Crime, Torture and Punishment under the Knights

Start Date & Time: 23/03/2017 - 12:00 am

End Date & Time: 23/03/2017 - 12:00 am

Crime, Torture and Punishment under the Knights

On the evening of Thursday 23rd March, Dr William Zammit’s gave a talk on his book ‘Kissing the Gallows’, which covers crimes committed in Malta during the period 1600 – 1798, how the justice system actually worked, how criminals were tortured, and role of the public during execution rituals.  The event, organized by Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, was held at the Palazzo De La Salle in Valletta.

Dr. Zammit began his talk by briefing the audience on where he sourced the information for a history of crime in Malta during the period when Malta was under the Order of the Knights of St. John.  The actual histories of cases were found at;

Cases of murder were dealt with in days and weeks by the Castellania which was the supreme court of justice of the Maltese islands and the Grand Master had absolute power to preside over the Institution.  With the presence of the Inquisition, the Holy See considered Malta similar to a colony and the Inquisitor at the time reported to Rome.  Torture of those convicted was carried out by the State and not by the Inquisition.

In Maltese Society between 1600 and 1798, those who broke the law were made up of clearly distinct classes;

There was a special court for members of the Knights, the Church, or the Inquisitors’ families.  The Grand Master’s ruling was sovereign over the Maltese in 90% of the cases.  Crimes committed were mainly murder, thefts and robberies, physical assaults, sexual crimes, but also suicides, gambling, fraud, duelling, escape from quarantine on Manoel Island, and escape of slaves and convicts. In the case of death by hanging, the body would be exposed for months as an example to the population.

Dr. Zammit spoke about the Judicial System, which comprised;

where the Grand Master, the Bishops, the Inquisitor respectively presided.  Criminals were often put on display on a Pillory on the corner of Merchants Street and St. John’s Street in Valletta, where the public would throw objects at them.

Under the Knights there were 500 churches in Malta where people could claim sanctuary.  (ref: Non Gode L’Immunita Ecclesias).  Towards the end of the 1760’s there was an agreement to limit sanctuary in churches.  Dr. Zammit related two accounts of criminals who had taken refuge in sanctuary;

Dr. Zammit ended his talk by describing the different types of torture, localities of torture, and some tales of executions;

Finally Dr Zammit described one of the most atrocious executions in Malta when two slaves who were found guilty of attempting to murder Grand Master Pinto, were quartered alive.

This well attended event was sponsored by: Da Vinci Hospital, Attard & Co, Dhalia Ltd, and Mizzi Motors.

Derek Moss

FAA Member

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