The Wealthiest Cities of All Time

By Jake Schroeder
Br303cqlripoa4cuhbejod0qzc8cxigwyzu Dmojunjmqruhxjor8xpsoylsmvawfbwbvi3dezhd P6vrfh53w6smzx1h6mgid6tcucefdas Qbtvu2umcdcofmvmnxk4mp9ryrrpmodlfmzra
Photo Courtesy: Free-Photos/Pixabay

Throughout all of history, empires have risen and fallen, leaving behind records (if we're lucky) of their discoveries, accomplishments and knowledge. As empires rise and fall, so too do their largest, most prominent cities. We might think that today's metropolises are pretty well-off, but history has witnessed cities with immense riches so great we can only try to imagine them. Here are a few of the richest cities that humans have seen through the centuries.

Constantinople

Most of us have heard this name already from textbooks, documentaries or pretty much any brief summaries of history. Located in what we now call Turkey, Constantinople was the center of power for many great leaders and was even the favorite city of the Roman Emperor Constantine.

95eomhburvqaltmjlh329o9gqhnoqmvvm2gqeu1q6l3b6hqfs7bk4pnxd0fcc3prdxfzqw8xeut5zbvst29u38xr1gn Nopue5uczdcq Q4v1i4mgtqortgkr9kbrcqwv3h1qnrkg5es Cob1w
Photo Courtesy: Anna/Unsplash

Now known as Istanbul, the city has survived through the ages, having been founded in the 7th century B.C. As the center of the Byzantine Empire for over 1,000 years (and briefly the center of Christianity), power and riches flowed through it like water.

Babylon

Located a little south of what we know today as Baghdad, Babylon was the capital of great Babylonia. Originally it was conquered by Assyria, but after it gained its independence, it rose quickly in power and wealth until it became a central city in the region.

Kutlsrfaphklreysykzj7eamovkeordkduyt2ckiny90httcr4m7fbhjuoxlyejo6eqkdskgmpph6 5yzntflyf Pmxhjnfakdu1 Twsni12j510n2v1rml6nwu2ye0ajs6csrdhqnpkcufkbw
Photo Courtesy: David Stanley/Flickr

It flourished particularly under one ruler who began to expand its influence and conquer other areas, using their wealth to build Babylon's. The city's prominence didn't last long, but during its short-lived peak, it sat at the height of the world in terms of wealth and power.

Thebes

When we think of Egypt today, we probably think of Cairo as the cultural center of the country. But that wasn't always the case. In fact, during many of the most important eras of Egypt, and during extreme heights of pharaonic power, Thebes served as the country's cultural and economic hub.

Xdgn6lv6rrwpf 8ohijeqnavnzv6hgr5dcgx Gzgejaof Fzyq2nb6erzx3bsujuwl61rgqjwuzmwic6q5mphspigqxykf Ab8fsb7smf 14wkorubskzlkq41ip9s3etuugixlnhwcjviekpa
Photo Courtesy: Albert Dezetter/Pixabay

It was the ruling capital of ancient Egypt, starting 4,500 years ago. As such, trade, industry and culture were concentrated in Thebes, and the city enjoyed power and riches for centuries until the country's capital moved farther south.

Advertisement

Florence

As the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, it stands to reason that Florence would become a fairly wealthy city. Although it wasn't a port city, it still enjoyed an immense economy, mostly thanks to industries such as banking and the trade of textiles.

Donk8pmfxtsjanl9dtktxm62lcl7bwhl20 Nmyzoifwqal7k3ikhsvii0cdigh3glrw Z0x1kshy5ugvig5asbqncstzm3ceuxzswwf8nsko6xlm8t9u059uzowsdjdfjaq0pmebhr4wwho8sq
Photo Courtesy: Rolanas Valionis/Pixabay

Many important and wealthy families rose out of Florence throughout the ages, and the city itself enjoyed vast amounts of wealth in the years surrounding the Renaissance and for some time after. Florence was an economic and cultural power of the world for centuries.

Rome

Of course, as the center of the Roman Empire, Rome was bound to develop immense wealth. While there were huge gaps between the poorest and the richest people in Rome, and the poorest could barely afford to live, the richest were among the wealthiest people the world had ever seen.

Gvnnhchkvnlx1e 69zsrqpv7tuvicgrmvkzbfowj53sovvxiovsozbg0vlu56t53ifh2pob3teg2bazow5lkn Lg5t5wau9nqv9uatwc4wpnt865ax8ekrz4a7s6gzwozlvlpzhroekkmlcfdq
Photo Courtesy: Elijah Lovkoff/Pixabay

In addition to being the seat from which emperors conquered other nations, Rome also became the center for art and culture in the Empire. Ancient Romans also developed great (if immoral) sources of entertainment in the Colosseum.

