Friday, September 02, 2016

Review of Sagona, The Archaeology of Malta

Claudia Sagona, The Archaeology of Malta: From the Neolithic through the Roman Period. Cambridge world archaeology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xix, 449. ISBN 9781107006690. $135.00.

Reviewed by Rowan McLaughlin, Queen’s University Belfast (


Part of the Cambridge World Archaeology series, this book presents a synthesis of the archaeology of Neolithic and Bronze Age Malta not achieved since John Evans’s seminal Prehistoric Antiquities of the Maltese Islands,1 and in addition, also contains chapters covering Punic/Phoenician and Roman sites. This is an ambitious and compendious book that falls intermediately in scope and detail between Evans’s work and Sagona’s own treatise on Punic Malta,2 and more popular accounts of Maltese archaeology.3 The book is generally a success, but the treatment of various cultural phases is uneven and—especially in the Early Neolithic (Chapter 2) and Roman periods (Chapter 8)—the reader is left wondering whether more could have been made of the available evidence within Malta and its relationship to the surrounding Mediterranean worlds.
This section is most relevant to the interests of PaleoJudaica:
The most satisfying Chapters in the book are 6 and 7, which concern the evidence for the Phoenician settlement of Malta in c. 750 BC (although there is much evidence for earlier influence), and their descendants who, two centuries later, came to be known by their Roman competitors as Punic. The end of the Bronze Age is considered first (in Chapter 6), the timing of which is again bedevilled by poor dating. Here, and elsewhere in the book, Sagona is keen to stress continuity, although given the absence of archaeological evidence, one is left wondering what the reasons for this are.

Reading Chapter 8 ‘Malta’s Place in the Roman World’, one is left with the impression that the archaeological evidence for this period is slight. This may be somewhat misrepresentative of the reality—there are many sites, although few that approach the magnificent vestiges of the Roman world found elsewhere in the Mediterranean. There was apparently much continuity with Punic lifeways, the best archaeological evidence for which is present in the funerary record, but unfortunately discussion on this important theme is limited to less than two pages, and fails to account for how burial practices evolved and were elaborated throughout the Roman period.
PaleoJudaica has posted on Malta's Phoenician and Punic connections from time to time, including here, here, here (mentions Dr. Sagona), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Cross-file under Phoenician Watch and Punic Watch.