Sir Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan, Order of the British Empire, CBE (6 May 1904 – 19 August 1978) was a prominent British archaeologist, specialising in ancient Middle Eastern history, and the second husband of Dame Agatha Christie.
Life and work[edit | edit source]
Max worked at Ur under the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley three years after Woolley began. Woolley was excavating Ur on behalf of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife Katharine had met Agatha Christie in 1928, the same year she was divorced from her husband Archie. She had plans to go to the West Indies and Jamaica, to get away and "seek sunshine", as she put it. However, two days before her departure, she was at a dinner party in London, where she met a young naval officer who started talking about Baghdad and visiting Ur. He and his wife were so enthusiastic about it, telling Agatha where exactly to go, that she changed her tickets for Jamaica to the Middle East instead. It was in Ur she did meet the Woolleys, but Mr. Mallowan was absent during Agatha's first trip.
Agatha and the Woolleys became instant friends; the Woolleys stayed in a new London cottage of Agatha's after the season was over. They encouraged her to return again to Ur. She agreed, and went down to "the cradle of civilization" in March 1930. It was there she met Max, when he was 26 years of age. She described him as "a thin, dark, young man, and very quiet." She described Max also as a man who succeeded managing people, like the workmen at the dig or even Mrs. Woolley. Managing Katharine Woolley was an accomplishment, for she was a temperamental woman and always made people feel they were walking on eggshells or something similar. Max was set to depart to England after the season of work, but was asked by Mrs. Woolley to give Agatha a tour of the various digs and cities. Agatha felt terribly bad about this; she was certain this young man (thirteen years younger than Agatha) was looking forward to heading home. Max, always pleasing Katharine Woolley, did take Agatha on a tour to Nippur, Nejef, and Kerbala. The sight-seeing trip was certainly successful. Agatha and Max got to know each other well and enjoyed being in each other's company.
At the end of the season at Ur, Mr. Mallowan came and visited Agatha and her daughter Rosalind in Devon. She took Max on a tour of the moors there under the Devon rain. It was the second night he was staying at Ashfield that he proposed to Agatha. She immediately said "no", arguing with him for roughly two hours. She was concerned about the difference in age between the two (Max was thirteen years younger than her); she went back and forth in her mind saying "yes" to marriage and then to "no" again. Her supporters were her daughter Rosalind and her secretary, Carlo Fisher; James Watts (her brother-in-law) changed his stance on Agatha's decision of marriage after he met Max. Madge (James' wife and sister of Agatha) was adamant in her opinion that Agatha not marry Max. Agatha and Max did marry in September of 1930, just six months after first meeting each other. It was a quiet affair with no reporters (just what they wanted) and it was simply just Rosalind, Carlo Fisher, Mary (Carlo's sister), and Peter (Agatha's wirehaired terrier) witnessing the wedding. They were married in St. Columba's Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. The honeymoon was solely planned by Mr. Mallowan, which took them to Italy, then to Yugoslavia (cities in what is now Croatia), and finally to Greece.
Max (with Agatha accompanying him) then travelled to Nineveh to work for a Reginald Campbell Thompson (CT, for short), an archaeologist and Oriental scholar. The Woolleys weren't exactly happy for him to leave Ur, but Max was determined to discover new archaeological finds. The point for going to Nineveh (and it was the agreement with CT) was for Max to dig deep in the ancient city, to discover "pre-history". Pre-historic civilizations at that time had become more popular because up till that time, most excavations were of a "historical" nature. While Max was there, he found that his work involved riding a horse. CT was known to be a cheapskate--he would always go cheap which included the horses. The horses he would purchase were ones with an undesirable characteristic. The horse Max rode was very difficult to ride (it would certainly rear and buck), but managed to never fall off the horse. The lesson of CT's stayed with Max: "Remember that to fall off your horse means that not a single workman will have a scrap of respect for you." It was a little difficult for Max to be there with CT, for CT didn't understand why there was so much fuss over pottery (a lot was found deep in the earth at Nineveh) and instead insisted that what mattered was the written word, or the historical record.
While he was at Nineveh, Max was attracted to a site named Arpachiyah, only four miles east of where he was digging. Agatha actually egged him on to investigate that small area, surmising that the pottery there would be very beautiful (they had examined broken shards of pottery from there found by the villagers) . It took much paperwork to receive an approval from nineteen land owners; luckily for Max, the Department of Antiquities in Baghdad and the British Consul lent a helping hand in clearing the way for the dig to begin. The excavation yielded structures in very poor condition, pieces of pottery, and obsidian knives. Max and John Rose, a draughtsman working at Ur who was persuaded to help, buoyed each other up with excitement for the work--they had one letdown after another. One day, the team uncovered a burned potter's shop--all intact with gleaming cups, dishes, pottery, and vases. The colors of such pieces were to be scarlet red, orange, and black. Agatha said she and Max were "bursting with happiness" because of this marvelous discovery of pottery and ivory dating back to the fourth millenium BC. In his memoirs, simply titledMallowan's Memoirs (1977), Max said Arpachiyah "[stood] out as the happiest and most rewarding: it opened a new and enthralling chapter and will forever stand as a milestone on the long road of prehistory." It was after this excavation led by Max Mallowan that focus in the archaeological world shifted from Iraq to Syria.
