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Lawrence of Arabia (1888-1935) - Biography

Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known asLawrence of Arabia was a British officer and writer who organized the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Among the works written by Lawrence of Arabia, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1926) is considered a major work of British literature, the dimension of which goes beyond the mere account of its adventures and its involvement in the Arab revolt.

An English aristocrat

Born August 16, 1888 in Wales, T E Lawrence came from an aristocratic background. A student at Oxford, he quickly developed a passion for history and archeology. In 1907 and 1908, he took long bicycle trips to discover French medieval architecture. A year later, he is found in Syria to prepare his thesis which will focus on military architecture, and more specifically on the influence of the Crusades on the art of European fortifications. In 1910, he joined the British Museum's archaeological expedition to Mesopotamia and then left for Sinai, where he learned Arabic.

The Orient, which he discovered while traveling on foot what is still part of the Ottoman Empire, fascinates him so much that he quickly returns there to become an archaeologist. Whether in Turkey, Mesopotamia or Egypt, he quickly stood out as a passionate and inspired scientist. Aware of the customs of the Arab peoples and mastering their languages ​​well, he was recruited in 1914 by the London intelligence services.

Lawrence of Arabia, guerrilla leader

Enlisting in the British army in October 1914, his cultural and linguistic knowledge earned him in June 1916 his appointment as a liaison officer to the Arab rebels Faisal ibn Hussein, who were fighting the Ottomans. It is the beginning of an epic, made of bloody bursts and daring initiatives. Lawrence, who has sympathy for the Arab cause, turns out to be a capable guerrilla leader. However, he remains a British officer and will always have London's interests in the region in mind. Thus he will not oppose the sharing of the Middle East Mandates between the French and the British, at the end of the First World War.

Having a definite influence on the way in which the British organized Iraq, he later gave up his political activities (he was even a time adviser to Churchill) to resume a military career (as a private), in the RAF in particular . Nevertheless, he is best known during the 20s and 30s, for his autobiography on his adventures in the Arab world: the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a book which beyond its literary qualities will according to some have an influence on the theories of the insurrectional war of the second half of the twentieth century.

May 19, 1935,Thomas Edward Lawrence dies following motorcycle accident in Dorset. One of the myths of the early twentieth century has just disappeared.

After his death, the already famous Lawrence was immortalized by Peter O'Toole in David Lean's famous feature film Lawrence of Arabia (1962).


- Lawrence of Arabia: The shattered dream of Jacques Benoist-Méchin, biography. Perrin, 2007.

- Lawrence of Arabia by André Guillaume, biography. Fayard, 2000.

To go further on Lawrence of Arabia

- Lawrence of Arabia - Prestige Edition 3 DVD, by David Lean, TF1 Video, 2009.

Video: History vs the movie Lawrence of Arabia an audio podcast (January 2022).