Did you know that the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan was larger than all of the Spanish cities in A.D. 1500, right before Hernando Cortés’s invasion of Mexico?
Indeed, in A.D. 1500, Tenochtitlan was ranked as 24-28th in the world in terms of population. It was larger than all the cities of New World’s colonial powers with an exception of Paris. Madrid’s population reached 75,000 by the end of 16th century, and it was still lower than Tenochtitlan’s population in 1500.
What does this mean?…
Well, the world was mainly Malthusian until 19th century, which means economic development did not lead to a significant rise in per capita incomes. However, in the Malthusian world, the economic development was reflected in rising population. It’s not a coincidence that Rome was the most populated city in A.D. 100.
Hence, a large population in Tenochtitlan is an important sign of socioeconomic development in the Malthusian world. Indeed, we know that Aztecs had a developed economy, a strong system of laws and a well-organised taxation system. As Jared Diamond claims; horses, guns, immunity to germs and steel might have helped Hernando Cortés to invade Aztecs. However, this does not necessarily mean that Spanish were significantly more ‘civilised’ or ‘developed’ than Aztecs at the time of invasion.
Here is the list of cities ranked by population in A.D. 1500.
|City||Other Name||Country||Population in A.D.1500||Rank|
|Xian||Sian, Changan, Xi’an||China||127000||14|
|Seoul||Hanyang||Republic of Korea||125000||15|
|Fuzhou||Fuchow, Hokchiu, Fujian province||China||83000||23|
Source: Reba, M., Reitsma, F. and Seto, K.C., 2016. Spatializing 6,000 years of global urbanization from 3700 BC to AD 2000. Scientific data, 3, p.160034.