Historic City Population


The term city is defined throughout Essential Humanities as a settlement of at least ten thousand inhabitants. Cities first emerged in Mesopotamia, ca. 3500 BC.4

Historical City Population
period population range of the world's largest cities
antiquity prior to the Roman Empire
(ca. 3500 BC-0)
Roman Empire to 1800
(ca. 0-1800)
nineteenth century onward
(ca. 1800-present)

City Growth

From the birth of cities to the Roman Empire (ca. 0-500), maximum city size increased gradually from about 10,000 to 500,000. At first, most of the world's largest cities were found in Mesopotamia and Egypt. These regions were succeeded by East Asia and South Asia, which have continued to feature the majority of the world's most populous cities up to the present day.1,2

With the rise of the Roman Empire, Rome became the world's largest city, with a population in the range of 500,000-1,000,000.2 This remained the approximate population range of the world's most populous cities until the nineteenth century, when it soared into multiple millions, beginning with London. (It would therefore seem that there is an upper limit on the population of pre-industrial cities, at roughly a million inhabitants.) In the twentieth century, the title of world's largest city passed from London to New York, then finally to Tokyo.

The current population of Tokyo is about 35 million.3 This is the city's metro population, which includes the city proper and surrounding regions that are economically integrated with the city (e.g. satellite cities, suburbs). Other, more restricted measurements are city population (which only counts people within the city's official borders) and urban population (which only counts people within the urban core, ignoring satellite cities and suburbs).

1 - "Historical urban community sizes", Wikipedia. Accessed February 2010.
2 - "List of largest cities throughout history", Wikipedia. Accessed February 2010.
3 - "List of urban areas by population", Wikipedia. Accessed February 2010.
4 - "City", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed June 2009.