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Area of a medieval town?

NewJeffCT

Villager
About how big would a medieval town of 1,000 be, in terms of square miles/acres/km?

This is the number of people living inside the town walls, not the people living in surrounding hamlets, farmsteads, etc.

I was trying to judge how long the town walls would be, assuming a square - 1,000 feet each, 1/3 of a mile, 1/2 mile, 1 mile?

Thanks
 

CharlesRyan

Explorer
Not big, if you're talking about a pretty realistic medieval town. A market square (50 to 100 yards on a side, not necessarily square in shape) and a couple irregular blocks in each direction.

A couple points of reference from here in the UK: The two historical market towns nearest us both have populations of around 20,000, and neither is more than a mile across now. Obviously, they would have been much smaller when they had populations in the 1,000 range (which they probably did in medieval times).

And the walled towns I've visited, which would have had populations well over 1,000, are not more than half a mile on a side.

Worth noting: In larger, bustling walled towns, where space was a constraint, the buildings might be very dense. But in more common small market towns, the buildings probably have sizeable crofts and might only be dense right around the marketplace.

Hope that helps!
 

NewJeffCT

Villager
Not big, if you're talking about a pretty realistic medieval town. A market square (50 to 100 yards on a side, not necessarily square in shape) and a couple irregular blocks in each direction.

A couple points of reference from here in the UK: The two historical market towns nearest us both have populations of around 20,000, and neither is more than a mile across now. Obviously, they would have been much smaller when they had populations in the 1,000 range (which they probably did in medieval times).

And the walled towns I've visited, which would have had populations well over 1,000, are not more than half a mile on a side.

Worth noting: In larger, bustling walled towns, where space was a constraint, the buildings might be very dense. But in more common small market towns, the buildings probably have sizeable crofts and might only be dense right around the marketplace.

Hope that helps!
Thanks - that was helpful. So, I wouldn't be out of line to say the town is surrounded by a wooden palisade that is maybe 125 yards on each side?
 

CharlesRyan

Explorer
That might be a little tight, if there's a market (and in real medieval towns, the market was the raison d'etre)--maybe 200 - 300 yards on a side would be more "realistic." But not too far out of line if the main function of the town is huddling behind the defenses of the palisade.
 

S'mon

Hero
A good rule of thumb for medieval cities is 1 square mile per 50,000; medieval City of London - 'the square mile' - being the model. But 1,000 is too small for full urbanisation; these kinds of market towns typically had lines of terraced houses along the roads, with open areas behind, and would not normally be seriously walled.

200 yards on a side if roughly square sounds reasonable, but it would be more common for them to be drawn out along trade roads, eg I lived in Swavesey in Cambridgeshire which fits this model (a village now, it was a medieval market town).
 

Wombat

Villager
While this is not for D&D per se, you can find some great ideas on points like this over at ...

Lýthia.com

Since Harn is more or less built around the notion of a low-magic, fairly straightforward medieval world, the core and fan-created material provides great insight into all sorts of small points this way. :) Just check out some of the maps to get an idea.
 

NewJeffCT

Villager
A good rule of thumb for medieval cities is 1 square mile per 50,000; medieval City of London - 'the square mile' - being the model. But 1,000 is too small for full urbanisation; these kinds of market towns typically had lines of terraced houses along the roads, with open areas behind, and would not normally be seriously walled.

200 yards on a side if roughly square sounds reasonable, but it would be more common for them to be drawn out along trade roads, eg I lived in Swavesey in Cambridgeshire which fits this model (a village now, it was a medieval market town).
Thanks - the town is on the eastern edge of a range of hills & small mountains and sits at the edge of a pass through the hills. So, it is on the trade route through the hills and onto a larger city on the other side.
 

Treebore

Villager
What? Where is the links to those awesome websites that tell you all kind sof things abut towns, their sizes, etc...?

Yeah, HARN material is an awesome resource, adn the stuff the people do for free at lythia is just jaw droppingly good.
 

Ashtagon

Villager
A typical unwalled market town would be Watford, Hertfordshire. It consisted essentially of a crossroads, and another half-dozen side-streets. The main core "business district" was a single road about half a mile long. There was a church to one side, and the market would be held in an adjacent field. The surrounding countryside was farmland.

Walled towns would actually be fairly unusual unless the town was also a centre of government.
 

Hejdun

Villager
This site:

Medieval Demographics Made Easy

Says that population density for towns and cities is about 61/acre. So 1,000 would correspond to about 16.5 acres. Of course a lot of people can't visualize how big an acre is, but it's slightly smaller than an American football field without the endzones. An acre is also a square with 208 feet to a side. Or perhaps it helps to envision 1/640th of a mile ;)

Basically, each person has their own 25 foot square. Which actually sounds unnaturally high, but I suppose the larger estates of the more affluent bring the average up quite a bit.
 

Henrix

Villager
One thing I'd like to point out (again) is that basically everything in a medieval town or village is measured in walking distance - you don't just hop into your car to go to the grocery store or neighbour, and, in particular, not to the well!

So compared to modern urban areas everything is generally clustered together.

I'd like to see this on more fantasy maps, and fewer maps showing something like american suburbs.

This is what a medieaval village does not look like: Diamond Lake (from Paizo/Dungeon AP Age of Worms - good adventures, bad map).
Lots of roads that serve no purpose except to increase the distance between the buildings.
 

haakon1

Villager
About how big would a medieval town of 1,000 be, in terms of square miles/acres/km?

