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The Tigris River is the eastern member of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, along with the Euphrates. The river flows from the mountains of southeastern Turkeymarker through Iraqmarker.


The Tigris is 1862 km long, rising in the Taurus Mountainsmarker of eastern Turkey about 25 km southeast of the city of Elazig and circa 30 km from the headwaters of the Euphrates River. The river then flows for 400 km through Turkish territory, before becoming the border between Syria and Iraq. This stretch of 44 km is the only part of the river that is located in Syria. The remaining 1418 km are entirely within the Iraqi borders.

The Tigris unites with the Euphrates near Basra, and from this junction to the Persian Gulf the mass of moving water is known as the Shatt-al-Arab. According to Pliny and other ancient historians, the Euphrates originally had its outlet into the sea separate from that of the Tigris.

Baghdadmarker, the capital of Iraqmarker, stands on the banks of the Tigris. The port city of Basramarker straddles the Shatt al-Arab. In ancient times, many of the great cities of Mesopotamia stood on or near the Tigris, drawing water from it to irrigate the civilization of the Sumerians. Notable Tigris-side cities included Ninevehmarker, Ctesiphonmarker, and Seleuciamarker, while the city of Lagashmarker was irrigated by the Tigris via a canal dug around 2400 BC. Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikritmarker, is also located on the river and derives its name from it.

The Tigris has long been an important transport route in a largely desert country. It is navigable as far as Baghdad by shallow-draft vessels, but rafts are needed for transport upstream to Mosulmarker. River trade declined in importance during the 20th century as the Basra-Baghdad-Mosul railway and roads took over much of the freight traffic.


The original Sumerian name was Idigna or Idigina, probably from *id (i)gina "running water", which can be interpreted as "the swift river", contrasted to its neighbor, the Euphrates, whose leisurely pace caused it to deposit more silt and build up a higher bed than the Tigris. This form was borrowed and gave rise to Akkadian Idiqlat. From Old Persian Tigrā, the word was adopted into Greek as Tigris ("Τίγρις" which is also Greek for "tiger"). In the Hebrew Bible, the river was called Ḥiddẹqel (חִדֶּקֶל).

Pahlavi tigr means "arrow", in the same family as Old Persian tigra- "pointed" (compare tigra-xauda),Modern Persian têz "sharp". However, it does not appear that this was the original name of the river, but that it (like the Semitic forms of the name) was coined as an imitation of the indigenous Sumerian name. This is similar to the Persian name of the Euphrates, Ufratu, which does have a meaning in Persian, but is still modeled after the Akkadian name Purattu.

Another name for the Tigris, used from the time of the Persian Empire, is Arvand Rud, literally Arvand River. Today the name Arvand Rud is the Persian name for the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers which in Arabic is called Shatt al-Arabmarker.

The name of the Tigris in languages that have been important to the region:
Language Name for Tigris
Arabic ,
Aramaic ,
Armenian ,
Greek , ;
Hebrew ,
Persian Old Persian: ; Middle Persian: ; Modern Persian:

Management and water quality

The Tigris is heavily dammed in Iraq and Turkey to provide water for irrigating the arid and semi-desert regions bordering the river valley. Damming has also been important for averting floods in Iraq, to which the Tigris has historically been notoriously prone following melting of snow in the Turkish mountains around April. Recent Turkish damming of the river has been the subject of some controversy, for both its environmental effects within Turkey and its potential to reduce the flow of water downstream. Mosul Dammarker, located on the Tigris, is the largest dam in Iraq. Some problems with the Tigris water quality include the number of dead bodies being dumped into it. The bodies are mainly from explosions of cargo ships carrying ammunition. This dumping affects the economy because people are not eating some fish that come from the Tigris, for fear that the fish may have fed on human bodies.

Religion and mythology

The Tigris appears twice in the Bible. In the Book of Genesis, the Tigris is the third of the four rivers branching off the river issuing out of the Garden of Eden. Daniel received one of his visions "when I was by that great river the Tigris".

In Sumerian mythology, the Tigris was created by the god Enki, who ejaculated and filled the river with flowing water.

In Hittite and Hurrian mythology, Aranzah (or Aranzahas in the Hittite nominative form) is the Hurrian name of the Tigris Rivermarker, which was divinized. He was the son of Kumarbi and the brother of Teshub, one of the three gods spat out of Kumarbi's mouth onto Mount Kanzuras. Later he colluded with Anu and the Teshub to destroy Kumarbi (The Kumarbi Cycle).


  1. Pliny: Natural History, VI, XXVI, 128-131
  2. F. Delitzsch, Sumerisches Glossar, Leipzig (1914), IV, 6, 21.
  3. KJV Hiddekel)
  4. E. Laroche, Glossaire de la langue Hourrite, Paris (1980), p. 55.
  5. Genesis 2:14
  6. Daniel 10:4
  7. Jeremy A. Black, The Literature of Ancient Sumer, Oxford University Press 2004, ISBN 0199263116 p. 220-221

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