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Urbanism in the Preindustrial World

Cross-Cultural Approaches

Edited by Glenn Storey, with contributions from Rebecca Storey, Li Liu, Sarah M.

Publication Year: 2006

A baseline study of the growth of preindustrial cities worldwide.

This work employs a subset of preindustrial cities on many continents to answer questions archaeologists grapple with concerning the populating and growth of cities before industrialization. It further explores how scholars differently conceive and execute their research on the population of cities. The subject cities are in Greece, Mesoamerica, the Andes, Italy, Egypt, Africa, United States, Denmark, and China. This broad sample provides a useful framework for answers to such questions as “Why did people agglomerate into cities?” and “What population size and what age of endurance constitute a city?”

The study covers more than population magnitude and population makeup, the two major frameworks of urban demography. The contributors combine their archaeological and historical expertise to reveal commonalities, as well as theoretical extrapolations and methodological approaches, at work here and outside the sample.

Urbanism in the Preindustrial World is a unique study revealing the variety of factors involved in the coalescing and dispersal of populations in preindustrial times.


Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

List of Tables

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii

Urbanism in the Preindustrial World originated as an Archaeology Division session for the 95th meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Philadelphia, December 1998, in accordance with the theme of those meetings, the 200th anniversary of Thomas Malthus’s On Population. The original invitation came from Elizabeth Brumfiel, to whom we extend our sincerest thanks and appreciation. Her early support and suggestions helped to craft this volume ...

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Introduction: Urban Demography of the Past

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pp. 1-23

The contributions in this volume cover only a subset of worldwide preindustrial urbanism. The purpose of the volume is to provide examples of archaeological grappling with the subject of the population of cities before industrialization and to explore how scholars differently conceive and execute their research. Because I am a Romanist cognizant of the large ...


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1. The Growth of Greek Cities in the First Millennium BC

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pp. 27-51

Greece in 1000 BC was a world of villages. Most people lived in communities of just a few dozen souls; even the largest settlement, Athens (Figure 1-1), was probably just 3,000 to 4,000 strong. But at the millennium’s end, the Greek east Mediterranean boasted some of the largest cities in preindustrial history. Alexandria, Antioch, and Seleucia-on-the-Tigris probably each had 250,000–500,000 inhabitants. ...

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2. Did the Population of Imperial Rome Reproduce Itself ?

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pp. 52-68

... In the same vein Hopkins (1995–1996:60; see also Robinson 1992:1) holds that in Rome mortality must have been much higher than in small towns or the countryside and that therefore the city would have been “a huge death-trap.” Scheidel (1994; cf. 1996, 2003a; see also Sallares 1999, 2002), studying the seasonality of death at Rome on the basis of the evidence of Christian epitaphs with the date of death, accepts the gloomy presentation by Scobie (1986) of the ...

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3. Epidemics, Age at Death, and Mortality in Ancient Rome

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pp. 69-85

Discussions of preindustrial cities frequently focus on health issues. Scholars from many disciplines (e.g., Cohen 1989; de Vries 1984; McNeill 1976; Scheidel 2001b, 2003a; Storey 1992b; this volume) have long argued that ancient cities suffered high levels of epidemic disease and mortality. They relate these problems to population density, difficulties with public sanitation, and greater connections with outside populations. Although ancient Rome, on the basis of its size and connections, would be expected to display such early urban maladies on a large ...

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4. Seasonal Mortality in Imperial Rome and the Mediterranean: Three Problem Cases

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pp. 86-109

Seasonal fluctuations of death are a demographic fact of some considerable historical significance. Recurrent variations in the annual cycles of mortality formed by these seasonal clusters of deaths help the historian to define human populations in relation to their environments. These annual patterns of death suggest the fundamental underlying causes, including atmospheric conditions, temperature regimes, disease vectors, material sustenance, health resources, urban and rural discontinuities, and other such factors that produce the long ...

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5. Population Relationships in and around Medieval Danish Towns

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pp. 110-120

The urban segment formed a small minority of the population in medieval Scandinavia. However, during the Middle Ages (AD 1000–1536), towns became an essential part of the fabric of society. (As discussed below, Danish cities seem small in comparison to other preindustrial cities, so we shall use the term “towns,” which to us does imply a substantial urban population.) Only four towns are clearly documented in the late Viking Age, before AD 1000 (Andrén 1985). A few more probably existed, but their existence is difficult to prove. During the ...

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6. Colonial and Postcolonial New York: Issues of Size, Scale, and Structure

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pp. 121-136

A modern New Yorker transported back in time 300 or 350 years would not recognize the early city and would probably not even allow that it was a city. Much of the difference relates to size in its various manifestations—spatial area, numbers of residents, and density. However, the New York of 1700 as well as the New Amsterdam of 1650 was urban—“urban” being a relative rather than an absolute concept. (When I use the term “New York” here I mean Manhattan, because ...


