How large was the typical settlement in Europe during the Bronze Age? Did most people live in isolated farmsteads or something more like small villages?

  • 4
    Which part of Europe, and which part of the bronze age? There's a big difference between the Irish Beaker culture and the Mycenaeans. Jun 18, 2012 at 13:07
  • @RISwampYankee, can you give an answer than encompasses the whole range?
    – Joe
    Jun 18, 2012 at 15:55

1 Answer 1


The largest city in Europe was Knossos in Minoan Crete, which according to Wikipedia reached as much as 100,000 people by 1600 BCE (Pendlebury & Evans 2003, p. 35). In comparison, the cities of Ur in Mesopotamia and Memphis in Egypt attained 60,000 people by 2000 BCE.

The Mycenaean culture of Greece is well known to us via Greek legends. A warlike people, they conquered the Minoans (whose empire was largely destroyed after a volcanic eruption) and defeated Troy (chronicled in the Iliad). The kings and nobility lived in palaces, and citizens in fortified towns, the largest of which was Mycenae (shown below) which had a population of 30,000 people by 1360 B.C. Like many Bronze Age settlements it was built atop a hill for defense. Lower classes lived in small houses in surrounding hamlets and estates.


However, such large cities were atypical for Bronze Age Europe. Vráble was one of the largest settlement on the continent itself, at 20 hectares in size and numbering around 1000 people. More typical settlements would be hamlets or villages linked together through tribal allegiances. Larger settlements might form where plentiful resources, trade routes, or natural defenses made it advantageous.

The Apennine culture in central and southern Italy were semi-nomadic cattle herders that lived in hamlets in defensible places in the hills. As an example, a bronze age village near Nola, Italy was found preserved under pumice and ash from the Avellino eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the Early Bronze Age; it included three huts, stockades, and fenced areas probably used for livestock.

In Sardina the Nuragic civilization took advantage of rich copper mines and became one of the main metal producers in Europe, importing tin via extensive trade networks. Their villages were clan-based, led by a chief, an lived in straw roofed huts, and federated together with other villages similar to the later city-states. Like many other Bronze Age people, they left megalithic constructions such as Nuraghe la Prisciona (below) that are unclear in purpose and might have been dwellings or defensive structures. These nuraghe were cylindrical towers reaching as high as 20 meters (60 feet). Whatever they were, the Nuragic architecture was more advanced than any other Middle Bronze Age civilization in the western Mediterranean.

Nuraghe la Prisciona of the Nuragic civilization in Sardina

Cornwall and Devon in England were active in the mining of tin during the Bronze age. Buildings tended to be circular with a stone wall and conical timer and thatched roof, clustered in groups of no more than 20 houses.

The Terramare culture (ancestors of the Etruscans) in Italy arranged their settlements with quadrangular streets, protected behind moats, earthwork, and buttresses. In the Middle Bronze Age, a typical village is no larger than 5 acres, but by the Late Bronze Age could grow to 150 acres.

The Urnfield culture (ancestors of the Celts) in central Europe during the late Bronze Age tended to fortified settlements on hilltops or river bends, and could consist of up to a few dozen houses. The Lovčičky settlement had 44 houses for example. Both hill forts and pile dwellings were typical.

In Germany in the areas of Lake Constance and Federsee, a lake dwelling people built villages on piles over water (a reconstruction of which is shown below). A village could have 5 to 80 houses for up to 500 people and cover anywhere from 0.1 to 2 hectares. An average village in the Bronze Age consisted of about 30 buildings.

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As can be seen from this small sampling of Bronze Age civilizations, villages were common, with the largest settlements being on the scale of a medieval castle rather than a true town or city, with Crete being the major exception.

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