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The 5 Largest Cities Over the Course of History

Watch the world's great cities rise and fall on this ever-shifting animated map.
Visual Capitalist creates and curates enriched visual content focused on emerging trends in business and investing. Founded in 2011 in Vancouver, the team at Visual Capitalist believes that art, data, and storytelling can be combined in a manner that makes complex issues and processes more digestible. Covering high-growth opportunities and industries such as technology, mining, and energy, Visual Capitalist reaches millions of investors each year. Visual Capitalist’s infographics have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Zero Hedge, Maclean’s, Gizmodo, The Vancouver Sun, and Business Insider.
Visual Capitalist creates and curates enriched visual content focused on emerging trends in business and investing. Founded in 2011 in Vancouver, the team at Visual Capitalist believes that art, data, and storytelling can be combined in a manner that makes complex issues and processes more digestible. Covering high-growth opportunities and industries such as technology, mining, and energy, Visual Capitalist reaches millions of investors each year. Visual Capitalist’s infographics have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Zero Hedge, Maclean’s, Gizmodo, The Vancouver Sun, and Business Insider.

The world’s most influential cities have certain attributes that make them appear timeless.

Metropolises like New York City, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and London have unprecedented size, opportunities, economic might, and cultural significance, that it’s easy to imagine them as permanent and unparalleled fixtures on the world stage.

However, any glance at world history shows us immediately that these places are not as exceptional or as timeless as we would like to think. Over time, it seems that even the most important cities eventually fall or slip in status.

That’s why a glance at the record books can be humbling, as we come across the names of many ancient cities that were the most important during their time – places like Luoyang, Ctesiphon, Pataliputra, and Constantinople – that today, the majority of people are much less familiar with.

The 5 Largest Cities Over Time

Today we present to you two videos from the Ollie Bye Youtube channel that show the rapidly changing history of the world’s top cities by population.

It’s incredible to watch the rise and fall of these cities, especially when we’re talking about the centers that were the undisputed heavyweight champions of their day.

The 5 Largest Cities (Years: 3000 BC to 1600 AD)

Over this massive span of time, the designation of the world’s most populous city shifts 16 times.

Rome keeps the title for an impressive period – over 400 years – while Baghdad and Chinese cities also have impressive runs as well. However, what’s most provoking about the video is the list of lesser-known cities that have held the title, such as Chang’an, Merv (Marv), and Pi-Ramesses.

The 5 Largest Cities (Years: 1600 to 2100)

During this much shorter stretch of time of more modern history, the rate of urbanization is skyrocketing and cities are now growing at exponential rates.

The most populous city shifts nine times – and by the year 2100, it’s projected that the five most populous cities could have 370 million people living between them.

This would be higher than the total population of the entire world in the 12th century.

During this much shorter stretch of time of more modern history, the rate of urbanization is skyrocketing and cities are now growing at exponential rates.

The most populous city shifts nine times – and by the year 2100, it’s projected that the five most populous cities could have 370 million people living between them.

This would be higher than the total population of the entire world in the 12th century.