VOLGA, THE, the chief river of European Russia, rises in the Valdai plateau of Tver in north-western Russia, and after a winding course of 2325 miles (1040 in a straight line) falls into the Caspian at Astrakhan. It is by far the largest river of Europe, those next in length, the Danube and the Ural, being only 1735 and 1478 miles respectively, while the Rhine (825 miles) is shorter even than two of the chief tributaries of the Volga, - the Oka and the Kama. Its drainage area, which includes the whole of middle and eastern as well as part of southeastern Russia, amounts to 563,300 square miles, thus exceeding the aggregate superficies of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. A hundred tributaries of the Volga are navigable for an aggregate length of 14,600 miles, a distance greater than the aggregate length of all the railways of England and Wales. The drainage area embraces twenty-one provinces of the Russian empire, or, in other words, nearly the whole of Great Russia proper, and has a population of nearly 40,000,000. The most populous regions of Great Russia are situated within the Volga basin, and cities like Moscow, Nijni-Novgorod, Saratoff, Simbirsk, and Kazan, as well as many others, are indebted for their growth and present importance to their situation on the Volga or its tributaries. But the real " basin" of the Volga is not limited to its drainage area. By a system of canals which connects the upper Volga with the Neva, the commercial mouth of the Volga has been transferred, so to speak, from the Caspian to the Baltic, thus making St Petersburg, the capital and chief seaport of Russia, the chief port of the Volga basin as well. Other less important canals connect it with the Dana and the White Sea (Riga and Archangel); while a railway only 40 miles in length joins the Volga with the Don and the Sea of Azoff, and three great trunk lines bring its lower parts into connexion with the Baltic and western Europe. Traffic on the river and its tributaries is carried on by more than 760 steamers, 20,000 barges and boats, and 50,000 rafts; upwards of 4,000,000 tons of various goods, valued at 500,000,000 roubles (in weight one-half and in value three-fourths of the total merchandise on Russian rivers) arc carried. If in addition some 50,000 rafts of timber not included in the preceding statistics are reckoned, the timber floated in the basin of the Volga exceeds by nearly a million tons the total weight of merchandise carried on the 13,000 miles of Russian railways.' The -Volga rises in the extensive marshes covering the western parts of the Yaldai plateau, where the Duna also has its origin. Small streamlets languidly circulate from marsh to marsh, so that it is very difficult to say which of these ought to be regarded as the real source. Lake Seliger was formerly so considered; but at present that distinction is given to a small spring trickling into a wooden trough from beneath a small chapel in the midst of an extensive marsh to the south of Seliger (57° 10' N. lat.). The honour has also been claimed of late, not without plausibility, for the Runs rivulets Recent exact surveys have shown those marshes to be no more than 665 feet above sea-level. The stream first traverses several small lakes, all having the same level, and, after its junction with the Rama, enters Lake Volga. A dam recently erected a few miles below that lake, with a storage of 350 million cubic yards of water, makes it possible to raise the level of the Volga as far as the Slicksna, thus rendering it navigable, even at low water, from its 65th mile onwards. Unlike most other great rivers, the -Volga has thus no "upper course" among the mountains. From the Valdai plateau, however, its descent is rapid, until at Tver its level is only 420 feet, Before reaching this point it has received numerous small tributaries, so as to be already 300 yards in breadth, with a volume of more than 4000 cubic feet per second, and a minimum depth at low water of 19 inches, The Tvertsa is connected by the Vyshniy-Vototchok Canal with the Dina, a tributary to the Msta and Volkhoff, which flows to Lake Ladoga, - the first of the three systems of canals which, as already remarked, have removed the commercial mouth of the Volga to the Baltic. From Tver the -Volga is regularly navigated, although not without some difficulties on account of the shallows and sandbanks. It flows north-east along a broad valley to join the Motoga and the Sheksna„ two important tributaries connected by the Tikhvinsk and Mariinsk Canals with the tributaries of Lake Ladoga. Of these two systems the latter is much the more important, and the town of Rybinsk, at the mouth of the Sheksna, has therefore become the chief port of the upper Volga.
