Geography > Mesopotamia



Natural Divisions

The stretch from Samsāṭ and, Jezīret-ibn-ʽOmar to the alluvial plain seems to divide itself naturally into three parallel belts, highland watershed district, undulating plains and steppe. (1) The Taurus foothill barrier that shuts off the east to west course of the Euphrates and,Geography. Tigris culminates centrally in the rugged volcanic Ḳaraja-Dāgh (6070 ft.) which blocks the gap between the two rivers, continued eastwards by the mountainous district of Ṭūr-ʽAbdīn (the modern capital Midyāt is at a height of 3500 ft.) and westwards by the elevated tract that sends down southwards the promontory of J. Tektek (c. 1950 ft.). (2)

At the line where this east to, west wall ends begins the sea of undulating plains where there is enough rain for abundant wheat and barley. (3) From the alluvial flats upwards toward these undulating plains is an extensive stretch of steppe land almost destitute of rain. Not far above the transition rom the barren steppe is a second mountain wall (125 m. between extremities) roughly parallel with the first, consisting of the Sinjār chain (about 3000 ft., limestone, 50 m. long, 7 m. broad), continued westwards after a marshy break by the volcanic Tell Kōkab (basalt, about 1300 ft.), and then the ʽAbd al-ʽAzīz range (limestone), veering upwards towards its western end as if to meet, the Tektek promontory from the north.


The water system is thus determined. West of Tektek drains into the Belīkh, east of Tektek into the Khābūr. All this drainage, collected into two rivers, the Belīkh and the Khābūr, is towards the left bank of the Euphrates, for the Mesopotamian watershed seems to be only some 15 m. or less from the Tigris until, south of the Sinjār range, it lies farther west, and the Tharthar river is possible. The Belīkh (Balich, Bilechas, Βαλίσσος[11]), a stream some 30 ft. wide, has its main source some 50 m. north in the ʽAin Khalīl ar-Raḥmān, but receives also the waters of the united Nahr al-Ḳūt (in its upper course formerly the Daisān, Σκίρτος) from Edessa and Köpru Dāgh, and the Jullāb from Tektek Dāgh about as much farther north.

The Khābūr (Chabur, Chabōras[12]), 80–100 ft. wide, before its last 40 m. reach in a south-west direction, has a 70 m. reach due north and south from Tell Kōkab (about 1300 ft.), near which are united the Jaghjagh (earlier, Hirmās, 20 ft. in width), which has come 50 m. from Naṣībīn in the north-east, bringing with it the waters of the many streams from the Ṭūr ʽAbdīn highlands; the north ʽĀwij, which at certain seasons brings much water due south from Mārdīn, and the main stream of the Khābūr, which has come 60 m. from Ras al-ʽAin in the north-west, after flowing 50 m. by way of Wērānshahr from Karaja Dāgh in the north. The Tharthār (Assyrian Tartar, in Tukulti-Ninib, II.’s inscription) begins in the Sinjār range and runs southwards, to lose itself in the desert a little above the latitude of Hīt. So it was two generations before Ahab (Annales de Tukulti Ninip, V. Scheil, 1909). The Arabian geographers represent the Tharthār as connected at its upper end (by a canal?) with the Khābūr system.

Character of Surface

(1) The tract between the Belikh and the Euphrates is in its middle section exceedingly fertile, as is implied in the name Anthemusia, and according to v. Oppenheim (Z. d. Gesellsch. f. Erdkunde, 36, 1901, p. 80) the same is true of the southern portion also. The plain extending from Urfa to a dozen miles below Iglarran has a rich red-brown humus derived from the Nimrid Dagh east of Edessa.

(2) The rolling plains north of the Abd al 'Aziz Sin'§ .r mountain wall are intersected by the man streams of the lihabur system (the Arab geographer Mustaufi speaks of 300.feeders), which under favourable political and administrative conditions would produce a marked fertility. At Nasibin (Nisibis) rice is cultivated with success.

(3) The country south of the mountain range is steppe land, imperfectly known, and of little use except for nomadic tribes, apart from the banks of the rivers (on which see Euphrates, Tigris). It consists mainly of grey dreary flats covered with selenite; and a little below the surface, ypsum. Bitumen is found at Hit, whence perhaps its name (Babylonian Id in Tukulti Ninib II.'s inscription referred to above), and near the Tigris.


