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MALTA DIARY Maltese Islands remain a great symbol of Phoenician culture, language and descent



My family surname is FENECH (pronounced FENEK). In our Maltese language the word “fenek” means a rabbit and popular belief is that the surname descended through rabbit breeders. This is reflected in the family emblem.

However, a good Sicilian friend who is a member of a Sicilian organisation that specialises in the Phoenician influence over Sicily and Malta informed me that in all probability the surname “Fenech” descended from the word “Fenici” which is the Latin-Italian word for The Phoenicians.


A National Geographic study carried out indicated that more than half of the Y chromosome lineages of the population of the Maltese Islands today show a close genetic relationship between the Maltese and Lebanese Phoenicians. The Maltese Language itself is a Semitic tongue and is unique among the Semitic Languages.

The Phoenicians were a seafaring race living along the Levantine coastline who sailed beyond the boundaries of the then known world and even through the Straits now known as The Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean, up along the Iberian Coast as far as Britain. Though they invented writing, they left no written accounts of themselves.


It has been established the Phoenicians arrived in Malta in 750BC but did not colonize the island in a military sense, but rather as an important trading post and a means of shelter and the re-stocking of supplies for their impressive ships.

They gave Malta its first-known name of Maleth, which in Phoenician means shelter and introduced the first signs of civilization in Malta as an important asset in their ever-expanding trading routes.   

The Phoenicians founded the city of Carthage on the North African coast in what today is Tunisia in around 480 BC and in that time ruled Malta from Carthage in a more military sense. They were in Malta for about 240 years until being ousted by the ever-powerful and growing Roman Empire in 218BC.


Despite a lack of written accounts the remains of a wealth of their pottery remained in Malta and an analysis of lettering and inscriptions on the pottery, the code known as “the Maltese cippus” emerged and threw more light on the shadowy Phoenicians.

At the end of the Bronze Age, in addition to experiencing great famine, the Phoenicians were being squeezed by the Hebrews into the coastline and communities emigrated to nearby Cyprus – hence began Phoenician seafaring travels. By about 800 BC they had already reached Spain where they mined tin, silver and iron.


Thus Malta became an essential midway port of shelter because of its fine harbours and central location. It is thought the first settlers in Malta were high and prosperous aristocrats, from there spread to the Tunisian coastline and founded Carthage.

This was deducted because of a number of elaborate rock-cut burial chamber tombs around the Mdina area that are highly decorated and contained a number of rich artifacts such as full ranges of wine vessels, large amphorae, fine cups, pear-shaped flasks and jugs. With these there were also bronze and silver jewelry and tripod lamp supports – all artifacts to be used in the after-life, and in some cases, wooden furniture.


However, the most important Phoenician legacy in Malta is literacy because they developed the first world alphabet (they also invented and developed glass). The Maltese spoke Phoenician for about 700 years, through the Roman period until the arrival of the Arabs who continued to modify the language.

Today some scholars maintain that certain elements of Maltese are more similar to the language still used in the north of Lebanon and around Beirut. 


These are Phoenician literacy markings and their denotations in today’s Maltese Language are as follows:

G = Gimel (camels) – in today’s Maltese language GEMEL.

H = Heth (fence) – HAJT.

SH = Shin (teeth) – SNIN.

R = Resh (head) – RAS.

O’ = Ayin (eye) – GHAJN. 

To add to this history and heritage some two years ago a very rare discovery was made on the sea bottom in Gozo. This was a Phoenician ship, a very rare discovery because only seven exist worldwide.


The discovery was made by a team of divers and scientists just outside Xlendi Bay in Gozo, the first time such investigations were carried out in waters deeper than 100 metres.

Professor Timmy Gambin, an investigating archaeologist said the sunken Phoenician ship is only one of seven found throughout the world two of which were found in Israel and three of which in Spain. In his opinion this discovery is the best of the seven and to date the oldest sunken ship found in the Central Mediterranean.  It has been dated in the early seventh century.

Signs of the discovery were first reported in 2007 but at too much of a depth (110 metres) to enable investigation.


The discovery remained a highly secret one to prevent amateur attempts to explore it.  However, in 2018, divers managed to descend to this depth despite great difficulties. 

In 2020 artifacts began being lifted from the wreck and included whole amphorae, ceramic pieces, jugs and urns and were classed to be unique in Malta’s Heritage.

Once more, the location was kept secret and explorations continued into 2021 and this time revealed the first human remain found – a tooth which was carbon dated and DNA tested.


Recently, Malta Heritage mounted an exhibition of all the artifacts found, but thankfully, the exact location of the wreck has remained closely guarded. 


E/mail – salina46af@gmail.com


Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/jerome.fenech

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“The Devil’s Advocate”


Said of a person who sows evil and maliciously pre-empts conflict, doubts and harm – thus, representing the Devil.

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