1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Euphrates
EUPHRATES (Babylon. Purattu, Heb. Perath, Arab. Frāt or Furāt, Old Pers. Ufratu, Gr. Εὐφράτης), the largest river of western Asia. It may be divided into three divisions, upper, lower and middle, each of which is distinguished by special physical features, and has played a conspicuous part in the world’s history, retaining to the present day monumental evidence of the races who have lined its banks.
Upper Division.—The upper Euphrates consists of two arms, which, rising on the Armenian plateau, and flowing west in long shallow valleys parallel to Mount Taurus, eventually unite and force their way southward through that range to the level of Mesopotamia. The northern or western and shorter arm, called by the Turks Kara Su, “black water,” or Frāt Su (Armenian, Ephrāt or Yephrāt; Arab. Nahr el-Furāt or Frāt), well known to occidentalists as the Euphrates, from its having been the boundary of the Roman empire, is regarded also by Orientals as the main stream. It rises in the Dumlu Dagh, N.N.W. of Erzerum, in a large circular pool (altitude, 8625 ft.), which is venerated by Armenians and Moslems, and flows south-east to the plain of Erzerum (5750 ft.). Thence it continues through a narrow valley W.S.W. to Erzingan (3900 ft.), receiving on its way the Ovajik Su (right), the Tuzla Su (left), and the Merjan and Chanduklu (right). Below Erzingan the Frāt flows south-west through a rocky gorge to Kemakh (Kamacha; Armenian, Gamukh), where it is crossed by a bridge and receives the Kumur Su (right). At Avshin it enters a cañon, with walls over 1000 ft. high, which extends to the bridge at Pingan, and lower down it is joined from the west by the Chalta Irmak (Lycus; Arab. Lūkīya), on which stands Divrik (Tephrike). Then, entering a deep gorge with lofty rock walls and magnificent scenery, it runs south-east to its junction with the Murad Su. The Frāt, separated by the easy pass of Deve-boyūn from the valley of the Araxes (Aras), marks the natural line of communication between northern Persia and the West—a route followed by the nomad Turks, Mongols and Tatars on their way to the rich lands of Asia Minor. It is a rapid river of considerable volume, and below Erzingan is navigable, down stream, for rafts. The southern or eastern and longer arm, called by the Turks Murad Su (Arsanias Fl.; Armenian, Aradzani; Arab. Nahr Arsanas), rises south-west of Diadin, in the northern flank of the Ala Dagh (11,500 ft.), and flows west to the Alashgerd plain. Here it is joined by the Sharian Su from the west, and the two valleys form a great trough through which the caravan road from Erzerum to Persia runs. The united stream breaks through the mountains to the south, and, receiving on its way the Patnotz Su (left) and the Khinis Su (right), flows south-west, west and south, through the rich plain of Bulanik to the plain of Mūsh. Here it is joined by the Kara Su (Teleboas), which, rising near Lake Van, runs past Mūsh and waters the plain. The river now runs W.S.W. through a deep rocky gorge, in which it receives the Gunig Su (right), to Palu (where there are cuneiform inscriptions); and continues through more open country to its junction with the Frāt Su. About 10 m. E.N.E. of Kharpūt the Murad is joined by its principal tributary, the Peri Su, which drains the wild mountain district, Dersim, that lies in the loop between the two arms. The Murad Su is of greater volume than the Frāt, but its valley below Mūsh is contracted and followed by no great road. Below the junction of the two arms the Euphrates flows south-west past the lead mines of Keban Maden, where it is 120 yds. wide, and is crossed by a ferry (altitude, 2425 ft.), on the Sivas-Kharpūt road. It then runs west, south and east round the rock-mass of Musher Dagh, and receives (right) the Kuru Chai, down which the Sivas-Malatia road runs, and the Tokhma Su, from Gorun (Gauraina) and Darende. At the ferry on the Malatia-Kharpūt road (cuneiform inscription) it flows eastwards in a valley about a quarter of a mile wide, but soon afterwards enters a remarkable gorge, and forces its way through Mount Taurus in a succession of rapids and cataracts. After running south-east through the grandest scenery, and closely approaching the source of the western Tigris, it turns south-west and leaves the mountains a few miles above Samsāt (Samosata; altitude, 1500 ft.). The general direction of the great gorges of the Euphrates, Pyramus (Jihun) and Sarus (Sihun) seems to indicate that their formation was primarily due to the same terrestrial movements that produced the Jordan-ʽAraba depression to the south. The length of the Frāt is about 275 m.; of the Murad, 415 m.; and of the Euphrates from the junction to Samsāt, 115 m.
