Home Middle Ages How Medieval European cities started to develop?

How Medieval European cities started to develop?

Carcassonne - typical medieval city

Compare to living in the villages, citizens in cities during the period of Middle Ages having more rights and they enjoyed status of Freeman. That’s why in most cases peasants tried to escaped from countryside to the cities. To avoid escapes of peasants from the villages, in XIII century some feudal lords begins to relieve peasants from taxes giving them more rights. At the end of medieval period, more than ninety percent of peoples lived in villages, but there were exceptions like in the Northern Italy. Typical medieval city was a commercial center without agriculture as the main economic branch. Each city had a fort in which sits Count and these cities represents administrative center of the local area. If in the city enthronement bishop, city got status of the religious center. Craftsman’s in the cities had to give their lords one part of the final products. During the early middle ages in Europe, Asian people starting to enter into European territory and in IX century Arabians started to control Mediterranean coasts. In the second half of the XI century Normans occupied Sicily but Italian cities with their fleet managed to liberate Sardinia and Corsica. In this period, European cities having little trade connection to the Eastern trade centers.

On the important trade routes or important river crossing were held festivals in which craftsmen brought goods and sold it. During the time, some craftsman’s build home near the place of trade. Some craftsmen’s fled from villages or they managed to purchased freedom from the feudal lords and after that they had dwelt. The settlements inhabited by craftsman’s and merchants, enjoyed Freeman status in society and these settlements marked as mercatum (market). To protect themselves from attack craftsman’s and traders build the walls and so from XI century settlements started to grow into the large trade centers. Citizens were most often had to redeem rights from the lords. First, they purchased the right to judicial authorities so cities received judicial self-government. Then they asked for participation in city management like organization of the guard in city or building water supply. Finally, citizens were looked for self-management of domestic and foreign policy and on that way cities were transformed into so-called city-states (like the “polis” in Ancient Greece). Some cities had partial autonomy. Over time, the city elders had realized that the cities were more profitable than villages so they converted villages into town. They did it because they sold the civil rights in so-called “new cities”. This process was not the same in all medieval Europe. For example, residents of cities of Western Europe were personally free because they earn the rights during the period of Roman Empire.

Many of the settlements in Western Europe also starting to grow around the castles. During the construction of medieval cities, special attention was focused to safety. Residents built more and more walls. In order to make strong defense around the city walls, authorities have ordered digging trench filled with water, so people walked across the drawbridge to enter the city. The walls of the towers were especially thick. In the Middle Ages, cities mostly fell in to the hands of attackers due to lack of food and long siege. The city gates were built narrow (for pedestrians and horsemen) and wide (for carts). Typical medieval city had two gates (or more) because if attackers break through one gate, defenders could simply escape through the other. Every town had at least one secret gate. Cities have had their patron saint, like Republic of San Marco (Venetian Republic). Above the western gate was usually placed a statue of the patron saint and on the eastern part of the city was placed a fresco. Around the city there was a suburb and that could be subsequently surrounded by walls. Each city had to have at least one square in which there are the most important institutions and cathedral. The houses were built of wood and later of stone. Because of the cramped space inside the city walls houses were built narrow and high. London had about 120 churches and Rome even a few hundred. Medieval town at night was in dark, so city authorities for safety measures organized the guards who carried the lighted torch. If the city was located on the coast, authorities took care if there onboard armed persons and whether the ship comes from areas that were infected with a disease. Independent cities had its own mint. The small town had several hundred inhabitants, medium-sized town had several thousand inhabitants and the largest cities have had several tens of thousands of residents. Largest cities of Western Europe were: London, Paris, Milan, Venice and Naples.

Georg Braun, map of Venice in his “Civitates orbis terrarum

City took care of feeding its citizens and cereals are generally the base diet. The supply is carried out from its own district. In Middle Ages, there was an often shortage of grain. However, some states have prohibited the export of grain while others seeking special permission for export. With permission (lawn), it was possible to export only a certain amount of grain. The city residents also could buy only a certain amount of grain every week. In addition to wheat, the most important products to eat or drink was oil, cheese and wine. The lowest class in cities was habitator (latin) or habitant which they usually worked as carriers or they were servants. Senior middle class was civis or citizen and the highest class was nobilis or nobles. Nobles were manager over the city. Oil was made out of olives but more often it is used pork fat. The most common disease in the cities was the plague. Terrifying epidemic of plague was the one that broke out in Europe in mid-fourteenth century. Disease was transferred from China over Italian merchants. Plague is transmitted by touching. Plague has been known as the Black Death because the disease causing a change of the skin color. The largest epidemics have covered the cities and that is why many cities brought some hygiene regulations (Eg. cattle are pushed out of the city, the authorities hire doctors, began cleaning streets, …). The rulers had their own doctors and cities were able to borrow doctor. In order to protect themselves from disease city authorities build quarantine outside the walls, so all suspicious passengers had to spend a certain amount of time in quarantine before entering in the city and the first hospitals formed in monasteries.

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