Plovdiv

Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria, outsized only by the capital, Sofia. It is located in south-central Bulgaria, and there’s evidence of the area being inhabited for over 6,000 years. Even in ancient times, the city had advanced sewage and water systems and continues to be the cultural capital of Bulgaria.

5zbayvxohkooc07ygwan627 Aoy3pasr7lykoyd4sj 7roxwahn7i35gkcl Nnl3bdo4vdjhzjdy2f1tt K5yriv9usa3ob L Vgyylkfm17kvivxk2iqj7drt Fqnswt1pw79sgogp 2k1gq
Photo Courtesy: Mariusz Godlewski/Pixabay

The city grew particularly rich and culturally prominent while under the Roman Empire and was well-known for being a beautiful, artistic city. Agriculture was its original industry, though it's expanded and moved on from that in recent years.

Advertisement

Athens

Not all power comes from armies and warfare. Athens, the great city of Greece, is perhaps one of the most well-known examples of this. It’s rumored that, at its height, the Parthenon was full of silver coins. The Greeks’ power came not from conquering, but from knowledge.

Hn B96ajm02qa2adh Jga9g44ensojtvfvlvtlsyopbet I3berxq4dgbqstxkcnhjdu36jxhjq63dxllbk1fhkd0enhte5bzl8evflbz9tqlwfy 9xn3imiexoit5axuanp8ir2ajmdfzx 8g
Photo Courtesy: Dias12/Pixabay

Athens focused its strength on trading and pursuing knowledge, and it was this combination that led to it being one of the wealthiest cities in history and an extremely prominent city of ancient times. It began to fall when the plague hit and caused chaos to erupt throughout the city.

New York City

We might think of history as something that happened centuries ago, but history is happening all around us and can be as recent as five minutes ago. New York's rocketing rise to riches took place last century, which is pretty recent as far as history goes.

Tb1f35 Mondb Qi88fn6e 6xc0yhhwa4ygjyuavwtbrsvqx63mulrrmic3 Sudolz Z2ceu7enoiyx0q3jjmnknoh3wemi5ier0cmxivxd 1y3belngxvodlwlzto649ti17eimuphldmigafg
Photo Courtesy: Free-Photos/Pixabay

The first half of the 20th century was a time of huge growth for NYC, and it became a global center for trade, commerce and culture. Ever since the early 1900s, it's been growing, and it continues to stand as an economic pillar of the world.

Mari

About 4,000 years ago, Mari was the trade capital of Mesopotamia, earning it immense wealth and power in the region. It was located in what we now know as Syria. Although it’s no longer standing, excavations have revealed much about the ancient city.

1yw7ae2i J1ot7gn4yb1 15y4pvjq Tlez2mrmn1y5khhxbmzlenysmum4dl Rovskierjm15funbfw Tyhxqx5pshspitznthvp Hr5pyfgo7jsbfk93gbdoycb4mgfuft J4nzfuk Ymxk0q
Photo Courtesy: Tuna Ölger/Pixabay

During its height, it played a central role in the trade of pottery, timber, stone and agricultural products. With such a wide array of industries, it's no wonder the city became so powerful and rich.

Advertisement

Alexandria

Perhaps known best for the tragedy that befell its great library, the city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great and sat as the capital of Egypt for a time. With several industries within its walls and easy access to ports on the Mediterranean Sea, it rose quickly in power and wealth.

Ys24gxwyvwoiotzbcbxvqpm6r Narsytvrds 6bxvm2it2qjqzjvm0r D0ilnfkdqcsrm Yomjqgumtk3dwi Ewvrn5x1bbk9o228xwfs3 Sb9fvcrvxky66h7vswubislfy4zoumzha6eihlq
Photo Courtesy: shimaa mohamed/Pixabay

As the Roman Empire grew in prominence, Alexandria used that to its advantage, trading with the Empire and growing in power and riches even more. It still stands today, complete with a new library.

Delhi

As one of the oldest cities in the world, Delhi (located on the Yamuna River in India) had thousands of years to amass its wealth. The leadership of this central and strategically located city changed hands several times throughout the course of history, but its strength and wealth remained.

Y D9oiopi4vax0le7h8qkdcqqdz08nc8hp7tiq5wzgqyvekkhuhqbkdus8tkijoe9oh4ncoglnnplav6uyvz Y Rdxdmcelkxpvvwpwhjx8w81i1eb Z4rd2o0pjodyhemzew0cqz9n2cquypg
Photo Courtesy: Slovenčina/Pixabay

Over the centuries, Delhi was destroyed and rebuilt many times. In 1911 it was named the capital of British India. New Delhi carried on the tradition and was named the capital of New India after the country gained independence.