Middle Division.—The middle division, which extends from Samsāt to Hit, is about 720 m. long. In this part of its course the Euphrates runs through an open, treeless and sparsely peopled country, in a valley a few miles wide, which it has eroded in the rocky surface. The valley bed is more or less covered with alluvial soil, and cultivated in places by artificial irrigation. The method of this irrigation is peculiar. Three or four piers or sometimes bridges of masonry are run out into the bed of the river, frequently from both sides at once, raising the level of the stream and thus giving a water power sufficient to turn the gigantic wheel or wheels, sometimes almost 40 ft. in diameter, which lift the water to a trough at the top of the dam, whence it is distributed among the gardens and melon patches, rice, cotton, tobacco, liquorice and durra fields, between the immediate bed of the river and the rocky banks which shut it out from the desert. The wheels, called naoura, are of the most primitive construction, made of rough branches of trees, with palm leaf paddles, rude clay vessels being slung on the outer edge to catch the water, of which they raise a prodigious amount, only a comparatively small part of which, however, is poured into the aqueducts on top of the dams. These latter are exceedingly picturesque, often consisting of a series of well-built Gothic arches, and give a peculiar character to the scenery; but they are also great impediments to navigation. In some parts of the river 300 naouras have been counted within a space of 130 m., but of late years many have fallen into decay. By far the larger part of the valley is quite uncultivated, and much of it is occupied by tamarisk jungles, the home of countless wild pigs. Where the valley is still cultivated, the jerd, a skin raised by oxen, is gradually being substituted for the naoura, no more of the latter being constructed to take the place of those which fall into decay.
In this part of its course the rocky sides of the valley, which sometimes closely approach the river, are composed of marls and gypsum, with occasional selenite, overlaid with sandstone, with a topping of breccia or conglomerate, and rise at places to a height of 200 ft. or more. At one point, however, 26 m. above Deir, where lie the ruins of Halebiya, the river breaks through a basaltic dike, el-Ḥamme, some 300 to 500 ft. high. On either side of the river valley a steppe-like desert, covered in the spring with verdure, the rest of the year barren and brown, stretches away as far as the eye can see. Anciently the country on both sides of the Euphrates was habitable as far as the river Khabur; at the present time it is all desert from Birejik downward, the camping ground of Bedouin Arabs, the great tribe of Anazeh occupying esh-Shām, the right bank, and the Shammar the left bank, Mesopotamia of the Romans, now called el-Jezīreh or the island. To these the semi-sedentary Arabs who sparsely cultivate the river valley, dwelling sometimes in huts, sometimes in caves, pay a tribute, called kubbe, or brotherhood, as do also the riverain towns and villages, except perhaps the very largest. The Turkish government also levies taxes on the inhabitants of the river valley, and for this purpose, and to maintain a caravan route from the Mediterranean coast to Bagdad, maintains stations of a few zaptiehs or gens d’armes, at intervals of about 8 hours (caravan time), occupying in general the stations of the old Persian post road. The only riverain towns of any importance on this stretch of the river to-day are Samsāt, Birejik, Deir, ʽAna and Hit.
