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Pretty simple question, or I think so, anyway. I want to know how to determine a realistic ratio of people in my fantasy medieval province living in supercities, cities, towns, villages and farming homesteads. I can't seem to find any good resources online regarding what urbanisation levels were like in the middle ages, so I'm at a little bit of a loss.

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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of How can I estimate how many people are living in a specific territory? $\endgroup$ – kingledion Sep 17 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think that this was a fixed thing, see here for instance medievalists.net/2009/08/… $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Sep 17 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ A better link: rmoa.unina.it/192/1/RM-Blockmans-Urbanisation.pdf $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Sep 17 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ (Europe only.) Basically, a few percent of the people lived in urban areas, rising to close to 10% towards the end of the Middle Ages. There was exactly one supercity in Europe during the Middle Ages, namely Constantinople. It had a few hundred thousand inhabitants. All other cities were very much smaller. Europe had about 35,000,000 inhabitants in the 11th century, of which the urban population was not larger than maybe 5%. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 17 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ Search for "Medieval Demographics Made Easy" by S John Ross $\endgroup$ – Roger Sep 17 at 17:15
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According to Ian Mortimer in The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England in XIV century England had about 200 cities or towns with total of about 300 000 inhabitants and had 2,5 million inhabitants in total (urbanisation per cent equal to 12) . 5 biggies cities are (with their estimated inhabitants)

  1. London 40k
  2. York 12,1k
  3. Bristol 10,6k
  4. Coventry 8k
  5. Norwich 6,6k
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Here's one way:

  • No 'supercities' of millions as we know them: Those require transport, banking, food preservation, sanitation, and communications that simply were unknown then.
  • What they called 'cities' we today call 'towns' - only a few thousand inhabitants. Mighty Imperial Constantinople had a paltry few hundred thousand (today that's Des Moines, Iowa and suburbs). Cities tended to higher death rates than birth rates - some rural folks would migrate in. Towns became more popular as arable land became scarce.
  • Lots of farming villages. Generally 90% of the population lived in those villages doing subsistence agriculture. This is where the big families were, because this is where the food was. Since most folks in most places didn't own the land that they worked, they couldn't build farmhouses and they couldn't accumulate much wealth.

Towns are nice to tell a story in because urban settings are places WE are familiar with. Most folks saw their home village, a town on occasion...and not much else.

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  • $\begingroup$ "No supercities": Constantinople. (And, outside Europe, Baghdad, Cairo, Chang'an, Nanjing, ...) The Western European medieval society was not the only kind of society during the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, Europe was pretty much a poor, sluggish, underpopulated backwater -- the real action and dynamism were elsewhere. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 17 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP And to be honest, if you restrict to the 1200 to 1300 range, when European cities were at the height of their pre-Black Death population, the likes of London, Palermo and Milan were pretty competitive, population-wise, with their peers in Fes, Cairo, and Constantinople. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Sep 17 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion: Simple almost true certitudes are useful at the beginning of the journey towards discovering the glorious gray complications. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 17 at 17:03

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