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The evolution of urban civilizations


Which areas in a world are urban civilizations (that is, civilizations characterized by large population centers or cities) more likely to develop?

I submit that urban civilizations typically begin in small, agriculturally productive regions surrounded by large and less productive land. Fertile river valleys bordered by mountains or deserts are the most common examples of this. To have a city, you need a lot of people concentrated in a relatively small area, and the type of area I have described allows for that. If the agriculturally productive land spreads out too far and wide, then instead of cities you will have lots of small rural villages dotting the landscape.

Alternatively, cities may develop alongside trade routes, although such settlements require at least two existing civilizations somehow geographically separated.

Can anyone else name more conditions conducive to urbanization?
I think you've already covered them, actually: Firtile lands, rivers, seaports, trading hubs.

The only thing I can think to add would be a religious center - a city built around a major temple or some other holy site, for example.

Most likely, there will be a combination of several of these factors at play.

Alternatively, cities may develop alongside trade routes, although such settlements require at least two existing civilizations somehow geographically separated?

Not necessarily. You could have one central city where merchants from a large number of smaller villages and communities come to trade.


I agree. You have already covered the most critical foundations of a civilization.

Perhaps a center point of leadership? Most civilizations have appointed leader(s). This also ties in with a set of laws. When a large group of people live in a small region, something has to keep them from taking their neighb


Myth Weaver
As above, though I'd also add:

organization and civilization emerging as a reaction to an outside threat of some sort. Strength in numbers type deal. This might also involve some sort of fortification construction.

Now...one of the flat out oldest 'cities' known goes back something like ten thousand years and was built by and for hunter gatherers. However, its population was never all that large - something on the order of several hundred.


From a military standpoint, any place that is easily defensible is also preferable to a place that is not. The mouth of a canyon for example would be such a spot since it limits the enemies approach to the city or creates a bottleneck that is defendable by a small number of soldiers. Also, any area that is centrally located near resources of some type or other; trade goods, food and whatnot so nothing is THAT far from their community whether on the water or along a trade route or not. Societies tend to either bend to the lay of the land or more "modern" in bending the land to their need (like we do now) even if it means having a second smaller community close to the river or trade route for ease of commerce.


Myth Weaver
To place an urban centre river crossings are good... the first or last place to cross a river, or a relationship to a forgotten/defunct resource.
And then there is conflict... northern Italy had a Renaissance [it has been argued] because there were 20+ cities vieing for supremacy and several kingdoms eyeing the riches....
"Guns, Germs, and Steel" looks like a very useful world building book
and then there is sewerage... most cities stalled at about 1-2 million people until someone worked out the sewerage system...


Some cities might be set back a few miles from the sea, especially areas with a maritime history. In Greece almost none of the major cities are right on the sea, because that opens the city to a naval attack. Athens, for example, which had a separate port town, the Pireus, with, by the mid fifth century BCE, the Long Walls to protect the route between the city and the port.

Corinth is a different story. Corinth was a trading town - more than that, it sat on two trading routes, the sea route from the gulf of Corinth to the gulf of Salamis, with good carried across the isthmus from one port to the other, both of which Corinth controlled. This route linked trade from east to west enabling Corinth to control goods imported from or exported to Italy, Sicily, the French riviera region and Spain to the west and the Aegean islands, Crete, Thrace and Phoenica to the east. At the same time it controlled trade routes between the Greek mainland and the Peloponnese. And Corinth was rich as a result in the archaic period before being usurped as far as trade to the east was concerned by the Pireus, before becoming Greece's foremost city again in the Roman Empire, partly due to the trade routes. Corinth was almost constantly at war with neighbours over fertile land and religious sanctuaries, but thrived on trade.