In early times the Euphrates was important as a boundary. It was the theoretical eastern limit of the Jewish kingdom; for a long time it separated Assyria from the Khita or Hittites; it divided the eastern from the western satrapies of Persia (Ezra iv. 17; Neh. ii. 7); and it was at several periods the boundary of the Roman empire. Until the advent of the nomads from central Asia, and the devastation of Mesopotamia and the opposite Syrian shore of the river, there were many flourishing cities along its course, the ruins of which, representing all periods, still dot its banks. Samsāt itself represents the ancient Samosata, the capital of the Seleucid kings of Commagene (Kumukh of the Assyrian inscriptions), and here the Persian Royal Road from Sardis to Susa is supposed to have crossed the river. Below Samsāt the river runs S.W. to Rum-Kaleh, or “castle of the Romans” (Armenian, Hrhomgla). At this point was another passage of the river, defended by the castle which gives its name to the spot, and which stands on a high hill overhanging the right bank, its base washed by an abundant stream, the Sanjeh (Gr. Σίγγας), which enters the Euphrates on the west. From this point the river runs rather east of south for about 25 m. past Khalfat (ferry) to Birejik or Bir, the ancient Birtha, where it is only 110 m. from the Mediterranean, the bed of the river being 6281 ft. above that sea. This was the Apamea-Zeugma, where the high road from east to west crossed the river, and it is still one of the most frequented of all the passages into Mesopotamia, being the regular caravan route from Iskanderun and Aleppo to Urfa, Diarbekr and Mosul. From Birejik the river runs sluggishly, first a little to the east, then a little to the west of south, over a sandy or pebbly bed, past Jerablus (? Europus, Carchemish, the ancient Hittite capital), near which the Sajur (Sagura; Sangar of the Assyrian inscriptions) enters from the west, to Meskene, 2 m. southward of which are the ruins of Barbalissus (Arab. Balis), the former port of Aleppo, now, owing to changes in the bed, some distance from the water. Six miles below this the ruins of Kalʽat Dibse mark the site of the ancient Thapsacus (Tiphsah of 1 Kings iv. 24), the most important passage of the middle Euphrates, where both Cyrus, on his expedition against his brother, and Alexander the Great crossed that river, and the ancient port of Syria. Here the river turns quite sharply eastward. A day’s journey beyond Meskene are the remains of Siffin (Roman Sephe), where Moawiya defeated the caliph Ali in 657 (see Caliphate), and opposite this, on the west bank, a picturesque ruin called Kalʽat Jaʽber (Dausara). A day’s journey beyond this, on the Syrian side, stand the remains of ancient Sura, a frontier fortress of the Romans against the Parthians; 20 m. S. of which, inland, lie the well-preserved ruins of Reseph (Assyrian, Resafa or Rosafa). Half a day’s journey beyond Sura, on the Mesopotamian side of the river, are the extensive ruins of Haragla (Heraclea) and Rakka, once the capital of Harun al-Rashid (Nicephorium of Alexander; Callinicus of the Seleucids and Romans). Here the Belikh (Bilechas) joins the Euphrates, flowing southward through the biblical Aram Naharaim from Urfa (Edessa) and Harran (Carrhae); and from this point to el-Ḳaim four days’ below Deir, the course of the river is south-easterly. Two days’ journey beyond Rakka, where the Euphrates breaks through the basalt dike of el-Ḥamme, are two admirably preserved ruins, built of gypsum and basalt, that on the Mesopotamian side called Zelebiya (Chanuga), and that on the Syrian, much the finer of the two, Halebiya or Zenobiya, the ancient Zenobia. Twenty-six miles farther down lies the town of Deir (q.v.), where the river divides into two channels and the river valley opens out into quite extensive plains. Here the roads from Damascus, by way of Palmyra, and from Mosul, by way of the Khabur, reach the Euphrates, and here there must always have been a town of considerable commercial and strategic importance. The region is to-day covered with ruins and ruin mounds. A little below Deir the river is joined by the Khabur (Khaboras, Biblical Khabor), the frontier of the Roman empire from Diocletian’s time, which rises in the Karaja Dagh, and, with its tributary, the Jaghijagh (Mygdonius; Arab. Hirmas) flows south through the land of Gozan in which Sargon settled the deported Israelites in 721 B.C. At the mouth of the Khabur stood the Roman frontier fortress of Circesium (Assyrian, Sirki; Arab. Kirkessie) now el-Buseira. The corresponding border town on the Syrian side is represented by the picturesque and finely preserved ruins called Salahiya, the Ad-dalie or Dalie (Adalia) of Arabic times, two days below Deir, whose more ancient name is as yet unknown. Between Salahiya and Deir, on an old canal, known in Arabic times as Said, leaving the Euphrates a little below Deir and rejoining it above Salahiya, stand the almost more picturesque ruins of the once important Arabic fortress of Raḥba.
