Middle Ages

How did towns and cities begin to grow in medieval Europe?

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2011-03-15 14:39:16
2011-03-15 14:39:16

There are many natural spots in cities and towns to grow: sometimes it is because there is a river, other times it is because the area has good soil, or on a trade route, so people begin to stay in these places. In the middle ages many towns began because a manor or castle was there to protect them. Again, the reason for the castle was because the area was on a trade route or overlooked a valley that was considered important.

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One of the important changes that took place in medieval Europe was the growth of towns and cities. This did not result from geography alone, but because of a number of very important other factors.

The agricultural advances of the Early Middle Ages meant that the peasants could support more people. These inventions included the horse collar, which made it possible for a horse to pull greater loads for longer times without tiring, horse shoes, and the heavy plow. They also included European style wheel barrows, the three field system of crop rotation, and about twenty new crops that were introduced from the East.

Another set of factors included more stable governments and an end to the Age of Migrations and the raids by Vikings.

The introduction of a system of roads for pilgrims, protected by monks who were also knights, benefited not only the people who travelled on pilgrimage, but merchants, who began to trade across land. Foreign trade was also good at times. These things made towns and cities more important.

Guilds arose, and took an active role in the local economies and governments. They quickly took control of some towns, making them free towns or cities within monarchies, or actual independent city states. These also made towns and cities more important.

A number of kings fostered the growth of towns and cities. Towns were distinguished from villages by the fact that they had royal charters allowing them to have permanent markets. They were chosen for this based on location, which sometimes meant that they were at good ports or river crossings, but sometimes meant that they were a good distance from other markets so they would serve the local population without causing undue competition.

There were a lot of technological advances in the Middle Ages that gave rise to manufacturing, such as new looms, spinning wheels, paper mills, blast furnaces, harbor cranes, and so on. Some of these required towns or cities to have a dense enough population to make them practicable.

Universities were opening. These institutions, which were sometimes operated by the Church, but as often were either state supported or independent, brought people together in the cities where they existed, increasing the population.

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