Tigris River in History: Facts & Map

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  • 0:00 Important Channels
  • 0:50 The Tigris River Today
  • 3:21 Key Civilizations
  • 6:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the Tigris River and its impact on history. Along with its sister channel, the Euphrates, the Tigris fostered the growth of some of humankind's earliest civilizations in Sumer and Mesopotamia.

Important Channels

So much of what we own and use today comes to us by boat: the gas in your car, the television in your living room, even some of the paper on your desk - unless it has 'Made in the U.S.A.' stamped on the product, chances are it came to you over some body water.

Rivers, lakes, and oceans are as integral to international commerce today as they were to the fledgling commercial sectors of ancient civilizations. However, instead of gas and televisions over the ocean, it was grains, minerals, and other crops on the rivers, which helped foster mankind's earliest civilizations; rivers like the Ganges, the Nile, and the subject of this lesson, the Tigris River, located in Mesopotamia.

The Tigris River Today

Today the Tigris River begins in Turkey, and runs 1,850 kilometers before joining with the Euphrates River to form the Shatt al-Arab, which then empties into the Persian Gulf, roughly 150 kilometers later. With its headwaters in Turkey, the Tigris forms the extreme Northwestern Turkish-Syrian border before running the north-south length of Iraq. The river today has been dammed heavily to create both reservoirs and hydroelectricity. The dams and reservoirs also serve to control the flow of the river, which, in the past, flooded seasonally. Some anthropologists even hypothesize that large amounts of seasonal flooding on the Tigris may have inspired the biblical flood story involving Noah.

The Tigris River in History

The Tigris River, along with its sister channel to the west, the Euphrates, helped to form the Fertile Crescent region that nurtured some of humankind's earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia and Sumer. The river's seasonal flooding regularly watered the region, creating arable land that encouraged humankind's earliest sedentary farming communities. As agricultural methods continued to develop, the farmers of Mesopotamia and Sumer dug irrigation canals from the Tigris to help water their fields in times of low rainfall or drought.

Evidence of these early forms of field irrigation ditches and canals date back to the sixth and seventh millenniums B.C. Additionally, some of the region's first cities grew along the banks at important natural ports and bends in the river. Around 2400 B.C., the Sumerians even dug a long canal from the Tigris to provide a water supply for the burgeoning ancient city-state of Lagash.

In addition, the Tigris served as a main avenue for ancient commerce in the region, as goods and crops were shipped throughout the region using the river. Numerous empires and city-states, such as Lagash, Ur, the Akkadian, and the Babylonians, used the river as a means of transportation for troops as well as goods.

Over time, through natural processes of soil erosion due to the seasonal flooding, the Tigris grew increasingly salty. Some historians estimate that as early as 2000 B.C. the Tigris was too salty and unsuitable to be used as irrigation for agriculture. Despite this, it continued to be used for trade and transportation.

Key Civilizations

The Tigris River helped create the conditions in which Mesopotamians and Sumerians thrived and created some of the world's first city-states and empires. Let's discuss a few of these ancient centers of civilization:

Akkadian Empire

In the 24th century B.C., the Akkadians established a burgeoning empire in the region, ruled from the capital at Akkad. Founded by Sargon the Great in 2334 and lasting until 2154 when it fell to the invading Gutians, the Akkadian Empire fostered growth and development along the Tigris, especially in the founding of the city of Assur, which would become an important regional hub for administration and commerce throughout the ancient period.

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