As far as the Khabur Mesopotamia seems to have been a well-inhabited country from at least the 15th century B.C., when it constituted the Hittite kingdom of Mitanni, down to about the 12th century A.D., and the same is true of the country on the Syrian side of the Euphrates as far as the eastern limit of the Palmyrene. Below this point the back country on the Syrian side has always been a complete desert. On the Mesopotamian side there would seem, from the accounts of Xenophon and Ptolemy, to have been an affluent which joined the Euphrates between Deir and ʽAna, called Araxes by the former, Saocoras by the latter; but no trace of such a stream has been found by modern explorers and the country in general has always been uninhabited. Below Salahiya the river-bed narrows and becomes more rocky. A day’s journey beyond Salahiya, on a bluff on the Mesopotamian side of the river, are the conspicuous ruins Of el-ʽIrsi (Corsote?). Half a day’s journey beyond, at a point where two great wadis enter the Euphrates, on the Syrian side, stands Jabriya, an unidentified ruined town of Babylonian type, with walls of unbaked brick, instead of the stone heretofore encountered. At this point the river turns sharply a little north of east, continuing on that course somewhat over 40 m. to ʽAna, where it bends again to the south-east. Just above ʽAna are rapids, and from this point to Hit the river is full of islands, while the bed is for the most part narrow, leaving little cultivable land between it and the bluffs. ʽAna itself, a very ancient town, of Babylonian origin, once sacred probably to the goddess of the same name, lay originally on several islands in the stream, where ruins, principally of the Arabic and late Persian period, are visible. Here palm trees, which had begun to appear singly at Deir, grow in large groves, the olive disappears entirely, and we have definitely passed over from the Syrian to the Babylonian flora and climate. Between ʽAna and Hit there were anciently at least four island cities or fortresses, and at the present time three such towns, insignificant relics of former greatness, Haditha, Alus or el-ʽUzz and Jibba still occupy the old sites. Of these Alus is evidently the ancient Auzara or Uzzanesopolis, the city of the old Arabic goddess ʽUzza; Haditha, an important town under the Abbasids, was earlier known as Baia Malcha; while Jibba has not been identified. The fourth city, Thilutha or Olabus, once occupied the present deserted island of Telbeis, half a day’s journey below ʽAna. About half-way between ʽAna and Hit, in the neighbourhood of Haditha, the river has a breadth of 300 yds., with a depth of 18 ft., and a flood speed of 4 knots. At this point we begin to encounter sulphur springs and bitter streams redolent with bitumen, a formation which reaches its climax at Hit (q.v.), where a small stream (the “river of Ahava” of Ezra viii. 21) enters the Euphrates from the Syrian side, on which, about 8 m. from its mouth, stands the small town of Kubeitha.
The middle Euphrates, from Samsāt to Hit, is to-day an avenue of ruins, of which only the more conspicuous or important have been indicated here. It was from a remote period, antedating certainly 3000 B.C., the highway of empire and of commerce between east and west, more specifically between Babylonia or Irak and Syria, and numerous empires, peoples and civilizations have left their records on its shores. Its time of greatest prosperity and importance was the period of the Abbasid caliphate, and Arabic geographers as late as A.D. 1200 mention an astonishingly large number of important cities situated on its shores or islands. The Mongol invasion, in the latter part of that century, wrought their ruin, however, and from that time to the present there has been a steady decline in the commercial importance of the Euphrates route, and consequently also of the towns along its course, until at the present time it is only an avenue of ruins.
Lower Division.—Hit stands almost at the head of the alluvial deposit, about 550 m. from the Persian Gulf, separated from it by a couple of small spurs of the Syrian plateau, and may be said to mark the beginning of the lower Euphrates. Thence the river flows S.E. and S.S.E. to its junction with the Tigris below Korna, through an unbroken plain, with no natural hills, except a few sand (or sandstone?) hills in the neighbourhood of Warka, and no trace of rock, except at el-Haswa, above Hillah. At Hit the river is from 30 to 35 ft. in depth, with a breadth of 250 yds., and a current of 4 m. an hour, but from this point it diminishes in volume, receiving no new affluents but dissipating itself in canals and lagoons. At Feluja, in the latitude of Bagdad, the Euphrates and Tigris closely approach each other, and then, widening out, enclose the plain of Babylonia (Arab. Sawād). Through this part of its course the current of the river, except where restricted by floating bridges—at Feluja, Mussaib, Hillah, Diwanieh and Samawa—does not normally exceed a mile an hour, and both on the main stream and on its canals the jerd or ox-bucket takes the place of the naoura or water-wheel for purposes of irrigation.
