The Maltese is the oldest European toy breeds, and amongst the oldest of all breeds. The breed itself can be traced back many centuries; Charles Darwin places them as far back at about 6ooo B.C. Though its exact origins are unknown, it is believed that they originated on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea, hence the name "Maltese". They are believed to be descended from a Spitz-like dog used for hunting in marshes and wooded areas in Southern Europe; though also thought to have been used for rodent control. Bred down to obtain its small size, the breed has bred true for centuries due to being kept on the island, Malta. Though it is also thought to have originated in Asia and may have helped to form the Lhasa Apso, Tibetan Terrier, Tibetan Spaniel, and even the Pekingese. They have been seen in Egyptian culture around 300-600 B.C., and on Greek vases around 500 B.C.
Brought to England by Crusaders and nomadic tribes, they soon became very popular with woman, who carried them around in their sleeves. They were favored by royalty, and it is said that Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Josephine Bonaparte and Marie Antoinette may have owned them.
In America, they were first shown as Maltese Lion Dogs around 1877, and were recognized in 1888 by the AKC.