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7. An Urban Population from Roman Upper Egypt

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pp. 139-144

One of the most elusive aspects of the demography of Roman Egypt—the ancient society for which we have the best documentary data—has been the extent to which the results of the analysis of the census declarations from Middle Egypt (Bagnall and Frier 1994) can be considered typical of other parts of Egypt, let alone other provinces of the Roman Empire. The data explored in this chapter, coming from a papyrus edited after the appearance of Bagnall and Frier’s (1994) ...

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8. Precolonial African Cities: Size and Density

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pp. 145-158

African population and demography may be the least understood of any region in the world (Caldwell 1997). Nevertheless, numerous scholars have argued that patterns of population and urbanism in Africa are distinctive. In this chapter, we propose to explore the demography of African cities by first reviewing questions on African urbanization in general, including a review of the problems in estimating the population of African cities that are relevant to other regions. We will then ...


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9. Urbanization in China: Erlitou and Its Hinterland

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pp. 161-189

In comparison to other regions in the world, there have been only limited studies on the archaeology of early urbanization in China, partly due to the lack of adequate information available for such studies. Issues on urbanism in China are also intertwined with questions concerning state formation, which have been controversial. Previous research has been focused primarily on the Shang Dynasty, ...

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10. Population Growth and Change in the Ancient City of Kyongju

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pp. 190-202

The present city of Kyongju in southeastern Korea was the capital of the state of Silla from the beginnings of a polity known as Saro, by tradition founded in 57 BC, to a city of nearly one million people before the ultimate decline of United Silla in AD 935. Through time the city was known variously as Sorabol, Kumsong, and Kyongju. Each stage in the city’s thousand-year history has left its imprint on the landscape. ...

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11. Population Dynamics and Urbanism in Premodern Island Southeast Asia

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pp. 203-230

At the time of European contact, the Malay peninsula and island archipelagos of insular Southeast Asia were dotted with numerous maritime trading kingdoms of varying scale and complexity. These kingdoms lay at the intersection of sea routes linking China, mainland Southeast Asia, India, East Africa, and the Middle East in a vast network of spice and luxury goods trade (Figure 11-1). ...


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12. Identifying Tiwanaku Urban Populations: Style, Identity, and Ceremony in Andean Cities

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pp. 233-251

By their very nature, cities incorporate diversity. The emergence of pristine cities in any region transformed the character of human relations and manners of social organization in local societies. V. Gordon Childe (1936, 1950) considered the rise of cities an “urban revolution,” a dramatic milestone on the road of cultural evolution that marked the emergence of civilization. Drawing on a conceptual arsenal ...

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13. Late Classic Maya Population: Characteristics and Implications

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pp. 252-276

Indigenous Maya speakers have an uninterrupted population history in the tropical lowlands of Mesoamerica spanning more than three millennia, and scholars of Maya culture have a long-standing interest in demographic characteristics of past Maya societies. In particular, population size and distribution have been implicated in the successes and failures of the Maya’s “perpetual struggle for room and food.” This chapter is an introduction to how and why archaeologists became ...

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14. Mortality through Time in an Impoverished Residence of the Precolumbian City of Teotihuacan: A Paleodemographic View

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pp. 277-294

One of the reasons that Teotihuacan, located in the Basin of Mexico near present day Mexico City, is such an important Precolumbian site is because it is the earliest in date in the New World to exemplify V. Gordon Childe’s “urban revolution” (1950), a significant milestone of cultural evolution and human history. One of the dramatic impacts of urbanization on humans is a different lifestyle resulting directly from the higher densities and absolute numbers of people present in one settlement. ...

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15. The Evolution of Regional Demography and Settlement in the Prehispanic Basin of Mexico

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pp. 295-314

Viewing archaeological problems in regional context has become so pervasive that it is easy to forget the relatively recent emergence of systematic regional inquiry in archaeology scarcely five decades ago (Willey 1953). Following this early lead, in 1960 William Sanders (1965; see Wolf 1976) embarked on a pioneering study of prehistoric regional settlement patterns and cultural ecology in the Teotihuacan Valley, located in the northeastern Basin of Mexico. Intensive archaeological ...


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16. Factoring the Countryside into Urban Populations

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pp. 317-329

How do we characterize urban populations? Population study is more than simply a consideration of size. The character of a population is described as well by various components: its ethnic and economic makeup, its internal economic, social, and political articulation, and its religious organization, just to name some of the more obvious. In an urban environment many factors can affect these population characteristics. ...

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17. Shining Stars and Black Holes: Population and Preindustrial Cities

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pp. 330-340

Today, more than one-half of the world’s people live in a city, and the trend of increasing urbanization is expected to continue (Sanjek 1990:155). The roots of the urbanization of the modern world lie in the ancient past with the “urban revolution” (Childe 1950) that initiated a fundamental change in the size and organization of human communities and the larger societies of which cities are a part. The growth of urban populations throughout the world represents a marked ...


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pp. 341-408


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pp. 409-414


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pp. 415-443

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380977
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817352462

Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cities and towns -- History -- Congresses.
  • Urbanization -- History -- Congresses.
  • Population -- History -- Congresses.
  • Rural-urban migration -- History -- Congresses.
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