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From Village to City


The project was presented on 3 March 2014 at the University of Gothenburg under the title “Urbanization of the Ancient Greek World Before Cities?”. NB: The full text of the talk including the PPP can be obtained by contacting

The project was presented on 20 September 2013 at the Belgian Academy in Rome under the title “Fortifications and the Archaic City in the Greek World”. NB: The full text of the talk including the PPP can be obtained by contacting

The project was presented at the Winckelmann-Institute, Humboldt University, Berlin, on Wednesday 21 November 2012 under the title: "From Village to City in the Late Geometric and Early Archaic Greek World". NB: The full text of the talk including the PPP can be obtained by contacting

The project was presented from the angle of one city, Corinth, on the international conference "The Corinthia and the Northeast Peloponessus: Topography and History from Prehistory until End of the Antiquity", at Loutraki 28 March 2009, "Topographical Implications of the Seventh Century BC City Wall of Corinth". NB: The full text of the talk including the PPP can be obtained by contacting

The project was presented in the Danish Institute at Athens on 20 January 2009, under the title: "Urbanization in the Greek World 1000 - 500 BC - and the critical masses of settlement size and settlement numbers". NB: The full text of the talk including the PPP can be obtained by contacting

Preliminary Results and Conclusions

After five years of research the project has made progress on a number of fronts. The database of settlements with urban elements (see 'The Project') is steadily growing, which both allows for checking theory against observation on a constantly weightier basis as well as generating new ideas based on patterns in the data. This report, on work in progress, puts forward the following results which are some of the preliminary conclusions of the investigation.


The project operates with the theory that urbanization can only develop ('happen'), and be sustained at settlements of a certain size, and only when such settlements exist in a cultural and economical network of similar settlements. Settlement size is first of all expressed in numbers of inhabitants. A certain number of inhabitants is required, a critical mass, before a settlement can develop and sustain urban functions. Rudimentary population-numbers can be ascertained by means of interpreting various archaeological finds. Such numbers are then checked against the occurrence of urban elements and the individual settlements are then categorized as urban or not urban. My findings so far are expressed in this simple model (Fig. 1), and applies to the Greek world from the 8th to the 6th century BC. Figure 1 Settlement classification model The individual estimates behind the average population-figures are bound to be lower or higher than the actual (real historical) figures at the given time at the given sites. But for the purpose of this investigation, it suffices to identify even only very rough figures, which will serve to show whether a settlement, with a great degree of probability, belongs to one out of four categories of settlement. The following parameters, which are both socio-economic and (physical) structural elements, are considered at this stage to indicate urbanization:

Political and socio-economic elements

  • Top position in settlement hierarchy
  • Differentiation of labour
  • Foreign trade (this includes other Greek poleis, also neighbours)
  • Use of writing

Structural elements

  • Fortification wall/fortified position
  • Houses with architectural plan greatly influenced by surrounding houses, other structures and/or settlement space (dense building)
  • Monumental architecture
  • Paved public spaces, like streets or squares
  • Installations for water supply and/or drainage (not wells)

These elements can all be used as indicators of urbanism, some being stronger than others. Together they constitute a polythetic Weberian ideal type rather than a definition, and they are all long established indicators used in urban research in world history, except for the first one, which I, so far, believe applies to the Greek world of precisely this period. I have not decided yet how many or which elements need to be attested at a settlement before it may be classified as urban. I will of course discuss this at great length in the book which will conclude this study, but let me just briefly mention that I believe, at this point, that sites with combined attestations of the first three of the structural elements ought to be classified as urban. Let me also add that there are substantial difficulties with the interpretation of sources for some of the elements, for example, how many 'foreign' objects do we need to identify before it makes sense to speak of foreign trade, and to what degree do attestations of writing at a site allow us to classify it as a literate community? Obviously no settlement will be classified in this investigation by the attestation of 'weak' indicators alone. The strength of this exercise is the broad approach that seeks to classify as many indicators as possible. The analytical excersize that follows is the observation of the occurrence of these indicators at individual sites, combined with an estimated population size, which will reveal major patterns. This has been done on a preliminary basis for a number of sites already. As Figure 1 shows, I believe, at this point, that urbanization coincides with a settled population of 1,000 individuals or more in the ancient Greek world of the eighth and seventh centuries BC. Certain characteristics which will constitute the difference between towns and cities will clearly emerge, but the distinction between these two categories is less important. In terms of basic urban functions, cities are but expanded versions of towns. What matters in the first place is to separate the urban entities from the not urban ones, which I have labelled with the English town/city and village/hamlet, and to establish the numbers and locations of the urban units (towns/cities).

