Malta has numerous monoliths and stone ruins, the earliest dating back to about 3500 B.C. Phoenicians came about 1000 B.C. Greek, Carthaginian, and Roman occupations followed. The apostle Paul was shipwrecked on Malta about 60 A.D. After conquests by the Muslims in 870 and the Normans in 1090, control passed in 1530 to the Knights of Rhodes (from then on called the Knights of Malta). The Ottoman Turks, who had driven the knights from Rhodes, besieged Malta in 1565 but failed to take it. The island was captured by Napoleon in 1798. The Maltese revolted and, with help from Great Britain, were freed from French control in 1800. Malta was formally annexed by Great Britain in 1814.

During World War II it was an important British sea and air base and underwent an Axis air siege lasting more than two years. Britain awarded the George Cross—its highest civilian award for valor—to the entire island for the bravery of its people during this period.

Malta gained full internal self-government in 1962 and was granted independence in 1964. Under the terms of independence, Great Britain was allowed to continue to maintain a base on the island and to station troops there.

In 1972 Malta and Great Britain negotiated a new agreement by which British troops and the base would remain for seven years. At the expiration of the agreement in 1979, British forces were withdrawn, the base was closed, and Malta declared itself a neutral nation.

During the 1990's a major political issue in Malta was whether it should take the steps necessary to join the European Union. The government, then controlled by the Nationalists, applied for Malta to join the EU. However, in 1996, the Labour Party won elections and withdrew Malta's application for membership in the EU. The Nationalists regained control of the government in 1998 elections and reapplied for EU membership. Malta became a member of the EU in 2004.