This is the number of people living inside the town walls, not the people living in surrounding hamlets, farmsteads, etc.

I was trying to judge how long the town walls would be, assuming a square - 1,000 feet each, 1/3 of a mile, 1/2 mile, 1 mile?

Thanks
Well, the City of London is colloquially known as "the Square Mile". London, however, was one of the largest cities in medieval western Europe, with I think up to 15,000 people at its peak.

I believe Paris (excluding suburbs) was just the Ile de la Cite, which is probably smaller than a square mile. It had about the same population.

So, 1000 person city, minus fields and suburbs, would be pretty small. A Square Mile is 5280 ft x 5280 ft. or 640 acres . . . scale downwards as seems reasonable to you.
 

Treebore

Villager
This is what a medieaval village does not look like: Diamond Lake (from Paizo/Dungeon AP Age of Worms - good adventures, bad map).
Lots of roads that serve no purpose except to increase the distance between the buildings.
I don't know about that, I like to think of Diamond Lake as a community smart enough to take into account the effects of fireballs. Like in a PC party, distance is your friend.

I think our real world towns and cities would be laid out very differently if they had to take into account one fireball being capable of burning down the whole place, if the buildings are kept packed together. Such cities would be just one big pile of wood needing to be burned.

So I think Diamond Lake actually takes the reality of fireballs, and certain other spells, into account.
 

Henrix

Villager
Well, the City of London is colloquially known as "the Square Mile". London, however, was one of the largest cities in medieval western Europe, with I think up to 15,000 people at its peak.
Well, it was up to near 100,000 just before the plagues. And about the same for Paris.
 

S'mon

Hero
Well, the City of London is colloquially known as "the Square Mile". London, however, was one of the largest cities in medieval western Europe, with I think up to 15,000 people at its peak.
Peak? When did London peak? Last time London peaked was when the Romans left! :p

I used 50,000 because I've seen that as a high-medieval estimate for London's population, but it reached around 100,000 by the end of the middle ages ca 1500, as I recall. And I'm sure Paris was larger.
 

S'mon

Hero
I don't know about that, I like to think of Diamond Lake as a community smart enough to take into account the effects of fireballs. Like in a PC party, distance is your friend.

I think our real world towns and cities would be laid out very differently if they had to take into account one fireball being capable of burning down the whole place, if the buildings are kept packed together. Such cities would be just one big pile of wood needing to be burned.

So I think Diamond Lake actually takes the reality of fireballs, and certain other spells, into account.
Fireballs would have to be more common than the hazards that regularly did burn down real medieval and post-medieval cities. Cities were extremely vulnerable to fire, but for practical reasons they remained closely packed.

This is particularly true for walled towns, the standard sort in D&D - defensive walls are very expensive and the land within would be very very closely packed. It's possible that a world with ubiquitous fireballs might not have walled towns, though - assuming wandering orcs aren't a more likely threat.

Villages tended to either cluster around a village green or spread out along a road.
 

NewJeffCT

Villager
Thanks - the town is walled for defensive purposes. There are marauding gnolls that raid the towns, so some sort of defense is needed.
 

Treebore

Villager
Fireballs would have to be more common than the hazards that regularly did burn down real medieval and post-medieval cities. Cities were extremely vulnerable to fire, but for practical reasons they remained closely packed.

This is particularly true for walled towns, the standard sort in D&D - defensive walls are very expensive and the land within would be very very closely packed. It's possible that a world with ubiquitous fireballs might not have walled towns, though - assuming wandering orcs aren't a more likely threat.

Villages tended to either cluster around a village green or spread out along a road.

I agree, but lets take Waterdeep or the Free City of Greyhawk as examples. Unless you have resources, a single fireball, with its 40 foot diameter of effect, can turn whole buildings to ash and set a lot of adjoining buildings on fire all at once. So I think it would be "realistic" to presume that for similar defensive reasons, not to mention random fire breathing dragons, and other fire breathing creatures, it would actually change the town building presumptions of a fantasy world like Greyhawk or Faerun. Unless they have plenty of spellcasters powerful enough to quickly counter such started fires.

So it may take more time and resources to build bigger and longer walls, but it takes even more time and resources to rebuild the towns and replace the lost lives. Now granted, if you live in a society where the rich and powerful care more about their gold than they do their people they won't care how often people are killed and buildings need to be rebuilt.
 

CharlesRyan

Explorer
Fire is a can of worms you might not really want to open, or you'll be moving into a whole new universe of urban design that might not end up with your cities and towns looking anything like you imagined.

In real medieval times, fire was a very serious threat to urban life. The word "curfew" comes from the French for "cover fire," because it was literally against the law in most cities to have an open flame after a certain time of night (generally Compline, or around 9:00). Even so, most medieval cities suffered one or more catastrophic fires over their histories. (Or even into more modern times, up to the point of electric lights, plumbing (and fire hydrants), and the concept of the building code--witness Chicago.)

If fireballs and dragons are so common in your world that they substantially increase the already serious threat of fire, I wouldn't use the medieval world as any sort of standard for how towns and cities look in your world. On the flip side, if you like a bit more grit and realism, the fact that your cities will be pitch black after curfew adds a new dimension to urban adventures. . . .
 

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