The National Flag of Malta is defined in the Constitution and consists of two equal vertical stripes, white in the hoist and red in the fly, with a representation of the George Cross, edged with red, in the canton of the white stripe; the breadth of the flag is one and a half times its height. It was adopted when Malta became independent from the United Kingdom on 21 September 1964. The George Cross decoration was awarded by King George VI for collective gallantry in 1942. Malta remained the only collective awardee of the decoration until it was awarded to the Royal Ulster Constabulary of Northern Ireland in 1999.
The current emblem of Malta is described by the Emblem and Public Seal of Malta Act (1988) as a shield showing an heraldic representation of the National Flag; above the shield a mural crown in gold with a sally port and eight turrets (five only being visible) representing the fortifications of Malta and denoting a City State; and around the shield a wreath of two branches: the dexter of Olive, the sinister of Palm, symbols of peace and courage to victory traditionally associated with Malta, all in their proper colours, tied at base with a white ribbon, backed red and upon which are written the words Repubblika ta’ Malta in capital letters in black.
National animal – Pharaoh Hound (Kelb tal-Fenek)
The Pharaoh Hound is a breed of dog and the national hound of Malta. Its native name is Kelb tal-Fenek (plural: Klieb tal-Fenek) in Maltese, which means “Rabbit dog”. The dog is traditionally used by some Maltese men for hunting. Based on DNA analysis, the breed has no link with Ancient Egypt. However, the popular myth holds that the breed is descended from the Tesem, one of the ancient Egyptian hunting dogs. The similarities of the breed to images of dogs found on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs is striking. This myth proposes that the Pharaoh Hound was brought by the Phoenicians to Malta, where it has existed for over 2,000 years. It has variously been classified as a member of the sighthound group, yet its fieldwork description clearly determines it as a hound.
At first glance, the Pharaoh Hound should appear both graceful and elegant as well as powerful and athletic. Its build should be one of strength without bulkiness or excessive musculature. Its head is elegant without being fine or extreme. The skull should resemble a blunt wedge, and is long and chiseled with only a slight stop and a muzzle of good length. Its eyes are oval with a keen, alert, and intelligent expression. Their eyes are commonly amber-colored. It has a long, lean, and muscular neck that is slightly arched. It has a deep chest that extends down to the elbows and a moderate tuck up. Its shoulders are long and well laid back. Its front legs are long and straight. The back legs are moderately angled, parallel to each other, and must be in balance with the forelegs. It has a long, fine, straight tail that should reach down to a bit below the point of the hocks, and should be in a whip-like shape. The tail is carried down when relaxed. When the dog is in motion or is excited, the tail is carried up; either level with, or loosely curled above, the back. Its dewclaws may be removed. The Pharaoh Hound’s ears are very large and point upward when alert.
They usually come in tan or chestnut colors. A white tail-tip is commonly admired. (Most commonly seen) is any solid white spot on their necks (back)or shoulders. Mainly seen on the back or sides of the dog. Pharaoh Hounds tend to weigh up to 45-55 pounds on average. Weight depends on the sex of the dog, or its eating habits. Male Pharaoh Hounds are normally considered larger than the females. Males usually are 23-25″, while females are 21-24″. Size and weight also relate to the amount of exercise it receives.
The coat is fine and short with no feathering. The texture varies from silky to somewhat hard and it must never be so profuse as to stand away from the dog’s skin. The coat can also be glossy and short in most cases. The only colour accepted by most kennel clubs is red; though the shades of red colour varies, and accepted shades range from a tan to a deep chestnut and all shades in between. White markings on the chest, toes, tail-tip, centre of forehead, and the bridge of the muzzle are accepted, but not required. Pharaoh’s eyes are always amber, and should complement the coat colour. They are born with blue eyes, which change to a light gold or yellow colour during early puppyhood and then begin to darken well into adulthood. The nose, whiskers, nails, paw-pads, and eye-rims should also be the same colour as the coat. Pharaohs also have a unique trait of “blushing” when excited or happy, with their ears and nose becoming bright pink.
