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 early work
Born Edgar Mallowan in Wandsworth on 6 May 1904, he was the son of Frederick Mallowan and his wife Marguerite (née Duvivier). He was educated at Rokeby School and Lancing College and studied classics at New College, Oxford.
The British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley was excavating Ur on behalf of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania from 1922. Max joined the excavation some three years later.
Meeting with and marriage to Agatha Christie
In 1928, after Christie divorced her husband Archie, she planned a holiday 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 Commander Howe and his wife, who had just returned from his being stationed in the Persian Gulf. The Howes awakened an interest in Christie to visit Baghdad, especially when the Howes pointed out that a part of the journey could be made by the famed Orient Express. The Howes also mentioned that not far from Baghdad, an archaeological expedition was uncovering the remains of the ancient city of Ur. This was something that Christie had been reading with an avid interest in the Illustrated London News. Entranced by the thought of such a journey, she changed her tickets at Thomas Cook's and set off for the orient.
On the journey, she found herself in the company of a tedious Englishwoman who was determined to take Christie "under her wing", although that was the last thing she wanted. Desperate to escape she travelled to Ur and made the acquaintance of the archaeological expedition's leader, Leonard Woolley (1880–1960), and his wife, Katharine (1888–1945). Visitors to the dig were usually discouraged, but Katharine Woolley was a great admirer of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and being an imperious and difficult woman who always got her way in things large and small. (Gertrude Bell described Katherine as "dangerous"). Christie was treated as an honoured guest. However, Max was not at the excavation during the time of Christie's visit.
Agatha and the Woolleys became instant friends. In 1929, Christie gave the Woolleys the temporary use of her then residence at 22 Cresswell Place in London. The Woolleys, in turn, invited her back to the dig for the next season. She accepted 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 in 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 wanting to please Katharine Woolley, agreed.
Agatha and Max got to know each other well and enjoyed being in each other's company during the sightseeing trip. They visited Nippur, Diwaniyah, Nejeif, Ukhaidir, and Kerbela and on a journey back to Baghdad, their car got stuck in the sand. Mallowan was impressed by the way in which Christie, rather than succumbing to panic in the heat and dust, just lay down in the car's shadow to sleep while a Bedouin went off for help. After being reunited with the Woolleys, most of the party made its way by stages to Greece where Christie received telegrams informing her that her daughter Rosalind (who was in the care of her sister at Abney Hall), was seriously ill with pneumonia. Christie set off for home by a four-day train journey with Max accompanying her.
Max subsequently 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, which came somewhat as a shock to her. 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 was vehement in her opposition and adamant that Agatha not marry Max. Their son, Jack Watts who had been at New College, Oxford with Max was also opposed, supposedly due to mistrust of his new ‘uncle’.
Agatha accepted and she 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.
Further archaeological work
In 1932, 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 undesirable characteristics. 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 he 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 approval from nineteen landowners; 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 Cruikshank 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 millennium BC. In his memoirs, simply titled Mallowan'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", which was his and Agatha's for the remainder of 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 the 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 Tutankhamun'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 the 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 reveled 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 Wallingford, Oxfordshire, in 1978.
In 1976 the British School of Archaeology in Iraq awarded Mallowan the Gertrude Bell Memorial Gold medal, a medal awarded to individuals for outstanding services to Mesopotamian archaeology.