Settlement scaling in Medieval Europe and Tudor England

Author(s): Rudolf Cesaretti

Year: 2017


From an archaeological perspective, the settlements of Late Medieval Europe lie far to one end of the social complexity spectrum. But from a modern perspective, they are decidedly ancient. Without the institutions and technologies of modern capitalism or the industrial revolution, Late Medieval settlements are commonly characterized as unproductive consumers within dynamic agrarian economies. Both economists and historians have assumed that the benefits of urban agglomeration economies – their economies of scale and increasing returns to scale – are unique to industrial and modern cities. However, recent theoretical advances suggest that the underlying causes of these agglomeration effects come from the density of socioeconomic interactions, and are therefore generalizable to settlements past and present. Here, I present two case studies from Medieval Europe and Tudor England that both exhibit the scaling properties of modern cities. Using a new database integrating historical and archaeological datasets, Medieval settlements are shown to exhibit economies of scale in their use of space. Using historical tax records, Tudor English settlements exhibit increasing returns to scale in economic output during a period widely characterized by "urban decline." These case studies force us to reconsider the role of settlements and urbanization in premodern economic development in general.

Cite this Record

Settlement scaling in Medieval Europe and Tudor England. Rudolf Cesaretti. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429170)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15244