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Title: Tobacco pipes from Dockyard Creek, Birgu, Malta
Other Titles: Clay Pipe Research, Volume 3
Authors: Wood, John
Keywords: Malta -- History -- Knights of Malta, 1530-1798
Tobacco pipes -- Malta -- History
Pipe smoking
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: The Society for Clay Pipe Research
Citation: Wood, J. (2014). Tobacco pipes from Dockyard Creek, Birgu, Malta. In D. A. Higgins & S. White (Eds.), Clay Pipe Research, Volume 3 (pp. 7-18). Nottingham: The Society for Clay Pipe Research.
Abstract: The navy of the legendary Knights of St. John, Defenders of the Faith, depended on the harbour in Dockyard Creek, where from 1530 they built, moored and serviced their galleys. The dramatic defence of this tiny bastion and ultimate repulsion of the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman in 1565 was a significant event in European history. When tobacco was introduced into the Mediterranean circa 1600 Malta was already a cosmopolitan culture. Not self sufficient in basic, let alone luxury items, the residents relied on imports. The Knights had an alternative supply base in Sicily to support the annual expedition against Muslim corsairs, however they negotiated various periods of truce for trade purposes, mostly with the Barbary States - on condition the Barbary ships would not enter the Malta harbour flying a Turkish flag. Attracted to Malta by commercial opportunities sailors, merchants and other petty traders, mainly French, Sicilian, Italian and Greek settled with Maltese brides. Between 1625 and 1650, 32.3 % of marriages in the Porto Salvo parish in Valletta were with foreign grooms. A variety of pleasurable diversions were available to all freemen in the maritime community whether they were residents, sailors, or traders. The government granted licences for the sale of liquor and tobacco. In a French publication (de Nicolay 1586) there is a reference ‘How to recognise prostitutes on several Mediterranean Islands’. An illustration shows a ‘Woman of Malta’ veiled from head to toe with only her face visible. Her other obvious charms are outlined by the drapery. The number of slaves in Malta during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was in the region of 2,000-2,500 at any one time, made up of 40-45% Moors, the rest being Turks, Jews or Negroes. Ashore the slave population provided labour for construction and maintenance work; aboard, chained to their oars and unable to move around the vessel they plugged their nostrils with tobacco to avoid the stench of foul bilges and suffered ten or twelve hours of exhausting work. Back on land some slaves worked as water vendors or take-away chefs operating at charcoal stoves on street corners. From the middle of the seventeenth century they so excelled at their skill in brewing coffee that ‘the Knights themselves and all other persons of quality’ went every morning to the slaves’ prison to enjoy the taste of their coffee. In 1653 the Inquisitor Federico Borromeo reported that, after being brought to Malta as slaves, some ‘strolled along the streets of Valletta under pretext of selling merchandise, spreading among the women and simple-minded persons any kind of superstition, charms, love-remedies and other similar vanities’. Until the mid nineteenth century Dockyard Creek was the allotted berth for military vessels. It was still being used for that purpose in the first quarter of the twenty-first century when the popularity of cigarettes ousted the fashion for clay pipes. Moving with the times the proposed construction of a yacht marina in Dockyard Creek at the beginning of the twenty-first century initiated an Archaeological Impact Assessment. The practical outcome of this was a test excavation in March 2002 by a team of diving archaeologists directed by Dr Timothy Gambin. The excavation was carried out in close collaboration with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and was also supported by the Department of Classics and Archaeology at the University of Malta. The smoking related artefacts described here will eventually form part of Dr Gambin’s excavation publication.
Appears in Collections:Pipes from Malta

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