Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2010.



In 1896, Albert Mayr published a seminal paper in a respected German historical journal in which he expounded a critical analysis of Malta’s Early Christian, Byzantine and Arab periods whose written history had hitherto been largely based on legends, tradition and even fabrications. It is an unfortunate fact that, for quite a number of decades after his death in 1924, Mayr’s work was not really accorded appropriate recognition and a proper scientific approach to the study and exposition of certain areas of Maltese history only started coming to the fore after the 1960s. The Malta Historical Society, in this publication commemorating its sixtieth year of existence, is hereby giving due recognition to Mayr’s pioneering work by publishing this short tribute to a scholar whose study is one of the benchmarks in the historiography of Malta. The Malta Historical Society is pleased to publish an English translation of his 1896 paper by Ms Hanna Stöger – the first time such a translation is being published – preceded by a short biography (also by Ms Stöger) and personal comments by Professor Godfrey Wettinger.

Joseph F. Grima

ALBERT MAYR (1868-1924)[1]

Hanna Stöger*

Albert Mayr was born on the 26 September 1868 in Passau, Bavaria. He remained unmarried and died at the age of 56 in 1924. He grew up within a family dedicated to the legal professions – his father was a lawyer and later a magistrate, while his grandfather from his mother’s side was also a magistrate. At the same time, Mayr was exposed to history and archaeology from a very early age. His father, Otto Mayr, was an active member of a number of local historical and archaeological societies who even conducted self-financed excavations. His family’s ‘legal background’, as well as their keen interest in history and [p.18] archaeology, seemed to have not only influenced Mayr’s academic pursuits but also affected the way he argued his ‘archaeological cases’, as clearly expressed in his evidence-driven publications.

From 1889 to 1893, Albert Mayr studied at Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, where he was registered as a student of philology. In 1894, Mayr handed in his dissertation on Die antiken Münzen der Inseln Malta, Gozo und Pantelleria, in part-fulfilment for the attainment of a doctoral degree. His tutor, Oberhummer, had drawn Mayr’s attention towards Malta and encouraged him to embark on a more thorough study to produce a ‘historic-geographical monograph on Malta’. This encouragement materialised into a monograph published in 1909, Die Insel Malta im Altertum, that not only covered the Maltese megalithic culture but also included the Punic and Roman periods. Previously, in 1901, Mayr had published a monograph entitled Die vorgeschichtlichen Denkmäler von Malta in which he gave an account of the (then) known prehistoric buildings in Malta, realized that they were much older than the Phoenician period, and tried to assess their context and significance in Mediterranean prehistory.

Apart from these monographs dealing mainly with Maltese prehistory, an even earlier paper by Mayr was his seminal Zur Geschichte der älteren christlichen kirche von Malta published in 1896 in the historical journal Historisches Jahrbuch.[2] In this essay on Maltese historiography, Mayr argued for a scientific approach to the writing of the history of the early Christian Church in Malta and to discontinue basing its history on tradition in favour of written or archaeological evidence.

When still a university student, Mayr had his first appointment as a student teacher in 1891. His professional career, which lasted up to 1917, was that of a state-employed school teacher in secondary education. After extended sick leave, he was finally granted early retirement in 1920. Regrettably, Albert Mayr never acquired a position within the established academic circle of Munich, the university and the academy. He nonetheless remained committed to the archaeological research he had started with his doctoral thesis and persevered in his archaeological and historical studies throughout his life. His numerous publications and study tours suggest that, foremost, he was a scholar with a lifelong commitment to Mediterranean archaeology with a special focus on Malta. Albert Mayr’s work has survived through the works of subsequent scholars such as Professor John D. Evans[3] and Dr David Trump.[4]

[1] For more information about Albert Mayr cf. H. Stöger, ‘Albert Mayr (1868-1924)’, Malta Archaeological

Review, Issue 4, Malta 2000; Idem, Albert Mayr: A Legacy of Pioneer Work in Maltese Archaeology,

unpublished BA (Hons) dissertation, University of Malta, 1999.

* For an author-profile of Hanna Stöger, cf. infra, p.23.

[2] Vol. 17, 475-496. For comments on the importance of this essay, see the contribution of Prof. Godfrey Wettinger, infra, p. 19 sqq. For an English translation of this essay, the first-ever to be published, cf. H. Stoger’s translation, infra, p. 23 seq.

[3] J.D. Evans, Malta, in the Ancient Peoples and Places Series, 2nd impression, London 1963; Idem, The Prehistoric Antiquities of the Maltese Islands, London 1971.

[4] D.H. Trump, Malta: An Archaeological Guide, 2nd edition, Malta 1990; Idem, Malta Prehistory and Temples, Malta 2002.

Albert Mayr – A Pen-Portrait