The first recorded mention of a Maltese hunting dog, which could have been identical with the modern Kelb tal-Fenek, was issued by Commendatore Fra. G. Fran. Abela (Maltese historian and Vice Chancellor of the Order of St. John) in 1647 who wrote ‘There are dogs called ‘Cernechi’ esteemed for the hunting of rabbits, and as far as France are in demand primarily for stony, mountainous and steep locations’. The use of the word ‘Cernechi’ to name the breed should be no surprise as Italian was the language of scholars and the courts in Malta from at least 1091 up to WWII. The first two specimens of the breed were brought to Britain from Malta in the 1920s, but at that time, no litter was bred. Again, some dogs were imported to the UK in the early 1960s, and the first litter was born in 1963. The breed standard was recognised by The Kennel Club in 1974. The breed was called the Pharaoh Hound although this name was already used by the FCI as an alternative name for the Ibizan Hound at that time. When the FCI abolished this name in 1977 and decided to call the Ibizan Hound exclusively by its original Spanish name Podenco Ibicenco, the term Pharaoh Hound was transferred to the Kelb tal-Fenek, whose breed standard had been recognised by the FCI at the same time.
A number of other breeds that are similar to the Pharaoh Hound exist in different regions of the Mediterranean. One is the Cirneco dell’Etna from neighbouring Sicily, which is very similar in structure and appearance, but somewhat smaller (43–51 cm/17-20in). Other similar breeds include the Ibizan Hound, Podenco Canario, Podengo Português and other local breeds from the Mediterranean—each breed is slightly different with physical characteristics that match the terrain the dogs hunt on. It is not clear whether those breeds have descended from the same ancestral lines, or whether their similarities have developed due to similar environmental conditions.
National bird – Blue Rock Thrush (Merill) (since 1971)
The Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) is a species of chat. This thrush-like Old World flycatcher was formerly placed in the family Turdidae. This species breeds in southern Europe and northwest Africa, and from central Asia to northern China and Malaysia. The European, north African and southeast Asian birds are mainly resident, apart from altitudinal movements. Other Asian populations are more migratory, wintering in sub-Saharan Africa, India and southeast Asia.
This bird is a very uncommon visitor to northern and western Europe. Blue Rock Thrush breeds in open mountainous areas, usually higher than the breeding zone of the related Common Rock Thrush. It nests in rock cavities and walls, and usually lays 3-5 eggs. An omnivore, the Blue Rock Thrush eats a wide variety of insects and small reptiles in addition to berries and seeds.
This is a starling-sized bird, 21–23 cm in length with a long slim bill. The summer male is unmistakable, with all blue-grey plumage apart from its darker wings. Females and immatures are much less striking, with dark brown upperparts, and paler brown scaly underparts. Both sexes lack the reddish outer tail feathers of Rock Thrush. The male Blue Rock Thrush sings a clear, melodious call that is similar to, but louder than the call of the Rock Thrush. The Blue Rock Thrush is Malta’s national bird and it used to be shown on the Lm 1 coins that was part of the previous currency before the adoption of the euro.
National plant – Maltese Centaury (Widnet il-Baħar)(since 1971)
It is endemic to Malta, where it has been the national plant of Malta since 1973.
Its natural habitats are cliffs and coastal valleys.
It is threatened by habitat loss. It is scarce but widespread in the wild on the western cliffs of Malta, rare on the southern cliffs of Gozo, but frequent as a cultivated species in roundabouts. It is quite common in the limits of Wied Babu in the south east of Malta. It was first described by Stefano Zerafa, around 1830, as the only species of the monotypic genus Palaeocyanus. However, around the year 2000, it was transferred to Cheirolophus, in the light of genetic studies done in that year. The name Cheirolophus means red head, while crassifolius mean thick leaves. The leaves are succulent and spoon shaped. The variety serratifolia (serrated leaves) is very rare, and only known from Gozo. This species is cultivated due to its national importance. The remaining species of the genus Cheirolophus are Canary Island endemics.
National tree – Sictus tree(Għargħar)
Tetraclinis (also called arar, araar or Sictus tree) is a genus of evergreen coniferous tree in the cypress family Cupressaceae, containing only one species, Tetraclinis articulata, also known as Thuja articulata, sandarac, sandarac tree or Barbary thuja, endemic to the western Mediterranean region. It is native to northwestern Africa in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, with two small outlying populations on Malta, and near Cartagena in southeast Spain. It grows at relatively low altitudes in a hot, dry subtropical Mediterranean climate. Its closest relatives are Platycladus, Microbiota and Calocedrus, with the closest resemblance to the latter. In older texts, it was sometimes treated in Thuja or Callitris, but it is less closely related to those genera. It is a small, slow-growing tree, to 6–15 m (rarely 20 m) tall and 0.5 m (rarely 1 m) trunk diameter, often with two or more trunks from the base.