From its junction with the Sheksna the Volga flows with a very gentle descent towards the south-east, past Yaroslavl and Kostroma, along a broad valley hollowed to a depth of sonic 150 and 200 feet in the Permian and Jurassic deposits. In fact, its course is through a succession of depressions formerly filled with wide lakes, and connected by links. When the Volga assumes a dne south-east direction it is already a large river (8250 cubic feet per second, rising occasionally in high flood to as much as 178,360 cubic feet); of its numerous tributaries, the Unzha (365 miles, 330 navigable), from the north, is the most important.
The next great tributary is the Oka, which comes from the southwest after having traversed, on its course of 920 miles, all the Great Russian provinces of central Russia. It rises in Orel among hills which also send tributaries to the Dnieper and the Don, and receives on the left the Upa, the Jizdra, the Ugra (300 miles), navigable up to Kozelsk, the Moskva, on which steamers ply up to Moscow, the Klyazina (395 miles), on whose banks arose the Middle Russian principality of Suzdal, and on the right the navigable Tsna (255 miles) and Moksha. Every one of these tributaries is connected with sonic important event in the history of Great Russia, and the drainage area of the Oka is a territory of 97,800 square miles. It has been maintained of late that of the two rivers which unite at Nijni-Novgorod, the Oka, not the Volga, is the chief; and the fact is that both in length (818 miles) and in drainage area above the junction (89,500 square miles), as well as in the aggregate length of its tributaries, the Volga is the inferior. But, on the other hand, the Volga contributes on the whole the largest volume of water, although in flood the Oka here also has the advantage.
At its junction with the Oka the Volga enters the broad lacustrine depression (see RUSSIA) which must have communicated with the Caspian during the Post-Pliocene period by means of at least a broad strait. Its level at low water is only 190 feet above that of the ocean. Immediately below the junction its breadth ranges from 350 to 1750 yards, and even at the lowest water (in 1873) it had a minimum depth of 515 feet. The a-alley, which is nearly 7 miles wide, but at several places is narrowed to less than 2 miles, shows evident traces of having originated from a succession of elongated lakes, the shores of which bear numerous traces of the dwellings of prehistoric man from the Stone Age. There are many islands which change their appearance and position after each inundation. On the right it is joined by the Sura, which drains a large area and brings a volume of from 2700 to 22,000 cubic feet of water per second, the Vetluga (465 miles long, of which. 365 are navigable), from the forest-tracts of Yaroslavl, and many smaller tributaries; then it turns south-east and descends to another lacustrine depression, where it receives the Kama below Kazan, 300 miles below its junction with the Oka, and only 110 feet above the sea. Remains of molluscs still extant in the Caspian occur extensively throughout this depression and up the lower Kama.
The Kama, which brings to the Volga a contribution ranging from 52,500 to 141,400 cubic feet and occasionally reaching even 515,000 cubic feet per second, might again be considered as the more important of the two rivers. It rises in Yyatka, takes a wide sweep towards the north and east, and then flows south and southwest to join the 'Volga after a course of no less than 1120 miles. A great number of important rivers join it : - the Wishera, coming front the depth of the forest region ; the Kosva, so important for the export of metallic wares from the Ural works; the Tchusovaya (430 miles), which receives the Sylva and connects the Ekaterinburg mining district with central Russia; and filially the Ilyefaya (800 miles), which, together with the Ufa, its tributary, waters the fertile lands of the Baslikirs, rapidly being settled now by the Russians. A territory larger than France is thus brought into connexion with the great artery of Russian industrial life.
Along the next 738 miles of its course the Volga - now from 580 to 2600 yards wide - flouts south-south-west, with but one great bend at Samara. At this point, where it pierces a range of limestone hills, the course of the river is very picturesque, fringed as it is by high cliffs which rise about 1000 feet above the level of the water (which is only 54 feet above the sea at Samara). Along the whole of the Samara bend the Volga is accompanied on its right bank by high cliffs, which it is constantly undermining, while wide lowland areas extend on the left or eastern bank, and are intersected by several old beds of the -Volga. At SARA•OFF (q.v.) the cliffs are being undermined so rapidly that a broad beach now separates the chief channel of the river from the city. Very few streams of any importance join the Volga in this part of its course. Still, at Ekaterinenstadt, a few miles above Saratoff, the volume per second for the two years 1884 and 1885 appears to have been as much as 384,000 cubic feet. In flood 1,427,000 cubic feet per second has been recorded (Boguslayskiy), In the lower portion of this section the Volga has already passed below sea-level (58 feet below at Tsaritsyn).
