Melitensia Quinta, Phoenician Inscription
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Since the Phoenician inscription
CIS, 1, 132, more commonly known as the Melitensia Quinta was unearthed,
or publicly known in 18551,
a number of studies were published regarding its authenticity, decipherment,
dating, its historical record, how it fits in the ancient history of Gozo
and other aspects.
The inscription (plates
1, 2 and 3) is a proclamation of the whole people of Gozo represented
by an assembly and commemorates the construction and renovation
of three 'objects'2 and four temples. Different authors
give different dates of the inscription3, the common
dilemma being whether it is pre or post 218BC, the latter being the year
when the Romans took over the Maltese islands from the Carthaginians. Although
of the inscription is missing, the remaining available text gives ample
light on the socio-religious and political organisation of Gozo, molded
up in a
It has also, to some
degree, been given different interpretations. For example, Heltzer states
that the words 'm gwl mean the People of Gwl (Gaulos)
but the term 'm refers to a closed assembly and not a popular democratic
representative body of the whole population4. In this manner Heltzer
makes a distinction between the different ethnic groups of Gozo. Vella
remarks more convincingly that Heltzer is incorrect in this particular
aspect and 'm
(meaning people; nation)5 definitely makes no distinction
between the people of Gozo6.
The inscription mentions
two Phoenician divinities Sadamba'al and Astarte, dedicated to two of
the temples. The names of the other two divinities are
missing. There is also the mention of two magistrates7,
the offering priest8 and the inspector of the quarry9.
The persons mentioned are dignified by the inclusion of their ancestry,
a common characteristic in a number of Phoenician inscriptions.
The exact find spot of
the inscription is unknown but still different authors attribute to it
provenances. Cooke states that it was found in Malta,
but probably brought to Malta from Gozo10. Vella
states that the inscription was found near the Citadel11.
Mizzi writes not near the citadel12 and A.A.
Caruana indicates that the inscription was found amongst the ruins of the
The plaque has a length of approximately 15.5cms and a breadth of about 14.3cm
differing slightly according to the irregular shape of the stone. Its thickness
is about 3.8cms varying only along the corners of its right border. The inscription
written in elegant monumental script14 consists
of eight lines; the last line made up of only two words. The remaining
existing part of the inscription occupies a space of about 11.5cms by 9.2cms.
margin surrounds the top, bottom and right sides of the inscription. Since
the plaque is broken, the inscription touches the left side of the stone
and one may assume that a margin also existed on its left side.
When one takes into account
the reconstruction of the lacunae as indicated by Heltzer and other authors,
only a small amount of the inscription is missing
when compared with the available text15. One should
note that towards the end of the inscription the words are squeezed and
the scribe did not keep a legible space as he kept in the remaining part
text. This could mean that the scribe was more conscious of the limited
space provided by the stone slab and therefore he had to economise in word
In fact, at the very end of the inscription, in the eighth line consisting
of the words 'm gwl there is again ample space and the scribe retained
the same word spacing as he used in the first part of the inscription16.
A number of articles
and studies of the Melitensia Quinta include a photograph or a drawing
inscription. A plate depicting the inscription was included
for the first publication by Michelangelo Lanci in the year 185517.
Examples of early photographs or drawings of the inscription dating to
the 19th Century can be viewed in the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum,
188318 and in the album A Collection of Photographic
Views of Phoenician, Greek, and Roman Antiquities19 (Plate
2). Wright in 1874 made use of a drawing of the inscription20.
Some contemporary scholars such as Bonanno21, Vella22 and
others continued to include a photograph of the inscription in their publications.
In all the above instances we are presented with a photograph or a drawing
of the Melitensia Quinta, the latter having a scratch between the 6th and
the 7th line, starting (from left to right), slightly inwards from the
side of the plaque. The scratch touches the lower part of some of the letters
and stops abruptly under the letter kaph, the last letter of the word Ba'al?hillek.
The inscription exhibited at the Gozo Museum of Archaeology (Plate 1) resembles
in all aspects the examples quoted above. There is no doubt regarding the photographs
depicted in recent publications and the same applies to the 19th century photographs
where the scratch is present in all instances. The voids or deterioration marks
are perfectly similar in all instances and so is the configuration of the edge
of the plaque. The Phoenician characters are identical in all aspects.
