Source: Melita Historica : [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 6(1974)3(322-324)

[p.322] A Maltese Casale: 1436 [1]

Anthony Luttrell

         During the fifteenth century a class of notables or oligarchs, most of whom were more or less recently established in Malta, came to dominate the island’s affairs; they secured control of local government through the universitas, and of lucrative royal appointments such as the secrezia or financial office and the Castellanship of Birgu castle. Despite the promises made by King Alfonso V after the uprising against Gonsalvo de Monroy in 1426, the king continued to sell or pawn the highest posts in the island to Spaniards or Sicilians who were willing to advance cash. [2] By 1436 the tensions caused by such corrupt forms of government could be felt at a local level. The casale of Raħal Allun or Hellul in the east of the island between Tarxien and Zabbar was uninhabited; the secreto, or his deputy the credenziero, had granted it at an annual census to certain influential figures from Birgu castle; and the men of the neighbouring casale of Targel, presumably Raħal Tarxien, [3] were suffering in consequence. Their actual complaint was that their own animals were being presa addamagiu, that is seized and held in reprisal while, pasturing on Raħal Allun. This was not an area of marginal cultivation, and behind the protest of 1436 there may possibly have lain another factor, a process of enclosure by the oligarchs which would have forced men away from certain casali, thus producing desertions which would, in that case, have been as much the result as a cause of this enclosing movement; but that remains a hypothesis. [4]

         The political background is also obscure; the document subsequently [p.323] issued by the viceroy gave no reasons and mentioned no names. Simone de Mazzara had been appointed secreto on 12 November 1436, following the death of the Castilian Guttierez de Nava who had been both the secreto of Malta and the Castellan of Birgu castle. [5] Clearly there was a chance to act against those whom Guttierez de Nava had favoured. In the face of the oligarchs, the men of Targel, acting as the uniuersitati of the casale, petitioned the viceroy in Sicily with the suggestion that they, as an universitati, be allowed to lease Raħal Allun at the same census. At Catania on 21 December 1436 the viceroy quashed the original concession and instructed the secreto and credenziero to grant Raħal Allun in perpetual emphyteusis to the men of Targel. In so doing he recognized, at least implicitly, the juridical existence of some sort of local corporation, however loose and informal, which was separate from the universitas of the city at Mdina; that was the uniuersitas hominum targel. [6]

         pro uniuersitate hominum targel de Insole meliueti [7]

         Alfonsus etc Vicereges etc Secreto Ciuitatis et Insole meliueti et vel cridenzerio dicte secretie consiliario et fidelibus regijs salutem Nouamenti per parti dila uniuersitati dilj homini di lu casalj de targel di la dicta Insola nj fu expostu humilimenti ki hactenus non est t[rop]pu ip[su] [8] alcunj habitaturj dila dicta Insola et dilu castellu si Inpetraru dilu secretu passatu oy da cui exercia lu dictu officiu et da vuj dictu credinzerj unu casalj dishabitatu chamatu Ragal allun cum lj soy spacij et tenuti vichinj alu dictu casalj de reichel per certu annualj Inchensu comu apparj per lu quaternu dila secretia prefata per farindi paxiriaglj oy cludirilj dila qualj cosa per la troppu vichinitati et pratica dilj homini et habitaturj dilu dictu casalj de reichel et di loru animalj kj dilj dicti spacij non si possu spisarj oy viuirj di senza si sentinu multu lesi maxime ki loru bestiami andandu apaxirj siria sempre presa addamagiu Et Ipsi per euitarj quisti Inconuenienti si proponinu hauirj ad tantu Inchensu quantu foru dati achillj altrj dilu castellu dila Insola et farindi comitati dilu dictu casalj loru Et per tantu nj fu supplicatu kj reuocata la prima [p.324] concessionj prenominata nj plachissi regia pro parte conchedirj per quillu midesmj Inchensu alj habitanti dilu dictu casalj de reichel lu dictu casalj dishabitatu cum lj soy spacij prementionati Nuj vero considerandu li cosi prenotati hauimu maturamenti prouistu et cossi vi comandamu si sic est ut predicitur kj Reuocandu et anullandu la prima concessionj Indi fachiti noua concessionj ad perpetuam emphiteosim sub eodem jure census annuj alj dicti supplicanti laqualj cosa exequiti vuj secretu et credenzerj oy vuj credenzerj In absencia dilu dictu secretu fachendondi farj de his omnibus oportunu Instrumentu et Rescriptu ad rey eternam memoriam et fachendondi specifica mencionj In lj librj dila dicta secretia datum Cathanie sub signo unius propter absentiam alterius xxj° decembris xv Indictionis anno dominj m°cccc°xxxvj° babtista de plathamone

stefanus secretarius mandato

domini viceregis



[1]            This document, first noticed by Henri Bresc who most kindly helped with its publication, is presented by way of example; while it is evidently dangerous to read too much into a single isolated text, its publication may encourage students of medieval Malta to exploit the wealth of material at Palermo.

[2]            See H. Bresc, “The Secrezia and the Royal Patrimony at Malta: 1240-1450,” in Medieval Maltese Studies, ed. A. Luttrell (London, in press).

[3]            On raħal, casale etc., see G. Wettinger, “The Lost Villages and Hamlets of Malta,” ibid. Wettinger shows that in 1419/20 Ħal Hellul was a casale which, jointly with Saflieni, provided 12 militiamen; it was documented as a raħal and it disappeared before 1530, becoming a contrata. It was certainly next to Tarxien, which still exists and must have been the Targel of 1436. That Tarxien was then three times described as lu dictu casalj de reichel might be explained as an error by a Sicilian scribe.

[4]            As already suspected by Wettinger, ibid: “The rapacity of the nobles and other large landowners may well have been responsible for certain village desertions, but there is no proof of this in the documents available.” Ħal Ellul lay at the western end of the fief of Buleben, and is one of the casali mentioned by Wettinger in this connection.

[5]            Bresc, note 124 et passim.

[6]            Little is known at present about the status and organization of the Maltese casale. This seems to be the only example so far published of a casale having a universitas, though it is known that, in 1462 for example, representatives of the casali were summoned to meetings of the universitas at Mdina: A. Mifsud, “La Cattedrale e l’Università, ossia, il Comune e la Chiesa in Malta,” La Diocesi: Bollettino ufficiale ecclesiastico di Malta, ii (1917/8), 42. The meaning of the passage farindi comitati dilu dictu casalj in the 1436 text is not clear.

[7]             Palermo, Archivio di Stato, Cancelleria Reg. 71, f. 415v (olim 365v).

[8]             Illegible; perhaps troppu tempu or tempu ipsu, and presumably meaning “not long ago.”