The deep venous system is best defined as the entire territory served by the great vein of Galen and the basal veins. This comprises not only the choroid plexuses and the deep grey matter of the thalamus and striatum, but also the periventricular white matter and corpus callosum, hippocampus and the cortical areas of the limbic lobe including the cingulate and parahippocampal gyri, the visual cortex, the diencephalon and rostral brain stem, and part of the cerebellum. The superficial venous system comprises the remaining neocortex (with the cortex of the entire convexity) together with a layer of subcortical white matter, separated from the periventricular white matter by a venous watershed. Outflow towards the great vein of Galen and straight sinus can be substituted by collateral channels towards the basal vein. The basal vein in turn is connected not only to the great vein of Galen, but also to the superior petrosal sinus (via the lateral mesencephalic vein), and in the adult configuration to the cavernous sinus and pterygoid plexus (via the deep and superficial sylvian veins). Evidence from pathological anatomy indicates that the venous watershed exists not only in the white matter of the hemispheres, but between the entire territories of the deep and superficial venous systems. Because of their anastomotic interconnections, only simultaneous obstruction of veins of Galen and basal veins wil effectively obstruct deep venous outflow. This can occur in the tentorial incisura, from swelling or displacement of the midbrain due to brain oedema, haematoma or tumour. Complete obstruction of great vein of Galen and basal veins leads to rapid death. In patients who survive incomplete obstruction, various combinations of damage to parts of the deep venous territory exist. This is possible because very many tributaries of the deep system unite below and sometimes above the tentorial incisura. The hallmarks these varying deep venous obstructions have in common are sparing of the subcortical white matter of the convexity, and cortical involvement limited to the limbic lobe and visual cortex. Obstruction of cerebral venous outflow explains many pathological phenomena. Treatment must aim at relieving this obstacle to blood flow.