List of largest cities throughout history
This article lists the largest human settlement in the world (by population) over time, as estimated by historians, from 7000 BCE when the largest populated place in the world was a proto-city in the Ancient Near East with a population of about 1,000–2,000 people, to the year 2000 when the largest urban area was Tokyo with 26 million. Alexandria, Rome, or Baghdad may have been the first city to have 1,000,000 people, as early as 100 BCE or as late as 925 AD. They were later surpassed by Constantinople, Chang'an, Hangzhou, Jinling, Beijing, London (the first city to reach 2 million), and New York (the first to top 10 million), among others, before Tokyo took the crown in the mid-20th century. As of 2020, the Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world, with more than 37.393 million residents.
List of the most populous human settlements over time
The following table lists the most populous human settlements by estimated population at specified points in history according to three sources: Ian Morris, George Modelski and Tertius Chandler. City names are in bold where all three sources agree. It shows the evolution of the largest settlement from proto-city to city to urban area to metropolitan area. The table does not contain data for the Indus Valley Civilization (c. 3300 – c. 1300 BCE).
|Year||Morris (2010)||Modelski (2003)||Chandler (1987)|
|7000 BCE|| 1,000||Beidha||Jordan|| 1,000–2,000||Jericho||West Bank|
|6500 BCE|| 5,000–10,000||Çatalhöyük||Turkey|
|6000 BCE|| 3,000||Çatalhöyük||Turkey|
|4000 BCE||5,000||Uruk||Iraq|| 4,000||Eridu||Iraq|
| < 10,000||Dobrovody||Ukraine|
| < 10,000||Maydanets||Ukraine|
| < 10,000||Talianki||Ukraine|
|3000 BCE|| 45,000||Uruk||Iraq||40,000||Uruk||Iraq||30,000||Memphis||Egypt|
|2500 BCE|| 60,000||Lagash||Iraq||Memphis||Egypt|
|2400 BCE|| 50,000||Mari||Syria||Memphis||Egypt|
|2300 BCE|| 80,000||Girsu||Iraq||Memphis||Egypt|
|2250 BCE||> 30,000||Memphis||Egypt|
|2000 BCE||60,000||Memphis||Egypt|| 40,000||Isin||Iraq||65,000||Ur||Iraq|
|1800 BCE||60,000||Mari||Syria||> 25,000||Thebes||Egypt|
|1650 BCE|| 100,000||Avaris||Egypt|
|1375 BCE|| 100,000||Thebes||Egypt|
|1200 BCE||80,000||Babylon||Iraq||160,000||Pi-Ramses||Egypt|| 50,000||Memphis||Egypt|
|1000 BCE||35,000||Qiyi (Qi)||China|| 120,000||Thebes||Egypt|| > 50,000||Thebes||Egypt|
|China|| > 50,000||Haojing
|800 BCE||125,000||Haojing||China||> 50,000||Thebes||Egypt|
|668 BCE|| 100,000||Nineveh||Iraq|
|600 BCE||200,000||Babylon||Iraq|| 100,000||Babylon||Iraq|
|500 BCE||150,000||Babylon||Iraq|| 200,000||Babylon||Iraq||Babylon||Iraq|
|320 BCE||> 300,000||Alexandria||Egypt|
|200 BCE||300,000||Alexandria||Egypt||600,000||Alexandria||Egypt|| 350,000||Pataliputra||India|
|1900||6,600,000||London||United Kingdom||6,500,000||London||United Kingdom||6,480,000||London||United Kingdom|
|1936||10,150,000||New York||United States|
|1950||12,463,000||New York||United States|
- Historical urban community sizes, 7000 BCE – 1875
- List of largest European cities in history
- List of largest cities, present day
- Estimates of historical world population
- "The World's Cities in 2018" (PDF). United Nations. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
- Rosenberg, Matt (November 4, 2019), "Largest Cities Throughout History", ThoughtCo, retrieved December 28, 2020
- (a)  Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback MachineIan Morris, Social Development, Stanford University, October 2010. This contains supporting materials for the following book: (b) Ian Morris, Why the West Rules—For Now, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. ISBN 978-0-374-29002-3.
- George Modelski, World Cities: –3000 to 2000, Washington DC: FAROS 2000, 2003. ISBN 0-9676230-1-4. Figures in main tables are preferentially cited. Part of former estimates can be read at Evolutionary World Politics Homepage Archived 2008-12-28 at the Wayback Machine
- Tertius Chandler, Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census, Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1987. ISBN 0-88946-207-0. Figures in main tables are preferentially cited. Part of Chandler's estimates are summarized or modified at The Institute for Research on World-Systems; Largest Cities Through History by Matt T. Rosenberg; or The Etext Archives Archived 2008-02-11 at the Wayback Machine. Chandler defined a city as a continuously built-up area (urban) with suburbs but without farmland inside the municipality.
- The date that the population of Beidha, Basta and Çatalhöyük is estimated to be 1,000 is given as 7500 BCE in Morris's published text (p. 632).
- Suggested to be the largest cities in Modelski's text, but not given constantly prior to 3700 BCE (p. 3, p. 17, and p. 20). No entry is suggested for the Halafian and Ubaid periods.
- A Pre-Pottery Neolithic B settlement located ca. 25 km north of Petra.
- The rough year that Çatalhöyük was supposed to be the largest is not given in Modelski's text which cites Ian Hodder's report (p. 3 and p. 17). The year 6500 BCE is based on the recent report by Hodder (Inhabiting Çatalhöyük: Reports from the 1995-99 Seasons (Çatalhöyük Research Project), Cambridge, UK: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2005.) where less inhabitants (1,500 to 2,000) are suggested by Craig Cessford (pp. 323-326).