Still we are presented
with a totally different picture in Strickland's book Malta
and the Phoenicians which was re-edited in 1969 by his daughter the
late Hon. Mabel Strickland. In this edition the photograph (Plate3) appearing
on Page 3223 is not a faithful reproduction of
the inscription exhibited at the Gozo Museum of Archaeology. The scratch
between the 6th and the 7th line is not present. The voids or deterioration
marks are to some extent different and so is the configuration of the
of the plaque. There exist also differences in some of the Phoenician
characters. A replica of the same photograph appears for the second time
in De Trafford's
article " The Phoenician connection and Lord Strickland's Bequest" which
appeared in the Summer issue of the Treasures of Malta 199824.
Before giving an analysis
to the two types of photographs, [the photographs depicting the plaque
with the scratch between the 6th and the 7th line hereafter
referred to as Type A-(plates 1 and 2) and the photograph with this particular
scratch missing, hereafter referred to as Type B- (plate 3)], it is important
to make one point clear. The inscription is said to be by most authors
incised on a marble plaque25 or as more defined by Wright
on white marble26. It is not.
The plaque is made up
of local Upper Coralline Limestone of a very hard type which is common
central and eastern part of Gozo, sometimes also referred
to as Gozo Marble27. A close scrutiny of the plaque
reveals that the slab is highly porous and not solidly compact as a marble
should be. There are stains due to iron oxide impurities scattered over
the surface of the slab in the form of brownish-orange dots. These stains
in limestone and are not common in marble. Some of the voids distributed
along the border and highly evident in the upper margin are due to deposits
crustaceans and not signs of deterioration as this article will eventually
reveal. Such voids are common in limestone and absent in marble.
The overall surface of the slab (Type B- plate 3) depicted in Strickland's
paper (1969 edition) and De Trafford's article, is much rougher than the smooth
flat surface of the plaque exhibited at the Museum of Archaeology (Type A -
plate 1), as depicted in the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, 1883
and other photographs (Type A) showing the inscription. A number of scratches
(in Type B) are evident, running diagonally from the edge of the incised lines,
along the right margin to the edge of the tablet. Also a number of relatively
deep voids are scattered along the right margin. These voids are still present
along the right margin of the plaque exhibited at Gozo's Museum (plate 1) but
are less deep and therefore less evident. The diagonal scratches along the
right margin are totally absent. The overall surface of the slab along the
right margin is very much smoother than the slab (Type B) depicted in Strickland's
paper and De Trafford's article. The right edge of the plaque at the Museum
also has more indentations.
On the other hand the top
margin of the plaque exhibited at the Museum (Type A - plate 1) has larger
than the plaque (Type B) shown in plate 3, but
still in both types of photographs the voids are present in the same place.
The void having the shape of an irregular curve finishing in two points (Type
A) is only partly present in Type B. The right part of the void which touches
the top part of the 'lamed' as seem in the plaque Type A (plates 1&2) is missing
and only slightly visible in Type B (plate 3). This clearly indicates that
some if not all the cavities distributed along the margins of the plaque are
not due to deterioration but are natural voids which are the result of deposits
of fossilised crustaceans and other dead sea organisms, a highly common feature
in sedimentary rock.
The two different types
of photographs of the same Phoenician inscription imply that at some
time before 187428, the surface
of the plaque was scraped over obviously with the intention of smoothing
and polishing its surface. The cleaning process eliminated numerous rough
along the right margin of the inscription and even lessened to some extent
the depth of the voids, but the latter still remained slightly visible.
On the other hand, the scraping process revealed to a greater extent the
present in the upper and lower margins.
During the smoothing of the surface of the plaque, the letters were obviously
scraped over. This resulted, although to a very small degree, a slight change
in the depth of the grooves forming the Phoenician letters, and therefore also
to some lesser degree the original configuration of the characters. One should
keep in mind that the scribe did not incise all the letters holding the tool
always horizontal but at some instances must have inclined his tool where necessary.
