1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

City Maps and Population

Discussion in 'Research' started by Devor, May 22, 2020.

  1. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Hi Scribes!

    I've been looking into making a city map for my story and I've run into a problem figuring out the size of the city vs the size of the map.

    What would a city map look like for the following populations?

    1,000,000 people

    I know it depends a lot on the region and the time period. Road sizes used to be smaller, buildings more packed. And are there interesting or unusual things worth marking on a medieval city map?

    Specifically I'm looking for sample maps, as well hoping to start a discussion on the topic.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  2. Devor,

    I don't have much experience with this sort of mapping but, in my saved archives, I had a few posts saved.

    Notes on Medieval Population Geography

    That one is about population density per square mile. Interesting but not much actual map making info to go on.

    And this second link is a wealth of city maps from the Medieval era. I don't think it gives the population at the time of each maps creation but that would easy to google or wiki I imagine. :)

    Amazing Maps of Medieval Cities

    There are also a few medieval city map generators which might give you a few ideas for the shape and size of a map if required. Can't vouch for their accuracies and quality but they're always fun to see and play around with.

    The thing about maps, to my limited understanding, from that time is that the populations of a city might change drastically in a short period. More downward due to the effects of disease/plague than upward due to mass migration (which came later). But the maps were not redrawn every year or two. The actual layouts of the cities changed slowly until later periods where populations exploded so the same city map that once represented a city of 30,000 might find itself representing a city of only 20,000 a few years later without change.

    Best of luck!
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie and Devor like this.
  3. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

    I can't say how to make a city map fit a specific population count. But I personally don't think it matters much, at least not to most readers who wouldn't be able to tell the difference anyhow. I personally skip past maps in novels pretty quickly, unless they are exceptionally well executed. That's what matters most about maps in novels, I think. That it looks like a genuine hand-drawn map, and not like some digital mashup.

    Here's my map-making notes:

    Add items like the Eiffel Tower lying down, or an oil tanker, to give yourself a sense of scale. You can also add a day’s journey.

    If your map is small enough to show people, try adding a few. This really helps the viewer see the true scale.

    In medieval times, the laws of perspective were not entirely understood. So the perspective may shift between top-down view, weird takes on isometric view and symbolic directly-in-front view.

    Experiment with different types of lettering. Longhand, uppercase, blackletter, serif.

    When hand-lettering, I can help to draw a pair of horizontal lines to write between, so that the letters don't jump so much. Also, make sure that the first and last letter are readable, as those a what we mostly use to recognize a word.

    Cartographer—that’s you
    Compass rose—shows the cardinal directions. North is up, mostly.
    Cartouches—a panel giving the name of the location, the date, the creator, scale, etc.

    If you want to give a sense of a city being really, really big, it is important to put in details. Some streets and buildings are named, while others almost left out. Some regions are outlined.

    Plan out how the city has evolved over time.

    I found a few random city maps on archive.org and I also got inspired to begin mapping my own world (last image)




    Dark Lord Thomas Pie and Devor like this.
  4. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    I did a couple city maps for my 'Empire' series (though both need redoing).

    Princeps, the Capital, checks in at a couple hundred thousand, and is set at the confluence of two heavily traveled rivers that spill into the Mare Imperium shortly thereafter.

    Corber Port, owing to an influx of refugees, tops the million mark, and is a major port set at the end of a strait connecting the Mare Imperium with the Cauldron.

    With both maps, I didn't bother with anything past the rivers/water, major streets, districts, and key points of interest - probably go with a number scheme for the last when I redo the maps.

    What I did do was ask myself how these cities were sustained - food, water, sewage, access. All to often in fantasy novels, I encounter huge metropolises (half million plus) that are in the midst of a desert which makes me wonder about such issues.

    Princeps backs against mountains with lots of alpine lakes, a couple of which are connected to the city via underground aqueducts. Food and other goods come in along the rivers, which are bordered by prime farmland - the one extends most of five hundred miles.

    Corber Port is a mercantile center - lots of wharves, lots of ships, plus 90%+ of the land to the cities north (within a hundred miles or so) is given over to agriculture, connected to the city proper through an elaborate canal and river system. South is grazing land and cotton fields. Even so, fresh water is a problem: there are several long aqueducts entering the city from the north and south. Sewage...well, way, way back, Corber Port was a mine town, with an extensive tunnel network. Sewers feed into the lower tunnels, eventually seeping into the bedrock, which acts as a rudimentary purification system.
  5. I tend to put the responsibility for that voice in the hands and imagination of my reader. By that, I mean I will use descriptions and reactions from the POV of other characters as they interact or encounter the "crass'' character. They may scoff at their accent, enunciation or pronunciation. They may also judge their grooming, the cut of their clothing or their footwear (or lack thereof). They may reject them for leering, swearing, blowing their nose in their sleeve, coughing without covering their mouth, etc etc.

    I may stick in a few anomalies in that particular character's dialogue IF it seems to fit and flow, but I don't think it's necessary to use a lot of variance either. The most recent one I created for a character I wanted to come off as less educated was, instead of them asking, "Hello Kasper, how are you this morning?" they'd ask, "Heyo Kas, how's risin'?"
  6. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling


    This map of Paris in 1550 should give you an idea of just how much detail can go into a city map. As you can see it''s not exactly to scale but it does provide you with an idea of how big Paris was even then. Its population at that time was estimated to be about 350,000. Note that many of the streets aren't named and only key points of interest, such as churches, are shown. Its layout also bears little relation to the layout of Paris as it existed by the time Napoleon was Emperor.

    This is a map of London in 1560. Its population was 3,200,000 that year but you wouldn't think so if you compared this map with the one of Paris. Maps don't always reflect the importance or population of a city. Paris is more spread out whereas London was notorious for its over-crowding and slums. I also suspect the map of London might not be showing all the streets but only the more important ones, a common practice at the time.
    Kasper Hviid likes this.
  7. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    A couple of years ago I overlayed this map to a current map of Paris. You would be surprised at how many of the minor roads still remain. It was fun walking around the "Medieval" Paris and seeing the old and new together.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    London and Paris were roughly comparable in population in the 16th-17thcs. Not sure where that second figure comes from. Did you mean 320,000 instead? That sounds about right for London mid-17thc. But estimating population figures is about two steps up from guessing.

    I want to add to this that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has a great collection of city maps and cityscapes, mostly for European cities. I recommend a stroll.
    Historic Cities: Maps & Documents
    CupofJoe likes this.

Share This Page