At Tsaritsyn the Volga reaches its extreme south-western limit, where it is separated from the Don by an isthmus of only 40 miles in width. The isthmus is too high to be crossed by means of a canal, but a railway at Dubofila brings the Volga into some sort of connexion with the Don and the Sea of Azoffi At Tsaritsyn the river takes a sharp turn in a south-easterly direction towards the Caspian; it enters the Caspian steppes, and some 50 miles below Tsaritsyn sends off a branch - the Akhtuba - which accompanies it for 330 miles before falling into the Caspian. Here the Volga receives no tributaries; its right bank is skirted by low hills, hut on the left it spreads freely, joining the Akhtuba by many branches when its waters are high, and flooding the country for from 15 to 35 miles. The width of the main branch ranges from 520 to 3500 yards, and the depth exceeds 80 feet. The delta proper begins 40 miles above Astrakhan, and the branches subdivide so as to reach the sea by as many as 200 separate mouths. Below Astrakhan navigation is difficult, and on the sand-bars at the mouth the maximum depth is only 12 feet in calm weather, - a depth increased or diminished by a few feet according to the force and direction of the wind.
The figures given above, showing as they do how immensely different in volume is the river at different periods, help to indicate the greatness of the cbanges which are constantly going on in the channel and on its banks. Not only does its level occasionally rise in flood as much as 50 feet and cover its low-lying banks for mu distance ranging from 5 to 15 miles; even the level of the Caspian is considerably affected by the sudden influx of water brought by the Volga. The amount of suspended matter brought down is of course correspondingly great ; and, were it not for the action of the wind in driving back masses of water at the mouth of the Volga and thus filling up lakes where the mud is deposited, the bar at Astrakhan would soon become so silted lip as completely to prevent navigation. All along its course the Volga wastes its banks with great rapidity ; towns and loading ports have constantly to be shifted farther back. The shoals and shallows are continually changing, and maps of the river made for a series of consecutive years are of the greatest interest to the physical geographer.
The question as to the gradual desiccation of the Volga, and its causes, has often been -discussed, and in 1838 a committee which included Karl Baer among its members was appointed by the academy of sciences to investigate the subject ; no positive result has, however, been arrived at, principally on account of the want of regular measurements of the volume of the Volga and its tributaries, - measurements which began to be made on scientific principles only in 1880. Still, it may be regarded as established that during the last thirty years new shallows have appeared in time upper and the old ones have increased in size ; while it' we go back two or three centuries it is indisputable that rivers of the Volga basin which were easily navigable then are now hardly accessible to the smallest craft. The desiccation of the rivers of Russia has been often attributed to the steady destruction of its forests. But it is obvious that there are other general causes at work much more important, - causes to which the larger phenomena of the general desiccation of all rivers of the northern hemisphere in the deserts of Siberia and Turkestan, as well as in Russia, must be attributed. The gradual elevation of the whole of northern Russia and Siberia, and the consequent draining of the marshes (see Novconon), is one of them; the drying-up of lakes all over the northern hemisphere, a process which is going on so rapidly (sec ToMsic), in consequence of the deepening of the outflows of lakes and the cessation of supply to the lakes which remained after the glaciation of the northern hemisphere, is another ; and both causes are amply sufficient to explain the known phenomena throughout the historical period. The desiccation of the Russian rivers is only one instance of the general desiccation of the northern parts of the Old World, of which so many instances have been given under RUSSIA, TURKESTAN, TRANSCASPIAN REGION, and SIBERIA.