- The date that the population of Çatalhöyük is estimated to be 3,000 is given as 6500 BCE in Morris's published text (p. 632).
- Suggested to be housing up to 10,000 people in Modelski's text (pp. 24–25), but only Eridu is listed as the largest city in Table 2 (a) (p. 22). The estimate is based on the author's personal communication with Mikhail Videiko, Institute of Archaeology, Kiev, October 2002 (p. 75). The previous estimates by S. I. Kruts for Maydanets and Talianki are 8,000 (1,575 housed within 270 ha) and 14,000 (2,700 houses within 450 ha), respectively (Pitskhelauri, K. N., and Chernykh, E. N. Eds., Kavkaz v sisteme paleometallicheskikh kultur Evrazii, Metsniereba, Tbilisi, 1989, pp. 146–156.).
- Suggested to be more than 45,000 in Morris's published text (p. 632).
- According to Modelski's list of world's largest cities (p. 218), Nippur shares the top with Lagash with 60,000 inhabitants in 2500 BCE, though Table 2 (b) suggests that the population of Nippur is 20,000, the value of which is even lower than those estimated for Mari (50,000); Uruk and Umma (40,000); Memphis, Ebla, Urkesh, and Shuruppak (30,000) (p. 28).
- Girsu (Telloh), the later capital of the state of Lagash, was situated 25 km NW of Lagash (Tell al Hiba), though both sites are frequently referred as Lagash.
- According to Modelski's list of world's largest cities (p. 218), Girsu shares the top with Mari with 50,000 inhabitants, though Table 2 (b) suggests that the population of Girsu as well as Umma and Mohenjo-daro is 40,000 (p. 28).
- According to Modelski's list of world's largest cities (p. 218), the population of Girsu for 2300 BCE is estimated as 50,000, which is less than that appears in Table 2 (b) and is the same value with that estimated for Mari (p. 28).
- Location uncertain. Maybe west of Sippar.
- Modelski's list of world's largest cities (p. 218) excludes Girsu for 2000 BCE, though Table 2 (b) lists Girsu with 40,000 inhabitants (p. 28), sharing the top with Isin and Larsa.
- The palace of Pi-Ramses (Qantir) was founded 2 km NE of Avaris (or Hawaret, Tell el-Dab'a), the residential area of which overlaps.
- When the city first passed 100,000, suggested by Richard Forstall (pp. 541-542).
- According to Chandler's list of the largest cities (pp. 523-527), Thebes was the largest for 1400-668 BCE, but Memphis was also supposed to be somewhat larger during 1205-1188 (p. 94, p. 460).
- Modelski's list of the world's largest cities treats Thebes and Haojing as the top cities with 100,000 inhabitants (p. 218), though the same list on the next page (p. 219) as well as Table 2 (c) place the population of Thebes at 120,000, while that for Haojing as well as Memphis and Babylon at 100,000 (pp. 33-34).
- Chandler listed Thebes, Haojing, and Chengzhou (Luoyang) as the largest, second-largest, and third-largest cities (p. 460), though Luoyang is supposed to pass 100,000 in 1000 BCE (p. 541).
- Haojing, which formed the capital of Western Zhou together with Fenghao, was located 15 km SW of Chang'an, the capital of Tang Dynasty as well as the present center of Xi'an. Han capital was located 5 km NW of the center of modern Xi'an. All these sites are now within the sub-provincial city of Xi'an.
- Chengzhou was founded on the east side of the Luo river with Wangzheng on the west side. Both cities were later annexed to form Luoyi (Luoyang), the center of which has often shifted.
- According to Modelski's list of world's largest cities (p. 219), the population of Babylon for 700 BCE is estimated as 120,000, which makes Babylon the only city to appear as the largest, while Table 8 (a) shows that Babylon has 100,000 inhabitants in 700 BCE (p. 55).
- Modelski's list of world's largest cities (p. 219) excludes Linzi for 500 BCE, though Table 5 (a) lists Linzi with 200,000 inhabitants (p. 41).
- According to Chandler's list of the largest cities (pp. 523-527), Pataliputra was the largest for 300 to 195 BCE, but Chang'an is listed as the largest already in 200 BCE (p. 462).
- Based on historical documents, in Southern Liang dynasty, Jiankang (Nanjing) had 280,000 registered households, and assuming an average Nanjing household had about 5.1 people at that time, the city had more than 1.4 million residents. (Shufen Liu, "Jiankang and the Commercial Empire of the Southern Dynasties", in Pearce, Spiro, Ebrey eds. Culture and Power, 2001:35.)
- Seleucia was founded on the right bank of Tigris opposite to Ctesiphon. Figures for Seleucia include the population of Ctesiphon as a suburb during the Seleucid era and vice versa during the Sassanid era.
- The population of Daxing (Chang'an) in AD 600 is estimated at 250,000 in Morris's published text (p. 632), while the supporting material describes 600,000.
- Modelski's list of world's largest cities (p. 219) estimates the population of Baghdad for AD 1000 as 1,500,000, which is much higher than the value listed in Table 8 (b) (1,200,000 inhabitants) (p. 55).
- The population of Hangzhou in AD 1200 is estimated at 800,000 in Morris's published text (p. 632), while the supporting material describes 1,000,000.
- Includes Üsküdar in Asia Minor as a suburb.
- According to Morris (p. 483), Edo grew into the world's biggest city by 1720, but the estimated population for Edo is not given.
- The population of Tokyo in AD 2000 is estimated at 26,700,000 in Morris's published text (p. 632), while the supporting material describes 26,400,000.
- Top Ten Cities Through History, animation showing the ten largest cities throughout history according to Chandler
- Top 20 Most Populated Cities in The World 1500 to 2100 (History + Projection)