|Largest Cities Through History|
Tertius Chandler's compilation of the population of cities throughout history, Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census is an amazing work providing the population of cities throughout time. Chandler utilized a plethora of historical sources to locate approximate populations for the world's largest cities since 3100 BCE.
As there were few censuses prior to the end of the eighteenth century, Chandler used a variety of methods to determine the size of the world's largest cities: he used traveler's estimates, data on the number of households within cities, the number of wagons of food that arrived at the cities, the size of the military (commonly 1/6 of the size of a city during peace and 1/5 of the size of the city during times of crises), the area of the city walls along with typical densities, church records, the amount of food distributed to citizens, city comparisons (i.e. London is larger than Paris but smaller than Moscow), and even the loss of life in a disaster!
Therefore, in many cases, Chandler's numbers can only be considered rough approximations of the urban population. His figures include the city and surrounding suburban or urbanized area.
What follows is a list of the largest city at each point in history since 3100 BCE (before common era = before Christ or B.C.). It lacks population data for many cities but does provide a list of the largest cities throughout time. By looking at the first and second lines of the table, we see that Memphis remained the largest city in the world from at least 3100 BCE to 2240 BCE when Akkad claimed the title.
If you're interested in the history of urban growth, Chandler's text is an essential one. I highly recommend taking a look at a local library, it's filled with hundreds of lists - by year, by country, by continent, and much more.
|Memphis, Egypt||3100 BCE||Well over 30,000|
|Akkad, Babylonia (Iraq)||2240|
|Lagash, Babylonia (Iraq)||2075|
|Ur, Babylonia (Iraq)||2030||65,000|
|Babylon, Babylonia (Iraq)||1770|
|Nineveh, Assyria (Iraq)||668|
|Babylon, Babylonia (Iraq)||612||First above 200,000|
|Pataliputra (Patna), India||300|
|Changan (Xi'an), China||195||400,000|
|Rome||25||450,000 (100 CE)|
|Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey||340 CE||400,000 (500)|
|Changan (Xi'an), China||637||400,000 (622); 600,000 (800)|
|Baghdad, Iraq||775||First over 1 million; 700,000 (800)|
|Kaifeng, China||1013||400,000 (1000); 442,000 (1100)|
|Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey||1127|
|Merv (Mary), Turkmenistan||1145||200,000 (1150)|
|Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey||1153|
|Fez (Fes), Morocco||1170|
|Hangzhou, China||1180||255,000 (1200); 320,000 (1250)|
|Hangzhou, China||1348||432,000 (1350)|
|Nanking, China||1358||487,000 (1400)|
|Beijing, China||1425||600,000 (1450); 672,000 (1500)|
|Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey||1650||700,000 (1650 & 1700)|
|Beijing, China||1710||900,000 (1750); 1.1 million (1800)|
|London, United Kingdom||1825||First over 5 million; 1.35 million (1825); 2.32 million (1850); 4.241 million (1875); 6.480 million (1900)|
|New York||1925||First over 10 million; 7.774 million (1925), 12.463 million (1950)|
|Tokyo||1965||First over 20 million; 23 million (1975)|
See the lists of the top ten cities throughout history:
Source: Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census by Tertius Chandler. 1987, St. David's University Press.