In the Days when Gods Walked Upon the Face of the Earth" The Tigris River - Facts about Ancient Sumer
by James W. Bell © 2002-3
‘Idigna’ in Sumerian
‘Idiklat’ in Akkadian
‘Hiddekel’ in Hebrew
‘Dijla’ in Arabic
‘Dicle’ in Turkish
‘Tigris’ in Latin
The Tigris River is 1,150 miles long and begins on the Armenian plateau in Turkey. In Iraq, it receives additional water from four important tributaries: the Greater Zab, the Lesser Zab, the Adhem and the Diyala. As a result, the Tigris is more subject to catastrophic flooding than the Euphrates. Annual flooding usually results in the Tigris rising from 4½ to 9 feet, with a record rise of 27 feet in 1954.
The Tigris is navigable as far north as Mosul (near ancient Ninevah). In flood season, native rafts on floats, with loads as great as 35 tons, float the 275 miles between Mosul and Baghdad in three or four days. At Baghdad, the wood is sold and the skins for the floats are carried back upriver on the backs of donkeys. There is little traffic going upriver.
At Kut, the Tigris is about 1,300 feet wide and has a depth varying from a normal 4½ feet to 26 feet when flooding. The current at Kut ranges from 1¼ to as high as 4 miles per hour when flooding.
At Amara, the Tigris is only 600 feet wide with a depth ranging from a normal 6½ feet to 13 feet when flooding. Marshlands, starting near Amara, drain off much of the river water so that at Qurna, the depth remains the same but the river narrows to a width of only 200 feet.
Although the upper reaches of the Tigris are higher than the Euphrates, in southern Iraq the bed of the Tigris is lower than that of the Euphrates and the canals between the two rivers have their tailings in the Tigris, causing the water in these canals to flow from west to east..
Sometimes, at low water during midsummer, the lower Tigris has a depth of only 3 feet but, due to its many tributaries, the river is subject to sudden flooding.
The Tigris and Euphrates meet just below Qurna, from which point the Tigris is called the Shatt al Arab and is full of marshy water from the Euphrates and surrounding marshes. The combined waterway is 30 feet deep and more than 1,200 feet wide.
Rainfall at Basra is only 6½ inches a years, of which 5½ inches fall between April and October.
Two types of native boats were used on the Tigris River and Shatt al Arab, a round skin boat (skins stretched over a frame of willow branches) known as a coracle (Arabian = Quffa, Akkadian = Quppu) and a rectangular raft type known as a riverboat (Arabian = Kelek, Akkadian = Kalakku). The coracles principally go downriver but riverboats can be poled or towed upstream. With proper rigging, riverboats can also be sailed and rowed.
Like the Euphrates, the course of the lower Tigris has meandered and changed over the years. In ancient days, the Tigris either flowed where the Shatt al Gharraf is today, or the Tigris had a branch that flowed down the Shatt al Gharraf or, possibly, the Shatt al Gharraf started as a manmade canal through the marshes and the Tigris overflowed into it. The sites of the ancient cities of Girsu and Lagash are located on today’s Shatt al Gharraf.