Thomas Edward Lawrence was a British archaeologist, diplomat, and soldier who became famous after the First World War as “Lawrence of Arabia,” thanks to his role in the Arab insurgency against the Turkish state. T.E. Lawrence was an interesting and enigmatic man, and much of the details of his life have been clouded by legends and hyperbole, making it difficult to sort fact from fiction. He lives on in the form of films like Lawrence of Arabia, which popularized his story and made him famous in the English-speaking world.
Lawrence was born in Wales in 1888, and he proved to be extremely intelligent, even at an early age. He ended up studying in Oxford, traveling in the Middle East to visit various sites of historical interest during his time in Oxford, and he ultimately took a position as a field archaeologist working in the Middle East. When World War I broke out, the British government realized that his position as an archaeologist was an ideal cover, and T.E. Lawrence found himself Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence, working first in Palestine and later in other parts of the Middle East.
During the First World War, T. E. Lawrence fought with Arab troops, helping to lead an Arab insurgency against the Turks, in the hopes of bringing down the Ottoman Empire from behind while British and Australian forces attacked from the Mediterranean. During his time in the war, Lawrence adopted a number of Middle Eastern customs, and was often photographed in traditional Arab garb. He was also followed for a time by a film maker, Lowell Thomas, who ended up making his famous.
The footage which Thomas shot became an immense hit after World War I, much to the vocally expressed dismay of Lawrence, who stated repeatedly he wanted to be remembered as an ordinary man, not a war hero. After the war, Lawrence continued to work for the foreign service, published a book in 1927 called The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, discussing his experiences in the war. The book continues to be widely printed and read, feeding the Lawrence of Arabia mystique.
Little is known about the personal life of T. E. Lawrence, although there have been all sorts of salacious speculations. It does seem evident that he was a well-read, forward thinking, intelligent man who loved working with Middle Easterners and studying archeology. Judging from his numerous letters, many of which have been collected and published, Lawrence lived an incredible and varied life, and was recognized during his lifetime with a number of honors, including the Order of the Bath. Shortly after his retirement in 1935, Lawrence was killed in a motorcycle accident, and he was buried in Dorset, England.