Fisheries. - The network of shallow and still limans or "cutoff's" in the delta of the Volga and the shallow waters of the northern Caspian, sweetened as these are by the water of the Volga, the Ural, the Kura, and the Terek, is exceedingly favourable to the breeding of fish, and as a whole constitutes one of the richest fishing grounds of the world. As soon as the ice breaks up in the delta innumerable shoals of roach (Leuciscus 91/6/ICS) and trout (Luctiotrutta /eziciehays) rush up the river. They are followed by the great sturgeon (Aaipenser huso), the pike, the bream, and the pike perch (Lcucioperca sandra). Later on appears the Caspian herring (Clupea caspia), which formerly was neglected, but has now become more important than the various species of sturgeon; the sturgeon (A. stellatus) and " wels " (Saurus glanis, see vol. xxii. p. 67) follow, and filially the sturgeon Acipcnser galdenstacItii, so much valued for its caviare. In search of a gravelly spawning-ground the sturgeons go up the river as far as Sarepta (250 miles). The lamprey, now extensively pickled, the sterlet (A. ruthenus), the tench, the gudgeon, and other river species also appear in immense numbers. No less than 15,000 men, partly from central Russia, are engaged in the fisheries of the lower Volga and its delta, while on the waters of the northern Caspian there are as many as 3000 fishing-boats, giving employment to something like 50,000 persons. From the end of June onwards immense trawl-nets, sometimes a mile in length, and occasionally taking at one haul as many as 40,000 bream, 150,000 roach, and 200,000 herrings, are continually at work, and it is estimated that 3,600,000 cwts. of various fish, of the value of 15,000,000 roubles, are taken annually in the four fishing districts of the Volga, Ural, Terek, and Kura. Seal-hunting is also carried on off the Volga, and every year about 40,000 of the Thaw vitulina are killed to the north of the Manghishlak peninsula. Fishing is extensively carried on along the entire course of the Volga and its tributaries, as also in the lakes of its upper basin.
Ice-Covering. - In winter the numberless tributaries and sub-tributaries of the Volga become so many highways for sledges. The ice lasts from 90 to 160 days according to the climatic conditions, and breaks up earlier in its upper course than in some parts lower down. The average date of the break-up is April 11th at Tver, and 14 days later about Kostroma, from which point a regular acceleration is observed (April 16th at Kazan, April 7th at Tsaritsyn, and March 17th at Astrakhan). Similarly, the average dates of freezing are November 23d at Tver, November 20th about Kostroma, December 7th at Kazail, 20th at Tsaritsyn, and 17th at Astrakhan. Thus the river is open for an average of 226 days at Ostashkoff and Tver, 215 days at Kostroma, and 209 at Kineshma ; from Nijni-Novgorod, where the average is 224 days, there is a regular increase (235 days at Kazan, 241 at Samara, 257 at Tsaritsyn, and 275 at Astrakhan). There are, however, great fluctuations, the navigation in some years having lasted only 182 days in the upper course, 169 at Kostroma, and 243 at Tsaritsyn; while within the last eighty years maxima of 260 days in the upper course and 288 in the lower course have been observed. The tributaries are navigable for periods ranging from 180 to 246 days.
Traffic.' - The chief Volga traffic is up river, the amount of merchandise which reaches Astrakhan being nearly fifteen times less than that reaching St Petersburg by the Volga canals. The details of this traffic are highly characteristic of the present economic life of Russia. Ten million ewts. of fish, salt, and naphtha are despatched from Astrakhan ; this contingent is soon swelled to 12 millions at Tsaritsyn by the salt brought by rail from the Baskuntchak salt-lakes. From Tsaritsyn 7 million cwts. of fish, salt, and naphtha are despatched by the first of the three railways which traverse Russia from south-east to north-west and connect the lower Volga with the Baltic, Considerable amounts of corn are added to this total on its way towards the north-west ; and, while salt, fish, and naphtha are discharged for use at various points in middle Russia, the flow of corn continues to swell ; portions of it are sent to Moscow from .Gryazi and Orel, but the remainder goes north-west, so as to resell Riga to the amount of 9,300,000 cwts., chiefly of corn and flax.
