The Tigris is the eastern member of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, the other being the Euphrates. In Greek, Mesopotamia means between two rivers. The river flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq and empties itself into the Persian Gulf. The Ancient Greek form Tigris was borrowed from Old Persian Tigrā, itself from Elamite Tigra, itself from Sumerian Idigna. The original Sumerian Idigna or Idigina was probably from “running water”, which can be interpreted as “the swift river”, contrasted to its neighbor, the Euphrates. Another name for the Tigris used in Middle Persian was Arvand Rud, literally “swift river”. Today, however, Arvand Rud refers to the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers (known in Arabic as the Shatt al-Arab). In Kurdish and in southeastern Turkey the river is known as Dicle also known as Ava Mezin, “the Great Water”. Rising in the Taurus mountains of southern Turkey, the Tigris flows southeast through Iraq, where in the southern part of that country it merges with the Euphrates to become the Shatt al Arab, which then flows to the Persian Gulf. The river has numerous small tributaries running from its eastern bank, and is 1,180 miles (1,899 km) in length.
In the southeast of Turkey, about 28 miles south of Sanliurfa (once called Edessa), lies the city of Harran. The ancient city of Harran was located on the west bank of the Balikh River, a tributary of the Euphrates, in Northern Mesopotamia. The river has long since dried up, although it still has water semiannually in Syria. Harran’s location was a major crossroad for primary trade routes from Mesopotamia to the west and the northwest. The city was an important trade center in ancient times. It appears to be named after its geographic function. Harran is derived from the Sumerian or Akkadian harranu which means road or caravan. The Bible refers to Harran as Paddan-aram which is Aramean for highway. The city of Harran was believed to have been founded around 2000 BCE as a merchant outpost of Ur. The Bible records that Abraham stayed in Harran after leaving Ur, which some claim was actually Edessa (modern Sanliurfa). Beginning about 2000 BCE, Harran’s name was mentioned in a variety of historical accounts as one of the most prominent cities of Northern Mesopotamia. However, very scarce information regarding the earliest period of its history has survived. A number of excavations have revealed early Bronze Age materials that support the existence of Harran during this period. The name of Harran first begins to be mentioned in the Mari Archives (around 1760 BCE). Some documents detail practices such as adoption and inheritance similar to those found in the Genesis accounts. Reports in the royal letters from the city of Mari on the middle Euphrates indicate that the area around the Balikh river was occupied in the 19th century BCE by semi-nomadic tribes, who were especially active in the region near Harran. According to the letter correspondence between the Assyrian King Shamsi-Adad I (1812-1797 BCE) and his son Ishme-Adad, Harran was also once a vassal kingdom of Assyria, the farthest outreach of the Assyrian Empire.