This is evident in the
letter 'beth' which appears for nineteen times in the inscription . For
example the 'beth'
appearing as the first letter of the fourth
line (Type B - plate 3), has a prominent kink forming an obtuse angle at
its centre. The kink disappeared totally (Type A - plates 1 & 2), when
the surface of the inscription was scraped over, with the result of a different
having a straight base. Such differences can be very crucial when applying
palaeography as one of the factors for the dating of the inscription, keeping
in mind the slight differences in the formation of the letters during the
development of the Phoenician alphabet29.
The edge of the plaque follows the same configuration in both types of photographs
except for the right edge (Type A - plates 1 and 2) which has more indentations
and the upper left corner which is slightly more chipped. These differences
occurred when the slab was cleaned and scraped over.
One may conclude that
the Melitensia Quinta at the Gozo Museum of Archaeology is represented
with two different types of photographs. The first type (Type
B - plate 3) is the earliest showing the inscription as it actually was,
immediately after it was unearthed having a rougher surface as depicted
paper and De Trafford's article. The second, Type A ( plates 1 and 2) shows
the surface of the plaque scraped and smoothened, with a scratch between
the 6th and the 7th line of the inscription as we know it today. The scratch
occurred during the smoothing of the plaque, with the pointed edge of the
scraper. An attempt at the removal of the scratch would have meant the
chance of the
deformation or the total obliteration of the letters in that particular
area, which was too risky to carry out.
- The inscription
is said to have been discovered in 1855, (Vella 1995:26), (Bonanno 1990:34).
Other sources (Heltzer 1993:198), state that the inscription
became known to the public in 1855, giving the impression that
it is possible for the inscription to have been found before. Caruana
(1899:225), states that
the inscription was discovered around the year 1855.
- The word ?l? forms
the last word of the broken line of the inscription. Heltzer (1993:199),
reconstructs the first line as follows: The people of
Gaulos constructed and renovated three [(objects) and the]. The second
and third lines mention four sanctuaries - temples. Therefore the word ?l?
meaning three (assuming that it does not form part of a longer word), does
not concern the four sanctuaries - temples. In our study entitled A Universal
Model with reference to Time and Direction, (1997), which is an extension
of the long essay Phoenician - Punic Landscape Archaeology with special
reference to the Maltese Islands, (Saliba: 1996), submitted to the Department
of Classics and Archaeology, University of Malta (both as yet unpublished works),
we have given possible evidence to what the three objects are.
- Vella (1995:29),
and Heltzer (1993:202), date the inscription to pre 218 BC; Bonanno (1990:34),
and Amadasi Guzzo (1967:25), to post 218 BC
- Heltzer 1993:199
- Harris 1936:133
- Vella 1995:26 -
- Heltzer (1993:202),
mentions two magistrates (rabs); Amadasi Guzzo (1967:23), translates
the 4th line as follows: At the time of the censor 'Arish, son
of Ya'el; Cooke (1903:105), translates the 4th line as follows: in
the time of (our) l(ord) of noble worth (?), Arish, son of Ya'el.
- Amadasi Guzzo 1967:24;
Cooke 1903:105. zbh according to Heltzer (1993:201), is not a noun but
a 3sg. masc. perfect meaning 'offered'.
- The Phoenicians
are renowned for their quarrying and building techniques (1 Kings 5:31),
(1 Kings 6: 7-8), (1 Kings 7: 9-12), and the mention of the
inspector of the quarry shows the importance given to this role.
- Cooke 1903:105
- Vella 1995:26
- Mizzi 1996:138
- Caruana 1899:225
- Heltzer 1993:189
- Wright (1874:394-395),
was of the opinion that since the slab was not violently broken, it was
probably cut or sawed through for some purpose with
the consequence that a substantial part of it is missing. Such
an important commemorative plaque, he argued, would have never been engraved
on a diminutive
tablet. When we studied the texture of the broken tablet we found
no reason why the slab was not broken accidentally in the past and was
it is during the mid 19th century.
