Which city did, at a given time, have the largest percentage of humanity living in it?

I think that it's probably Imperial Rome, which is said to have reached a million inhabitants, at a time when the world's population must have been less than 1/40th of today (Tokyo today being nearly 40 times larger than Rome was then).

Or are there other candidates?

  • 2
    Given the gross uncertainties over global as well as city population estimates, as well as methodological inconsistency in how a city's population is counted, I don't think there's a way to have an objective answer here. However I think you're underestimating global population during antiquity: 1/40 of current world population is 175 million. The Roman Empire alone has had high end population estimates reaching 100 million. There are global population estimates of 230 million by 1 AD, too.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 11:28
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    also, largest does not mean greatest. And greatest is automatically a highly dubious term, extremely sensitive to differences in opinion as to how you'd make that determination.
    – jwenting
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 11:51
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    Hmm... I guess this does partially depend on how you define 'city.' For instance, the answer could be 'the garden of Eden,' since it contained 100% of the Earth's humans alive at the time. :)
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 18:20

1 Answer 1


I've combined the data in:

The winners are:

  1. Modern Tokyo (metropolitan area), home to 0.55% of the world's population
  2. 700 AD Chang'an, home to 0.44% of the world's population
  3. 200 AD Rome, home to 0.42% of the world's population

1 AD Rome, 400 AD Rome, and 1900 AD London follow, all three being home to 0.40% of the world's population at the time.

Please keep in mind that all numbers here are vague estimates.

  • 1
    Thanks! Wikipedia apparently has a list of everything, you just have to find it. And it confirms my suspicions that early modern London and somewhere in China were also hot candidates. Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 12:00
  • @MichaelBorgwardt Fixed a mistake in my numbers, 200 AD Rome moved up to third place. (I had 80,000 instead of 800,000 in one of its estimates). I think the numbers are correct now, but please take a look at the linked spreadsheet to verify.
    – yannis
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 12:13
  • of course it depends on how you define the city. The core city may have half a million inhabitants, but its area of control can be home to tens of millions. Think LA or New York for example, technically "New York City" is Manhattan and some nearby areas, but when people think "New York" they think about a far larger area.
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 12:40

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