Largest Cities Throughout History
by Matt Rosenberg Thought.Co
In order to understand how civilizations have evolved over time, it’s useful to look at population growth and decline in different geographic areas.
Tertius Chandler’s compilation of the population of cities throughout history, Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census uses a wide variety of historical sources to locate approximate populations for the world’s largest cities since 3100 BCE.
It’s a daunting task to try to calculate how many people lived in urban centers prior to recorded history. Even though the Romans were the first to conduct a census, requiring every Roman man to register every five years, other societies were not as diligent about tracking their populations. Widespread plagues, natural disasters with a large loss of life and wars that decimated societies (from both the aggressor and the conquered points of view) often provide unfortunate clues to historians for a given population’s size.
But with few written records, and very little uniformity among societies that may be hundreds of miles apart, trying to determine whether China’s pre-modern era cities were more populous than India’s, for instance, is no easy task.