During the period of work in Syria, Agatha and Max purchased a house in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, an area which they both loved very much. Winterbrook House, was described by Agatha Christie as "Max's house", was his and Agatha's for the remainder for both of their lives. They didn't stay at Winterbrook House for very long at first, having to return to Syria for more excavations. While they were in Syria (1938), Agatha's daughter Rosalind came to help. She was enlisted by Max to make drawings of the painted pots they discovered on the dig, which later were reproduced in a book about the dig in Tell Brak, Syria. A thorough account of the work in Syria was detailed in Agatha's book Come, Tell Me How You Live.
After his archaeological work finished in 1938, Max volunteered for the Royal Air Force and was sent to North Africa (circa 1942). At this time, Agatha Christie worked at a hospital dispensary in London and wrote the book about the time when she and Max were in Syria. It was also at this time that Agatha wrote two stories, one featuring Hercule Poirot and the other Jane Marple. As she was in London during the air raids, she wrote these two books in anticipation of her being killed. These heavily insured manuscripts were placed in a bank vault in eventuality of her death. The Marple book--Sleeping Murder was written for Max. Max returned three years later from Africa; Agatha writes in her An Autobiography: "I am writing this in 1965. And that was in 1945. Twenty years, but it does not seem like twenty years. The war years do not seem like real years, either. They were a nightmare in which reality stopped." Agatha fondly remembers in her autobiography of the night when Max returned, they ate burned kippers (herring) on a freezing night. When Max returned, he worked for the Air Ministry and they were still in London. The year 1948 provided a career highlight to Max; archaeology was gaining momentum and there was renewed interest in digging in Iraq once more.
Iraqi authorities, and the Department of Antiquities in Baghdad, were enticing archaeologists to return with a deal: any unique object found would go to the Baghdad Museum and any duplicates could be kept by the excavation team. In 1947, Max was offered a position as a professor at the Institute of Archaeology at London University, and as its Chair of Western Asiatic Archaeology. This enabled him to do excavation work himself for some months of the year. So, ten years after having left the Middle East, Max and Agatha travelled to Nimrud, Iraq. He set his sights on Nimrud since it hadn't been worked on for almost a hundred years. He ranked this site as important as King Tut's tomb, the Knossos site on Crete, and even Ur where he had previously worked on. With financial backing from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the ten-year project began. The work yielded discoveries such as a great fort just outside the city, various palaces around the area, and the unveiling of the history of the Assyrian military capital named Calah. In her autobiography, Agatha Christie says this about the work there: "How thrilling it was; the patience, the care that was needed; the delicacy of touch. And the most exciting day of all . . . when the workmen came rushing into house from their work clearing out as Assyrian well, and cried: 'We have found a woman in the well! There is a woman in the well!'" She had a part to play in the work, which she revelled in: the cleaning of the objects unearthed. She once described the feeling she got while cleaning: "One does feel proud to belong to the human race when one sees the wonderful things human beings have fashioned with their hands. They have been creators--they must share a little the holiness of the Creator." She also wrote in her autobiography, "I am unabashedly devoted to the objects of craftsmanship and art which turn up out of the soil. I daresay the first is more important [ie, the digging], but for me there will never be any fascination like the work of human hands." Max's book Nimrud and its Remains, published in 1966, detailed his ten-year archaeological work of Nimrud. Agatha described her husband's success in Nimrud as "his life work: what he has been moving steadily towards ever since 1921. I am proud of him and happy for him. It seems a kind of miracle that both he and I should have succeeded in the work we wanted to do." Max and Agatha retired from the Nimrud dig in 1958 and returned to England.
However, Max Mallowan hadn't forgotten the Middle East for very long. He assisted in the creation of an archaeological school in Iran in 1961, called the British Institute of Persian Studies, and served as its first president. In 1962, Max resigned from his Chair of Western Asiatic Archaeology and was a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford from 1962 till 1971 and was made Emeritus Fellow in 1976. As previously mentioned, he made a detailed report of his work at Nimrud in his book Nimrud and its Remains, published in 1966. He travelled the United States on a well-received lecture tour. Max was honored by his country when he was knighted in 1968 for his services to archaeology. In 1973 he became a Trustee of the British Museum. Agatha died in 1976 in her home of Winterbrook House in Wallingford; the next year Max married Barbara Parker, who had served as his epigraphist at Nimrud and as secretary of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, where Max also served as director from 1947 to 1961. That same year, 1977, his autobiography Mallowan's Memoirs was published. It gives a selective account of his life, chiefly his childhood, education, marriage, and career. He does say in it how Agatha died, peacefully and gently, leaving him now with a feeling of emptiness after 45 years of a wonderful marriage. He also died in Wallingord, Oxfordshire, in 1978.