1000 Years of urban history the rise and fall of european and arab cities

1000 Years of urban history the rise and fall of european and arab cities

Institutions, but which?

The primary hypothesis explaining ‘the go up of Europe’ turns on institutional development. However, which kind of institutions gave go up to the ‘European expansion miracle’ is a topic of a relatively good debate.

Douglass North, for instance, stresses that socio-political institutions constraining the predatory activities of the status mattered most, 1 but this view possesses been challenged by, and the like, Avner Greif who maintains that it had been contracting institutions that mattered virtually all. These facilitated economic exchange – such as for example produced by Italian merchants and cities – which is what produced the difference. 2 Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson, producing the same distinction between ‘vertical’ socio-political institutions (house rights) and ‘horizontal’ economic institutions (contracting institutions), present evidence for the vertical institutions mattering even more with regards to long-term economic growth. 3

Adding to this debate in a recently available paper, we evaluate the long-term expansion of the urban systems of Europe and the Arab world between 800 and 1800. 4 Based on a new and incredibly large dataset of specific cities in Europe, North Africa and the center East, we’re able to evaluate the importance of different factors that drove urban growth. Factor of factors such as for example geography, religion, and institutional delivers some answers to the issue why, in this millennium, the urban and economic centre of gravity relocated from Iraq, or even more usually the Arab world, to Europe and the shores of the Atlantic specifically.

More specifically, we’re able to offer insights in to the relevance of the economic institutions governing exchange on the main one hand and socio-political institutions on the additional in a manner that explains Europe’s surge and eventual overtaking of the Arab world with regards to economic prosperity. 5

Institutions governing economic exchange

We utilize the quantity and size of cities as our way of measuring economic performance and concentrate on the existence and expansion of great feedbacks between cities. Specifically, we study whether also to what extent cities benefit from additional cities in the sense that the current presence of many, large, cities in a city’s neighbourhood appeared to spur its development. A key component of our results concerns just how these neighbourhood effects adjustments over time.

Our managed hypothesis here is a effective neighbourhood effect signifies that the institutions governing exchange will be efficient, therefore the growth of 1 city stimulates growth in others. Our analysis displays some striking outcomes.

From about 800 to 1200, the amount of great spillovers among Muslim cities was substantial – suggesting that the institutions governing exchange in the Arab world had been efficient.

Around 800, the positioning of Arab cities was quite favourable. The Arab world appreciated an extremely integrated urban system achieving from Cordoba to Baghdad. Transaction costs had been low as the spot was politically united, shared a prevalent language and a prevalent (Islamic) legal system that included several institutions promoting exchange (including the rule of employing written contracts). There is also an extremely efficient method of transportation between urban centres by means of the caravan routes. 6

In this same period, the neighbourhood effect didn’t are present in Europe. Europe didn’t have a built-in urban system, perhaps because of high transport and transaction costs following break-up of the Carolingian Empire around 900. Europe fragmented right into a large numbers of political entities. Merchants spoke various distinct languages and many different legal regimes regulating exchange (Roman law in the south, customary law in the north) were set up.

As this era drew to a close, fundamental alterations rocked both Europe and the Arab worlds – but with completely different economic results. Our empirical effects for the 1000 to 1500 period present that Europe and the Arab world switched places with regards to their respective neighbourhood-results.

Trading place: The entire year 1100

From 1100 onwards, Europe enjoyed a competent urban system with great feedbacks between cities (structured much more on ocean and river trade) regardless of the actual fact that it remained politically fragmented. In the Arab world, in comparison, the neighbourhood results disappeared. There the split up of the Abbasid Caliphate was eventually accompanied by a fresh empire, the Ottoman Empire. Somewhat, this overran the purpose of its predecessor – but without restoring the reliable system for economic exchange that was present through the Golden Years of Islam.

Interaction between Europe and the Arab world

Another interesting facet of our findings may be the need for religion. Muslim cities interacted strongly positively with different Muslim cities, and Christian cities with Christian cities, but we find almost no proof positive feedbacks between your two sets. This shows that numerous institutions regulated exchange in both of these worlds, and that exchange over religious borders was handicapped by higher transaction costs, and oftentimes outright hostility, in comparison to exchange within each urban system.

As well the socio-political advancements in Europe and the Arab world can help explain the observed distinctions in evolution of both urban systems.

