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The Tigris River is the eastern member of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, the other being the Euphrates. The river flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq.



The Tigris is about 1,850 km long, rising in the Taurus Mountains 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 1,418 km are entirely within the Iraqi borders.[1]

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.[3]

Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, stands on the banks of the Tigris. The port city of Basra 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 Nineveh, Ctesiphon, and Seleucia, while the city of Lagash was irrigated by the Tigris via a canal dug around 2400 BC. Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, 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 Mosul. 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",[4] 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").

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