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Lawrence of Arabia’s Bedouin Robes

Lawrence of Arabia - Bedouin Robes

T. E. Lawrence’s Arab Robes

These Bedouin Robes belonged to Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888 – 1935), a British archaeologist, army-officer, diplomat, and writer. He became renowned for his role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

Lawrence’s role in the Arab Revolt and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign (1915-1918) and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame as “Lawrence of Arabia.”

T. E. Lawrence was infamous for his scruffy appearance when in the British Khaki uniform. However, Lawrence took on quite a different guise when his friend King Faisal of Iraq suggested he dress in his set of Arab wedding clothes.

Initially, Lawrence’s important role in the British campaigns in the Middle East during World War I was not well known.

However, in 1918, Lowell Thomas, an American writer, and broadcaster, met Lawrence in his Arab uniform and was inspired to capture his story. 

Thomas shot a great deal of film and many photographs involving Lawrence. Thomas used this material to produced a stage presentation that included a lecture. The show premiered successfully in New York in 1919, and he was invited to take his show to England.

Lawrence of Arabia - Bedouin Robes

Lawrence of Arabia by Augustus John, 1919

Thomas’s photos of Lawrence dressed as a Bedouin captured the public’s imagination, so he had Lawrence photographed more extensively in London in his Arab dress.

Lawrence worked with Thomas on the creation of the presentation, providing details and backstories and posing for many photographs.

Thomas re-launched his show giving “Lawrence in Arabia” an even more prominent role in the lecture and presentation, which proved to be extremely popular.

The new title and the success of the revised show and lectures elevated Lawrence from a supporting role to a featured role in the Near Eastern campaign. Thomas’ performances made the previously obscure Lawrence into a household name.

Lawrence of Arabia - Bedouin Robes
The Khanjar ceremonial dagger presented to T. E. Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia

After the war, Lawrence served as an advisor to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office in 1920. He traveled to the Middle East on multiple occasions and, at one time holding the title of “chief political officer for Trans-Jordania.”

In 1922, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman, under the name John Hume Ross. However, Lawrence was forced out of the RAF in 1923 after his identity was exposed. He changed his name to T. E. Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps later that year. Many more adventures followed, including work in British India, where he was accused of spying, returning to Britain, specializing in high-speed boats, and air-sea rescue ventures.

In 1935 Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in Dorset close to his cottage Clouds Hill, near Wareham, just two months after leaving military service.

Mourners at his funeral included Winston Churchill and E. M. Forster.

Lawrence of Arabia – Bedouin Robes

  • Artifact:            Arab Robe worn by T.E.Lawrence
  • Origin:              Saudi Arabia
  • Date:               1916
  • Material:          White silk and golden-embroidered
  • Museum:         Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

Lawrence of Arabia - Bedouin Robes

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence in ceremonial Arab dress, 1919

T. E. Lawrence

  • Name:           Thomas Edward Lawrence
  • Born:             1888, Tremadog, Carnarvonshire, Wales
  • Died:             1935 (aged 46), Bovington Camp, Dorset, England
  • Nationality:   British
  • Battles:          First World War
    • Arab Revolt
    • Siege of Medina
    • Battle of Aqaba
    • Capture of Damascus
    • Battle of Megiddo

Lawrence of Arabia - Bedouin Robes
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, photographed in 1919

Arab Revolt & Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence’s most important contributions to the Arab Revolt were in the areas of strategy and liaison with British armed forces, but he also participated personally in several military engagements:

  • January 1917: Attack on an Ottoman outpost in the Hejaz
  • March 1917: Attack on the railway at Aba el Naam
  • June 1917: Attack on a bridge at Ras Baalbek
  • July 1917: Defeat of the Ottoman forces at Aba el Lissan, an outpost of Aqaba
  • September 1917: Attack on the railway near Mudawara
  • November 1917: Blew up a train on the railway between Dera’a and Amman, suffering several wounds 
  • January 1918: The battle of Tafileh, a region southeast of the Dead Sea, with Arab regulars – Lawrence was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and promoted to lieutenant colonel
  • March 1918: Attack on the railway near Aqaba
  • April 1918: Attack using British armored cars on Tell Shahm
  • September 1918: Destruction of railway bridge between Amman and Dera’a
  • September 1918: Attack on retreating Ottomans and Germans near the village of Tafas

Lawrence of Arabia - Bedouin Robes

Lawrence of Arabia – Film

The Lawrence of Arabia film is a 1962 British epic historical drama based on the life of T. E. Lawrence. David Lean directed it, and Peter O’Toole played the Laurence role with Alec Guinness playing Prince Faisal. 

The film depicts Lawrence’s experiences in the Ottoman Empire’s provinces of Hejaz and Greater Syria during World War I, in particular his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus and his involvement in the Arab National Council.

Its themes include Lawrence’s emotional struggles with the violence in war and his divided allegiance between Britain and the leaders of the Arabian desert tribes.

Lawrence of Arabia was nominated for ten Oscars at the 35th Academy Awards in 1963; it won seven, including Best Picture and Best Director. 

In 2004, it was voted the best British film of all time in a Sunday Telegraph poll of Britain’s leading filmmakers.

Lawrence of Arabia – Bedouin Robes

Explore Lawrence of Arabia’s robes, dagger and kaffiyah

Virtual Tour of Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

Lawrence of Arabia – Bedouin Robes

Lawrence of Arabia. Memoir – 1935

T.E. Lawrence And How He Became Lawrence Of Arabia?

Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia

The Tragic Truth About Lawrence Of Arabia

A Virtual Tour of Museums in London


“All men dream: but not equally.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds
wake up in the day to find it was vanity,
but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,
for they may act their dreams with open eyes,
to make it possible.”

– T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph


Photo Credit: Mary Harrsch from Springfield, Oregon, USA / CC BY (; Lowell Thomas (photographer) / Public domain; Incorporates artwork by Howard Terpning / Public domain; James McBey / Public domain

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