Mesopotamia combines strong contrasts of climate, and isla connecting link between the mountain region of western Asia and the desert of Arabia. At Der ez-Zor, for example, the heat is intense.

(1) In the steppe, during the sandstorms which frequently blow from the West Arabian desert the temperature may rise to 122° F. On the other hand, in winter the warm currents comin in from the Persian Gulf being met to a large extent by northeiily currents from the snow-covered tracts of Armenia, are condensed down on to the plain and discharge moisture enough to cover the ravel steppes with spring herbage.

(2) In the higher plains, in mill winter, since the high temperature air from the gulf is drawn up the valleys of the Euphrates and the Tigris there may be, e.g. at Mosul, a “damp mildness.” In spring the grass on the rolling plains is soon parched. So when the hot sandstorms blow in the lower steppe the scorching heat is carried right up to the foot of the mountains. On the other hand, since the spurs of the Taurus bring the winter cold a long way south, and the cold increases from west to east as we leave the mild coast of the Mediterranean, far down into the Mesopotamian lain the influence of the snow covered ridges can be felt, and in the higher parts of the plain snow and ice are not infrequent; and although there is no point of sufficient altitude to retain snow for long, the temperature -may fall as low as 14° F., especially if the cold north winds are blowing. The cycle of vegetation begins in November. The first winter rains clothe the plain with verdure, and b the beginning of the year various bulbous plants are in bloom. The full summer development is reached in June. By the end of August, everything-is burnt up; August and September are the low-water months in the rivers, March to May the time of flood.


(1) Botanical lists have been published by Von Oppenheim (Vom Mittelmeer zum Persischen Golf, ii. 373–388) of a collection made in 1893 containing 43 entries for Mesopotamia, and by E. Herzfeld (Herbaraufnahmen aus Kalʽat-Serkat-Assur, in Beiheft II. zur Or. Lit.-Zeit, 1908, pp. 29–37) of a collection made in 1903–1905 in the neighbourhood of Assur, containing 181 entries.

(2) The following are among the more important products of the central zone of Mesopotamia: wheat, barley, rice (e.g. at Sarūj, the Khābūr), millet, sesemum (for oil, instead of olive), dura (Halrus vor hum and H. bicolor); lentils, peas, beans, vetches; cotton, hemp, safflower, tobacco; Medicago sativa (for horses); cucumber, melons, water-melons, figs (those of Sinjar famed for sweetness), dates (below, ʽAna and Tekrit); 'a few timber trees; lane and white poplar (by streams), willow and sumach (by the Eiiiphrates). The sipes of Ḳaraja-Dāgh, J. ʽAbd el-ʽAziz and Sinjār are wooded, but not now the nel hbourhood of Nisibis.

(3) In the steppe the vegetation is that which prevails in similar soil from Central Asia to Algeria; but many of the arborescent plants that grow in the rockier and more irregular plateaux of western Asia, and especially of Persia, have been reported as missing. Endless masses of tall weeds, belonging to a few species, cover the face of the country large Cruciferae, Cynareae and Umbelliferae—also large quantities of liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra and echinata) and Lagonychium, and the white ears of the Imperata. In autumn the withered weeds are torn up by the wind and driven immense distances.


The following abound: wild swine, hyaena, jackal, cheetah, fox; gazelle (in herds), antelope species (in the steppe); jerboa, mole, orcupine, and especially the common European rat (in the desert); bat, lon -haired desert hare. The following are rare: wild ass; beaver, saidg to have been observed on the Euphrates; wolf, among others a variety of black wolf (Canis lycaon), said to be found in the plains; lion, said to roam as far as the Khābūr. On the Euphrates are the following: vulture, owl, raven, &c., also the falcon (Tinnanculus alaudarius), trained to hunt. Among game birds are: wild duck and goose, partridge, francolin, some kinds of dove, and in the steppe the buzzard. The ostrich seems almost to have disappeared. Large tortoises abound, and, in the ʽAin el-ʽArus pool, resh-water turtles and carp. Of domestic animals in the steppe the first place belongs, to the camel; next come goat and sheep (not the ordinary fat-tailed variety); the common buffalo 'is often kept by the Arabs and the Turkomans on the Euphrates and the Tigris; on the Euphrates is found the Indian zebu.

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