The Melitensia Quinta, Phoenician Inscription

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An Analysis of the Photographic Representations of the Melitensia Quinta (CIS, 1, 132) -- Phoenician Archaeology
by Elizabeth and Paul C. Saliba B.A. (Hons)
© Copyright, 1998

Reproduced as is without permission

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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 part 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 Phoenician context.

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 different 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 Ggantija temples13.

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. A wide 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 of the 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 spacing. 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 of the 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 broken left 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 edge 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 in the 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 occur 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 of fossilised 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 voids 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 scratches 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 voids 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 'beth' 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 in Strickland's 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 probably 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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. Heltzer 1993:199
  5. Harris 1936:133
  6. Vella 1995:26 - 27
  7. 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.
  8. Amadasi Guzzo 1967:24; Cooke 1903:105. zbh according to Heltzer (1993:201), is not a noun but a 3sg. masc. perfect meaning 'offered'.
  9. 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.
  10. Cooke 1903:105
  11. Vella 1995:26
  12. Mizzi 1996:138
  13. Caruana 1899:225
  14. Heltzer 1993:189
  15. 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 discovered as it is during the mid 19th century.
  16. 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 the distribution 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. Bonanno 1990:38
  22. Vella 1995:26
  23. Strickland 1969:32
  24. De Trafford 1998:39
  25. Bonanno 1990:34, 38, Heltzer 1993:198, Gouder 1991:6, De Trafford 1998:39
  26. Wright 1874:390
  27. 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.
  28. 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).
  29. 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 which was 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.


  1. A Collection of Photographic Views of Phoenician, Greek and Roman Antiquities, (n.d.)
  2. 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
  3. Antichita' Fenicie nelle isola di Malta, 1868 (A collection of photograhic views)
  4. Bonanno, A 1990 The Archaeology of Gozo: from Prehistoric to Arab times, in Cini, C (ed.), Gozo the roots of an Island, 10-45
  5. Caruana, A A 1899 Frammento Critico Della Storia Fenicio-Cartaginese, Greco-Romana Bisantina, Musulmana e Normanno-Aragonese Delle Isole di Malta, Valletta:Giov. Muscat
  6. Cooke, G A 1903 A Text-Book of North-Semitic Inscriptions: Moabite, Hebrew, Phoenician, Aramaic, Nabtaean, Palmyrene, Jewish, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  7. Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, 1883 Pars Prima, Inscriptiones Phoenicias Continens, Tomus 1
  8. 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, 91
  9. 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
  10. Gouder, T C 1991 Malta and the Phoenicians, Malta: Lombard Bank
  11. Harris, Z S 1936 A grammar of the Phoenician language, New Haven: American Oriental Society (Seventh Reprinting 1990)
  12. 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
  13. Mizzi, P 1996 In Search of Gozo's Ancient Town in Farrugia, J and Brigulio, L (eds), A Focus on Gozo, 121-145
  14. P. W. File 1235/40 1940 Bequest of two Phoenician Inscriptions by Lord Strickland to Government
  15. Ransley, N 1977 A Geography of the Maltese Islands, Malta: Progress Press Co. Ltd
  16. Saliba, E and P C 1997 A Universal Model with reference to Time and Direction, (unpublished work)
  17. 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)
  18. Strickland, G 1969 Malta and the Phoenicians, (edited by Strickland, M) Valletta: Progress Press
  19. Vella, H C R 1995 Gozo in Classical Literature in Brigulio, L and Bezzina, J (eds), Gozo and its Culture, 13-48
  20. 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

    Reproduced without permission. The author/editor of this site attempted to obtain permission but was unable to get in touch with the authors; however, he hopes that the authors would be magnanimous enough to permit this reproduction when they become aware of its publication in this site.

    ? Copyright September 1998, Elizabeth and Paul C. Saliba B.A. (Hons)


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