A summary is presented of the principal types of completely integrable partial differential equations having soliton solutions. Each type is derived from an appropriate physical model of an electromagnetic wave problem, with the intention to show how known mathematical results apply to a coherent class of physical problems in electromagnetic waves. The non-linear Schrödinger (NS) equation appears when the induced non-linear dielectric polarization is expanded in a series of powers of the electric field, only the linear and third-order polarizations are retained, and the temporal spectrum of the wave is a narrow band far removed from any resonance of the medium. The sine-Gordon equation appears from a similar optical model of propagation in a dielectric consisting of identical 2-level atomic systems, but resonance occurs between the carrier frequency of the wave and the transition frequency of the atoms. The Boussinesq and Korteweg– de Vries equations appear at different levels of approximation to a potential wave on a transmission line having a non-linear capacitance such that the charge stored is a non-linear function of the line potential. In all cases the evolution variable is the propagation distance; the transverse variable is time, but in the case of the NS equation it may alternatively be a spatial coordinate, giving rise to the possibility of spatial solitons as well as temporal solitons for NS-type problems. Two examples are derived of non-integrable Hamiltonian systems having spatial solitary waves, namely the second-order cascade interaction and vector spatial solitary waves of the third-order interaction, and a brief survey of the analytical solutions for the plane waves and solitary waves of these two types is presented. Finally, the addition of a second spatial dimension to the non-linear transmission line problem leads to the Kadomtsev–Petviashvili equations, and a further approximation for weakly modulated travelling waves leads to the Davey–Stewartson equations. Both of these completely integrable systems support combined spatial–temporal solitons.