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Max von Oppenheim

Max von Oppenheim personifies an extraordinary combination of manifold interests and talents. His achievements as a scholar have largely endured to this day while his individuality serves as a window on the cultural, economic, and political currents of his time, especially as experienced in the German Empire.


Disparate facets and careers are hallmarks of Max von Oppenheim’s extraordinary life. He was a travelling scholar and adventurer, ethnologist and archaeologist, academic administrator and museum founder, active in politics and an engaged intermediary between the Orient and the West.

In Service at the Foreign Office

In terms of Germany’s policies towards the Orient, probably no other historical figure has been more maligned than Max von Oppenheim, the Cologne banker’s son. He was neither the frequently invoked spy and agitator nor did he execute German foreign policy in the Near East. Hans Krailshaimer’s dictum about the danger of half-truths is pertinent in Oppenheim’s case: the wrong half is always believed.

The Researcher

The wish to travel through the Middle East, to explore the landscape and to describe it in a scholarly manner determined Oppenheim’s life as a researcher from the very first. Without these journeys, he would not have found his way to the two subjects that determined his work for decades: ethnography, with his focus on the Bedouin, and archaeology, traceable to his nearly coincidental discovery of Tell Halaf.

Dates and Events