Who Was Lawrence of Arabia?

Lawrence of Arabia was a key figure in the movement for Arab home rule and independence from Ottoman, and then Western European, foreign control.


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Thomas Edward Lawrence, to become better known as T.E Lawrence of Arabia, was born on August 16th, 1888 in Tremadog, in the Welsh County of Caernarfonshire in the United Kingdom. His family moved around during his childhood before they settled in Oxford, England. There, Lawrence attended the City of Oxford High School for Boys. Due to his love from an early age of history and archaeology, he visited every nearby village's parish church around Berkshire, and studied each of their monuments and antiquities. Thomas Edward Lawrence then studied history at Jesus College, Oxford from 1907 to 1910, during which time he visited the Crusader castles in faraway Ottoman Syria. After graduation, he went on to conduct his postgraduate research at Magdalen College in Oxford. However, he dropped his studies when he was offered a job as an archaeologist in the Middle East.


During his studies, Lawrence had travelled extensively within the Ottoman Empire. In so doing, T.E. became very familiar with the region's geography, archaeology, and culture. From 1911 to 1914, Lawrence worked for the British Museum on archaeological excavations and, after World War I broke out in 1914, he joined the ranks of British military intelligence. He became a valuable asset to his country's military strategicists, especially as Britain's Foreign Office conceived a campaign against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East that was central to their interests. He fought along with Arab soldiers against the Turks during the war, and together they launched many major victories that made Arab independence a closer reality.

Major Contributions

Being a political liaison officer, Lawrence joined Amir Faisal al Husayn's revolt against the Ottoman Turks, leading a guerilla campaign that harassed the Turks from behind. He also supported British General Allenby's campaign to capture Jerusalem. In 1917, he also helped the Turks to attack Aqaba, which was a valuable port town and served as a Turkish fort. He actively fought alongside the Arab fighters, and they launched major, and ultimately victorious, campaigns together. During the Battle of Tafileh in 1918, Lawrence fought with Arabs under the command of Jafar Pasha al-Askari, and they reached another key victory. Lawrence was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel that same year, and was awarded the Distinuished Service Order for his role at Tafileh.


In 1917, Lawrence was captured at Daraa, and subsequently tortured and even sexually abused. Long periods of guerrilla raids, warfares, and and captures in harsh situations brought further physical, psychological, and emotional traumas to him as well. He bore all the pressures as he longed for an independent Arabia. During the latter campaigns of the war, Lawrence sought to convince his superiors in the British government that the independence of Arabia was in their best interests, but did not really succeed in persuading them. Instead, the U.K. and France signed the Skyes-Picot Agreement, setting forth their sharing of influence and control over the Middle East. Lawrence, emotionally exhausted and physically drained, returned home to England after the war.

Death and Legacy

Two months after leaving military service, Lawrence was severely injured in a motorcycle accident that ultimately proved to be fatal. T.E. Lawrence died on May 19th, 1935, in Clouds Hill, Dorest, England, at the age of 46. He is remembered as a legendary figure for his dedication to the independence of Arabia and a prolific writer and thinker, as well as an archeologist and artist. Several of his books, such as Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Revolt in the Dessert, are still considered very important texts today on the Middle East. Lawrence of Arabia received many medals and honors during his lifetime, and his life story has also been adapted into numerous films, television shows, and theatrical performances.


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