chapter  1
16 Pages

Urbanisation in the European Middle Ages: Phases of Openness and Occlusion

WithWIM BLOCKMANS

The renowned urban historian Peter Clark provides an answer to the question at the heart of this volume in the introduction to his current synthesis. Urban communities, he writes, are characterised by chances: more employment opportunities, the hope of greater social mobility, more freedom of thought and actions. But also by risks, including high mortality rates, greater economic and political instability and the danger of poverty.1 During the sixteenth centuries that he describes, large fl uctuations occurred in the urban population. From the eleventh century, urbanisation increased steadily and radically changed the character of European societies. There was a fundamental diff erence with the city foundations of Roman times which, in the colonies at least, derived from the urban character of Mediterranean cultures. This was partly the reason why they contracted and disappeared during the disintegration of the Empire.