The Maltese islands, Malta, the ancient Melite, Gozo, the ancient Gaulus, and three lesser islets, lie in the centre of the Mediterranean in a significant position. They command the highway of sea-borne traffic between east and west, and they form a link between north and south, between Sicily and Tunis. They are small, indeed; their whole area is about four-fifths that of the Isle of Wight, but they are in their own fashion very fertile, their seas are rich in fish, and their coasts have many harbours. Naturally they have long been inhabited; they have a real and, for certain centuries, a stirring history. Their closest geographical kinship is with Sicily, which is less than sixty miles north of Gozo, and can easily be seen in clear weather from the higher parts of the islands. Hence, perhaps, it was that during seven centuries of the Roman period, just as during five centuries of the middle ages, they were connected especially with Sicily; but their relations with the more distant African coast and with the eastern and western waters of the Mediterranean are too strong to allow them to be called purely Sicilian or even purely European, and they have often owned other allegiance.