Meanwhile Sparta was fairly isolated, surrounded on three sides by mountains. The city's social arrangement meant it never became big or had impressive architecture, and the societal scorn for trade and luxury meant it was never a rich place, but geographically speaking it had the fertile land and river valleys that meant feeding people wasn't an issue. The rivers weren't easily navigable so no good for trade, and the nearest port was a long way away, making Sparta very isolated, but had the rivers been deep enough and present year-round it could have been wealthy.


Natural Resources - proximity to, availableness, e.g, coal, wood, metal ores, water, stone, food.

needs the ability to extract them and to harvest them =

Industry - suitable to your world and its technology level = creates jobs, wages, money.

needs -

Transportation - Roads, rivers, canals, bridges, aqueducts.

Education - better education = ability to earn more, invest more. (In theory) - apprentice blacksmiths, universities, libraries, medicine, etc.

Security = people are safer within a city's walls rather than being out alone in a hamlet somewhere. Balance it off with the danger of thieves, burglars, murderers, etc.

More people = a need for law and order, punishment, compensation, etc.

More people = more demand - The more people there are in a certain location, the more demand there will be for resources and food, and jobs, etc. Demand for certain services, and goods will depend partly on geography, e.g coastal, desert, mountain regions. In summary - demand creates jobs creates wages creates demand creates jobs creates wages = (You get the idea)

Things that push up demand...

War = demand for weapons, metal, armour, coal, food, and the people to create it. Is also a catalyst for technological development and change.

Wealth = more money = more of everything

Natural disaster = (well shifts demand from one location to another) e.g, famine, earthquake, disease, drought, which will push people out of the affected as an area (as in an exodus) to accumulate somewhere that may be deemed safe by the majority, thus increasing pressure on the resources of the area they have moved to. Most likely will end up a slum city due to the people having nothing or very little as they move.

That's pretty much all I can think of off the top of my head.


cities of the dead burial cities / went through the sao paolo one just gob smacking the size detail and complexity given to the dead

Petra is one sucj city

knowledge like the library of alexandria and timbuktu

China martial arts

rites of passage some of the temple complexes in India


Can anyone else name more conditions conducive to urbanization?

Others have mentioned more likely factors, but consider military bases.

If you have outposts guarding strategic points along a nation's borders, they will require supply lines and non-military camp followers or other support. Depending on how they're arranged, you could imagine that a city could start growing around an outpost or at the point where roads leading back from the outposts meet.

I don't know for certain if this has happened much in the real world (I'd look at places like Hadrian's Wall or the Great Wall of China first), but if you're asking if I would buy this explanation in a fantasy novel, then I think that the answer would be yes.

Edit: If you were asking about really the start of the civilization and not just of a city, then this explanation becomes less likely. Although you could still make it work if you tried, I think.


It's certainly true that civilian settlements formed outside military outposts including those along Hadrian's Wall. That's how Wroxeter in Shropshire started too, among other settlements in Roman Britain. Where there are soldiers there is demand - demand for alcohol, prostitutes, luxury items to spend their pay on like better food, craftspeople who can repair weapons and armour more cheaply than the quartermaster's men (a Roman soldier's salary was docked for lost or damaged equipment) and more. Plus soldiers have relationships with native woman who have children and follow their lovers around.


One other thing is the availability of domesticatable animals like Sheep and pigs and cattlebeast. You can have land as fertile as anything, but if its populated mainly with untamable animals, even if easy to hunt and large (high meat yeild), the poeple will still most likely be hunter gatherers.
The same goes for vegetation. Even if the land is fertile, if you can't get hold of crops that have a fairly efficient yeild of carbohydrates and lipids and suchlike, you will again probably wind up with hunter gatherers. I think at some stage in Guns Germs and Steel he talks about how in a specific region (I think it was southeast Asia) there was a lack of lipid-rich crops and that caused some problems healthwise for the populations, even thought they did have rice and wheat crops.
You could play around a lot with populations with varying access to these sort of resources and the effect partial access could have on them and their societies (like the establisment of even major towns and settlements whilst the hunting of a plentiful and relatively sationary prey for meat is still necessary?).