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From Baghdad to London: The Dynamics of Urban Growth in Europe and the Arab World, 800-1800

  • Bosker, Maarten
  • Buringh, Eltjo
  • Van Zanden, Jan Luiten

On the basis of a large (new) dataset of cities in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East in the millennium between 800 and 1800, we try to provide an answer to the question why, during this millennium, the urban center of gravity moved from Iraq (or more generally the Arab world) to Western Europe and to the shores of the Atlantic (during the 17th and 18th century) in particular. We study the characteristics of the European and Arab urban systems involved, amongst others focusing on the interaction between cities, and explain why one system was much more dynamic in the long run than the other. Also we assess the importance of various geographical, religious and institutional factors as the driving forces of urban expansion. Overall, we provide a better understanding of the dynamics of urban growth in the centuries leading up to the Industrial Revolution and an answer to the question why London, an economic backwater in 800, was able to overtake Baghdad, in 800 the thriving capital of the Abbasid caliphate, as the largest city in this part of the world.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 6833.

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Date of creation: May 2008
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6833
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  1. Stephen Redding & Anthony J. Venables, 2001. "Economic geography and international inequality," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 3714, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  2. Acemoglu, Daron & Johnson, Simon H. & Robinson, James A., 2003. "The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutioanl Change and Economic Growth," Working papers 4269-02, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  3. Keller, Wolfgang & Shiue, Carol Hua, 2004. "Markets in China and Europe on the Eve of the Industrial Revolution," CEPR Discussion Papers 4420, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson, 2005. "Unbundling Institutions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(5), pages 949-995, October.
  5. Bosker, Maarten & Brakman, Steven & Garretsen, Harry & De Jong, Herman & Schramm, Marc, 2008. "Ports, plagues and politics: explaining Italian city growth 1300–1861," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 12(01), pages 97-131, April.
  6. Kuran, Timur, 2003. "The Islamic Commercial Crisis: Institutional Roots of Economic Underdevelopment in the Middle East," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 63(02), pages 414-446, June.
  7. James Masschaele, 1993. "Transport costs in medieval England," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 46(2), pages 266-279, 05.
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