In the year 1200, many of the largest cities in Western Europe were inhabited by just tens of thousands of individuals while Middle Eastern and Central Asia cities had upwards to 100,000 residents each. By 1800, however, this pattern had reversed. This paper explores the importance of historical trade in explaining patterns of urban growth and decline in the run-up to the Industrial Revolution. To address the issue of the endogenous development of trade routes, the paper’s empirical analysis is focused on trade networks which connected historical cities located near natural harbors, maritime choke points and desert oases. These findings speak to why Middle Eastern and Central Asian cities – long beneficiaries of locational centrality between Europe and Asia – declined as Europeans found alternative routes to the East and opened new trade opportunities in the New World.
Lisa Blaydes is an Associate Professor of Political Science. She is the author of Elections and Distributive Politics in Mubarak’s Egypt (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Her articles have appeared in the American Political Science Review, the Annual Review of Political Science, International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Theoretical Politics, Middle East Journal, and World Politics.