City, town, village, hamlet historical perspective

How did the hierarchy of cities, towns and villages become established?


Thousands of years ago with the beginnings of simple agriculture our distant ancestors started to settle in an area and build houses. These places were usually in areas with good access to agricultural land and with good water. Some grew faster than others, they became more important in their region and started to offer other services to the people from the region. The settlements that grew the fastest were the ones in good strategic locations: river crossing, confluence of rivers, sheltered harbour, the centre of  a valley etc.

With time kings and queens (or their lords, dukes and earls)  started to give permission (Royal Charter) for certain settlements to hold a market where people in the area could take their vegetables, fruit, animals etc to sell. These became market towns.

The church also wanted to spread and organise its influence over the whole country. They allowed some towns to build a cathedral to serve a much larger area (diocese). The diocese each have a bishop who is the “head”  of the churches and parishes in that region. These became the cities.

Criteria for differentiating a City, a Town, a Village and a Hamlet

Over the centuries the criteria for a place having city status has changed.

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