By the Volga itself only 5,100,000 cwts., chiefly of fish, salt, and naphtha, leave Tsaritsyn, but before this ascending traffic reaches Saratoff it has increased to 6,300,000 cwts., chiefly by the addition of corn from the Saratoff steppes. There the current of inerchan disc divides again • 3 million ewts. of corn, fish, kc., leave the Volp to be carried north-westwards towards Tamboff, while the remainder is carried on farther north, up the Volga, receiving on the way considerable additions of corn from the fertile tracts of Samara and the steppes of Orenburg, which are connected with Samara by rail. At Samara the flow again divides, and part of it is sent again north-west, via Penza, to Ryazhsk ; there the three north-western currents which leave the Volga respectively at Tsaritsyn, Saratoff, and Samara reunite after having taken hi corn from the fertile regions of Tamboff and Ryazaii, so that nearly 20 million cwts. of corn and other produce leave Ryazhsk to be carried on to Moscow. But the flow of corn ascending the Volga does not diminish, and Samara sends farther north no less than 14 million ewts., chiefly corn. At Kazan the volume of traffic is 16,200,000 ewts. (13 million cwts. of corn). Here a new mass, consisting of 11 million cwts. of corn, 3i of various metals, 4 of salt, and 6i of miscellaneous merchandise, all shipped down the Kama, joins the former, so that the total amount of merchandise forwarded from Kazaii up the Volga reaches 35 million cwts. The Sura, the Oka, and the Vetluga add their corn, timber, and manufactured goods, and the volume reaching Nijni-Novgorod amounts to 38 million cwts. Here the stream divides once snore: while manufactured. goods brought in to the Nijni-Novgorod fair are dispersed from it all over Russia, nearly 10 million cwts. of various merchandise (4 million of corn) are sent by rail to Moscow, but the great bulk (28 million cwts.) continues to move up the liver, receiving on the way more timber from the Unzha, and sending some corn northwards to Vologda and Archangel.
When the traffic reaches Rybinsk, we find that it consists of 20 million cwts. of corn and flax, and 51 million of metals, metallic and manufactured goods, hides, leather, and so on. At Rybinsk it again subdivides into three branches; one (6,300,000 cwts., chiefly of corn) is discharged and sent by rail to St Petersburg ; another (2,800,000 cwts.) continues up the Volga to enter the Vysliniy Vototchok and Tikhvinsk canal-systems; and the third and largest (16 million cwts., almost entirely corn and flax) moves along the Mariinsk system towards Lake Ladoga and St Petersburg. Masses of timber and wood for fuel are added to it from the forest tracts of the lake district, - the Syas and the Volkhoff bringing together nearly 17 million cwts., chiefly wood, so that filially 14,000,000 cwts. of corn and flax, 31,300,000 of timber and wood, 16,000,000 of building materials, and 4,000,000 of miscellaneous goods reach St Petersburg, which thus is the real seaport of the Volga basin.
The goods traffic down the river is much less important in weight, but relatively greater in value. Its prominent feature is the amount of wood sent to supply the provinces of Samara, Saratoff, and Astrakhan, as well as the lower Don, which now have very few or no forests. But the 8i million cwts. of wood and timber which reach Samara on boats are hut a trifle in comparison with what is floated in the shape of rafts. The down traffic in manufactured goods is still more important. The great bulk of those exported from St Petersburg is sent to Moscow by rail, and thence distributed by rail over central Russia ; but part of it is sent by rail to Rybinsk, and thence shipped down the Volga. Moscow sends its goods for the same purpose, partly to Yarosiavl, and partly to Nijni-Novgorod (by rail), as also does 'Vladimir. Nijni-Novgorod distributes the merchandise all over eastern Russia, sends it up the Kama to Siberia, and ships nearly 2 million cwts. down the Volga. This quantity is increased by the additions brought by rail to Samara, Saratoff, and Tsaritsyn.
According to official returns the aggregate amount of goods loaded in the basin of the Volga amounts to nearly 4 million tons, valued at 150 million roubles (2 million tons, 100 millions worth, on the Volga proper); trustworthy authorities, however, consider the real value of goods loaded in the basin of the Volga to be not less than 500 million roubles, exclusive of nearly 34 million tons of timber and fuel.
Formerly tens of thousands of " buriaki " were employed in dragging boats up the Volga and its tributaries, but this method of traction has disappeared unless from a few of the tributaries. Horse-power is still extensively resorted to along the three canal systems. The first large steamers of the American type were built in 1872. Steamers are now very common ; in 1885 as many as 766 were already in use on the Volga and its tributaries, and of these only one-eighth were not built within the Volga basin itself. One-third of them used naphtha as fuel. Of barges and other light vessels an immense variety of types are now in use during 1885 no fewer than 20,610 vessels were afloat, and during the last thirteen years the annual average of vessels built on the Volga and its tributaries has been 5030 (4,130,000 roubles), Large numbers of them are broken up after a single voyage.