The foliage forms in open sprays with scale-like leaves 1–8 mm long and 1–1.5 mm broad; the leaves are arranged in opposite decussate pairs, with the successive pairs closely then distantly spaced, so forming apparent whorls of four. The cones are 10–15 mm long, green ripening brown in about 8 months from pollination, and have four thick scales arranged in two opposite pairs.
The seeds are 5–7 mm long and 2 mm broad, with a 3–4 mm broad papery wing on each side. It is one of only a small number of conifers able to coppice (re-grow by sprouting from stumps), an adaptation to survive wildfire and moderate levels of browsing by animals. Old trees that have sprouted repeatedly over a long period form large burls at the base, known as lupias.
National motto – Virtute et Constantia (Latin for Power and Consistency) (since 1964)
National Poet – Dun Karm Psaila
He was educated at the Seminary between the years 1885 and 1894 and then proceeded to study philosophy in 1888 and theology in 1890 the University of Malta.
He was ordained priest in 1894.
From 1895 to 1921 he taught various subjects at the Seminary: Italian, Latin, English, arithmetic, geography, cosmography, ecclesiastical history and Christian archaeology. In 1921 he was appointed assistant librarian at the National Library of Malta and in 1923 directory of circulating libraries, a post he held till his retirement in 1936.
In 1921, Albert Laferla, the director of education, asked Dun Karm to compose some verses to a music score by Robert Samut. The Innu Malti was sung for the first time in 1923. In 1941 it was officially designated the national anthem, a status confirmed by the Constitution at independence in 1964. In 1921 Dun Karm was one of the founding members of the Għaqda tal-Kittieba tal-Malti and on the death of Ġużè Muscat Azzopardi in 1927, he was elected president of the Għaqda and later editor of the official organ, Il-Malti. He carried out these functions till 1942 when he was nominated honorary president of the ghaqda for life.
In recognition of his contribution to Maltese literature, he was granted a D. Litt (honoris causa) by the Royal University of Malta in 1945 – the first time the University granted such an honour. A year later he was awarded the Ġużè Muscat Azzopardi gold medal. Queen Elizabeth II decorated him with the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1956. In 1957 the Maltese government issued him an ex-gratia pension in recognition of his services to Maltese literature. During his lifetime he was also honoured as the National Poet of Malta.
Before 1912 Dun Karm wrote only in Italian. His first known published poem is La Dignità Episcopale (1889) after which he published Foglie d’Allora (1896) and Versi (1903) another collection of Italian poems. Dun Karm wrote Quddiem Xbieha tal-Madonna his first poem in Maltese, which appeared in the first issue of the Maltese periodical Il-Ħabib, published by Mgr. Pawl Galea and Ġużè Muscat Azzopardi.
His best poems include Il-Musbieħ tal-Mużew (1920). Dun Karm often found poetic expression in his solitude, which was eventually accompanied by a high degree of spiritual balance. His poetry reflects a background of village life crowned with an atmosphere of family feelings and it also portrays the Maltese countryside with a perspective imagination. It synthesises the popular culture of the Maltese people, which is quite evident from the rural characteristics that furnish its local identity with the literary culture based largely on Italian romanticism. His first works in Italian reveal an early life of peace and calm; after the death of his mother, solitude became his companion. When he decided to make Maltese the medium of his creativity he poetically explored the history of Malta to confirm its cultural and national identity. At the same time some of his best poems illustrate an inner journey of sentimental and more experience. His poetry exhibits great subjectivity but it also expresses his country collective aspirations. Both the personal and the national sentiments are treated from a deep religious viewpoint that discusses existentialism
The spiritual crisis in Il-Jien u lil hinn Minnu is analyzed in universal human terms that illuminate man’s existence and insist on the inexplicability of the relations between God and man, except for the latter’s absolute acceptance of the formers hidden power. A.J. Arberry translated about 37 of Dun Karm’s poems into English, Guze Delia translated Il-Vjatku into Spanish and Laurent Ropa translated Il-Jien u lil hinn Minnu into French. Dun Karm’s writings include Żewġ Anġli: Inez u Emilia (translated in 1934 from an Italian novel by D Caprile) Besides these he wrote a few critical works.