- One may disagree
with this hypothesis, arguing that since in some Phoenician inscriptions
there exists no particular rule or pattern in the distributions
of words and sentences [for example some words start at the end
of a line and finish in the next (broken up)], there was no need for
economising in word
spacing since the 8th line consists of only two words, leaving
an empty ample space. Still in this particular inscription it seems that
of words and sentences are kept purposely in a pattern. One can
notice that the words 'sanctuary' and 'temple' fall exactly in the same
place. There are
no letters in the beginning of a line forming part of a word which
starts in the end of the preceding line (no broken words). It is possible
from the above
that it was purposely designated that the words 'm gwl (people
of Gozo) were meant to occupy the 8th line on their own. This restricted
the scribe to incising
all words of each line in the limited space of the slab, irrespective
of how long the line was.
- Wright 1874:389.
Wright in his foot notes referred to Michelangelo Lanci's publication
stating that his study included a plate. We did not refer to Lanci's
work and we cannot say whether the plate depicting the inscription
is a drawing or a photograph.
- C.I.S. 1883: Tab
XXV. The printing of the Phoenician letters in this collection of Phoenician
inscriptions is of a stylised form. This can be misleading because
on original inscriptions the letters are different.
- This album which
is undated can be viewed at the National Library, Valletta. The collection
of photographs is compiled by the society of Archaeology, History
and Natural Sciences of Malta. At the bottom of the page which
contains the photographs of the two tablets (CIS, 1, 123 and CIS,1, 132),
is a small note
saying that the Phoenician inscriptions are the property of Mrs.
W. Strickland. Apart from these two inscriptions, the collection consists
mainly of views
of the Maltese Prehistoric temples which at that time were thought
to belong to the Phoenician period.The Album of the Phoenician Ruins by the late
Society of Archaeology, Malta, referred to by Strickland (1969:29), is
probably the same collection of photographs indicated above. Another album
at the National Library entitled Antichita' Fenicie nelle isola di Malta dated
1868 contains a number of similar photographs (such as the decorated altar
from Hagar Qim), which also appear in the album mentioned above. Still it does
not contain the photographs of the inscriptions. Although due to the similar
photographs one can assume that the album containing the inscriptions can also
be dated at 1868 one cannot be absolutely sure about this date, since this
particular album is undated and also because the photographs of the inscription
could have been added later.
- Wright 1874:389.
Wright made use of a drawing and not a photograph of the slab with the
inscription. He depicted a faithful reproduction of the edge
of the slab showing the most protruded indentations. He also included
the voids in the upper margin. The slab is rendered with veins which
in reality do not
exist in the slab exhibited at Gozo's Museum of Archaeology.
- Bonanno 1990:38
- Vella 1995:26
- Strickland 1969:32
- De Trafford 1998:39
- Bonanno 1990:34, 38,
Heltzer 1993:198, Gouder 1991:6, De Trafford 1998:39
- Wright 1874:390
- Ransley 1977:4 In
his description of the geology of the Maltese Islands he states that
the rock is cut for special purposes as, for example, to
obtain what is known as 'Gozo Marble' (which is none other than a very hard
type of U.C.L. and not 'Marble' as its name seems to suggests. Mabel Strikcland
in her letter to The Lieutenant Governor (P.W. 1235/40), dated 30 December
1940 regarding the bequest of the two Phoenician inscription by her father
Lord Strickland to the Government demanded two facsimiles, one of CIS, 1,123
and another of CIS, 1,132. The copy of CIS 1,123 was ordered in hard stone,
while the Melitensia Quinta (CIS, 1,132 ), was ordered in Gozo Marble. She
also commented that the two drawings of the inscriptions (100B/173A & B) drawn
by Edward Zammit did not show the deterioration marks (now considered as natural
voids). She demanded that the marks were to be rendered on the facsimiles.
These facsimiles are now kept at the Strickland Foundation (De Trafford 1998:40).
We tried to view the copies but we were informed on telephone by Miss Sammut
on behalf of the foundation that the procedure for permission to view the copies
takes a long time. We were also informed that the copy of the Melitensia Quinta
is broken. We exclude any possibility that the photo appearing in Strickland
1969:32 and De Trafford 1998:39 depicts the copy of the Melitensia Quinta now
kept at the Strickland Foundation.
