Syrian adventure and graduation

In the Michaelmas term of 1908, after his return from France, Lawrence joined the signals detachment of the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) of Oxford University, doubtless being partly attracted by its use of bicycles. Naturally interested in contemporary military theories, it is highly probable that he would have been familiar with the writings of a certain Colonel Henderson (1854-1903). The lucid analyses of generalship and strategy by this battleexperienced pundit still make fascinating reading.4445

That same Autumn, during one of their many conversations, his friend C.F. Bell, Assistant Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, suggested to Lawrence that a tour of Crusader castles in the Levant would neatly complement his successful French tour and add to the value and impact of his thesis. In effect, he might tackle an unresolved question such as ‘Did castle architecture in the Holy Land have a determining influence on castle-building styles in France, or was it the opposite case?’. This idea was in natural accord with Lawrence’s own desire to visit the historic lands of the eastern Mediterranean and would be further strengthened in the following January when he discussed possibilities with David G. Hogarth, newly-appointed Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum. Hogarth, an experienced archaeologist and traveller, encouraged him by giving practical advice on the hazards involved and general guidance. With characteristic thoroughness, Lawrence prepared for the venture by taking lessons in drawing and the basics of spoken Arabic. In June of that year he sailed to the Near East and embarked on a long solo walk through the Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, covering more than 1000 miles and visiting nearly forty Crusader castles.

In July, 1910 Lawrence was awarded a First Class Honours degree in Modern History. The thesis contribution, which was entitled ‘The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture – to the End of the XIIth. Century’, greatly impressed his examiners. It was regarded as ‘an original contribution to knowledge’, particularly in respect of his Syrian researches. (Incidentally, the same phrase expresses a basic requirement of a modern Ph.D. thesis.)

  1. G. F. R. Henderson, The Science of War: a Collection of Essays and Lectures (1892-1903) with Memoir by Field Marshal Earl Roberts, V.C. (London: Longmans, Green & Co. 1905). []
  2. G. F. R. Henderson, Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War (London: Longmans,Green & Co. Inc. 1961). A classic account []