Professor Stanley Fiorini
This lecture by Professor Stanley Fiorini presents a critical overview of his seminal research findings, over the past 30 years, about Medieval and Early Modern Malta, as exposed mainly in the series of Documentary Sources of Maltese History (13 volumes) published by Malta University Press under the auspices of the Institute of Maltese Studies between 1996 and 2016.
These documents focus in detail on the vicissitudes of the Maltese Islands over a span of three centuries. Among the more significant events on which light is shed, there are the birth of municipal government, for the two islands independently, in the mid XIVth century, followed by their exploitation at the hands of King Alfonso when the monarch pawned them to Monroy in 1420. This act of privitisation of the islands was greatly resented by all inhabitants who sweated blood to redeem themselves and shed the yoke. No sooner was this crisis over than a major Moorish onslaught hit these islands in 1429. Alfonso’s promise not to alienate the islands again is seen to have been an empty one and a convenient expedient for the moment, as another attempt at selling Gozo was made in 1442 and yet another in 1450. Both actions failed and had to be retracted when the islanders threatened to resist them manu forti as was their right enshrined in Alfonso’s own Magna Charta Libertatis. These early incidents are seen to constitute the previous attempts of these islands in their struggle for self-determination. The XVth century had still other challenges to throw in the face of the beleaguered islanders. Faced with an impending threat of yet another Turkish invasion in the 1480s, which actually materialized in 1488, the Maltese rose to the occasion and, in a major effort to shore up the defences of their city, laboured to cut the Mdina land-front ditch in time. This was soon followed by the demographic crisis when the Maltese Jews were sent into exile in 1492.
A life plagued by fear of invasions and ransack, perennial food shortages culminating in a three-year drought in 1687 in which people died of hunger, epidemics including a visitation of plague in 1528, reached a climax when Alfonso’s successor Charles V granted these islands to the Order of St John in fief in 1530, with all that was entailed.
These documents are of particular importance for Gozo as the smaller island practically lost all of its archives in the 1551 ransack. This loss of the Gozitans’ collective memory is epitomized in their amnesia about the collegiate status of their major church, memory of which is, however, revived in these documents. A host of other tantalizing details emerges from these documents, such as for instance, the recording for the first time of the names and works of Maltese craftsmen, the widespread use of roof-tiles (tegole or ciaramidi), also manufactured here, for the roofing of larger spaces, the celebration of carnival well before the arrival of the Order of St.John, and the erection of the campanile for the Gozitan Matrice in 1424.
This collection of more than 5,000 documents sheds sufficient light on Malta’s Middle Ages to start lifting the mist from an otherwise dark period of our history.
The lecture will be held in Lecture Theatre 1 – Erin Serracino Inglott Hall (LT1) of the University of Malta Msida Campus on Thursday 4 May 2017 at 18:30.