How many years ago is 500 BC?

Urban development up to antiquity

From nomads to townspeople

From then on, the former nomads live as farmers in family farms, tame wild animals and refine wild plants. They only produce food for their own needs. They also make clothes and crockery for themselves. This form of social coexistence finds more and more imitators over time.

The population has grown steadily over the millennia. The arable land must be expanded and more animals must be bred. It soon becomes apparent that some families are more skilled than others. They produce more than they need.

This is the first step in the division of labor. The families get together, build irrigation systems and decide who will take care of the care. Storage places for the food surpluses are set up. An administrator takes care of the distribution.

For the sake of justice, everything must be noted. Writing and number systems emerge. More and more people are exercising an activity that is no longer directly related to agriculture and animal husbandry. A town grows out of the village settlement that has to be defended from the outside. Fortifications are being built and secured by the military.

The cities are growing

In southern Mesopotamia, today's Iraq, archaeologists discovered the first major city in world history: Uruk, today's Warka. The city is around 5500 years old. It remains to be explored how exactly Uruk was structured. It is significant, however, that in this region in particular more and more settlements are growing together to form cities. The living conditions between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers are excellent.

The population is always supplied with sufficient water, the soils are very fertile and can be irrigated with relatively simple means. These are ideal conditions for cities to develop as economic and trading centers.

A comparable urban development does not exist in the Greco-Roman world until three millennia later, around 500 BC. Until then, Athens will consist of individual independent villages with a political and religious center: the Acropolis.

Only at the end of the 6th century BC is Athens a city with around 5000 inhabitants. In the next hundred years, the population of the Greek metropolis grew rapidly, around 40,000 people already lived in the city around 400 BC.

The largest metropolis of antiquity reached completely different dimensions: Rome. When it was founded, it only consisted of a few hundred inhabitants, and it will grow rapidly over the next few centuries. In the year 330 AD, more than a million people live in the "Eternal City".

For a long time this should be the highest number of inhabitants a city will have. But Rome only stayed that big for a few centuries. 300 years later, the Roman Empire is history and only 20,000 people still live in what was once the largest city in the world.

Town planning in a checkerboard pattern

There are two basic types of cities in ancient times: one has grown over the centuries, the other is planned from the ground up. Around 500 BC there were still no city planners. In ancient Greece it is often the job of philosophers. Most of their bold projects, however, never come to fruition.

Hippodamos, a theoretician from the school of the mathematician Pythagoras, has remained up-to-date with his idea: He designs cities according to grid squares, that is, in a checkerboard pattern. In his time, in the 5th century BC, the Greeks had already conquered large parts of the Mediterranean area, in which new cities are now to be built.

This development pattern is ideal for this. Hippodamos was the first to apply this principle in his hometown Miletus in what is now Turkey. After it was almost completely destroyed in the war against the Persians, he redesigned it in 479 BC: in a checkerboard pattern.

The Greek port city of Piraeus was designed and built by Hippodamos around 450 BC on the same principle. With such urban planning, all areas of society can be determined from the outset: public places, temples, cultural institutions, but also the residential areas of the poor and rich.

Athens - from village to cultural metropolis

Original Athens is a collection of small villages around a hill. The residents build a temple on it and call the area Akropolis, in German Upper Town. The administrative and trading houses are built in the lower town. Targeted urban planning then begins around 450 BC: Athens is divided into geometric blocks.

26 blocks are available to the public for squares, theaters, baths, temples and stadiums, nothing more and nothing less. This is to ensure that the city does not grow indefinitely. That would hinder a functioning democracy, they say. Ancient Athens was thus limited to 40,000 inhabitants. If the size of the city is exceeded, expedition forces are deployed. You will then have to establish new colonies in distant areas.

The principle of the grid city also found favor with the Romans. They align their cities to the four cardinal points by creating a north-south and an east-west axis. With this right-angled arrangement, four separate city districts, called quarters, are created. At the intersection is the forum: a center for politics, justice and religion, based entirely on the Greek model.

Wealth of cities

In most cities, the peasant population lives on the surplus of their agricultural products. Their fields are on the outskirts and the cattle graze outside. The port cities generate their income through import duties, port, mooring and storage fees.

In the minority are the cities that live on the tribute payments of the conquered areas, such as Athens and Rome. These cities are the richest. You can afford representative public buildings, streets, a convenient drinking water supply and a sewerage system.

Even the poor in the city can be provided with basic food and housing. On the one hand, the cities with territorial areas generate the highest income, but on the other hand they also have the most poor. The reason: The free natural produce that is imported as a tribute from the subject territories makes lucrative agriculture for free farmers impossible. So they flock to the cities en masse to find work. But there slave labor depresses prices.

Eternal construction sites

Ruins of buildings belonged to the usual cityscape in antiquity. The reasons are the same as today: the client has run out of money or has other plans. Ruinous parts of the city that have been hit by disasters such as floods and earthquakes are then rebuilt in a modernized form.

Sometimes, however, staged catastrophes such as fires and wars also happen with the rehabilitation plan in the pocket. Responsible for this are often new rulers who want to set a monument with imposing architecture. It is being "redeveloped", which reminds of the fame of the predecessor. Rumor has it that the Roman Emperor Nero made history with it: He burned Rome down and then built it up according to his own ideas.