The Maltese archipelago has a history of colonial control spanning centuries.
Located south of the Italian island of Sicily between Europe and North Africa, it has been occupied by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, the Knights of Malta, and latterly France and Britain.
Independence from Britain was achieved in 1964, after the Maltese people were awarded the George Cross for defending the crucial military bases there during the Second World War.
Over the centuries, Malta's strategic position has fostered its development as an important trading post, and it remains a leading centre for container and freight transhipment.
Malta is a popular holiday destination, and tourism is the nation's main source of income.
President: George Vella
George Vella was elected unopposed as Malta's tenth president in April 2019 in a parliamentary vote.
He is a veteran Labour Party politician, who has served variously as deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
The presidency is a largely symbolic post.
Prime Minister: Robert Abela
Robert Abela took over as prime minister and Labour Party leader in January 2020, when his predecessor Joseph Muscat resigned in the fallout from the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Joseph Muscat became prime minister in March 2013, when the Labour Party returned to power after 15 years in opposition.
He was credited with boosting Malta's economy, but criticised for failing to rein in the corruption that Ms Caruana Galizia was investigating when she was killed by a car bomb in 2017.
Mr Muscat's handling of the murder inquiry caused widespread anger and he was accused of protecting allies implicated in the investigation, which he denies.
Mr Abela, the son of former President George Abela, was first elected to parliament in 2017 at the age of 40, and had held no ministerial posts when he stood for the party leadership against Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne.
Seen as a continuity candidate, Mr Abela avoided criticising Mr Muscat or his handling of the inquiry into Ms Caruana Galizia's death during the leadership campaign.
Many of Malta's newspapers and broadcasters have strong political affiliations. Dailies and weeklies appear in Maltese and English.
Maltese radio began in the mid-1930s, partly to counter Fascist propaganda broadcasts from Italy.
Some key dates in Malta's history:
1814 - Malta becomes a crown colony of the British Empire.
1939-1945 - Malta suffers heavy bombing by German and Italian air forces targeting Allied bases.
1964 - Independence.
1974 - Malta becomes republic.
2004 - Joins the European Union.
2008 - Malta adopts the euro.
2020 - Labour Prime Minister Joseph Muscat quits in a political scandal over the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.