- Wright (1874:389),
depicts the earliest drawing of the Melitensia Quinta which we have up
to now been able to record showing the slab as Type A, having
a smooth surface and a scratch between the 6th and the 7th line
of the inscription. The earliest photograph that we have been able to
record showing the slab as
Type A dates to 1883 (C.I.S.: Tab XXV).
- Frendo (1993:172),
stresses on the importance of the availability of epigraphically useful
photographs and how the lack of good photographs can lead to the misunderstanding
of some texts. This is a typical case when we have an inscription
scraped and smoothened with the result of slight alterations to
its original surface and consequently to the Phoenicians characters.
In this case the original
state of the surface of the inscription is recorded in Strickland's
1969 edition and De Trafford's article.
- A Collection of Photographic Views of Phoenician, Greek and Roman Antiquities, (n.d.)
- Amadasi Guzzo, M G 1967 Le Iscrizioni Fenice e Puniche delle Colonie in
e Occidente, Rome: Universita degli studi di Roma, Istituto di studi
del Vicino Oriente
- Antichita' Fenicie nelle isola di Malta, 1868 (A collection of photograhic
- Bonanno, A 1990 The Archaeology of Gozo: from Prehistoric to Arab times, in
Cini, C (ed.), Gozo the roots of an Island, 10-45
- Caruana, A A 1899 Frammento Critico Della Storia Fenicio-Cartaginese,
Greco-Romana Bisantina, Musulmana e Normanno-Aragonese Delle Isole di Malta, Valletta:Giov.
- Cooke, G A 1903 A Text-Book of North-Semitic Inscriptions: Moabite, Hebrew,
Phoenician, Aramaic, Nabtaean, Palmyrene, Jewish, Oxford: Clarendon
- Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, 1883 Pars Prima, Inscriptiones Phoenicias
Continens, Tomus 1
- De Trafford A 1998 The Phoenician Connection and Lord Strickland's Bequest,
in Manduca J (ed.), Treasures of Malta, Summer 1998 Vol IV No 3 37-41,
- Frendo, A J 1993 Some observations of the Investigation of the Phoenician/Canaanites
in the Ancient Mediterranean World, in Frendo, A J (ed.), Journal of Mediterranean
Studies, Vol 3 No 2 169-174
- Gouder, T C 1991 Malta and the Phoenicians, Malta: Lombard Bank
- Harris, Z S 1936 A grammar of the Phoenician language, New Haven: American
Oriental Society (Seventh Reprinting 1990)
- Heltzer, M 1993 The Inscription CIS, 1, 132 from Gozo and the Political Structure
of the Island in the Punic Period, in Frendo, A J (ed.), Journal of Mediterranean
Studies, Vol 3 No 2 198-204
- Mizzi, P 1996 In Search of Gozo's Ancient Town in Farrugia, J and Brigulio,
L (eds), A Focus on Gozo, 121-145
- P. W. File 1235/40 1940 Bequest of two Phoenician Inscriptions by Lord
Strickland to Government
- Ransley, N 1977 A Geography of the Maltese Islands, Malta: Progress
Press Co. Ltd
- Saliba, E and P C 1997 A Universal Model with reference to Time and Direction, (unpublished
- Saliba, P C 1996 Phoenician - Punic Landscape Archaeology with Special
Reference to the Maltese Islands, B.A. (Hons) dissertation, Department
Of Classics and Archaeology, University of Malta, (unpublished work)
- Strickland, G 1969 Malta and the Phoenicians, (edited by Strickland,
M) Valletta: Progress Press
- Vella, H C R 1995 Gozo in Classical Literature in Brigulio, L and Bezzina,
J (eds), Gozo and its Culture, 13-48
- Wright, W 1974 On the Phoenician Inscription generally known as the 'Melitensis
Quinta' in Transactions of the Society of the Biblical Archaeology,
Vol III 389-399
without permission. The author/editor of
this site attempted to obtain permission but was unable to get
in touch with the
however, he hopes that
the authors would be magnanimous enough to permit this reproduction
when they become aware of its publication in this site.
September 1998, Elizabeth and Paul C. Saliba B.A. (Hons)