Malta in the sixteenth century is usually viewed in military terms: the great bulwark of Christendom against Islam, the island ruled by the crusader Knights of St John – the Hospitallers – with its vast fortifications and its famous siege of 1565. This book, however, which examines the development of the economy of Malta and its place in the wider Mediterranean economy in the period, paints a much more complex picture. It shows how Malta was the hub of a large, complicated trading network, with Christians of various denominations, as well as Jews and Muslims, participating in commercial activity, and with well-developed instruments of trade and commercial law in place to support this network. It demonstrates that trade was not just in grain, a necessary commodity for Malta as a barren island with insufficient agriculture, but in a much wider range of goods, including even the sale and ransom of slaves. The book pays particular attention to the important commercial role of women, to safe conducts, which enabled Christians to trade in Muslim lands and vice versa, and to credit arrangements, which facilitated payments, even across the Christian-Muslim divide. Overall, rather than a key strong-point in a closed frontier, Malta is shown to have been a major centre of international exchange.
JOAN ABELA is Senior Lecturer in the Legal History and Methodology Department at the University of Malta, President of the Notarial Archives Resource Council and past Secretary of the Malta Historical Society. She was the winner of the 2014 Boydell and Brewer Prize for the best doctoral thesis in maritime history.