He also compiled a dictionary between 1947 and 1955 in three volumes, Dizzjunarju Ingliż u Malti.
- Saint Paul
The shipwreck of St. Paul in 60 AD is recorded in some detail in the Acts of the Apostles, and a Pauline tradition of long standing supported by archeological excavations carried out at San Pawl Milqghi prove beyond doubt that his arrival in Malta is a historical fact and it is also a fact that during his three-month stay on the Island he sowed the first seeds of the Christian Religion to which Maltese people overwhelmingly belong, but inevitably, a number of legends have grown up over the centuries. The Apostle Paul was, at this time, being conducted to Rome under arrest to be judged before Caesar as was his right as a Roman Citizen. Amongst the other prisoners was the physician St. Luke who recorded the account of that eventful journey. The nearest habitation to the place of shipwreck was the villa of Publius, the Chief Man of the Island. All those who had been shipwrecked spent three days there and after they had regained their strength they moved on to Melita the chief town of the island. In the city Paul cured Publius’ father of a fever after which the Chief Man of the Island was converted to Christianity and later ordained Bishop by St. Paul. St. Publius was the first bishop of Malta. After three months, by which time, the sea was again reckoned to be safe for navigation, and loaded with gifts from his Maltese friends, Saint Paul sailed away to Rome and to his subsequent martyrdom. When the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity and made it the official religion of the Empire it may be assumed that Christian worship was better organized and that a number of places of assembly were built in various places in the islands. Tradition has it that one such church was built on the site of the palace of Publius, where St. Paul had cured the father of the Chief Man of the Island. Many times rebuilt, the site is now occupied by the Cathedral Church dedicated to Saint Paul at Mdina.
- Saint Publius
Saint Publius is the first Maltese Saint. He is venerated as the first Bishop of Malta. Publius’ conversion led to Malta being the first Christian nation in the West, and one of the first in the world. It was the same Publius who received the Apostle Paul during his shipwreck on the island as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. According to the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul cured Publius’ dysentery-afflicted father.
“In the vicinity of that place were lands belonging to a man named Publius, the chief of the island. He welcomed us and received us cordially as his guests for three days. It so happened that the father of Publius was sick with a fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and, after praying, laid his hands on him and healed him. After this had taken place, the rest of the sick on the island came to Paul and were cured. They paid us great honor and when we eventually set sail they brought us the provisions we needed.” – (Acts 28:7-10)
- Saint Agatha
According to Maltese tradition, during the persecution of Roman Emperor Decius (AD 249-251), Agatha, together with some of her friends, fled from Sicily, and took refuge in Malta.
Some historians believe that her stay on the island was rather short, and she spent her days in a rock hewn crypt at Rabat, praying and teaching the Christian Faith to children. After some time, Agatha returned to Sicily, where she faced martyrdom. Agatha was arrested and brought before Quintanus, praetor of Catania, who condemned her to torture and imprisonment.
The crypt of St. Agatha is an underground basilica, which from early ages was venerated by the Maltese. At the time of St. Agatha’s stay, the crypt was a small natural cave which later on, during the 4th or 5th century, was enlarged and embellished.
National personification – Melita
Melita is the personification of Malta or the Maltese people. The name originated from the Roman town of that name which was destroyed and rebuilt several times by the Fatamids, Normans and Knights of Saint John and eventually renamed Mdina or Città Notabile. The personification of Melita first appeared on 4 February 1899 on a postage stamp. Since then, Melita has been portrayed several times on both postage stamps, revenue stamps and banknotes of Malta. The design currently in use was designed by Edward Caruana Dingli in 1922, which was featured on a set of postage stamps commemorating Malta’s self-government. The design shows Melita wearing a garment over a breastplate showing the Maltese Cross, a helmet and sandals. She is holding a rudder representing the Maltese in control of Malta’s destiny. The last banknotes issued by the Central Bank of Malta, which were issued between 1989 and 2000 and valid until 2008, featured Melita from the design by Edward Caruana Dingli made for the 1922 stamp set.
