Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Historic Inspiration 1: Malta and the Fortress Economy

Hello everyone,

This week I bring you a post that is focused towards bringing inspiration from history to fantasy settings. One of the challenges and joys I find, of creating a new fantasy world is that of making a compelling and often authentic world. When I say authentic - I do not mean 'realistic' in the traditional sense - but rather believable - making sure it is consistent and makes sense in the eyes of those experiencing it should they live within that world. 

This post - as will others of this type, will provide elements of real-world history based on research I've made that can be used both as inspiration and ideas for fantasy worlds. It seemed natural to begin with Malta - my home country.

A Word on the Provided Information

Please note that research was done using mostly secondary and tertiary sources of information - so keep this in mind as you are reading through. What this means is that the information present is not directly from documents that speak of these events. Information used is from, not exclusively Museum visits, and online research. Whilst this information may hopefully be useful for the sake of inspiration for example - I do recommend further research to confirm the information if you are seeking solid information on the history of Malta for the sake of things such as, but not exclusively, academic work. Think of this as more of an exploration and research of an individual.

Malta and the Fortress Economy

Malta, an island to the south of Sicily, Italy, has been part of rich historic events. Dating from the fall of Carthage to Rome, to the defeat of Ottomans by the Knights of Saint John and their Maltese allies. The island has a rich history of medieval fortifications and is the center of a very key concept I would like to discuss today. The timeline provided will also be useful should you wish to follow through historical events or conduct your own research on specific points of history.

Malta History Timeline
Public Domain Background Photo courtesy of

Fortress Economy

Malta itself - is an island deprived of much natural resources. During the periods of the first settlers of the island - the island was far richer in vegetation, which likely formed the basis as to why the settlers chose to settle on the islands. Food would have been abundant - and fishing would have provided when foraging would not. Tools however - would need to be made from wood, stone, or brought from other lands. Bronze, obsidian and other types of tools would have been brought from, most likely, Sicily. The material would be recycled and re-used as often as possible due to the scarcity of it's availability. One particular resource that was sought after highly during these periods were the corals that were used to create jewelry. These coral jewelry were seen as good charms - and high demand saw the diminishing of Malta's coral life. 

When Phoenician traders arrived on the island's shores - they were highly welcomes by the locals. Eventually choosing to creating a colony on the island - and which are believed to give the island it's name sake Malat, meaning something along the lines of sanctuary. Being the savvy sailors they were - the Phoenicians enjoyed having a strategic place to settle during storms for their trade ships. Eventually - the Phoenicians fell to the Persian empire; Carthage - a previously Phoenician colony took Malta under it's wing. 

The Carthaginians were quick to solidify the advantage they took from Malta's strategic location. Malta was turned into a Carthaginian naval base. This was perhaps the first point we begin seeing Malta's evolution as a fortress economy. Malta would serve as both a trade center for Carthage as well as a launching platform for the Carthaginian fleet. Whether the island served to construct ships, or simply maintain and house them - is up for debate. The island's lack of timber supply would likely mean that timber would need to be transported to the island - which wouldn't make much sense if the ships could be built elsewhere. Following the fall of Carthage - Malta went into the hands of the Romans. 

Malta was of little significance in terms of resources for the Romans - especially due to it's vast scale. Malta however - did offer the same benefits to the Romans in terms of being strategically located in the midst of trade routes and a good supply point for Roman ships. As the Romans attained undisputed control of the Mediterranean - trade would have likely flourished - together with the island itself. Eventually - Roman veterans were also given lands within Malta - as rewards for their service. These veterans would provide the island with perhaps it's first fortified settlement - Melita.

Malta would be conquered by the Vandals, Goths and eventually returned to the Romans (Byzantines) until the island is captured by Aghlabid Arabs. The Arabs would reduce the size of Melita - and form Medina - the city which would be the precursor to Mdina. The Arabs also introduced cotton and cirtus fruit, as well as new agricultural practices and irrigation systems. The Arabs also constructed a fort on the location of present day, Fort St. Angelo. Eventually - after being under Norman control, the Knights of Saint John would be granted Malta by Emperor Charles V.

The Knights would construct fortifications on the island, conduct corsairing activities and raid Ottoman trade routes before repelling an invasion by the Ottoman empire. The Knights would continue to construct fortifications for the decades to come. Until eventually the French - under Napoleon Bonaparte would come to Malta and bring forth extensive reforms - until being kicked out of Malta by the Maltese for the sacking of churches and cathedrals, eventually with the aid of the British. 

Malta would become a critical naval outpost for the British. Prospering during war-time but suffering during peace. Eventually - with the opening of the Suez Canal - Malta would again prosper for a time. This common theme throughout history as Malta's importance grew extensively when it's strategic location came into play. However, during times of peace, and with improvements of ships that allowed for lesser maintenance and longer range, Malta's key position for trade began to waver. 

Malta's size meant that mass manufacturing would not compete with that of foreign nations. For a time, cotton production was lucrative some time during the wars in America - as cotton production from Americas was halted. The ports and hospitals of Malta would see extensive use during world war 1; and during world war 2 - Malta would bear massive hits by bombing raids from the Axis powers. 

With all this - Malta's role in the modern day after gaining it's independence and becoming a republic - meant that the fortress economy needed to be changed. Especially since Malta's position in the global arena was a neutral country that would seek to bring peace. This means that Malta's old prosperity during war, and down slope during peace - needed to change. Malta would change it's economic situation by focusing on areas such as Tourism, Financial Services and IT. Which gave the island a way to utilize the least land but provide high returns. Malta's greatest resource would be it's citizens - meaning that an investment to the individual citizens of the nation - would be a key investment in the economy of the country. Needless to say - this goes for any nation, however for a nation deprived of natural resources - the logic behind it is perhaps more obvious. 

Fantasy Settings

What does this all mean in a fantasy setting? Needless to say - you can come up with a vast amount of ideas on your own - however understanding Malta's role and it's evolution would likely give you a solid foundation to start with. Malta's position has meant that the island - although deprived of natural resources, would be sought after. It's citizens would be key actors throughout history - experiencing different rulers, different conditions and different cultures. The fortress economy - prospering during war, and faltering during peace, meant the island would have to endure times of poverty - interrupted by times of great importance during unstable times. 

I hope you find inspiration in the history of this small island rich of story in the Mediterranean. I also hope you enjoyed this post and look forward to more historical inspirations throughout history!

Until next time,

No comments:

Post a Comment