In early times irrigating canals distributed the waters over the plain, and made it one of the richest countries of the East, so that historians report three crops of wheat to have been raised in Babylonia annually. As main arteries for this circulation of water through its system great canals, constituting in reality so many branches of the river, connected all parts of Babylonia, and formed a natural means both of defence and also of transportation from one part of the country to another. The first of these canals, taken off on the right bank of the river a little below Hit, followed the extreme skirt of the alluvium the whole way to the Persian Gulf near Basra, and thus formed an outer barrier, strengthened at intervals with watch-towers and fortified posts, to protect the cultivated land of the Sawād against the incursions of the desert Arabs. This gigantic work, the line of which may still be traced throughout its course, was formerly called the Khandak Sabūr or “Sapor’s trench,” being ascribed to the Sassanian king, Shapur I. Dholahtaf, but is now known as the Cherra-Saadeh, and is in the popular tradition said to have been excavated by a man from Basra at the behest of a woman of Hit whom he desired to make his wife. How early this work was begun is not clear, but it would appear to have been at least largely reconstructed in the time of the great Nebuchadrezzar. The next important canal, the Dujayl (Dojail), left the Euphrates on the left, about a league above Ramadiya (Ar-Rabb), and flowed into the Tigris between Ukbara and Bagdad. The ʽIsa, which is largely identical with the modern Sakhlawiya, left the Euphrates a little below Anbar (Perisabora) and joined the Tigris at Bagdad. This canal still carries water and was navigable for steamboats until about 1875. Sarsar, the modern Abu-Ghurayb, leaves the Euphrates three leagues lower down and enters the Tigris between Bagdad and Ctesiphon. The Nahr Malk or royal river, modern Radhwaniya, leaves the Euphrates five leagues below this and joins the Tigris three leagues below Ctesiphon; while the Kutha, modern Habl-Ibrahim, leaving the Euphrates three leagues below the Malk joins the Tigris ten leagues below Ctesiphon. In the time of the Arabs these were the chief canals, and the cuts from the main channels of the Nahr ʽIsa, Nahr Sarsar, Nahr Malk (or Nahr Malcha), and Nahr Kutha, reticulating the entire country between the rivers, converted it into a continuous and luxuriant garden.
Just below Mussaib there has been for all ages a great bifurcation of the river. The right arm was the original bed, and the left arm, on which Babylon was built, the artificial deviation, as is clear from the cuneiform inscriptions. In the time of Alexander the nomenclature was reversed, the right arm being known as Pallacopas. Under the Arabs the old designation again prevailed and the Euphrates is always described by the Arabian geographers as the river which flows direct to Kufa, while the present stream, passing along the ruins of Babylon to Hillah and Diwanieh, has been universally known as the Nahr Sura. Occidental geographers, however, have followed the Greek use, and so to-day we call the river of Babylon or Nahr Sura the Euphrates and the older westerly channel the Hindieh canal. At the present time the preservation of the embankments about the point of bifurcation demands the constant care of the Bagdad government. The object is to allow sufficient water to drain off to the westward for the due irrigation of the land, while the Hillah bed still retains the main volume of the stream, and is navigable to the sea. But it frequently happens that the dam at the head of the Hindieh is carried away, and, a free channel being thus opened for the waters of the river to the westward, the Hillah bed shoals to 2 or 3 ft., or even dries up altogether, while the country to the west of the river is turned into lakes and swamps. Below the bifurcation the river of Babylon was again divided into several streams, and indeed the most famous of all the ancient canals was the Arakhat (Archous of the Greeks and Serrāt and Nil of the Arabs), which left that river just above Babylon and ran due east to the Tigris, irrigating all the central part of the Jezīreh, and sending down a branch through Nippur and Erech to rejoin the Euphrates a little above the modern Nasrieh. The Narss, also, the modern Daghara, which is still navigable to Nippur and beyond, left the Sura a little below Hillah; and at the present day another large canal, the Kehr, branches off near Diwanieh. It is easy to distinguish the great primitive watercourses from the lateral ducts which they fed, the latter being almost without banks and merely traceable by the winding curves of the layers of alluvium in the bed, while the former are hedged in by high banks of mud, heaped up during centuries of dredging.
