Robert Bertram Serjeant was born in Edinburgh on 23 March 1915. He studied at Edinburgh University where he obtained the degree of M.A. in 1935, before studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, to research Islamic textiles for the degree of Ph.D. which he obtained in 1939. He went to the Arabian Peninsula for the first time during the Second World War when he worked on Arabic dialects in the Aden area. He was commissioned into the Aden Government Guards and visited the remoter parts of the Aden Protectorate. In 1942, Serjeant worked for the BBC Arabic Service, editing the Arabic Listener.
At the end of the war he became a Lecturer at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London, 1945-1947, during which time he returned to Aden's Hadramawt with a research fellowship. In 1948 he became Reader at SOAS, and in 1955 he was Professor of Modern Arabic there.
Serjeant resigned his Chair at SOAS in 1964, and went to Cambridge as Lecturer, 1964-1966, then Reader, from 1966, then became Sir Thomas Adam's Professor of Arabic in 1969. He retired in 1981 returning to Scotland, to Denhead, near St. Andrews.
Serjeant's work included: a translation of the Bukhalaof Al-Jahiz; Portuguese off the South Arabian Coast (1963), a collection of early Hadrami texts on Portuguese activity; South Arabian hunt (1976), a study of the ritual ibex hunt; Sanaa, an Arabian Islamic city (1983); and, with others the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature. (1983).
Professor Robert Bertram Serjeant died at his home near St. Andrews on 29 April 1993.