National colours – Red and white (since 1091)
Maltese Cross (since 1530)
The Maltese cross, also known as the Amalfi cross is the cross symbol associated with the Knights Hospitaller (the Knights of Malta) and by extension with the island of Malta. The cross is eight-pointed and has the form of four “V”-shaped elements joined together at their tips, so that each arm has two points. Its design is based on crosses used since the First Crusade. It is also the modern symbol of Amalfi, a small Italian republic of the 11th century. In the mid 16th century, when the Knights were at Malta, the familiar design now known as the “Maltese Cross” became associated with the island. The first evidence for Maltese Cross on Malta appears on the 2 Tarì and 4 Tarì Copper coins of the Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette (Grand Master 1557–1568). The 2 and 4 Tarì Copper coins are dated 1567. This provides a date for the introduction of the Maltese Cross. The Maltese cross was depicted on the two mils coin in the old Maltese currency and is now shown on the back of the one and two Euro coins, introduced in January 2008. In the 15th century, the eight points of the four arms of the later called Maltese Cross represented the eight lands of origin, or Langues of the Knights Hospitaller: Auvergne, Provence, France, Aragon, Castille and Portugal, Italy, Baviere (Germany), and England (with Scotland and Ireland). The eight points also symbolize the eight obligations or aspirations of the knights:
to live in truth
to have faith
to repent one’s sins
to give proof of humility
to love justice
to be merciful
to be sincere and wholehearted
to endure persecution
Both the Order of Saint John (in German, the Johanniterorden) and the Venerable Order of St John teach that the eight points of the cross represent the eight Beatitudes. The Venerable Order’s main service organisation, St John Ambulance, has applied secular meanings to the points as representing the traits of a good first aider:
The Maltese cross remains the symbol of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, of the Order of Saint John and its allied orders, of the Venerable Order of Saint John, and of their various service organisations. In recent centuries, numerous other orders have adopted the Maltese cross as part of their insignia (the Order of Saint Lazarus, for example, uses a green Maltese cross). In Australia, the Maltese Cross is part of the state emblem of Queensland.
George Cross (since 1942)
The George Cross (GC) is the equal highest award of the United Kingdom honours system, being second in the order of wear (but equal precedence) to the Victoria Cross.
The GC is the highest gallantry award for civilians, as well as for members of the armed forces in actions for which purely military honours would not normally be granted.The GC was instituted on 24 September 1940 by King George VI.
At this time, during the height of the Blitz, there was a strong desire to reward the many acts of civilian courage. The existing awards open to civilians were not judged suitable to meet the new situation, therefore it was decided that the George Cross and the George Medal would be instituted to recognise both civilian gallantry in the face of enemy action and brave deeds more generally.
Announcing the new award, the King said:
In order that they should be worthily and promptly recognised, I have decided to create, at once, a new mark of honour for men and women in all walks of civilian life. I propose to give my name to this new distinction, which will consist of the George Cross, which will rank next to the Victoria Cross, and the George Medal for wider distribution.
The medal was designed by Percy Metcalfe.
The Warrant for the GC (along with that of the GM), dated 24 September 1940, was published in the London Gazette on 31 January 1941. The GC replaced the Empire Gallantry Medal (EGM); all holders of the EGM were instructed to exchange their medals for a GC, a substitution of awards unprecedented in the history of British decorations. This substitution policy ignored holders of the Albert Medal (AM) and the Edward Medal (EM), awards which both took precedence over the EGM. The anomaly was rectified in 1971, when the surviving recipients of the AM and the EM became George Cross recipients and were invited to exchange their medal for the George Cross.
Of the 64 holders of the Albert Medal and 68 holders of the Edward Medal eligible to exchange, 49 and 59 respectively took up the option.
The GC was awarded to the island of Malta in a letter dated 15 April 1942 from King George VI to the island’s Governor Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie:
To honour her brave people, I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.
The Governor answered:
By God’s help Malta will not weaken but will endure until victory is won.