Not a hundredth part of the old irrigation system is now in working order. A few of the mouths of the smaller canals are kept open so as to receive a limited supply of water at the rise of the river in May, which then distributes itself over the lower lying lands in the interior, almost without labour on the part of the cultivators, giving birth in such localities to the most abundant crops, but by far the larger portion of the region between the rivers is at present an arid howling wilderness dotted with tels or ruin-heaps, strewn in the most part with broken pottery, the evidence of former habitation, and bearing nothing but the camel-thorn, the wild caper, the colocynth-apple, wormwood and other weeds of the desert. The swamps are full of huge reeds, bordered with tamarisk jungles, and in its lower reaches, where the water stretches out into great marshes, the river is clogged with a growth of agrostis. To obtain a correct idea of this region it must be borne in mind also that the course of the river and the features of the country on both banks are subject to constant fluctuation. The Hindieh canal and the main stream, the ancient Sura, rejoin one another at Samawa. Down to this point, the bed of the Euphrates being higher than that of the Tigris, the canals run from the former to the latter, but below this the situation is reversed. At Nasrieh the Shatt-el-Haï, at one time the bed of the Tigris, and still navigable during the greater part of the year, joins the Euphrates. From this point downward, and to some extent above this as far as Samawa, the river forms a succession of reedy lagoons of the most hopeless character, the Paludes Chaldaici of antiquity, el Batihāt of the Arabs. Along this part of its course the river is apt to be choked with reeds and, except where bordered by lines of palm trees, the channel loses itself in lakes and swamps. The inhabitants of this region are wild and inhospitable and utterly beyond the control of the Turkish authorities, and navigation of the river between Korna and Suk-esh-Sheiukh is unsafe owing to the attacks of armed pirates. From Garmat Ali, where the Tigris and Euphrates at present unite, under the title of Shatt-el-Arab, the river sweeps on to Basra, 1000 yds. in width and from 3 to 5 fathoms deep, navigable for steamers of good size. From Korna to Basra the banks of the river are well cultivated and the date groves almost continuous; indeed this is the greatest date-producing region of the world. Twenty-five miles below Basra the river Karun from Shushter and Dizful throws off an arm, which seems to be artificial, into the Euphrates. This arm is named the Haffār, and at the confluence is situated the Persian town of Muhamrah, a place most conveniently located for trade. In this vicinity was situated, at the time of the Christian era, the Parthian city of Spasini-Charax, which was succeeded by Bahman Ardashir (Bamishir) under the Sassanians, and by Moharzi under the Arabs. The left bank of the river from this point belongs to Persia. It consists of an island named Abbadan, about 45 m. long, formed by alluvial deposits during the last fifteen centuries. (For the character of this alluvium and its rate of deposit see Irak.)
Even more than the upper and middle Euphrates the lower Euphrates, from Hit downward, abounds in ruins of ancient towns and cities, from the earliest prehistoric period onward to the close of the Caliphate (see Irak). The fact also that many of the most ancient of these ruins, like Ur, Lagash (Sirpurla), Larsa, Erech, Nippur, Sippara and Babylon, were situated on the banks of the great canals would indicate that the control of the waters of the rivers by a system of canalization and irrigation was one of the first achievements of civilization. This ancient system of canalization was inherited from the Persians (who, in turn, inherited it from their predecessors), by the Arabs, who long maintained it in working order, and the astonishing fertility and consequent prosperity of the country watered by the Euphrates, its tributaries and its canals, is noticed by all ancient writers. The land itself, an alluvial deposit, is very fruitful. Wheat and the date palm seem to have been indigenous, and the latter is still one of the chief of the country, but in later years rice has taken the place of wheat as the staff of life. The decline of the country dates from the appearance of Turkish nomads in the 11th century; its ruin was completed by the Shammar Arabs in the 17th century; but, if the ancient system of irrigation were restored, sufficient grain could be grown to alter the conditions of the wheat supply of the world. At the present time, instead of the innumerable cities of former days, there is a succession of small towns along the course of the river—Ramadiya, Feluja, Mussaïb, Hillah, Diwanieh, Samawa, el-Khudr (an ancient daphne or sacred grove, 31° 11′ 58″ N., 76° 6′ 9″ E., the only one anywhere which preserves to this day its ancient charter of the inviolability of all life within its precincts), Nasrieh and Suk-esh-Sheiukh—by means of which the Turkish government controls the river and levies taxes on a small part of the adjacent territory. At such settlements the river is lined with gardens and plantations of palms. The greater part of the region, however, even along the river shores, is inhabited only by roaming Bedouin or half-savage Maʽdan Arabs (see Irak).
