Tigris River: Cradle of Civilization

Without the Tigris River, civilization as we know it might never have existed.

The Tigris, along with its neighbor the Euphrates River, helped to form the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, Greek for between the rivers. Because the two rivers provided water to the region, future inventions, such as aqueducts, were unnecessary for irrigation, allowing civilization to thrive.

These days, the Tigris River flows through modern-day Iraq, passing through part of Syria and Turkey as well. However, the river isn’t nearly as strong as it once was, and this reality has a region fearing for what is to come in the future.

What Civilizations Used the Tigris River?

The Tigris River formed the basis for several civilizations, starting around 4500 B.C. with the Sumerians, who were the first real civilization to establish a long-term presence in human history

The reason the Sumerians succeeded where others failed was irrigation from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Irrigation proved vital to the region because the land nearest the rivers was quite fertile, but the land farthest was initially inhospitable to the crops necessary for a thriving civilization.

Other civilizations to use the Tigris included the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who constructed several canals to take further advantage of the river’s resources.

Where Does the Tigris River’s Water Come From?

Due to its arid location, the Tigris receives most of its waters not from rain in Iraq, as would be expected, but from snow in the mountains of Turkey. Long before the presence of dams in Turkey and Syria, the waters of the Tigris would regularly exceed sea level in the spring because of melting snow coming from the Turkish mountains and sending the Tigris over its river banks.

The dams of the Tigris have changed its path over time. Geological evidence suggests that the Tigris has followed three different courses during its history, with most of them dated between 4000 B.C. and 1258 A.D., when the modern course of the river was formed. Both irrigation and dams have played a large role in the Tigris’ route changing, with the latter playing a large role in its modern problems.

Why is the Tigris River in Trouble?

The problems for the Tigris can be traced to the problems of the country that hosts most of its territory: Iraq. The Middle Eastern nation has been one of the most war-torn places in the world over the past 50 years, and war has sapped the Tigris of much of the water that helped the Sumerians and the Babylonians flourish.

The Tigris also faces problems because of the region’s oil. As the world became more modern and cars became the dominant form of transportation, oil commanded high dollars for the Middle East, but its sale included a high price of its own: pollution of the waters that had long sustained life in the area and dwindling waters to the region.

The countries where the Tigris flows have seen escalated tensions over their ability to get water from the Tigris. Iraq itself gets more than 70% of its water from rivers that it shares with other nations, including the Tigris and Euphrates.

What Does the Future Hold?

The Tigris faces some of the same problems that many of the world’s great rivers have faced since the Industrial Revolution, and whether it can be saved depends on how well its nations work together to clean up the river. If they can put aside their differences and cut back on pollution from plastic and other sources, the Tigris River could easily become great again.