Lawrence of Arabia’s robe & dagger
These iconic items belonged to the complex soldier and writer whose remarkable role during the Arab Revolt earned him international fame
Personal effects of the WWI icon
T.E. Lawrence was one of the most legendary figures to emerge from World War I. An Oxford-educated archaeologist, Lawrence was also a British intelligence officer in the Middle East who assisted the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Between 1916-18 Lawrence played a remarkable role uniting
Arab tribes under Emir Faisal of Mecca before coordinating widespread guerrilla attacks with British assistance.
Unusually for World War I, Lawrence’s desert campaign was highly mobile and largely consisted of sabotage missions against the Ottoman Hejaz Railway. Lawrence also fought with the Arab Northern Army, and his efforts culminated in the capture of Damascus on 1 October 1918.
Lawrence achieved much of his success by willingly adopting the cultural habits of his Arab allies. This included living among them, speaking their language and – most famously – adopting their dress. The pictured robe was worn by Lawrence from 1916 and is similar in appearance to the clothes that Emir Faisal wore. The effect would transform the British officer into an Arab commander, or as Lawrence himself described, “If I wore Meccan clothes, they [the Arabs] would behave to me as though I were really one of their leaders; and I might slip in and out of Faisal’s tent without making a sensation.”
Also integral to Lawrence’s appearance was a distinctive jambiya dagger, which was a customary weapon for Arab men to wear. However, this particular silver and steel dagger is unique to the legend of Lawrence. On 6 July 1917, Arab forces led by Sherif Nasir and Auda Abu Tayi won a famous victory at the Battle of Aqaba following Lawrence’s advice. Nasir subsequently presented Lawrence with this dagger as a reward.
“LAWRENCE’S DESERT CAMPAIGN WAS HIGHLY MOBILE AND LARGELY CONSISTED OF SABOTAGE MISSIONS”
Lawrence gifted his robes to an army friend called Arthur Russell in the 1920s, but Russell subsequently had to prevent his mother from making dresses out of them Above: Lawrence later posed with his jambiya dagger and robes for publicity photographs, sculptures and paintings, which enhanced his legendary status T.E. Lawrence mounted on a camel at the scene of his famously devised victory at Aqaba, July 1917