Malta's strategic location and its large sheltered deep-water harbors have influenced its history in no small measure. Malta has belonged to a succession of major Mediterranean powers. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs occupied the islands. Following conquest by the Normans in 1070, Malta shared the fate of Sicily and passed successively to the Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, and Castilians. In 1530 the islands were handed by Emperor Charles V to the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem. This powerful body of wealthy European nobles, dedicated to helping the poor and sick and to waging war on Islam, in their turn were driven from Malta in 1798 by Napoleon. Britain replaced France in 1800 and controlled the islands until the country gained its independence in 1964.
The legacy of its checkered history as a bastion of Christianity and an island fortress is still very much evident: relative prosperity; a high degree of centralization; the power of the Roman Catholic church; an ability to adapt to new Economic, political, and cultural influences; and a deep-seated cultural orientation toward Europe.