Navigation.—The length of the Euphrates from its source at Diadin to the sea is about 1800 m., and its fall during the last 1200 m. about 10 ins. per mile. The river begins to rise in the end of March and attains its greatest height between the 21st and the 28th of May. It is lowest in November, and rocks, shallows, and the remains of old dams then render it almost unnavigable. In antiquity, however, it was evidently in use for the transportation of merchandise and even of armies. Boats built in Syrian ports were placed on the Euphrates by Sennacherib and Alexander, and Herodotus states (i. 185) that in his day the river was a frequented route followed by merchants on their way from the Mediterranean to Babylon. As the most direct line of transit between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, offering an alternative means of communication with India not greatly inferior to the Egyptian route, the Euphrates route early attracted the attention of the British government. During the Napoleonic wars, indeed, and up to the time when the introduction of steam navigation rendered the Red Sea accessible at all seasons of the year, the political correspondence of the home and Indian governments usually passed by the Euphrates route. Various plans were suggested for the development of this route as a means of goods as well as postal conveyance, and in 1835 Colonel F. R. Chesney was sent out at the head of an expedition with instructions to transport two steamers from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, and, after putting them together at Birejik, to attempt the descent of the river to the sea. One of these steamers was lost in a squall during the passage down the river near el-ʽIrsi, but the other performed the voyage in safety and thus demonstrated the practicability of the downward navigation. Following on this first experiment, the East India Company, in 1841, proposed to maintain a permanent flotilla on the Tigris and Euphrates, and set two vessels, the “Nitocris” and the “Nimrod,” under the command of Captain Campbell of the Indian navy, to attempt the ascent of the latter river. The experiment was so far successful that, with incredible difficulty, the two vessels did actually reach Meskene, but the result of the expedition was to show that practically the river could not be used as a high-road of commerce, the continuous rapids and falls during the low season, caused mainly by the artificial obstructions of the irrigating dams, being insurmountable by ordinary steam power, and the aid of hundreds of hands being thus required to drag the vessels up the stream at those points by main force. Under Midhat Pasha, governor-general of Bagdad from 1866 to 1871, an attempt was made by the Turkish authorities to establish regular steam navigation on the Euphrates. Midhat caused many of the dams to be destroyed and for some years occasional steamers were run between Meskene and Hillah in flood time, from April to August. But with the transfer of Midhat this feeble attempt at navigation was abandoned. At the present time the river is navigated by sailing craft of some size from Hit downward. Above that point there is no navigation except by the native rafts (kellek), which descend the river and are broken up on arrival at their point of destination. There is, however, little travel of this sort on the Euphrates in comparison with the amount on the Tigris.
When it became evident that, under present conditions at least, the navigation of the middle Euphrates was impracticable, attention was turned, owing to the peculiarly advantageous geographical position of its valley, to schemes for connecting the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf by railway as an alternative means of communication with India, and various surveys were made for this purpose and various routes laid out. All these schemes, however, fell through either on the financial question, or on the unwillingness of the Turkish government to sanction any line not connected directly with Constantinople. With the acquisition of the Suez Canal, moreover, the value of this route from the British standpoint was so greatly diminished that the scheme, so far as England was concerned, was quite abandoned. (For further notice of the railway question see Bagdad.)
Bibliography.—Gen. F. R. Chesney, Euphrates Expedition (1850); W. F. Ainsworth, Researches in Assyria and Babylonia (1838), and Personal Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition (1888); A. H. Layard, Nineveh and Babylon (1853); W. K. Loftus, Chaldaea and Susiana (1857); Geo. Rawlinson, Herodotus, bk. 1, essay ix. (1862); A. Blunt, Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates (1873); Josef Černik, Studien-Expedition (1873); H. Kiepert, Ruinenfelder Babyloniens (1883); Ed. Sachau, Reise in Syrien u. Mesopotamien (1883), and Am Euphrat u. Tigris (1900); Guy Le Strange, “Description of Mesopotamia,” in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1895), and Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphate (1901); J. P. Peters, Nippur (1897); M. v. Oppenheim, Vom Mittelmeer zum Persischen Golf (1900); H. V. Geere, By Nile and Euphrates (1904); Baedeker, Palestine and Syria (1906); Murray, Handbook to Asia Minor, &c., section iii. (H. C. R.; C. W. W.; J. P. Pe.)
- The confluence for about 500 years was at Korna, over 30 m. higher up. Sir W. Willcocks discovered (1909) that from Suk-esh-Sheiukh the Euphrates had formed a new channel through the marshes. (See Geog. Journal, Jan. 1910).