Malta lies 60 miles due south of Sicily, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. In ancient times, the island was a crossroads for pilgrims, mariners, and wealthy merchants from three continents. As far back as 3500 B.C. Malta was a thriving seaport and a seat of finance and culture. During a 2,000-year period beginning in 1500 B.C. this strategic gateway was conquered and occupied by successive waves of seafaring empire-builders—Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, and Normans—for whom the island was a clearinghouse for precious commodities, such as spices, silks, gemstones, and a certain little white lapdog favored by leisured ladies the world over. It is likely that the Maltese was introduced to Malta by the Phoenicians, who ruled the Mediterranean before the rise of Greece. The Greeks of the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. were fascinated by the Maltese’s geometric beauty and left behind a rich legacy of breed-specific treasures: The “Melitaie Dog” is depicted on Golden Age ceramics, and Aristotle refers to it as “perfectly proportioned,” notwithstanding a diminutive stature. Aristocrats of the Roman Empire perfected the Maltese’s role of status symbol and fashion statement. A Roman matron wasn’t fully dressed without a “Roman Ladies’ Dog” peeking out of her sleeve or bosom. Even the crusty Emperor Claudius succumbed to the breed’s charm. The Maltese was a persistent motif in Roman myths, poems, and fables in which the breed symbolized loyalty. One legend concerns Saint Paul, the peripatetic apostle of early Christianity. The Acts of the Apostles recounts Paul’s shipwreck on Malta, where he miraculously healed the father of the island’s Roman governor, Publius. The grateful Publius, so the story goes, presented Paul with a Maltese. After the fall of Rome, it was Chinese breeders who kept the Maltese from extinction during Europe’s Dark Ages. The Chinese effected judicious crosses with their native toy breeds and exported a more refined Maltese back to Europe. With its immense charm and eye-catching looks, it comes as no surprise that the Maltese was a fixture at dog shows from the very beginning. At New York’s first Westminster show, in 1877, the breed was exhibited as the Maltese Lion Dog.