Largest Ancient Cities

Travel has many faces. One of thing that I like about traveling is visiting ancient places that have been a major pitstops on our collective human journey. In this post, I am going to list of largest ancient cities throughout the human history starting in 10,000 BC to up until the 1900s.

List of Largest Ancient Cities

Just keep in mind that many of the population figures are just an estimate because we did not have the census in those days and in many instances we don’t have accurate historic census records (even if those were collected). Mainly, the numbers are based on the size and influence of the city during its peak.

The population estimate is made based on the size of archeological ruins or excavation site area, nearby resources, and other geographical and climate condition.

Paleo Human Hunter Gatherers

Photo: The Paleo Hunter-Gatherer Era

10,000 BC

We are going really far back here but it is interesting to note the destination unearthed thus far. What was it about Syria and Turkey that gave birth to two powerful, highly evolved and complex societies. Why are no such sites found in Africa so far? Not a single ancient site from Europe or India or China as well? Something to think about.

  • Mureybet, Syria
  • Gobekli Tepe, Turkey

Estimated population: 500 humans

Gobekli_Tepe_ancient_city_turkey

Photo: The ancient city of Gobekli Tepe (present-day Turkey)

Mureybet Syria

Photo: The ancient city of Mureybet, Syria. From 10,000 BC to 8000 BC.

9300 BC

  • Tell Aswad, Syria

Estimated population: 500

syrian_decorated_skulls_Tell Aswad

Photo: Decorated skulls found in the ancient Syrian city of Tell Aswad. Not much has been excavated but there is clear indication of an early civilization that settled here.

8400 BC

  • Nevalı Cori, Turkey

Estimated population: 500

7000 BC

  • Beidha, Jordan
  • Jericho, Palestinian Territories

Estimated population: 1000

It is interesting to note that as more excavations are taking place in Jericho it seems that this city may have had even earlier humans settlements as old as 10,000 BC. Jericho is also described in the Hebrew Bible as the “City of Palm Trees”.

Jericho_today_west bank palestine israel

Photo: Jericho today. West Bank, Palestine.

6000 BC

  • Catalhoyuk, Turkey

Estimated population: 5000

Catalhoyuk_Turkey_ancient_city

Photo: The ancient city of Catalhoyuk (modern day Turkey)

5000 BC

  • Tell Brak, Syria

Estimated population: 4000

4000 BC

  • Uruk, Iraq
  • Eridu, Iraq

Estimated population: 5000

As you can notice, for the first 7500 years, most of the ancient civilization was based in this tiny region which makes today’s Iraq, Syria, and south-eastern Turkey. The area was fertile and language, commerce, and numerous civilizations were thus born.

most of the ancient cities

Photo: Ancient cities region # 1.

3500 BC

  • Dobrovody, Ukraine
  • Maydanets, Ukraine
  • Talianki, Ukraine
  • Uruk, Iraq
  • Abydos, Egypt
  • Susa, Iran

Estimated population: 10,000 – 20,000

Interestingly, this is the only time we see a huge ancient city develop in the Eurasian region. Ukrain, who would have thought that. 3500 BC is also the time where we see Egypt begin to dominate the world and Susa in Iran become a large city of at-least 20,000 inhabitants.

Dobrovody_ancient_city_Ukraine

Photo: The ancient city of Dobrovody (present-day Ukraine)

Shush_Susa_Khuzesten_Iran_ancient_city

Photo: The ancient city of Susa (present-day Iran)

3000 BC

  • Uruk, Iraq
  • Abydos, Egypt
  • Memphis, Egypt

Estimated population: 40,000

Ancient city Memphis_Egypt_Giza Pyramid

Photo: The Great Pyramid of Giza was built less than 20 km from the ancient Egyptian city, Memphis.

2500 BC

  • Lagash, Iraq
  • Nippur, Iraq
  • Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan (Sindh region)

Estimated population: 20,000 – 60,000

This is the first time, we witness an Indo-region civilization that can match the Egyptian and Babylonian level complexities, infrastructure, and social development. Built around 2500 BCE, Mohenjo-daro (Mound of the Dead Men), was one of the largest settlements of the ancient Indus-Valley civilization.

Mohenjo-daro_ancient_Indus_Valley_Civilization

Photo: The ancient city of Mohenjo-daro (present-day Pakistan)

2400 BC

  • Mari, Syria
  • Umma, Iraq

Estimated population: 50,000

2300 BC

  • Girsu, Iraq
  • Mari, Syria

Estimated population: 50,000 – 80,000

2200 BC

  • Akkad, Iraq
  • Girsu, Iraq
  • Memphis, Egypt

Estimated population: 30,000 – 50,000

2100 BC

  • Ur, Iraq
  • Girsu, Iraq
  • Thebes, Egypt

Estimated population: 50,000 – 100,000

2000 BC

  • Memphis, Egypt
  • Isin, Iraq
  • Ur, Iraq

Estimated population: 50,000 – 65,000

1900 BC

  • Memphis, Egypt
  • Isin, Iraq

Estimated population: 50,000 – 100,000

1800 BC

  • Mari, Syria
  • Thebes, Egypt

Estimated population: 60,000

1700 BC

  • 65,000 Babylon, Iraq

Estimated population: 65,000

largest_ancient_city_Babylon_Tower_of_Babel

Photo: The Tower of Babylon (aka the Tower of Babel in the Hebrew Bible)

