The Maltese may also have a drop or two of Slavic blood coursing through our veins, according to an eminent American medievalist from the University of California.

Delivering a lecture in fluent Maltese, Michael Cooperson, a professor of Arabic and a translator of Arabic literature, argued that the much-debated identity of the slaves in 11th century Malta – from whom the present Maltese population is supposedly descended from – was Slavic.

The longest discussion of Malta in those times is in a 15th century book by the North African geographer al-Himyari. In 1995, the book was translated by Manwel Mifsud and written about by Joseph Brincat.

Prof. Cooperson explained  that al-Himyari wrote that Malta was attacked by Arabs in the ninth century and then left deserted.

“This means that the Christian continuity back to St Paul was broken. Then, says al-Himyari, the Arabs came back in the mid-11th century and resettled the island.”

Malta was then attacked by the Byzantines. Reportedly, the Muslims and their slaves (referred to as għabid) fought them off.

“Modern scholars have been pounding away at the slaves: were they Christians who survived the first attack?

A number of scholars have concluded that the slaves were not Christian.

Godfrey Wettinger had observed that għabid were normally understood to be black mercenaries. However  this interpretation would involve having to account for the eventual complete disappearance of a sizeable black population.

Prof. Wettinger also proposed that the Maltese slaves could have been “the Saqaliba or Slav or other white slaves.”

Ggeographer al-Bakri who also gave a shorter but older description of Malta than that of al-Himyari used the word għabid to refer to Slavs.

“If we assume that the Maltese slaves were Slavs as well, we would be solving the problem raised by Prof. Wettinger, i.e. ‘to account for the eventual complete disappearance of a sizeable Negro population’.

More details in Times of Malta and the e-paper on Premium.

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