October, 2020

Medieval Cities through the Lens of Urban Economic Theory

  • Noel D. Johnson

    Senior Research Fellow
  • Mark Koyama

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
  • Remi Jedwab

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We draw on theories and empirical findings from urban economics to explore and explain patterns of city growth in the Middle Ages (c. 800–1500 CE). We discuss how agricultural development and physical geography determined the location and size of cities during the medieval period. We also consider the relative importance of economies of scale, agglomeration, and human capital spillovers in medieval cities and discuss how their growth was limited by disamenities and constraints on mobility. We discuss how medieval cities responded to shocks such as the Black Death and describe how institutions became increasingly important in determining their trajectories. Avenues for future research are also laid out.