Max Mallowan

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sir Max Mallowan
Mallowan and Agatha Christie in 1950
Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan

(1904-05-06)6 May 1904
Wandsworth, London, England
Died19 August 1978(1978-08-19) (aged 74)
Greenway, Devon, England
Resting placeChurch of St Mary, Cholsey, Oxfordshire, England
Alma materNew College, Oxford
(m. 1930; died 1976)
(m. 1977)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of London
All Souls College, Oxford

Sir Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan, CBE, FBA, FSA (6 May 1904 – 19 August 1978) was a prominent British archaeologist and academic, specialising in the Ancient Near East. Having studied classics at Oxford University, he trained in archaeology under Leonard Woolley at Ur and under Reginald Campbell Thompson at Nineveh. He then led a number of archaeological expeditions sponsored by the British Museum and the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. He was the second husband of Dame Agatha Christie, having met during the excavation at Ur in 1930. He served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during the Second World War, and then entered academia. He was Professor of Western Asiatic Archaeology at the University of London (1947–1962) and a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford (1962–1971).

Early life and education[edit]

Born Edgar Mallowan on 6 May 1904 in Wandsworth, London, England,[1] to Frederick Mallowan, a businessman who has served in the Austrian horse artillery, and his wife Marguerite (née Duvivier), whose mother was mezzo-soprano Marthe Duvivier.[2][3] His father's family was from Austria.[4] He was educated at Rokeby School, and all-boys preparatory school, and Lancing College, then an all-boys independent boarding school (where he was a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh and Humphrey Trevelyan).[5] He left school at 17 to matriculate into the University of Oxford, where he studied literae humaniores (i.e. classics) at New College, Oxford.[5][6] He achieved a Fourth-class honours in Mods in 1923 and third-class honours in Greats in 1925.[3] Among others, he was taught by H. A. L. Fisher, Percy Gardner and Gilbert Murray.[5]


Mallowan (third from left) with the 1928-29 Ur expedition staff

Early archaeology career[edit]

It was through H. A. L. Fisher, the warden of his college, that Mallowan was introduced to D. G. Hogarth and then to Leonard Woolley.[5] He first worked as an apprentice to Woolley at the archaeological site of Ur (1925–1930),[6] which was thought to be the capital of Mesopotamian civilisation. It was at the Ur site, in 1930, that he first met Agatha Christie, the famous author, whom he married the same year.[7] In 1932, he spent a short time working at Nineveh with Reginald Campbell Thompson, where he made a 21 metre-deep shaft down to natural in the Kuyunjiq tell.[3]

Mallowan then became a field director for a series of expeditions jointly run by the British Museum and the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. His excavations included the prehistoric village at Tell Arpachiyah, and the sites at Chagar Bazar and Tell Brak[6] in the Upper Khabur area (Syria). He was also the first to excavate archaeological sites in the Balikh Valley, to the west of the Khabur basin. In December 1933, he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (FSA).[8]

War service[edit]

Following the outbreak of the Second World War he served with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in North Africa, being based for part of 1943 at the ancient city of Sabratha in Libya. He was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation in the Administrative and Special Duties Branch on 11 February 1941,[9] promoted flying officer on 18 August 1941,[10] flight lieutenant on 1 April 1943[11] and at some point he also held the rank of wing commander. His first role in the RAF was as a liaison officer with allied forces and, later in the war, as a civilian affairs officer in North Africa.[3] He resigned his commission on 10 February 1954, but was permitted to retain that rank in retirement.[12]

Academic career[edit]

After the war, in 1947, he was appointed Professor of Western Asiatic Archaeology at the University of London.[6] He also served as director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq from 1947 to 1961. He directed the resumption of its work at Nimrud (previously excavated by A. H. Layard), which he published in Nimrud and its Remains (2 volumes, 1966). Mallowan gave an account of his work in Twenty-five Years of Mesopotamian Discovery (1956) and his wife Agatha Christie described his work in Syria in Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946).[13] In 1954, he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA), the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences.[3] He served as vice-president of the British Academy from 1961 to 1962.[3] Having left the University of London, he was elected a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford in 1962.[14] This was a senior research fellowship that removed the requirement to teach and so he could concentrate on writing up the excavations at Nimrud.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Agatha Christie died in 1976; the following year, Mallowan married Barbara Hastings Parker, an archaeologist, who had been his epigraphist at Nimrud and Secretary of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq.