Number of Towns in the Early Greek World

Just as a settlement must reach a certain size (critical mass of inhabitants) in order to function as an urban settlement, a settlement must exist in a cultural and economical network of similar settlements. Settlement networks are expressed as a combination of numbers and proximity of settlements. The Classical Greek city-state culture of some 1,000 interacting urban units, was a network which had its origin in the period under scrutiny in this project, not only in a general sense, but in a specific topographical sense: a great number of Classical cities represent a stage of continuous development of much earlier settlements on the same sites. While a great number of these early settlements remain completely undiscovered, it is possible to demonstrate, by gathering information on known settlements, mapping them and analysing their individual topography and proximity, that regional and supra-regional networks did exist. So far networks have been identified, for example, in the NE Peloponnese, in Crete, in Ionia and in the Greek west. The identification of these particular networks is not my finding. What I hope to be able to demonstrate is that there were more such regional networks and that they all, ultimately, were part of the same great network of early Greek poleis (towns and cities), connected mainly by the sea. The number of early towns is of course lower than the number of Classical towns, but already now I believe that the material, accompanied by lengthy circumstantial arguments about the general state on investigation and preservation, takes us towards the stunning conclusion that most of the Classical cities also were urban (towns) around 700 BC.

New Observations

In addition to the research I have reported on above, and which forms the core of the planned project, the following new observations have been made as a result of the assembled data. Undoubtedly, when I get more data together and analyze it properly, more findings will emerge:

Figure 2 Modern Argos
  • It is generally assumed that settlements in the Early Iron Age (including the century 800 to 700) were dispersed (for example Argos, Asine, Athens, Corinth and Eretria). I believe - having reviewed the evidence and the interpretations as a whole - that this idea can be challenged. While it is true that the location of graves to some extend supports this theory, it is just as much based on remains of houses found hundreds of metres apart. Such excavated remains are found due to random investigations, which sometimes only accidentally are brought to a depth where such house remains can be found. One could therefore argue, conversely, that the identified remains represent but a fraction of still remaining high numbers of house-remains, and, that many more house remains from the eighth century BC would come to light if excavation was carried out in the large un-investigated areas of the settlements in question (see the example Figure 2 showing (major) un-investigated areas of Argos). On the same line, remembering how much settlement material - in particular from this period - has disappeared already in antiquity, the abundance of original material must have been even more impressive. I believe that settlements, at least in the decades 750-700 (at sites like the ones mentioned above), were dense, mixed with burials, not dispersed. The 'dispersed' interpretation poses a number of practical difficulties: in order to reach population-figures great enough to sustain the urban functions we know existed at these same sites, they would have needed to extend over such huge areas that living in them would have been quite impractical. Further, it should be added that not a single example of dispersed settlement has actually been verified by excavation from the entire Greek world, whereas the examples of (fragmentary) dense settlements from this period are attested in abundance (late 8th century: for example Sicilian Naxos, Megara Hyblaea, Zagora and Prinias).
  • Changes in house-architecture happened at a large scale in the eighth century BC. The 'oldstyle' apsidal house, easy to build but very space-consuming in relation to its surroundings, were universally replaced by rectangular and often terrace-style specimens. This is not my finding, but the interpretative value of the observation has not really been exploited. That the change in architecture happened due to pressure on space due to the growth of settlements with an ensuing rise in value of land/space as a natural outcome, is pretty obvious. To some degree the 'modern' design can be used as an urban indicator, if it occurs with other urban indicators as well.
  • Attestations of early writing (8th century BC) are underestimated, both in quantity and quality. There are more and more finds of early writing, which both from the point of view of distribution, but also the character of the writing, suggest that writing was used in many more places and for many more purposes than what is currently believed.

World Historical Perspectives

Looking for comparanda
I am very interested in comparanda from other cultures. Surely I will briefly be discussing issues of urbanization in the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean, in particular of the Phoenicians and Etruscans. But I am also very interested in the world as such, up to the early modern period, where city-state cultures ceased to exist. Fundamental questions:

  • Cluster theory: city states appeared always in clusters. City states could not appear, grow and exist over time without others around them. This, I believe, applies at least to some extend to urban communities as such. An important question is, of course, how close or how far apart such urban centres can be located, before we can call them a cluster or not a cluster. Do we at all have areas where a number of urban units existed in isolation?

The question is: does the international community of historians know of any cultures which actually do yield examples of the latter? I would be most happy to have these brought to my attention. I am often discussing this project, both with undergraduate and graduate students, as well as established scholars. So do get in touch if you are studying or are interested in urbanization of the ancient Mediterranean or somewhere else in the ancient world.

Please contact for further information and/or discussion.


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Rune Frederiksen, PhD
The Danish Institute
at Athens
Platia Aghias Aikaterinis
Herefondos 14
GR 105 58, Athens
[t] + 30 697 4958638