（Βίρθα, Ptol. 5.18
; Virta, Amm. Marc. 20.7.17
), an ancient fortress on the Tigris to the S. of Mesopotamia, which was said to have been built by Alexander the Great.
It would seem, from the description of Ammianus (l.c.
), to have resembled a modern fortification, flanked by bastions, and with its approaches defended by out-works. Sapor here closed his campaign in A.D. 360, and was compelled to retire with considerable loss. D'Anville (Geog. Anc.
vol. ii. p. 416) identifies this place with Tekrít,
in which Gibbon (vol. iii. p. 205) agrees with him. St. Martin (note on Le Beau, vol. ii. p. 345) doubts whether it lay so much to the S.
The word Birtha in Syriac means a castle or fortress, and might be applied to many places. From the known position of Dura, it has been inferred that the remarkable passage of the Tigris by Jovian in A.D. 363 took place near Tekrít.
(Atmm. Marc. 25.6.12; Zosim. 3.26.) Towards the end of the 14th century, this impregnable fortress was stormed by Taïmur-Bec.
The ruins of the castle are on a perpendicular cliff over the Tigris, about 200 feet high.
This insulated cliff is separated from the town by a broad and deep ditch, which was no doubt filled by the Tigris.
At the foot of the castle is a large gate of brick-work, which is all that remains standing; but round the summit of the cliff the walls, buttresses, and bastions are quite traceable.
There are the ruins of a vaulted secret staircase, leading down from the heart of the citadel to the water's edge. (Rich, Kurdistan,
vol. ii. p. 147; comp. Journ. Geog. Soc.
vol. ix. p. 448; Chesney, Exped. Euphrat.
vol. i. pp. 26, 27; Ritter, Erdkunde,
vol. x. p. 222.)
A town on the E. bank of the Euphrates, at the upper part of a reach of that river, which runs nearly N. and S., and just below a sharp bend in the [p. 1.403]
stream, where it follows that course after coming from a long reach flowing more from the W.
This town has often been confounded with the Birtha of Ptolemy (5.19
; see below), but incorrectly.
In fact, the name of Birtha occurs in no ancient writer. Zosimus (3.19) mentions that Julian, in his march to Maogamalcha, rested at a town called Bithra (Βίθρα
), where there was a palace of such vast dimensions that it afforded quarters for his whole army. (Comp. Le Beau, Bas Empire,
vol. iii. p. 93.)
This town was no doubt the modern Bír
of the Turks (Albirat,
Abulf. Tab. Syr.
The castle of Bír
rises on the left bank, so as to command the passage of the river on the opposite side.
The town contains about 1700 houses, and is surrounded by a substantial wall, which, like the castle, is partly of Turkish architecture, partly of that of the middle ages. Bír
is one of the most frequented of all the passages into Mesopotamia.
The bed of the river at this place has been ascertained to be 628 1/3 feet above the level of the Mediterranean Sea. (Buckingham, Mesopotamia,
vol. i. p. 49; Journ. Geog. Soc.
vol. x. pp. 452, 517; Ghesney, Exped. Esuphrat.
vol. i. p. 46; Ritter, Erdkunde,
vol. x. p. 976.)
A town to the SE. of Thapsacus, which Ptolemy (5.19
) places in 73° 40′ long., 35° 0′ lat.
This place, the same as the Birtha of Hierocles, has been confounded by geographers with the town in the Zeugma of Commagene, which lies much further to the N. (Ritter, Erdkunde,
vol. x. p. 976.) [E.B.J