The Sovereign Military Order of Malta or SMOM is a Catholic lay order and a sovereign entity with permanent observer status at the United Nations. Their origins are traced to the medieval Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of Malta, and they are today a largely charitable and ceremonial organization.
The full official name is Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta or Sovrano Militare Ordine Ospedaliero di San Giovanni di Gerusalemme di Rhodi e di Malta. They are now also known as the Order of Malta. The order has a large number of local chapters around the world but there also exist a number of organizations with similar-sounding names that are unrelated.
The exact nature of the entity is somewhat nebulous: it is a traditional example of an entity, other than a country, that is sovereign. Yet they are based in, and do own territory in Rome, which is considered extraterritorial to Italy: if this were to be considered SMOM territory, they would be a country, while if it is considered as an embassy to Italy, they would be a sovereign organization: the United Nations does not classify the SMOM as a "non-member state" but as one of the "entities and intergovernmental organizations having received a standing invitation to participate as observers."
The SMOM has diplomatic relations with some 75 countries. Its sovereignty is useful in enabling it to pursue its humanitarian activities without being seen as an operative of any particular nation. Its sovereignty is also expressed in the issuance of coins and stamps, which are appreciated more for their subject matter rather than for use as postage or currency. Note that the SMOM website does not indicate the production of any coins after 2001, which may indicate that production ceased with the introduction of the Euro. As of late 2003 stamps are still being issued denominated in grani, tari, and scudi.