judicial systems. While the latter had to wait until the 20th century teaching of the English language started to be enforced in State schools at the expense of Italian. In 1911, English overtook Italian as the secondary language after Maltese, spoken by 13.1% of the population vs. 11.5%. The Royal Commission's report also had significant political impact. Supporters and opponents organised themselves into a Reform and Anti-Reform parties which, apart from being the forerunners of the present day two main political parties in Malta, assumed respectively the anglophile and Italophile imprint (and also, subsequently, pro-colonial and anti-colonial policies) that were to characterise them for decades to come.

Political organizations, like the Nationalist Party, were created or had as one of their aims, the protection of the Italian language in Malta. These organizations started to support even the Italian irredentism in Malta.

In 1919, there were riots over the excessive price of bread. These would lead to greater autonomy for the locals. Indeed in 1919 British troops fired on a rally protesting against new taxes, killing four Maltese men. This led to increased resistance and support for the pro-Italian parties that had challenged the British presence on the island. The event, known as Sette Giugno (Italian for 7 June), is commemorated every year.

As a consequence of the "Sette Giugno" events, Malta obtained a bicameral parliament with a Senate (abolished in 1949) and an elected Legislative Assembly.

But the Malta Constitution was suspended twice. The first time in 1930, when it was suspended because Brutish authorities assumed that a free and fair election would not be possible following a clash between the governing Constitutional Party and the Church[3] and the latter's subsequent imposition of mortal sin on voters of the party and its allies. And the second time in 1934, when the Constitution was revoked over the Government's budgetary vote for the teaching of Italian in elementary schools.[4]

The Fascists invested heavily in promoting Italian culture in Malta. They were making overtures to a minority who not only loved Italy's language but also saw Malta as a geographical extension of the Italian mainland. Malta was described as "the extreme end of Italian soil" (Senator Caruana Gatto who represented the nobility in the Maltese in 1923).

The battle, however, was still being fought in largely cultural terms, as the "Language Question" on the role of Italian in education. This led to the revoking (the second) of the Maltese Constitution in 1934 over the Government's budgetary vote for the teaching of Italian in elementary schools.[5] Italian was eventually dropped from official language status in Malta in 1934, its place being taken by Maltese. Italian ceased to be taught at all levels of education and the language of instruction at the University of Malta and the Law Courts. When Italy entered the war on the side of the Axis powers and aerial bombardments of Malta began, what little interest in Italian irredentism that existed in Malta was lost. The colonial authorities took precautions: they interned and eventually deported to Uganda 49 italophile Maltese including the leader of the Nationalist Party, Enrico Mizzi.

A number of Maltese living in Italy participated in fascist organizations and joined the Italian military forces during World War II. Among them were Carmelo Borg Pisani, Antonio Cortis, Paolo Frendo, Ivo Leone Ganado, Roberto Mallia, Manuele Mizzi, Antonio Vassallo, Joe d’Ancona and Carlo Liberto. Carmelo Borġ Pisani attempted to enter Malta during the war, was captured and executed as a supposed spy in 1942, even if he had the Italian citizenship. He was posthumously awarded the highest Italian military medal (the "Medaglia d'oro al Valor Militare alla memoria") by King Victor Emmanuel III a few days after his death.[6] Requests have been made by his family and the Italian government to exhume his body and give it a burial outside prison grounds, which request has never been acceded to. The same Benito Mussolini called him a "Maltese Martyr" and created in his honor in Liguria the "Battaglione Borg Pisani" in November 1943, in which other Maltese irredentists fought.

After WWII the Italian Maltese had successfully promoted the independence of Malta from the British Empire.



  • Attard, Joseph. Britain and Malta. PEG Ltd. Malta, 1988.
  • Brincat, Giuseppe. Malta. Una storia linguistica. Ed. Le Mani. Recco, 2004
  • Fabei, Stefano. Carmelo Borg Pisani (1915–1942) - eroe o traditore?. Lo Scarabeo Ed. Bologna, 2006
  • Cassola, Arnold. L'Italiano di Malta. Malta University Press. Malta, 1998
  • Hull, Geoffrey. The Malta Language Question: A Case Study in Cultural Imperialism. Said International, Valletta, 1993.
  • Mack Smith, Denis. Mussolini's Roman Empire. Fromm Ed. London, 1976.
  • Seton-Watson, Christopher. Italy from Liberalism to Fascism, 1870-1925. John Murray Publishers. London, 1967.
  • Stephenson, Charles. The Fortifications of Malta 1530-1945. Osprey Publishing London, 2004.
  • Tagliavini, Carlo. Le origini delle lingue neolatine. Patron Ed. Bologna 1982.

See also

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