25 Largest Cities In the World Throughout History

Posted by , Updated on May 22, 2024

Which cities do you believe have been the most significant or appealing places to live throughout history? There’s a good chance we might have similar views, as these cities have profoundly influenced many of us. Cities such as Athens, Beijing, Tokyo, Rome, New York, Paris, and London have long been epicenters of art, wealth, culture, and large populations. However, ranking the world’s most populated cities throughout history is complex. Defining the “largest” cities can vary significantly depending on how one interprets ‘city’ and ‘size,’ and the context in which they’re discussed. Usually, a city’s ‘size’ refers to its population, but it can also denote its land area. Determining a city’s geographical boundaries is essential when assessing its population. It’s also important to recognize that what was considered a large city in ancient times might equate to the size of a modern town due to the vast global population growth since around 1000 BC. After extensive research, we’re excited to present our list of the 25 Largest Cities In The World Throughout History.



Iraq_rivers_and_governoratesSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Mureybet is an ancient settlement mound, located on the west bank of the Euphrates in Ar-Raqqah Governorate, northern Syria. The site was excavated between 1964 and 1974 and has since disappeared under the rising waters of Lake Assad. According to many archaeologists Mureybet was a small village occupied by hunter-gatherers and it is believed that around 8000 BC it was the biggest city in the world with a total population of about 500 people.



24 commonsSource: thehindubusinessline.com, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Delhi is the capital territory of India and has been continuously inhabited since the sixth century BC. Throughout most of its history, Delhi has served as a capital of various kingdoms and empires, and has been seized, ransacked, and rebuilt several times. In 2014, Delhi became officially the world’s second most populous city after Tokyo, more than doubling its population since 1990 to 25 million, according to a UN report, even though many analysts believe that Delhi’s unofficial population is far greater than Tokyo’s.



bastaSource: cnn.com, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Located near as-Sadaga, around 15 miles south of Petra, Basta is a Neolithic village that dates back to the 7th millennium BC. It’s estimated that at some point around 7000 BC Basta became the largest city in the world with 1,000 people.



Jordan1517Source: Wikipedia, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Beidha is another major Neolithic archaeological site located a few miles north of Petra near Siq al-Barid in Jordan. It is included in Petra’s inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it also existed as the world’s largest city sometime around 7000 BC with about 2,000 citizens.



CatalHoyukSouthAreaSource: Wikipedia, Image: pixabay.com

Çatalhöyük was a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic proto-city settlement in southern Anatolia, which existed from approximately 7500 BC to 5700 BC, and flourished around 7000 BC. It is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date, while it is believed that around 6500 BC it became the largest city in the world with more than 3,000 people.


Tell Brak

TellBrakTW-WSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Tell Brak was an ancient city in Syria. Tell Brak is the current name of the tell and the city’s original name is unknown. During the second half of the third millennium BC, the city was known as Nagar and later on, Nawar and was famous for being at some point (probably around 5000 BC) the biggest city in the world with more than 4,000 people.


Mexico City

19 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

According to the most recent definition agreed on by the federal and state governments, the Greater Mexico City population is 21.2 million people, making it the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world. Also, during the late 1980s there were rumors that Mexico City was unofficially the largest metropolitan area in the world but that was never officially verified.



Persepolis_24Source: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Susa (located in modern Iran) was one of the most important cities of the Ancient Near East. In historic literature, Susa appears in the very earliest Sumerian records: for example, it is described as one of the places obedient to Inanna, patron deity of Uruk, in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. According to some historians Susa was also the world’s largest city around 3500 BC with more than 8,000 people.



15Source: Wikipedia, Image: pixabay.com

Οne of the world’s most visited cities today, London has something for everyone: from history and culture to fine food and good times. In 1825, while the British Empire reached across the globe bringing in immense wealth for the English elite, London was becoming the largest city in the world with more than 1.3 million people, despite incredibly high crime rates and poverty among the masses.



14 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

For more than four centuries the island of Ayutthaya was considered the most beautiful city in the world by diplomats who traveled there. Today it may only be a small touristic site but in 1700 it was the world’s most populous city with more than one million people.



13 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Beijing has always been a huge city with millions of residents and incredible influence throughout China. With a population of 22 million today, it is one of the largest cities in the world, capital of China, and a global center of trade and business. Around 1500 it became the world’s biggest city with more than a million people thanks to its wealth and food resources.



12 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Kaifeng is known as one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China under the short name Bian. For centuries, because of its central location on four major canals, Kaifeng was the capital for a huge swath of China and in AD 1200 it became the largest city in the world with over a million people.