The cross and the messages are today found in the War Museum in Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta. The fortitude of the population under sustained enemy air raids and a naval blockade which almost saw them starved into submission, won widespread admiration in Britain and other Allied nations. Some historians argue that the award was in fact a propaganda gesture to justify the huge losses sustained by Britain to prevent Malta from capitulating as Singapore had done in the Battle of Singapore.
The George Cross is woven into the Flag of Malta and can be seen wherever the flag is flown.
The Presidential Flag of Malta was introduced by a proclamation dated 12 December 1988. This flag is flown on the President’s official residences and offices and on all occasions at which he is present. It has the same proportions as the National Flag and consists of a blue field with the Emblem of Malta at its centre; and a Maltese Cross in gold in each corner.
The flag of the Archbishop of Malta consists of two equal vertical stripes, yellow in the hoist and white in the fly.
It is believed to date back from 754 AD, making it Malta’s oldest flag
AFM Commander’s Pennant
The pennant of the Commander of the Armed Forces of Malta consists of a red field with the symbol of the Armed Forces in gold at its centre. The Armed Forces of Malta is the name given to the combined armed services of Malta. The AFM is a brigade sized organisation consisting of a headquarters and three separate battalions, with minimal air and naval forces. The AFM is also responsible for border control.
Commissioner of police Pennant
The pennant of the Commissioner of Police consists of a blue field with the symbol of the Police Force at its centre. Law enforcement in Malta is the responsibility of The Police Force of Malta, a 1,732 strong police force with 106 other civilian employees, whose mission is defined by the Penal Code of Malta and Maltese Law on the Police Force. Founded on July 12, 1814 by Sir Thomas Maitland, then governor of the island, the Maltese Police Force is responsible for the main island of Malta, as well as neighbouring islands of Gozo and Comino which also come under Malta’s jurisdiction, the total population being around 400,000. Despite its small size, the Maltese Police Force is organised into a number of departments, with human resources matters being held by the Strategy and Planning Office, and fiscal issues being dealt with by the Finance Office. An office for the Divisional Police Force Units administers Malta’s 12 police districts, with three sub-departments of the Crime Investigation Department assisting with serious crimes, drug-related crimes and financial crimes. These mainstream departments are also supported by a Forensic Science Laboratory, Vice Squad, and Economic Crimes Unit, Legal Office and a Protective Services for VIP escorting and security as functions and protests. Furthermore, a department known as The International Relations Unit coordinates activities with EUROPOL, INTERPOL (since 1971) and the Schengen Information System, and is tasked with exchange of information.
Merchant Shipping flag
The Merchant Flag of Malta, the civil ensign, was introduced by the Merchant Shipping Act of 1964 and consists of a red field bordered in white, with a white Maltese Cross at its centre.
This flag is flown by Maltese civilian vessels as their ensign. Maltese military vessels fly the National Flag.
The Naval Jack of Malta intended to be flown by Maltese military vessels consists of a square flag, consisting of a George Cross proper fimbriated in red in the centre of a white square, within a red square. Each corner of the red square contains a white Maltese Cross
The rudder or fin flash used by Maltese military aircraft consists of two equal vertical strips, one white and the other red with the white leading and bearing across its top third a George Cross proper fimbriated in red.
The roundel on the wings and fuselage of Maltese military aircraft consists of a George Cross proper fimbriated in red in the centre of a white disc, within a red disc. Whenever the national flag is painted on the side of an aeroplane, the hoist should be towards the front of the plane with the fly flowing aft
Knights’ Flag (1530-1798) – Flag of Malta (1530 – 1798)
The original flag of the Knights Hospitaller consisted of a white Maltese Cross on a black background, however this was never used in Malta.
The only flag used in Malta in the time of the Knights consisted of a white symmetrical cross on a red field with the cross having a width of 1/5 the height of the flag – similar to the flag of England, colors reversed with a proportion of 5:3. This flag is still used by the Knights’ modern successor, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (SMOM).
Colonial Flags (c.1813-1964)
Several flags were used by the British Colonial administration of Malta prior to independence in 1964. Between 1800 and 1813, the Union flag was probably the only flag used in Malta. When Malta became a Crown Colony in 1813, a new flag was adopted. The design was based on the flag of the Order of Saint John, but with different proportions and defaced by the Union flag. Later flags consisted of the British blue ensign defaced by the coat of arms of Malta.