He died on 19 August 1978, aged 74, at Greenway House in Devon[15] and was interred alongside his first wife in the churchyard of St Mary's, Cholsey[16] in Oxfordshire. His estate was valued at £524,054.[17] His second wife, Barbara, died in Wallingford in 1993, at the age of 85.[18]


Mallowan was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1960 Queen's Birthday Honours,[19] and knighted in 1968.[20][21] He gave the 1969 Albert Reckitt Archaeological Lecture.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2019, Mallowan was portrayed by Jonah Hauer-King in the film Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar.

In 2022, Mallowan was portrayed by Lucian Msamati in the British-American film See How They Run.

Selected works[edit]

  • Mallowan, M. E. L. (1956). Twenty-five years of Mesopotamian discovery (1932-1956). London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq.
  • Mallowan, M. E. L. (1965). Early Mesopotamia And Iran. The Library of Early Civilizations. London: Thames and Hudson.
  • Mallowan, M. E. L. (1966). Nimrud and its Remains. London: Collins on behalf of The British School of Archaeology in Iraq.
  • Mallowan, M. E. L. (1970). "VIII: The development of cities: from Al-'Ubaid to the end of Uruk". In Edwards, I. E. S.; Gadd, C. J.; Hammond, N. G. L. (eds.). Prolegomena and Prehistory. The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 327–462.
  • Mallowan, Max; Davies, Leri Glynne (1970). Ivories in Assyrian Style, Commentary, Catalogue and Plates. London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FreeBMD Entry Info".
  2. ^ Henrietta McCall (2001). The life of Max Mallowan: archaeology and Agatha Christie. British Museum Press. ISBN 9780714111490.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Keating, H. R. F. "Mallowan, Sir Max Edgar Lucien (1904–1978)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/31403. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ "Desert digs of a crime queen". 8 March 2002.
  5. ^ a b c d e Oates, David (1990). "Mallowan, Max Edgar Lucien, 1904-1978" (PDF). Proceedings of the British Academy. 76: 499–511. Retrieved 7 April 2024.
  6. ^ a b c d "Sir Max Mallowan | British archaeologist | Britannica".
  7. ^ "Max Mallowan". Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  8. ^ "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries". The Antiquaries Journal. 14 (2): 233–234. 1934. doi:10.1017/S0003581500051362.
  9. ^ "No. 35106". The London Gazette. 14 March 1941. p. 1528.
  10. ^ "No. 35292". The London Gazette. 14 March 1941. pp. 5668–5669.
  11. ^ "No. 36059". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 June 1943. p. 2777.
  12. ^ "No. 40234". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 July 1954. p. 4249.
  13. ^ "Agatha Christie helped in uncovering Iraq's ancient Nimrud". Associated Press.
  14. ^ "Mallowan, Sir Max (Edgar Lucien), (6 May 1904–19 Aug. 1978), Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, 1962–71, Emeritus Fellow, 1976; Professor of Western Asiatic Archæology, University of London, 1947–62, now Emeritus Professor". Who Was Who. Oxford University Press. 1 December 2007. Retrieved 7 April 2024.
  15. ^ D. S (1979). "Sir Max Mallowan". Iran. 17: v–vii. JSTOR 4299666.
  16. ^ "Dame Agatha Christie & Sir Max Mallowan".
  17. ^ "Find a will | GOV.UK".
  18. ^ Deaths England and Wales 1984-2006 (subscription required)
  19. ^ "No. 42051". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 June 1960. p. 3983.
  20. ^ "No. 44600". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 May 1968. p. 6300.
  21. ^ "No. 44717". The London Gazette. 15 November 1968. p. 21305.
  22. ^ Mallowan, Max (1971). "Elamite Problems" (PDF). Proceedings of the British Academy. 55: 255–292.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Max Mallowan at Wikimedia Commons