5 Mega World Cities That Really Have Ancient Origins
Many of our world’s major cities have become common in our vocabulary. Yet, some of them have been around for thousands of years.
From how we view them today, could we even imagine what they must have been like during ancient times?
Let us examine each of these five cities and see what clues their beginnings might provide:
This famous city was once called Londinium. It was first established after the Roman Emperor Claudius invaded the British islands during the 40s AD.
After a decade or so, Boudicca, the famous Celtic warrior queen, led a fierce rebellion against the Romans around 60 AD. Suetonius, who was its provincial governor, led a march to retaliate against the Celtic rebels.
According to the historian Tacitus, Boudicca’s army killed some 70,000 before her rebellion was quashed. Archaeologists have since uncovered burned layers of the city that date back to those times. These remains corroborate the legend that London was indeed burned to the ground by Boudicca’s forces.
Over the following centuries, Londinium went on to become a major city in Roman Britain. It was designed to be Roman, featuring its own forum and bathhouses. Londinium even had a Mithraeum, a temple built underground and devoted to Mithras, the god of soldiers.
London attracted traders from throughout the empire. Goods like wine and olive oil were imported for British-made products such as wool.
The Ancient Celtic tribe Insubres was the first people to settle in Milan. Two men named Segovesus and Bellovesus were responsible for its founding. The Romans eventually took control of the region around 220 BC, with an army under Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus.
The Romans named it ‘Mediolanum.’ This one-time village eventually became an established city in the Roman Empire as it extended beyond the Po River and almost touched the Alps.
Around 290 AD, two emperors, Maximian and Diocletian, selected Milan as a conference site, and a majestic palace was later built within its borders.
Its prominence further grew in late antiquity for its role during the early days of Christianity. The bishop diplomat St. Ambrose, who had a hot and cold relationship with Emperor Theodosius, was born in Milan. His influence led to the famous Edict of Milan of 313 when Constantine declared religious freedom throughout the empire.
Under the city of Paris lies the remains of an ancient city once created by a Celtic tribe called the Parisi. These people stayed until the Romans marched through Gaul and violently subdued all its people.
Before the Roman invasion, the Parisii traded with neighboring peoples and controlled the Seine River during the process. They even minted their own coins and mapped the surrounding area.
During the 50s BC, Julius Caesar’s armies swept across Gaul and captured all Parisii land, which included Lutetia, the area that would become Paris. During the Gallic Wars, Caesar used Lutetia as a place for his council of Gallic tribes.
In usual Roman fashion, this city was designed with many Roman features, like bathhouses and columns. However, even when Emperor Julian visited Lutetia some four centuries later, it still hadn’t quite become the major city that we know today.
Finally, as imperialism became a significant burden during the later stages of the Roman Empire, the Roman military withdrew and left a political vacuum behind. King Arthur eventually filled this vacuum.
The legend claims that the establishment of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan was traced to a great eagle. As migrants ventured into this region during the fourteenth century AD, a hummingbird god named Huitzilopochtli transformed into an eagle before them. This mythical bird then landed on a cactus where the people founded a city.
During the next two centuries, the Aztec people built a great empire. The Aztec Kings constructed aqueducts in Tenochtitlan, the majestic Temple Mayor, along with many other monuments. This advanced civilization created one of the richest cultures in history.
The beginning of the end came when a conquistador named Hernan Cortes invaded these Aztec lands. This led to a massacre of its people and a sacking of Tenochtitlan’s great riches. Mexico City grew from its ruins.
Damascus was established around 3000 BC. Right from the start, it became a strategic point of contention, as it becomes the site of many battles among local powers. Most notable was the conflict between the Egyptians and Hittites. Pharaoh Thutmose III was the first to mention its name in ancient documents, and the region continued growing over the centuries that followed.
Damascus has witnessed quite a storied past. By the first millennium BC, Damascus was flourishing under the control of the Arameans. The Arameans called it ‘Dimashqu’ and created the Aram-Damascus kingdom. Several biblical kings have been recorded as doing business and trading with the Damascans.
Also recorded was a victory by King Hazael of Damascus over monarchs from the House of David. Later, during the ninth century BC, Assyrian King Shalmaneser III claimed to destroy Hazael.
Damascus was eventually taken by Alexander the Great, who seized all its treasures and minted coins from its metals. Alexander’s heirs controlled this great city for many years.
This all changed when Pompey the Great conquered the region and transformed it into the Roman province of Syria in 64 BC.
Martha Vandrei. (September 18, 2018). Queen Boudica, A Life in Legend. https://www.historytoday.com/miscellanies/queen-boudica-life-legend.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Edict of Milan. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Edict-of-Milan.
DiscoverWalks.com. (June 25, 2019). Top 10 Interesting Facts about Paris during the Roman Empire. https://www.discoverwalks.com/blog/top10/top-10-interesting-facts-about-paris-during-the-roman-empire/.
History.com Editors. (November 30, 2009). Mexico City (Distrito Federal). https://www.history.com/topics/mexico/distrito-federal.
NewWorldEncyclopedia.org. (November 17, 2017). Damascus. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Damascus.