Distinctions between your two urban systems

There have been striking differences between your two urban systems that reveal interesting insights in to the socio-political condition in both regions. Cities in the Arab world were normally much bigger than those in Europe, and how big is the “primate” town – the megapolis such as for example Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo or Istanbul – was much larger; a fact that’s indicative of a predatory point out and low trade openness. 7 Europe, however, developed an extremely dense urban system, with comparatively tiny principle cities. Big cities in Europe were frequently located close to the sea, having the capacity to optimally benefit from long-distance trade, whereas the biggest cities in the Arab world had been virtually all inland.

European ‘producer cities’, Arab ‘client cities’

The sociologist Max Weber created a distinction between ‘client cities’ and ‘producer cities’. Employing this classification, Arab cities had been – a lot more than their European counterparts – client cities. 8

The classical consumer metropolis can be a centre of federal government and military safeguard or occupation, which products services – administration, protection – in substitution for taxes, area rent and non-industry transactions. Such cities are intimately from the state where they happen to be embedded. The flowering of the point out and the growth of its territory and population have a tendency to produce urban progress, specifically that of the administrative centre city.

In Europe cities are instead many closer to getting producer cities. The principal basis of the producer metropolis is the development and exchange of products and commercial solutions with the city’s hinterland and additional cities. The links that such cities possess with the state are usually much weaker because the cities possess their personal economic bases. It really is this element that accounts for the actual fact that Arab cities experienced heavily with the break down of the Abbasid Empire, while European cities continuing to flourish despite political turmoil.

Between 1000 and 1300 Europe obtained an urban system dominated by normal producer cities, which prospered regardless of Europe’s political fragmentation. Actually, this fragmentation was strongly increased by the climb of independent communes – city-states, or cities with a big degree of localized authority – which kind the core of the political program of Europe’s urban belt stretching from Northern Italy to the reduced Countries. Certainly, we still discover this design in the so-called ‘Warm Banana’ – the industrial agglomeration that stretches from the southern UK to holland, through Germany and right down to northern Italy.

Arab cities at the moment were, in comparison, heavily influenced by solid, predatory states that could, and oftentimes do, impose much tax or armed service burden on the cities within their realms. Under these predatory regimes it had been typically only the administrative centre town thrived, with this honour shifting from Baghdad to Damascus, Fez, Cairo and lastly to Istanbul.

Why do Europe overtake the Arab World in the millennium between 800 and 1800?

Arab cities were section of the ‘predatory’ framework of the condition. When the spot was unified beneath the Abbasids, this proved helpful well and the spot experienced its ‘Golden Get older of Islam’. Efficient institutions regulated exchange, allowing great degrees of commercialisation and urbanisation. When condition systems disintegrated, therefore did the urban program and the underlying industrial networks.

In Europe, over time of disintegration, a diverse urban system pretty much independent of ‘predatory’ states emerged. These were able to claim their personal market in the political overall economy of the time and developed increasingly successful ways of organising industrial exchange regardless of the fragmented political program.

It really is this advancement in Europe of an economically very well included urban system generally independent of large territorial states, spurred on by the result of the fantastic Discoveries that can show a big extent why London, an monetary backwater in 800, could overtake Baghdad, the formerly thriving capital of the Abbasid caliphate.


1 North, D.C. (1981). Composition and change in monetary history. NY: Norton.

2 Greif, A. (2006). Institutions and the road to the modern market: lessons from Medieval trade. Cambridge University Press.

3 Acemoglu, D., and S. Johnson (2005). “Unbundling institutions.” Journal of Political Market 113, 949-995.

5 Timur Kuran argues that monetary institutions had been weaker in the Muslim community, while some argue that the European socio-political institutions were claims fundamentally unique – less predatory and extra constrained. Kuran, T. (2003). “The Islamic professional crisis: institutional roots of monetary underdevelopment in the centre East.” Journal of Economic History 63, 414-447.

6 See likewise Ronald Findlay’s and Kevin O’Rourke’s Vox column “Lessons from the annals of trade and war” 10 March 2008.

7 Ades, A.F. and , E.L. Glaeser (1995). “Trade and circuses: explaining urban giants.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 110, 195-227.

8 Weber, M. (1958). THE TOWN. Translation and edited by Don Martindale and Gertrud Neuwirth. NY, The Free of charge Press.

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