Longest Rivers in the World and their Histories

Longest Rivers in the World | Image (L-R): Nile, Amazon, and Yangtze

Since the birth of civilization, rivers have always lured communities to settle around them. It comes as no coincidence that some of the greatest civilizations in world history were formed along the longest rivers on earth. For example, it is an undisputed fact that there would have been no ancient Egypt without the Nile River.

Similarly, the colossal empires of the Mesopotamian region could not have survived had it not been for the Euphrates and the Tigris, which measure around 3,000 km (1,900 miles) and 1,900 km respectively. But even at those lengths, those two rivers don’t even make the cut of the top 10 longest rivers in the world.

The following are the longest rivers in the world:


Measuring about 6,690 km (4,157) in length, the Nile is generally considered the world’s longest river. Since time immemorial, it has sustained communities, cities, and empires that settled along its banks. Thus it is most famous for being the life force of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

It comes as no wonder that most of Egypt’s population (present and past) can be found along the banks of the Nile valley north of Aswan. Another testament to the importance of the Nile is the fact that almost all the major archaeological findings of ancient Egypt are situated along the Nile.

The Nile, a north-flowing river, goes through 10 African countries – Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. At an average discharge rate of 2,820 m³/s, the Nile River flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

There are two main tributaries of the Nile – the Blue and White Nile – meet in Sudan. The White Nile is the longer of the two. The Blue Nile emerges from Lake Tana in Ethiopia before making its way into Sudan. The White Nile on the other hand begins in the central Africa’s Great Lakes and then makes its way through north through Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan. Of the two main tributaries of the Nile, the Blue Nile is the one that gives the Nile most of its water.

Did you know: The name of the Nile was derived from the Greek word Neilos, which means “river valley”?

To the ancient Egyptians the Nile was Iteru, meaning “big river”


Coming in second on the list of world’s longest rivers is the mighty Amazon River, which has presence in six South American countries – Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.

The Amazon is about 6387 km (3,969 miles) in length. With a drainage area of close to 7,000,000 kilometre square, the Amazon is the undisputed king in that category. It has been estimated that the Amazon’s total flow outpaces the next six largest rivers put together.

Also known as The River Sea, much of Amazon River’s drainage, which is also known as the Amazon Basin, can be found in Brazil. The Amazon’s might is reflective in the sheer amount of fresh water that it releases into the Atlantic Ocean in the rainy season. According to experts, the river releases close to 300,000  m³ per second, making it account for about 20% of the world’s total volume of fresh water that pour into the oceans.

Growing along the Amazon River is the extremely important Amazon Rainforest, the largest rainforest on earth. This behemoth is of immense ecological value since it soaks large quantities of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Both the Amazon River and the Amazon forest complement each other by serving as home to millions of animal and plant species.

Amazon River

Amazon River | Did you know: The Amazon, which drains to the east into the Atlantic Ocean, formerly drained westwards into the Pacific Ocean?


Located primarily in the People’s Republic of China, the Yangtze River has a length of about 6,300 km (3,900 miles). The Yangtze River’s total drainage area is about 1,800,000 square kilometers. At that length, the Yangtze comes in top on the list of longest rivers in Asia. On the average it discharges about 31,900 m³ per second, a minuscule figure compared to the mighty Amazon River.

Beginning from the Qinghai Province in western China, the Yangtze River, which is also known as Chang Jiang, flows into the East China Sea.

Chang Jiang, which is one of the numerous names of the Yangtze River, means “long river” in Chinese. The Yangtze goes by different names depending on the section of the river’s course. For example, at the source of Yangtze River, Chinese call it Dangqu; however, the river goes by Tuotuo and Tongtian when it approaches the downstream areas.

It has been estimated that the Yangtze River has more than 700 tributaries, including Minjiang River, Lishui, Zijiang, and Ganjiang River. Several major cities in China can be found along the river, including Nanjing, Nantong, Wuhu, Wuhan, and Shanghai.

Yangtze River is Asia’ longest river


With a combined length of about 3,900 miles (6,300 km), the Mississippi River and Missouri River are the second-longest and first-longest rivers in the United States, respectively. And since the Missouri River flows into the Mississippi River, the Mississippi-Missouri River comes in at 4th on the list of the world’s longest rivers. This also means that the Mississippi-Missouri River is the longest river system in the whole of North America. The Mississippi-Missouri River has an average discharge rate of about 16,500 m³ per second; and its drainage area is in the region of 2,980,000 square kilometers.

The Missouri River starts at the Confluence of Madison, Gallatin and Jefferson in Montana. It then makes its way through St Louis, Missouri. With an average discharge rate of 35,000 cubic feet per second (or 1,050 m³/sec), the Missouri River is largest tributary of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River, on the other hand, has a mean flow about 46,000 cubic feet per second.

Due to its length and size, the Mississippi-Missouri River has been life blood of numerous civilizations in North America. The high silt content from the Missouri River, which is also known as “Dark River”, has for several countless centuries allowed the inhabitants along the region to engage in agriculture.

Fast forward to the 18th century, when America was bent on expanding westward, the river, particularly the Missouri River, was vital for fur traders. And following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 which saw the United States acquire from France vast territory along the Missouri River, the United States embarked one of the greatest expeditions in its history. This expedition, which came to be called the Lewis and Clark Expedition, successfully found a pliable route westward along the river to the Gulf of Mexico in the Pacific Ocean.

The point where the Missouri River meets the Mississippi. Together, the Mississippi-Missouri River come in at number 4 on the list of world’s longest rivers

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