Ancient city  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Early cities developed in a number of regions of the ancient world. Mesopotamia can claim the earliest cities, particularly Eridu, Uruk, and Ur. After Mesopotamia, this culture arose in Syria and Anatolia, as shown by the city of Çatalhöyük (7500-5700BC). It is the largest Neolithic site found to date. Although it has sometimes been claimed that ancient Egypt lacked urbanism, several types of urban settlements were found in ancient times.

The Indus Valley Civilization of ancient India and China are two other areas with major indigenous urban traditions. Among the early Old World cities, Mohenjo-daro of the Indus Valley Civilization in present-day Pakistan, existing from about 2600 BC to 1900 BC, was one of the largest, with an estimated population of 40,000 or more. Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, the large Indus capitals, were among the first cities to use grid plans, drainage, flush toilets, urban sanitation systems, and sewage systems. At a somewhat later time, a distinctive urban tradition developed in the Khmer region of Cambodia, where Angkor grew into one of the largest cities (in area) of the world.

In the ancient Americas, early urban traditions developed in Mesoamerica and the Andes. Mesoamerica saw the rise of early urbanism in several cultural regions, including the Classic Maya, the Zapotec of Oaxaca, and Teotihuacan in central Mexico. Later cultures such as the Aztec drew on these earlier urban traditions. In the Andes, the first urban centers developed in the Chavin and Moche cultures, followed by major cities in the Huari, Chimu and Inca cultures.

This roster of early urban traditions is notable for its diversity. Excavations at early urban sites show that some cities were sparsely populated political capitals, others were trade centers, and still other cities had a primarily religious focus. Some cities had large dense populations, whereas others carried out urban activities in the realms of politics or religion without having large associated populations. Theories that attempt to explain ancient urbanism by a single factor, such as economic benefit, fail to capture the range of variation documented by archaeologists (Smith 2002).

The growth of the population of ancient civilizations, the formation of ancient empires concentrating political power, and the growth in commerce and manufacturing led to ever greater capital cities and centres of commerce and industry, with Alexandria, Antioch and Seleucia of the Hellenistic civilization, Pataliputra (now Patna) in India, Chang'an (now Xi'an) in China, Carthage, ancient Rome, its eastern successor Constantinople (later Istanbul), and successive Chinese, Indian and Muslim capitals approaching or exceeding the half-million population level.

Keith Hopkins estimates that ancient Rome had a population of about a million people by the end of the first century BC, after growing continually during the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st centuries BC. Alexandria's population was also close to Rome's population at around the same time, the historian Rostovtzeff estimates a total population close to a million based on a census dated from 32 AD that counted 180,000 adult male citizens in Alexandria. Similar administrative, commercial, industrial and ceremonial centres emerged in other areas, most notably medieval Baghdad, which according to George Modelski, later became the first city to exceed a population of one million by the 8th century instead of Rome.

The growth of ancient and medieval empires led to ever greater capital cities and seats of provincial administration, with Pataliputra (in India), Changan (in China), ancient Rome, its eastern successor Constantinople (later Istanbul), and successive Chinese, Islamic, and Indian capitals approaching or exceeding the half-million population level. It is estimated that ancient Rome had a population of around 450,000 people by the end of the last century BC, which is considered the only European city to reach that number until the Industrial Revolution, although Constantinople came close. Alexandria's population was also close to Rome's population at around the same time. Similar large administrative, commercial, industrial and ceremonial centres emerged in other areas, most notably Baghdad, which became the first city to exceed a population of one million, followed by Beijing also exceeding one million.

While David Kessler and Peter Temin consider ancient Rome to be the largest city before 19th century London, George Modelski considers medieval Baghdad, with an estimated population of 1.2 million at its peak, to be the largest city before 19th century London. Others estimate that Baghdad's population may have been as large as 2 million in the 9th century.

Agriculture was practiced in sub-Saharan Africa since the third millennium BC. Because of this, cities were able to develop as centers of non-agricultural activity. Exactly when this first happened is still a topic of archeological and historical investigation. Western scholarship has tended to focus on cities in Europe and Mesopotamia, but emerging archeological evidence indicates that urbanization occurred south of the Sahara in well before the influence of Arab urban culture. The oldest sites documented thus far are from around 500 AD including Awdaghust, Kumbi-Saleh the ancient capital of Ghana, and Maranda a center located on a trade rout between Egypt and Gao.




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