Colonial flag c.1813-1875
Colonial flag 1875-1898
Colonial flag 1898-c.1923
Colonial flag c.1923-1943
Colonial flag 1943-1964
Royal standard of Malta 1967-1974
THE MALTESE FLAG
Malta’s three national emblems since independence
With independence the Maltese authorities wanted an almost clean cut with the previous foreign dominations. Almost clean, because the new national emblem incorporated both the eight-pointed cross and the George Cross, though in a minor, non-assertive, key. The result: an image heraldically impeccable and graphically of the highest aesthetic standards. The Royal College of Arms based in London reaps all the credit.
For the Latin motto of that first Independence coat-of-arms Prime Minister George Borg Olivier settled for Virtute et Constantia, variously translated as courage, daring, valour for the first Latin noun, and as perseverance, firmness, endurance, tenacity or persistence for the second.
The motto is hardly innovative. In fact, it boasts of a long and vivid history, looking back more than two millennia. The first time the phrase is documented is in Cicero’s celebrated defence Pro Sulla oratio, delivered by that superior Roman jurist and politician in 62 BC on behalf of Cornelius Sulla, accused of taking part in the Catilinarian conspiracy. And, in the wake of Cicero, the author of the chronicles of the Spanish War also picked up the same buzzwords in his De bello hispaniensi, around 40 BC: virtute et constantia. Grand Master de Valette relied on that turn of phrase in a dispatch to King Philip II of Spain to describe the victory of the Great Siege of 1565 – through daring and perseverance – almost certainly penned by his proficient Latin secretary Sir Oliver Starkey, who would have known his Cicero and other Roman classics thoroughly. De Valette’s choice of words, in turn, is said to have inspired Antonio Sciortino in his concept for the bronze Great Siege monument in Republic Street: Malta flanked by daring and perseverance. But, almost certainly not by coincidence, Pope Pius IV had also addressed two briefs to the Grand Master after the raising of the Great Siege, using almost identical words: incredibile virtute admirabiliaque constantia (through unbelievable valour and admirable endurance). Borg Olivier’s choice fell on a phrase with a long and distinguished lineage, doubly connected with one of the most salient episodes in the history of Malta. The same motto Virtute et Constantia had also been previously adopted by a number of noble families in Europe. The security police of Estonia similarly identify with the motto of the 1964 shield of arms of independent Malta.
Since independence and before Malta became a republic, the Governor-General used the same emblem, but substituted the British royal crest (a golden lion standing upon St Edward’s crown) for the mural crown. He did that as he represented Elizabeth I, Queen of Malta, on the islands.
Before independence, the George Cross stood on a blue square (canton). Some interpreted the blue as a reference to the third colour (tincture) in the Union Flag, though more likely it stood for the blue ribbon of that decoration. The blue background was removed with independence – but that created a problem. In heraldry, white stands for silver, so the silver George Cross would have stood directly on a silver ground making it technically invisible. A red piping (fimbriation) was added around the cross to avoid this.
The Republic Emblem was officially launched on July 11, 1975.
Dom Mintoff, then Prime Minister, wanted to get rid of Malta’s constitutional coat-of-arms, on the mistaken assumption that the crown over the red and white Maltese shield represented royalty, and consequently had no legitimacy once Malta had ditched the monarchy and become a republic. This was patently wrong – the mural (or walled) crown on the Independence shield had nothing to do with royalty or with the royal crown – the various mural crowns stand for demarcated territories or for national sovereignty, not for monarchy. In fact, after the rebellion which led to Spain becoming a republic in 1873, the country’s coat-of-arms remained the same, but Spain substituted the old royal crown by a mural crown – exactly to underscore the change from monarchy to republican status. And when, after World War I, Austria became a republic, the Austrians removed the double royal crowns from their coat-of-arms and placed the mural crown instead. Malta already had, since independence, a mural, conveniently republican, crown, on its shield.
Edward Abela, then assistant general manager at Mid-Med Bank, had a marked interest in art and attended evening courses in painting techniques given by the distinguished Maltese artist Esprit Barthet. Mcast hosted those classes. One evening, Barthet shared with his students an invitation he had received from the authorities – his class had been chosen to come up with a design for a new passport – no mention of a national emblem at that stage. Barthet added that this would be a unique opportunity for the art class to be given official recognition – it had been specially selected to carry out that important task. He appealed to the students not to let him down and to take part in what, in substance, would be an art competition with a difference. Barthet specified that the design was to include the Maltese dgħajsa and two farming implements, a shovel and a winnowing fork – possibly the sun too.
