Town and City Population: How Many In Those Walls?

For purposes of this article, settlements will be divided into Villages, Towns, Cities and Big Cities (known as “supercities” in the parlance of urban historians).

  • Villages range from 20 to 1,000 people, with typical villages ranging from 50-300. Most kingdoms will have thousands of them. Villages are agrarian communities within the safe folds of civilization. They provide the basic source of food and land-stability in a feudal system. Usually, a village that supports orchards (instead of grainfields) is called a “hamlet.” Occasionally, game writers use the term to apply to a very small village, regardless of what food it produces..
  • Towns range in population from 1,000-8,000 people, with typical values somewhere around 2,500. Culturally, these are the equivalent to the smaller American cities that line the interstates. Cities and towns tend to have walls only if they are frequently threatened.
  • Cities tend to be from 8,000-12,000 people, with an average in the middle of that range. A typical large kingdom will have only a few cities in this population range. Centers of scholarly pursuits (the Universities) tend to be in cities of this size, with only the rare exception thriving in a Big City.
  • Big Cities range from 12,000-100,000 people, with some exceptional cities exceeding this scale. Some historical examples include London (25,000-40,000), Paris (50,000-80,000), Genoa (75,000-100,000), and Venice (100,000+). Moscow in the 15th century had a population in excess of 200,000!

Large population centers of any scale are the result of traffic. Coastlines, navigable rivers and overland trade-routes form a criss-crossing pattern of trade-arteries, and the towns and cities grow along those lines. The larger the artery, the larger the town. And where several large arteries converge, you have a city. Villages are scattered densely through the country between the larger settlements.

Population Spread

Okay, so you know how big your kingdom is, and how many people live there. How many people live in the cities, and how many cities are there? How many live in smaller settlements, like towns and villages?

  • First, determine the population of the largest city in the kingdom. This is equal to (P times M), where P is equal to the square root of the country’s population, and M is equal to a random roll of 2d4+10 (the average roll is 15).
  • The second-ranking city will be from 20-80% the size of the largest city. To randomly determine this, roll 2d4 times 10% (the average result is 50%)
  • Each remaining city will be from 10% to 40% smaller than the previous one (2d4 times 5% – the average result is 25%); continue listing cities for as long as the results maintain a city-scaled population (8,000 or more).
  • To determine the number of towns, start with the number of cities, and multiply it by a roll of 2d8 (the average result is 9).
    The remaining population live in villages, hamlets and smaller settlements; a small number will live in isolated dwellings or be itinerent workers and wanderers.

Adjusting the Number of Towns: The ratio of towns to cities given above presumes the existence of a notable and thriving mercantile community. Adjust the upward by 50% or more for a fantasy world on the verge of Renaissance, but adjust it sharply downward for a pre-Crusades type world (if trade is limited and local, there won’t be many more towns than there are cities; just continue the 10%-40% city-reduction scale to produce a single list of cities and towns). Historically, the number of town charters in many European countries multiplied nearly by 10 from the 11th-13th centuries as economic shifts reshaped the agrarian scheme into something more robustly mercantile. If your world has a visible share of merchants and rogues and other town-living types (as most do) use the 2d8 roll or even more. For a world in transition between these extremes, find a middle ground you like the looks of.

Source: Medieval Demographics Made Easy


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