Tigris and Euphrates

   The two principal rivers of Mesopotamia, which defined the name of that region ("the Land Between the Rivers"). The Tigris, which the Sumerians called the Indi-gra and the Persians the Tigr (or Tigra), rises in the mountains of eastern Turkey and Armenia and then flows southeastward onto the Mesopotamian plains. After some 1,150 miles (1,800 km), it joins with its sister river, the Euphrates, at modern Al Quirna in southern Iraq. The combined rivers form the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which flows directly into the Persian Gulf. The major cities situated along the Tigris include ancient Nineveh, Ashur, Nimrud, ctesiphon, and Seleucia, as well as modern Baghdad.
   The Euphrates also rises in the highlands of Armenia and neighboring regions, and after an initial jog toward the Mediterranean coast, it curves southeastward and flows onto the plains, roughly parallel to the Tigris. Euphrates is the Greek name for the river that the Sumerians called the Buranun, the Akkadians the Purattu, and the Persians the Ufrat. It flows for a distance of about 1,730 miles (2,780 km) before uniting with the Tigris at Al Quirna. Among the major ancient cities on the banks of the Euphrates were Mari, Sippar, Nippur, Uruk, Ur, and Eridu.
   The courses and annual floods of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers profoundly affected patterns of settlement, farming, military campaigns, trade, and many aspects of everyday life in ancient Mesopotamia. First, because large portions of the region are arid, people tended to build towns and cities on or near the rivers in order to ensure sufficient supplies of water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and watering crops. Also, it was nearly impossible for merchants, soldiers, messengers, or migrants to travel across Mesopotamia without fording at least one of these rivers and often several of their tributaries, of which the Diyala and Upper and Lower Zab are the largest.
   More importantly, the people of ancient Mesopotamia had to deal with the fact that the two great rivers, though life-giving, were also unpredictable and sometimes destructive. In this respect, the neighboring Egyptians were more fortunate. The Nile flooded annually, and usually remarkably slowly and gently, on a schedule that only rarely varied. In contrast, when the snows in the mountains of Armenia and Turkey melted, they made the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rise in ways that were impossible to predict. Flood season could come at any time between April and June, usually too late for farmers to use for their winter crops. Also, these waters, particularly those of the Tigris, could be violent enough to sweep away crops and sometimes even homes and entire villages. The Tigris flows faster than the Euphrates, and the Tigris is usually the first of the two to flood. Shallower and slower moving, the Euphrates was and remains the gentler river, and for that reason a larger portion of Mesopotamian irrigation canals were dug along its banks rather than along the banks of the Tigris.
   Another significant aspect of the water flow of the rivers was the fact that both move from north to south; also, the prevailing winds in the region blow in the same direction. With the exception of short trips in some areas, therefore, boats could travel only southward. People who wanted to travel northward had to walk, ride donkeys or other animals, or use ropes to pull their boats upriver.

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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