Abela rose to the challenge and, though not requested, inserted a prickly pear “to complete the scene”. Great was his surprise when his art teacher revealed to him that his design had been selected by the Prime Minister personally, together with the entry by another student. Would they collaborate to produce a joint drawing? Not the best of ideas – too many artists spoil the emblem – and eventually the job to finish and polish off the concept of the design fell on Abela alone, with instructions to liaise with the Foreign Office. Maurice Abela of that department hurried Edward Abela up – Malta was running out of travel documents and Mintoff insisted that passports with the Independence emblem should stop being issued. Maurice Abela acted as intermediary between the designer and the Prime Minister who proposed some changes, until a final design was agreed upon, with some input from the printers. It was only at this late stage that Maurice Abela learnt that the design was to serve as the new emblem of the republic. In fact, Edward Abela’s design became the official new national emblem, and as such appeared on the freshly-printed green travel documents.
As Edward Abela had no experience in colour printing, this aspect of the task remained with Esprit Barthet. Maurice Abela enquired if Edward Abela had received the prize – which eventually turned out to be a cheque for Lm20, a set of the latest Malta stamps, and a letter of thanks on behalf of the Prime Minister.
The new emblem, deliberately devised outside the parameters of the ancient rules of heraldry, raised quite some controversy in the House of Representatives and in the press. One highly-unconvinced expert called it “relentlessly anti-heraldic”. Mintoff was under the (mistaken) impression that the design had been submitted by a schoolboy (hardly so; Edward Abela, was 39 then) – a misconception that found itself in the press. It goes on being repeated to the present day.
The round emblem included the legend ‘Repubblika ta’ Malta’ – another mistake. The official name of the state is ‘Malta’ and not ‘Republic of Malta’. Sadly, this constitutional blunder was carried over to the current arms.
Edward Abela rose to become general manager of Mid-Med Bank and later of Bank of Valletta. In 1982, the Banca Commerciale Italiana of Toronto, Canada, offered him a job – and there he became its senior vice-president. When he lived in Montreal, Quebec, he exercised the functions of honorary consul for Malta. He now resides permanently in Ontario, and painting in water colour and acrylic takes up much of his time.
After the change of government in 1987, the authorities felt Malta direly needed to project a fresh image. Many innovations were considered impellent: the new philosophies of governance were manifestly unable to identify further with the old perceptions of power. These, in turn, brought about an overwhelming reluctance to be profiled by previous symbols. It was thought pointless to market a new product in an old wrapping.
The task of constructing that new national emblem was assigned to the Honours and Awards Working Committee, chaired by Adrian Strickland. Minister Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, later President, showed the committee some designs he had received from amateur volunteers, but the members rejected them as they were determined to revert to a design for the national arms that respected the traditional and hallowed rules of heraldry.
Some discussions ensued as to whether Malta should adopt anew the first Independence emblem, or opt for a new one altogether. Richard Cachia Caruana believed the old insignia should serve as a basis for the new one, but in a version much simplified – with the elimination of a number of elements which the Royal College of Arms had originally inserted in the first national emblem.
More debate followed about the scroll: should it contain the original motto Virtute et Constantia, or should it be Repubblika ta’ Malta like the previous one? Philo Pullicino proposed an altogether new Latin motto: Laetentur Insulae – let the islands rejoice, suitable to the positivity that was then sweeping Malta. Mr Pullicino must have known his Old Testament well. The phrase comes from Psalm 96: Dominus regnavit, exultet terra, laetentur insulae multae. But eventually Repubblika ta’ Malta prevailed for the scroll – quite uselessly. A national emblem is, in itself, a badge of identification, and should require no further emphasis to explain itself.
Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami showed some unease at the omission of the eight-pointed cross but did not impose his views.
The committee instructed Adrian Strickland to prepare preliminary sketches, which were then translated graphically into the finished design by Robert Calì.
The Government Gazette formally promulgated the new emblem in virtue of the Official Seal of Malta Act of 1988.