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For example Rome had between 600,000 to a million people at its height. This was due to urban planning, water aqueducts, trade and the grain dole. What would be required for such a fictional city where almost no magic occurs?

I'm trying to make a fictional city where people live. The city is the capital of an empire with people coming from hundreds of areas, dozens of ethnicities and religions and a very powerful ruling class that decides said policies.

However the entire empire is currently at the Iron Age stage of technology. Not very well developed so to speak.

Given this how would such a city function?

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    $\begingroup$ What fictional city, you've not told us about it - except insofar as you've detailed what's necessary to support such a population. I'm confused, what's the actual question? $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. Mar 27 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ (1) The Romans did practice urban planning on occasion, but it was a rare occurrence. (2) Rome itself was never a planned city, except maybe some neighborhoods under Mussolini. (3) You forgot the sewerage system. (4) Rome was not the only large pre-industrial city. Alexandria reached one million inhabitants one or two centuries before Rome did, for example. Babylon, Baghdad, Carthage, Constantinople, Ctesiphon, Chang'an, Nanjing... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 27 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ 900,000 folks also means a lot of goats and horses and dogs and lots of other animals. All 900,000 --and their animals-- must have a constant supply of clean water, food, and a way to get rid of their trash and sewage and corpses...without polluting their food or water supply). No trucks, no refrigeration, so much of that food must be grown close and (expensively) hauled. You need a really, really good reason to pay for hauling food from far enough away to feed all those people. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Mar 27 at 3:04
  • $\begingroup$ For one, plumbing. Cities that large don't function well without a strong system of infrastructure to remove waste. If there's no way to remove waste disease will be sure to follow and you'll get mass plagues. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Mar 27 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ After the edit: how might this be any different from Rome at its height? Or Byzantium, or any number of other historical models you can use? $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. Mar 27 at 13:29
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Water
Could be a river or artificial canals or aqueducts. A river takes less maintenance, but it is more prone to producing floods. A good river also allows river ports for the delivery of goods. Consider something like the Nile, where the stream went one way and the prevailing winds went the other way, for relatively easy back-and-forth traffic.

Food
A large area providing tributes, however that is styled, or selling food. Rome was fed by grain from Egypt, even rice from India. Egypt was a province, India wasn't.

Building Ground
I mentioned floods. There are also earthquakes, avalances, snowstorms, and so on. The city should be in a place where they can expand rather than rebuild year from year.

But I think they key ingredient was:

Good Governance
All of the above need to be managed, even in the best of locations. The city needs a capable administration and military, century after century, to support a steady growth. Only the capital of a large Empire could grow that large.

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