11 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Baghdad is the capital of the Republic of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Province. As of last year the population is approximately 7.5 million, making it the largest city in Iraq, the second-largest in the Arab world (after Cairo), and the second-largest in Western Asia (after Tehran). In the year 900, Baghdad was the center of the Golden Age of Islam and became the biggest city in the world with a population of nearly one million living within its borders.



10 commonsSource: Wikipedia, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

The city known today as Istanbul in Turkey was founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 657 BC and was originally named Byzantion after King Byzas of Megara. Eventually, Byzantion was renamed Constantinople (after Constantine the Great) and became the largest, richest, and most powerful city in the world and capital of the Byzantine Empire. It is also where Greek Orthodox Christianity originated.



9 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Arguably the most famous empire in history, Rome became the symbol of absolute power and dominance for centuries. By AD 200 the city had reached the incredible size of 1.2 million citizens through importing food from most of Europe and the Mediterranean and taxing the individuals of its vast empire. Of course, it proved an unsustainable position. By AD 273, Rome had less than 500,000 inhabitants and the “Dark Ages” could be seen looming on the horizon.



8 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Originally a small port on the coast of northern Africa (in modern-day Tunisia) established as a stop for Phoenician traders to resupply or repair their ships, Carthage grew to become the most powerful city in the Mediterranean before the rise of Rome. At the time of its glory around 300 BC it was the largest city in the world with a population of over half a million people.



7 commonsSource: Wikipedia, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Babylon is the most famous city of ancient Mesopotamia. Its ruins lie in modern Iraq fifty-nine miles (ninety-four kilometers) southwest of Baghdad. The city owes its fame (or infamy) to the many Biblical references and also to the fact that in 700 BC it was the largest city in the world with more than 100,000 residents.



16 commonsSource: Wikipedia, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

For the biggest part of its modern history, Paris has always been a city of culture, fashion, and influence where millions of people (famous and otherwise) have chosen to live. Paris is also the city with the most tourists in the world, and with 32.3 million visitors in 2013, it was officially declared the world’s top tourist destination, measured by hotel occupancy. In 1684 and during the reign of Louis XIV, Paris became the world’s largest city with more than 540,000 citizens.



5Source: Wikipedia, Image: flickr.com, Photo by tak.wing

Nowadays, the archaeological site of Yin Xu, close to Anyang City, some five hundred km south of Beijing, reminds tourists of the ancient capital city of the late Shang Dynasty (1300–1046 BC). It testifies to the golden age of early Chinese culture, crafts, and sciences, a time of great prosperity in the Chinese Bronze Age. The city was also the largest in the world around 1300 BC with 120,000 people.



4 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Ur was a city in the region of Sumer, in southern Mesopotamia, in what is modern-day Iraq. According to biblical tradition, the city is named after the man who founded the first settlement there, Ur, though this has been disputed. In 2100 BC it became the world’s largest city with 100,000 people.



3 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Mari was an ancient Mesopotamian city situated on the right bank of the Euphrates River in what is now Syria. Excavations, initially directed by André Parrot and begun in 1933, uncovered remains extending from about 3100 BC to the seventh century AD. It is believed this city was once the biggest in the world (2400 BC) with an estimated population of about 50,000 people.



2 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Uruk was one of the most important cities (at one time, the most important) in ancient Mesopotamia. According to the Sumerian King List, it was founded by King Enmerkar sometime around 4500 BC and about a thousand years later would become the largest city in the world with 4,000 people living within its borders.



1Source: Wikipedia, Image:commons.wikimedia.org

It might be hard for some to believe that this small city in Jordan—with less than 20,000 citizens today—was once the largest city in the world but it’s one hundred percent true. Jericho is described in the Hebrew Bible as the “City of Palm Trees” and is believed to be the oldest continually occupied place in the world, with settlements dating to 9000 BC. It was the world’s largest city in 7000 BC with about 2,000 citizens at the time.


New York

17 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

Back in the early days of the twentieth century, New York began to build the largest buildings the world had ever seen: skyscrapers. Despite the Great Depression that hit in 1929, New York built some of the most incredible sky scrapers ever, including the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Moreover the city temporarily became the largest in the world with a total population of about 8 million.



18 wSource: Wikipedia, Image: Wikipedia

The disaster Japan suffered due to its involvement in WWII was completely catastrophic. However, Tokyo would go on to take the lead in what would later be described as a “postwar economic miracle,” the most prosperous time in Japan’s history. During the process, Tokyo became the world’s largest city (in the late 1960s), a title that still holds with an estimated population of about 33 million.

SEE ALSO: 25 Most Intelligent Animals On Earth »