href="styles.css" type=text/css rel=stylesheet>

When one archaeologist meets another archaeologist in 1917…

What do they speak about?



An unpublished photograph (up to 2003) from the archives of the Institute of Oriental Studies in Cairo shows side by side two outstanding archaeologists of the early 20 th century on board a ship of Her British Majesty. After the film Lawrence of Arabia produced in 1963 by David Lean, one of them does not need to be named. He is Peter O'Toole in his famous Arabic dress, Mekkan style….Sorry, the copy, Mr. O'Toole, tends to be as famous as the original, we mean Captain Thomas E. Lawrence (1888-1935). The other person on the close to one century old photograph is father Antonin Jaussen (1871-1962). As a cleric from the Biblical School of Jerusalem, he is not a film star by vocation, but he is highly praised in archaeology for his report Mission Archeologique en Arabie, 1907-1910, which he published jointly with his partner Father Raphael Savignac in 1921.


A wartime photograph

This photograph is date March 1917 on board HMS Lama in the Al Wedjh harbour in Arabia. There is no doubt about where and when it happened: the watch tower in the background is well identified as the one overlooking the south side of the Red Sea port, 700 km north of Jeddah, as it appears at page 43 of Photographies d'Arabie, Hedjaz 1907-1917, the catalogue produced in 1999 to support the Exhibitions in Paris, then Riyadh, then Jeddah of the best photographs of Jaussen & Savignac, from 1907, their first archaeological visit to the Nabatean City of Hegra, to 1917, the end of their duties along the eastern coast of the Red Sea, as interpreters-officers of the Service des Informations au Levant (S.I.L.) attached to the French Navy. The dates are confirmed by Lawrence's diary, appendix 2 to Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his account of the Arab revolt. It is mentioned:

- March 2 nd , 1917: on board HMS Lama, coming from Cairo

- March 3 rd : Al Wedjh.


In the 9 months long Lawrence involvement in Hejaz, this period is important :

- It is 5 months after the first contact of Lawrence with the Hashemites of Arabia on October 16 th , 1916 in Jeddah, in his position of representative of the British army Arab Bureau in Cairo.

- 26 days before a major operation led by Lawrence against Abu an Naam, a Hejaz Railway surveillance fort, 160 km inland east from Al Wedjh, one of the first successes of the Bedouins of Amir Faysal, 3 rd son of Husein, the Hasjemite King of Hejaz.

- 4 months before the daring attack on Aqabah harbour, on July 16 th , 1917, at the end of a bold, long range camel ride through the desert via Al Muazam, surprising the Ottoman garrison in the back.

At the time of this photo, both men, Lawrence and Jaussen, had many types of activities in common, starting from archaeology in the Middle East, then ahead of their time in photography, then military intelligence by force majeur at the outbreak of WW I due to general conscription of any men fit for action, to be finally involved in colonial politics when the Ottoman forces collapsed in Palestine under the pressure of the allied forces led by general Allenby, leaving the future of Hejaz, Nejd, Syria and Iraq to be settled. Definitely, this picture has a lot to say!


Common experience and different views

In March 1917, Lawrence and Jaussen have already proved their salt in archaeology, the Dominican scholar on the prestigious Nabatean site of Al Hijir, also known as Meda'in Saleh, and Lawrence on the Hitite site of Karkemish in the extreme north of Syria, after a brilliant thesis entitled Crusades influence on military architecture up to the XIIth century AD.

Regarding photography, Lawrence inherited a talent from his father. His Hejaz photos are historical and still available in the Imperial War Museum in London. Jaussen's equipment was more bulky. His favourite was a huge wooden box producing 18x24cm negatives on glass plates coated with a silver oxide. The Biblical School of Jerusalem now manages thousands of pictures left jointly by the Dominican clerics for the pleasure of any historian.

Regarding military intelligence, when Jaussen was expelled by the Turks from Jerusalem in December 1914, he was grabbed from a ship full of refugees heading to Italy and transferred on board HMS Doris for his best use by the British Navy Intelligence before to be handed over to the French Navy and the S.I.L. based in Port Said. Lawrence had a more orderly assignment to the Arab Bureau in Cairo under Colonel Clayton. The purpose was the same, to benefit from the ethnological experience gathered by a student in archaeology who had travelled more than a thousand kilometres on foot to visit all the crusader's castles in and around Syria, moreover with the permanent talkative escort of horse riding Turkish gendarmes.

Regarding political intelligence, then we come to the healthy competition between English and French views celebrated by Rudyard Kipling in a poem. In his reports conveyed step by step to the French Ministry of External Affairs in Paris, Jaussen wrote: “In Al Ouedj, the English Captain Lawrence lives in close contact with Faysal, the son of Sherif Hussein, who care about his friendship. He has a real influence over him….Nevertheless, he does not seem to me on the right way when he shares and even keeps up the natural antipathy of Faysal and his people against any action of foreigners in Arabia”. On the other side, Lawrence totally ignores Jaussen & Savignac in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, although he mentions 16 times Captain Rosario Pisani, the French artillery officer of Maltese decent, beloved for his mountain guns and his guts. Maybe the reason is that Lawrence does not want to break the cover of a colleague in the big family of the allied secret services or, as an Anglican archaeologist, he does not give credit to different views coming form ‘papist' archaeologists. Jaussen does nit display any systematic criticism of his British partner, because he wrote further in the same intelligence report the full description of Lawrence's guerrilla planning against the Ottoman Hejaz railway line with the following comment: “ The brain who has conceived these plans has already proved his efficiency and his carefulness”. Long live l'Entente cordiale and the English-French friendship! The Froggies disagree with the Brits but they admire them.

The photo is kept in the archives of the institute of Oriental Studies in Cairo. Created in 1925 by Jaussen himself. Maybe one day, Lawrence's declassified reports will tell you more about the Al Wedjh talks of two outstanding experts of Middle East.


Written by Patrick Pierard





Des hommes témoignent ...
Arabia deserta
Al Ula - Medaïn El saleh raconté par Patrick PIERRARD (en anglais)



Retour sur la page d'accueil !