The history of the Maltese dog dates back thousands of years. Believed to be one of the oldest of all toy breeds, Maltese history starts with the ancient Egyptians; artifacts depicting Maltese-like dogs suggest the little animals were prized by that culture. The Maltese history timeline continues with the Greeks and Romans, who held the Maltese in high regard as well. These early cultures even inspired one of the Maltese's nicknames: people believed the Maltese had healing powers, and these dogs would be put on the pillows of the ill or infirm to cure their sickness. Ever since, the breed has been has known as "The Comforter."
Healing powers or no, exact Maltese origin has been long debated. While a majority of historians believe the origin of Maltese dogs is the island of Malta, an archipelago off the southern coast of Italy--hence the breed name--others maintain that Maltese dogs' origin is actually the Italian mainland. Still others say true Maltese dog origin begins in Asia, where the breed is an ancestor to other toy breeds from that continent. All this to say that the the answer to "Where are Maltese from?" might have numerous answers!
Whatever the case, the Maltese grew in popularity through the centuries. During the expansion of modern Europe, the breed became a favorite lapdog for British and French royalty, and in paintings from the era Maltese dogs were often portrayed accompanying women.
By about 1700, though, Maltese heritage almost came to an end, as breeders tried to reduce the dog's size even more; the breed was almost destroyed as a result. The Maltese was saved only through the efforts of resourceful breeders who crossed the few remaining dogs with other small breeds like the Poodle and various spaniels. The Maltese breed was saved--and this "creative breeding" actually saw the formation of other toy breeds like the Bichon Frise and the Bolognese.
By the turn of the 20th century, the Maltese was popular worldwide. Today, these toy-sized dogs and their flowing white coats are always crowd favorites at dog shows. The Maltese ranks 37th on the American Kennel Club's list of 195 recognized breeds.