1600 BC

  • Avaris, Egypt

Estimated population: 100,000

1500 BC

  • Uruk, Iraq
  • Thebes, Egypt

Estimated population: 75,000

1400 BC

  • Thebes, Egypt

Estimated population: 80,000

1300 BC

Estimated population: 120,000

Around 13th century BC is the first time we see the birth of large cities in China. Yinxu represents the ancient city of Yin, the last capital of China’s Shang dynasty, and one of China’s oldest and largest archeological sites. Not surprisingly and it is worth noting here that almost all of the sites mentioned in this post are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yinxu_China

Photo: The ancient city of Yinxu, China.

Yinxu_chariot burial China ancient city

Photo Credit: DAVID I. GREENBERG. Excavated chariot burials, Yinxu archaeological site, China. Most likely human sacrifice practice.

1200 BC

  • Babylon, Iraq
  • Pi-Ramses, Egypt
  • Thebes, Egypt

Estimated population: 100,000 – 160,000

1100 BC

  • Memphis, Egypt
  • Pi-Ramses, Egypt

Estimated population: 100,000 – 120,000

1000 BC

  • Thebes, Egypt
  • Haojing, China
  • Babylon, Iraq

Estimated population: 100,000 – 120,000

900 BC

  • Thebes, Egypt
  • Haojing, China

Estimated population: 100,000 – 125,000

800 BC

  • Nimrud (Calah), Iraq
  • Haojing, China
  • Thebes, Egypt

Estimated population: 50,000 – 125,000

700 BC

  • Nineveh, Iraq
  • Thebes, Egypt

Estimated population: 100,000

ancient cities region

Photo: Ancient cities region #2.

600 BC

  • Babylon, Iraq

Estimated population: 200,000

500 BC

  • Babylon, Iraq

Estimated population: 250,000

400 BC

  • Xiadu, China

Estimated population: 320,000

300 BC

  • Alexandria, Egypt
  • Carthage, Tunisia
  • Pataliputra (Patna), India

Estimated population: 300,000 – 500,000

200 BC

  • Alexandria, Egypt
  • Pataliputra, India
  • Chang’an (Xi’an), China
  • Seleucia, Iraq

Estimated population: 400,000 – 600,000

100 BC

  • Alexandria, Egypt

Estimated population: 500,000

1 AD – 350 AD

From 1 AD, the beginning of Common Era, to next 350 years, Rome was the most powerful and largest city in the entire world. The estimated population was ~ 1 million humans.

rome_italy_ancient_city_rome

400 AD

  • Constantinople, Turkey
  • Pataliputra, India

Estimated population: 500,000 – 800,000

500 AD

  • Constantinople, Turkey
  • Ctesiphon, Iraq

Estimated population: 500,000 – 600,000

600 AD

  • Daxing (Chang’an), China
  • Constantinople, Turkey
  • Ctesiphon, Iraq

Estimated population: 600,000 – 1,000,000

700 AD

  • Chang’an, China
  • Baghdad, Iraq

Estimated population: 600,000 – 1,000,000

800 AD

  • Chang’an, China
  • Baghdad, Iraq

Estimated population: 900,000 – 1,000,000

900 AD

  • Cordova, Spain
  • Chang’an, China
  • Baghdad, Iraq

Estimated population: 450,000 – 1,000,000

1000 AD

  • Kaifeng, China
  • Baghdad, Iraq
  • Constantinople, Turkey

Estimated population: 500,000 – 1,200,000

1100 AD

  • Fez, Morocco
  • Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
  • Kaifeng China
  • Baghdad Iraq
  • Merv Turkmenistan
  • Hangzhou, China

Estimated population: 250,000 – 1,000,000

1200 AD

  • Hangzhou, China
  • Baghdad, Iraq
  • Gurganj, Turkmenistan
  • Merv, Turkmenistan

Estimated population: 400,000 – 600,000

1300 AD

  • Hangzhou, China
  • Cairo Egypt

Estimated population: 500,000 – 800,000

1400 AD

  • Jinling China
  • Nanjing, China
  • Beijing, China

Estimated population: 500,000 – 1,000,000

1500 AD

  • Beijing, China

Estimated population: 700,000

1600 AD

  • Beijing, China
  • Agra, India
  • Constantinople, Turkey
  • Delhi, India
  • Paris, France

Estimated population: 500,000 – 1,000,000

1700 AD

  • Ayutthaya, Thailand
  • Constantinople, Turkey
  • Beijing, China
  • Edo, Japan

Estimated population: 700,000 – 1,000,000

1800 AD

  • Beijing, China
  • London, United Kingdom

Estimated population: 1,100,000 – 2,320,000

1900 AD

  • London, United Kingdom
  • New York, United States
  • Tokyo, Japan

Estimated population: 6,600,000 – 15,000,000

Search: