The medieval city, between the 6th and 15th centuries, was a very different place. From the Roman Empire to the Anglo-Saxons, every ruler was able to leave an impact on the city. Many consider the medieval age the Dark Age because of constant wars, but it was much more than that. It was an age of artistic and scientific awakening, where many magnificent castles and cathedrals were built. Today, visitors can also explore medieval treasures in the cities.
Medieval City History
The medieval city was all about a mutual defence system. With time, these were upgraded in various ways. These cities were first recorded in the late 10th and 11th centuries. Several parts of Western Europe started attracting the Anglo-Saxon population. And they started building cities. In 1066, the sizes of the towns began to grow after the Norman Conquest. Most people used to work in agricultural areas, and they used to trade the harvests.
Many more towns were created during the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries while following a proper defensive system. It helped them to keep their people safe from attacks. Some towns flourished on the sites of early Roman and Saxon settlements, while some were built on the manors of essential lords. With time, each city started attracting towards western culture and upgraded accordingly.
The Population of Medieval City
Medieval cities were small and full of life. Each medieval city had a different charm, and that’s all because of the people living there. For example, Medieval London registered less than 100,000 population, which has now increased to about 9 million.
All medieval cities were smaller in dimension and exceeded less than 1 square mile with around 300,000 residents. Streets were observed to be dirty, muddy, and narrow. The main streets, connecting to the market, were covered with cobblestones. Yet, even after having smaller dimensions, these cities used to welcome rural folks with open hearts and allow them to explore their market squares.
Medieval City Layout
Medieval Cities were all about dynamics. These were generally located near rivers and intersecting roads. People living in the cities required a steady water supply to fulfil overall washing, drinking, and sewage disposal needs. These were filled with rich areas, palaces and forts, churches, taverns, universities, street markets, and slums. Additionally, war and invasions were quite common at that time. Therefore, the cities were heavily fortified with walls to protect them from invaders.
Medieval buildings were large. Most of them had defensive walls and wide-open spaces around them. Churches were considered the most significant buildings during that era. Moats and towers were widely seen in those days.
Streets were dark, steep, and irregular. Only significant buildings, such as castles, churches, etc., were made from stones and hard materials; medieval houses were made of wood and could easily catch fire. In the medieval era, the fire was a widespread problem.
People’s Life in Medieval Times
Medieval people were very simple. Medieval cities occasionally organised market fairs to attract people from neighbouring towns and villages. It was used to attract people and in increasing the city’s population.
All people living in the medieval city used to pay handsome taxes to local lords. There was also a massive gap in the tax system, followed by the rich and poor. In the late 14th century, many people revolted against the inaccuracy of tax registration.
In many medieval cities, mayors established safety precautions to protect the people from unfair trade practices. A few don’t even have walls or tall fences to lock them at night from trespassers. However, the overall success of the cities was measured by the number of merchants it attracted.
Hygiene was also a big issue in medieval cities. Streets were muddy, and there were many chamber pots. During rain, it became more problematic. People used to face dwellers’ health problems and water pollution. They quickly contracted a disease such as smallpox and leprosy.
Medieval Town Law and Government
Medieval town law and government were very different from today. Towns were either self-governing or included in a court of their own. Each followed its customs, including a set of punishments, methods for court procedure, and local ordinances. Most medieval cities had a considerable influence on the development of European law. They all focused on following the local customs and growing the law merchant in the Mediterranean cities. Today, you can experience how life used to be in medieval towns and their different laws by visiting Bruges, Dinan, San Gimignano, Obidos, Tallinn, and Rhodes in Europe. These medieval cities still carry the medieval atmosphere and charm.
Medieval cities were less organised than Roman and Greek cities, but they contributed a lot to the workings of modern-day towns. They were all about following the culture with the potential to grow. Today you can visit many medieval cities and get a feeling of how life during the medieval era would have been. We hope this article gave you a precise idea about medieval cities.
Frequently Asked Questions
What was the largest city in Medieval Europe?
Cairo, the capital of Egypt, was the largest city in Medieval Europe, spread over 3,085km.
Which city features a medieval astronomical clock?
Prague features the astronomical clock. It is a medieval astronomical clock attached to the Old Town Hall in Prague.