''Malta yok'' was regrettably not always the case

When we talk about Turkish Ottoman attacks on the Maltese Islands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, two major dates spring to mind: the 1551 incursion which culminated in the enslaving of the entire population of Gozo and the Great Siege of 1565 which propelled Malta and the Knights of St John to international fame. Both these attacks took place during the lengthy reign of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent who ruled from Constantinople between 1520 and 1566.

Sultan Suleiman the First was the same Sultan who had ousted the Knights of St John from Rhodes in 1522, inadvertently kick starting a process which culminated with the Order of St John moving to Malta in 1530. However, the 1565 incursion was not the last Turkish attack on Malta. Fast forward to 6 July 1614, almost half a century after the Great Siege, and a sizeable fleet of 60 Ottoman ships commanded by Khalil Pasha entered Maltese waters during the reign of French Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt. After being prevented from harbouring in Marsaxlokk Bay due to cannon shots from the new Saint Lucian Tower, the fleet anchored in St. Thomas Bay near Marsascala and landed five to six thousand men who proceeded to march to the nearby villages of Zabbar and Zejtun and caused great damage and looting to farms, fields, houses, churches and chapels in the two localities. The inhabitants of both villages had escaped to the safety of Vittoriosa and Senglea once the alarm had been raised by the firing of warning cannon shots from Valletta and Mdina.

Wignacourt reacted by mustering all his Knights and soldiers bolstered by an additional militia of up to eight thousand Maltese men and after a number of skirmishes the Ottomans retreated back to their vessels and set sail northwards to Mellieha Bay where they landed to replenish water whilst taking the opportunity to attack the village and its renowned Sanctuary. After overnighting in Mellieha Bay, the fleet set sail for Tripoli. An important aftermath of this attack was the realisation that a more extensive network of coastal watchtowers was needed to give advance warning of enemy shipping movements.

And the link with this coin?

This coin is a small silver akçe, minted in Qustantiniya (Constantinople) during the time of Sultan Ahmed I, who was reigning in Istanbul when the July 1614 attack on Malta took place. A Sultan whose reign was plagued by wars, rebellions and misrule, he is most famous for the building of the magnificent Blue Mosque near Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. The akçe was the chief monetary unit of the Ottoman Empire, a silver coin. The Middle Turkish word akça evolved from the word "silver or silver money", this word is derived from the Old Turkic ak "white" word in Anatolian Turkish with the + ça suffix. Three akçes were equal to one para. One-hundred and twenty akçes equalled one kuruş. A low denomination coin, the likes of which would have probably been in so many of the pockets and purses of those 6,000 Turkish troops who landed for one last time to ravage Maltese soil on that distant summer’s day in July 1614.


Leslie Vella


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