History. - The Volga was not improbably known to the early Greeks, though it is not mentioned by any of Use writers previous to Ptolemy, who all confounded the Caspian with a gulf of the Arctic Ocean. According to Ptolemy, the Rim is a tributary of an interior sea, formed from the confluence of two great rivers, the sources of which are separated by twenty degrees of longitude; but it is scarcely possible to judge from his statements how far the Slavonians had by that time succeeded in penetrating into the basin of the Volga. The Arabian geographers also throw but little light on the condition of the Volga (which they knew under the names of Itil, Etil, or Atel) during the great migrations of the 3d century, or subsequently under the invasion of the Runs, the growth of the great Khazar empire in the southern steppes, and of that of Bulgaria on the middle Volga. But we know that in the 9th century the Volga basin was occupied by Finnish stems in the north, and by Khazars and various Turkish sterns in the south. The Slavomans, driven perhaps to the west, had only the Volkhoff and the Dnieper, while the Mohammedan Bulgarian empire, at the confluence of the Volga with the Kama, was so strong that for some time it was an open question whether Islam or Christianity was to gain the upper hand among the Slavonian idolaters. But, while the Russians were driven from the Black Sea by the Khazars, and later ou by a tide of Ugrian migration from the north-east to the south-west (see p. 5 svpra), a stream of Slavonians slowly moved towards the north-east, down the Oka, into the borderland between the Finnish and Turkish stems. After two centuries of struggle the Russians succeeded in colonizing the fertile valleys of the Oka basin ; in the 12th century they built a series of fortified towns on the Oka and Klyazma, and finally they reached the mouth of the Oka, there founding (in 1222) a new Novgorod - the Novgorod of the Lowlands, now Nijni-Novgorod. The great lacustrine depression of the middle Volga was thus reached. Under the protection of the forts in the north-east, of the forests of llyazali in the south, and of the marshes of Novgorod and Tver in the north, the Great-Russian nationality freely developed in the fertile valleys of the Oka, absorbing the feeble Finnish tribes which formerly peopled them; and when the Tartar-Mongolian invasion came it encountered in the Oka basin a dense agricultural population with many fortified and wealthy towns, - a population which the Mongols found they-could conquer, indeed, but were unable to drive before them as they had done with so many of the Turkish stems. This invasion only checked but did not stop the further advance of the Russians down the Volga; nay, it partly facilitated it, because it weakened the Bulgarian empire, and, by keeping up ou the lower Volga a continual flow and ebb of nomads, prevented the development there of any settled population which might, ultimately have opposed the further advance of the Russians towards the Caspian. Two centuries elapsed before the Russians covered the 300 miles which separate the mouths of the Oka and the Kama, and took possession of Kazail. But in the meantime a flow of Novgorodian colonization had moved eastward, in the upper portions of the left-bank tributaries of the Volga, and had reached the Urals, thus openinc, the way to Siberia.
With the capture of Kazaii the Russians found the lower Volga open to their boats, and eight years afterwards they were already masters of the mouth of time river at Astrakhan. The Tartars and Turks of the steppes between the Dnieper and the -Volga were thus encircled ; the Little Russians endeavoured to take possession of the lower Dnieper, and the Great Russians already had a firm footing on the lower Volga. The possession of the latter opened a free passage to the Don, up the little river Kamyshinka (now dried up hut then navigable), which gave easy means of crossing the narrow isthmus between the Don and the Volga. Thus the lower Don was colonized. But two centuries more elapsed before the Russians opened for themselves a free passage to the Black Sea and became masters of the Sea of Azotf and the Crimea ; the Volga, however, was their route. During these two centuries they fortified the lower river, settled it, and penetrated also farther eastward into the steppes, towards the upper Ural and thence to the upper parts of the Tohol and the other great Siberian rivers. They penetrated also into the northern parts of the Caucasus isthmus, while another stream of armed colonization moved up the Kama and its numerous tributaries; finding the sources of these close to those of the Oh and Tobol, they crossed the low watersheds of the Urals and spread over northern Siberia, always following the river courses and taking advantage of the portages for penetrating from one basin into the next. The entire growth of Russia towards the east went on from the Volga and its tributaries, and the long line of water communication (nearly 1000 miles) which flows from the upper Kama (60° N. lat.) to Astrakhan (46° 4'), between Europe and Asia, and extends as far south as Astrabad on the Caspian (36° 51' N. lat.), became the basis for all further advance of Russia into Asia.