Central Arabia: Route from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea


This map sheet displays three views of the central Arabian Peninsula. It was created by the legendary Harry Saint John Bridger Philby (1885−1960), a British adventurer, political counsellor, author, spy, and the most celebrated early modern traveler in Arabia, about which he published several books. The map focuses on the topographic features along the routes of Philby’s travels. The central map shows the route across the Arabian Peninsula from Riyadh to Jeddah (Jiddah) taken in 1917 in connection with a diplomatic mission to Ibn Saʻud, the future king of Saudi Arabia. The larger of the two inserts shows the extension of this journey from the Persian Gulf to Riyadh, while the other shows the entire central peninsula but on a smaller scale. This smaller inset shows routes surveyed in 1917−18. Explanatory notes provide a glossary of Arabic topographic terms and an explanation of Philby’s geodetic methods. Mentioned in the latter are Colonel Lewis Pelly (1825−92), a British East India Company officer and political resident in Persia, and Captain William Shakespear (1878−1915), an explorer and cartographer. Relief is marked by shading and by spot elevations in meters, and distance scales are given in kilometers and miles for the main map. As a government official, Philby was a leading negotiator with Arab tribal chieftains during World War I. After the war, he had a hand in drafting the constitution of the new Kingdom of Iraq. Following government service, he began a long-term association with Ibn Saʻud and promoted his cause in diplomatic and oil negotiations as well as in public writings. Philby may also be remembered for being the father of Kim Philby (1912−88), a spy for the Soviet Union working within British intelligence. The map was published by the Royal Geographical Society, of which he was a Fellow, in the Geographical Journal in December 1920.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Royal Geographical Society, London


Type of Item

Physical Description

1 map : color ; 21 x 50 centimeters


  • Scale 1:2,000,000


  1. J.B. Kelly, Arabia, the Gulf and the West (New York: Basic Books, 1980). “Philby, Harry St John Bridger (1885−1960)” in the catalogue of the Natural History Museum, London. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/library/archives/catalogue/dserve.exe?dsqServer=placid&dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqDb=Persons&dsqSearch=Code==%27PX8469%27&dsqCmd=Show.tcl.

Last updated: March 21, 2016