Major Cities in the Middle Ages

Almost all major European cities of current world had their roots in the Middle Ages. However, some of Middle Ages cities weren’t as important as they are now. After the fall of Roman Empire new kingdoms were evolving and to ensure security of the members of nobility against the barbarian invaders and Islamic attackers, kings and nobles started building castles and manors and that was the initiation of Feudalism in Europe. With increased security, people started to settle down and since then medieval cities were developed.

Major Middle Ages Cities

Some of the major European cities of the Middle Ages were Paris, London, Constantinople, Rome, Florence, Milan, and Palermo.

Paris in the Middle ages

During the early Middle Ages, the region of Paris city was fully under control of Germanic Franks. The First Merovingian king Clovis the Frank made Paris his capital city in 508. During the late 8th century, Carolingian dynasty displaced the Merovingian king and they displaced the capital to Aachen. However, in 987, Carolingian empire was devastated and displaced by Hugh Capet who initiated the Capetian dynasty. Capetian rulers again declared Paris as their capital city.

In 1348, Paris suffered the consequences of Black Death. At that time, the estimated population of Paris was 200,000.

London in middle ages

London was an old Roman city which was effectively abandoned after the fall of Roman Empire in the fifth century. In the sixth century, some Anglo-Saxons started settling at the skirts of the ancient city. Gradually, they started raising the city again and at a point in the eighth century, the population of London reached around 10000-12000. In the ninth century, London faced continuous attacks from the Vikings which restricted the growth of the city. In 10th century, London experienced the benefits of the unification of England. However, the biggest political traditional center still was Winchester, which was the capital of Kingdom of Wessex.

On the Christmas Day of 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned as the new Emperor of England at Westminster as he defeated the Anglo-Saxon king in the Battle of Hastings. William the duke of Normandy, constructed the Tower of London. In 1097, William II started building the Westminster Hall. During all this, the City of London was developing as the biggest and most popular business and trade center.

In 1100, the population of London was 18,000. By 1300 AD, the population of London reached 100,000 mark. However, London was hugely devastated by the Black Death in 1348. London lost nearly one-third of its population due to that black plague. After that, the feudal system of England got weak and in 1381, London became the focus of Peasants’ revolt.

Constantinople in middle ages

Constantinople remained an important city of Medieval times even after the fall of Western Roman Empire as emperor Justinian gained strength with his allegiance to the Church. In the period 565 AD to 717 AD, Constantinople suffered repeated attacks from Avars and Bulgars. In addition, Persian attackers also started creating havoc in the city. In 730, Leo III worked for the repair of the Theodosian wall which was damaged due to continuous attacks of invaders. Constantinople had a population of around 800,000 during the 9th and 10th century.

In 1071, the Emperor of Constantinople, Romanus Diogenes was defeated by sultan of the Seljuk Turks. However, in 1090-1091, Emperor Alexius I succeeded in defeating Turks and Pechenegs. To protect the Empire against Islamic invaders, he called for the First Crusade and he was helped by the Church in 1096. He declined to accept the Byzantine command and took his troops to Jerusalem by his own.

In 1203, the Fourth Crusade was plotted by Philip of Swabia, Boniface of Montferrat, and the Doge of Venice. Despite of the ex-communication of Pope, the fourth crusade was diverted against Constantinople. The city was regained by Michael VII but it was hugely devastated. In 1347 and 1348, the Black Death again jolted the city and in 1453, Constantinople was conquered by Ottoman Turks. At that time, the population of Constantinople was around 50,000.

Rome in the Middle Ages

Even after the fall of Western Roman Empire, Rome remained as one of the most important and strongest Middle Ages cities of Europe. Right since the early days of Christianity, the bishop of Rome was revered as the most respectful authority of the Church clergy. Pope had temporary jurisdiction over Rome and surrounding areas which were given to him by Pepin the Short in 756. In 800 AD, Charlemagne was crowned as the King of Italy by the Papacy and Charlemagne established the Holy Roman Empire. Rome remained an independent city throughout the middle ages.

Rome remained the capital of Papal state until it was annexed by the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.

Florence in Middle Ages

Before the Black Death in 1348, the population of Florence was around 94,000. The city was important for its wool industry as around 25,000 people of Florence were dependent on wool industry. In 1378, the wool combers (or workers) gathered and revolted against the oligarchic rule. This revolution was known as the Revolt of the Ciompi. However, the wool combers were suppressed.

Milan in the Middle Ages

Milan established itself as a rich center of trade because of its nearness to the plain of Po and routes from Italy across the Alps. Pope Urban IV created Ottone Visconti as the archbishop of Milan on July 22, 1262. Visconti family got control over the rivalry between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. They seized power of Milan with the help of German Emperors.

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Palermo in the Middle Ages

After the failure of Roman Empire, Palermo was dominated by several Germanic tribes. In 488, the Byzantine Empire defeated the Germanic rulers in the Gothic War. Byzantines were betrayed by Admiral Euphemius who called help of Islamic Aghlabid leader Ziyadat Ali. After that, Sicily and Palermo remained under control of Islamic rulers. Sicily was conquered by Muslims in 831 but Islamic rule was fiercely opposed till 904.

After that, Islamic rule was established under the Emirates of Sicily. However, in 1072, Christians regained Sicily and Palermo by defeating the Emirate. In 1194, Palermo fell under the reigns of Holy Roman Empire. During this time, Muslims of Palermo were expelled from the city and they emigrated.

2 thoughts on “Major Cities in the Middle Ages”

  1. “Some of the major European cities of the Middle Ages were Paris, London, Constantinople, Rome, Florence, Milan, and Palermo”. Thessalonica was about 7 times bigger than London around 1100. Is this Major Cities of today in the middle ages, or the major cities of the middle ages. There is some linguistic slack here.. Well-intended. We tend to forget history.

  2. it is really very interseting and it helped me by scoring good marks in history subject and it also increased my knowledge in history 🙂


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