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According to two RPG systems; Dungeon & dragon and Pathfinder; a metropolis is the largest category for medieval city. The population of a metropolis starts at 25 000 people. I remember that they also say a Metropolis is a city for a large kingdom and that you should not have many cities that large.

But this rule seems inconsistent with our past history. Many cities had more than 25 000 people. Some like Rome, Baghdad, Xi'An, Edo (Tokyo) and possibly others had over 1 million people at their peak. Many other cities were well over 25 000 people.

Can anyone tell me what is a big pre-industrial city and how common these cities are ?

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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that those games are (by way of Tolkien) based heavily on medieval England, not ancient Rome, Golden Age Arabia, or the much more populous civilizations of Asia. London was the only large city in that time and place, with a population somewhere in the middle five digits. $\endgroup$ – user243 Feb 11 '15 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Comment for late readers: Rome & Baghdad were the centers of Empires. Their population was reflected in that. Xi'An is in China, who had massive populations, in part due to the terrain and fertility of the region (One part of China, much of China was no where as populous). Edo was not a medieval city, I think you are thinking of Kyoto. So None of the cities you described are TYPICAL medieval cities. The actual population of a city would be highly dependent on location, trade, agricultural tech, and whether the country in question uses currency or barter. $\endgroup$ – user2259716 Apr 12 '17 at 15:19
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Here is a site where they go over some of this quickly.

the relevant parts you are specifically asking for are

Town and City Population: How Many In Those Walls?

For purposes of this article, settlements will be divided into Villages, Towns, Cities and Big Cities (known as "supercities" in the parlance of urban historians).

Villages range from 20 to 1,000 people, with typical villages ranging from 50-300. Most kingdoms will have thousands of them. Villages are agrarian communities within the safe folds of civilization. They provide the basic source of food and land-stability in a feudal system. Usually, a village that supports orchards (instead of grainfields) is called a "hamlet." Occasionally, game writers use the term to apply to a very small village, regardless of what food it produces. Towns range in population from 1,000-8,000 people, with typical values somewhere around 2,500. Culturally, these are the equivalent to the smaller American cities that line the interstates. Cities and towns tend to have walls only if they are frequently threatened. Cities tend to be from 8,000-12,000 people, with an average in the middle of that range. A typical large kingdom will have only a few cities in this population range. Centers of scholarly pursuits (the Universities) tend to be in cities of this size, with only the rare exception thriving in a Big City. Big Cities range from 12,000-100,000 people, with some exceptional cities exceeding this scale. Some historical examples include London (25,000-40,000), Paris (50,000-80,000), Genoa (75,000-100,000), and Venice (100,000+). Moscow in the 15th century had a population in excess of 200,000!

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    $\begingroup$ The Moscow's population is doubtful. Even 40.000 in 1400 listed in Wikipedia seem quite high, and I suspect nearby villagers are counted as well. Otherwise the linked site is good, thanks for reminding it! $\endgroup$ – Pavel V. Oct 23 '14 at 11:11

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