The Burnt City

The ancient city of Shahr-i Sokhta ("The Burnt City") in Iran survived burning three times before it finally wasn’t rebuilt after a fire around 1800 B.C. Before that, the city was a center for trade for merchants from all over the world, from Mesopotamia to Central Asia.

9s7ovmidqipi Khri1ysiv1waupuq8mspx2ewjwrbnb5xzxrckmtxw3klhuemirbrtay9ogudgk8mfjjhqi9vg 7h1j4wxptrw3rfdaowtv6m98uhyvttlnodvsdjonvjv2jxd 0luxs38umqq
Photo Courtesy: Tuna Ölger/Pixabay

During the Bronze Age, The Burnt City was the biggest and richest city in the region. The exact reasons why the city rose to such prominence remain a mystery for historians, but rich and prominent it most certainly was.

Advertisement

Çatalhöyük

Located in modern-day Turkey, this bizarre city was not only immensely rich for its time, but it also offered a strange architectural view. While most people at the time of this city's height (around 7500 B.C.) were nomadic hunter-gatherers, this city was already a bustling town full of trade and commerce.

Lfnzkv0darytlwqqkajcyyszsrawguo93bpmurjzpr Ufasybmvomrt7jh6ged06 Xa8piyfu35vjpyfh4ed6vqnvlis Uj9xmtaansicpekdxvkujjbcxqem7p244oho Cpoqqjxcui6yhxxa
Photo Courtesy: Verity Cridland/Flickr

The strangest thing about Çatalhöyük, though, is its architecture. There are no streets; the buildings are designed like a honeycomb, and access is granted only through holes in the rooftops, which may have doubled as plazas and meeting places.

Hangzhou

Still standing today, the city of Hangzhou, China, began its great march through history by starting a trade route that connected with Beijing under the Sui Dynasty. Several other dynasties took control of the city before it eventually became the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty.

Erve6pcm7oetwn3vv7hlwrwxvwqoo8mqwvjdbpinn6eq4vzamdjf1m75kpexl5hh9gzohmpxrkwyenzjo4zd5y600qetd7iagggf N03haufg0xw2mqdewpgfqcvkdupjkyqn3ctp01buu5aa
Photo Courtesy: Susan Chow/Pixabay

It truly began to rise in riches when silk and weaving became more prominent in the region. But it gained wealth through other industries throughout the centuries too. Today it remains strong and stands as the capital of the Zhejiang Province in China.

Tenochtitlan

Arguably the greatest city of the Aztec Empire, Tenochtitlan peaked between 1321 and 1500 A.D. and remained immensely powerful until Hernán Cortés arrived and destroyed it. Before he did so, he described the city as wonderfully beautiful and admired the great marketplaces where so much money was made.

Vtdln63g8nsncedfuds93pfdaooawcxsfo9crivu9oxyogxdwana68avltj Wy9liimzh Hyjg75ouumbtnukriukaehtdjvaicqsahbjwjdszmu4zdjhskhwf6azxf6hpqmh3fcsyuw Xgqea
Photo Courtesy: MollySVH/Flickr

With an intricate system of canals and a rich culture sitting at the center of power in a grand empire, Tenochtitlan was considered one of the wealthiest cities in the world before Cortés destroyed it to use its riches for himself.

Advertisement

Baghdad

The city of Baghdad has managed to remain standing throughout the ages, even though it’s not quite as powerful as it once was. During the Golden Age of Islam (a Middle East rennaissance lasting around 500 years), Baghdad served as a central city for the movement.

Ixav6mxjrapzsmrjq35x2gwmwgayw4yte38vyyaq Fuqcfveo Gww Wt 9ckwkihhipzs8ot5 Mjzffmzauzt0zad43aakp7t 7dap5ekjfbbys65ai8ncj62 M349iso Mnky07udlxcmna4q
Photo Courtesy: De Agostini/C. Sappa/Getty Images

At its peak, Baghdad was known for its knowledge and wisdom, which encouraged traders from all over the world to come to visit, and they brought their money with them. The city exploded with art, culture and global goods, earning it power and wealth.

London

All right, so London isn't exactly a surprise. But even though we might think about it as a modern city, it's been around for a long time, and it's been rich for longer than most of us probably realize. The 19th century was a time of massive growth for the city for both population numbers and the huge economic boom.

Stp Nlw1eqoi Yubfcpsm0c47qlbvwro9avpieyj Yf4psrniifbim3ncyu5tkd7atrhz32qcgkleq0idwaaemgs9 Spj6qq5ze 4kzhz8ghfvmjws4nkid1mfasaow Iuc4eolxkmo9gga9pw
Photo Courtesy: Adam Derewecki/Pixabay

It helped, of course, that the city was sitting at the center of the rapidly growing and economically powerful British Empire that stretched across the world. London continues to be a rich city today.

Great Zimbabwe

Located near current-day Zimbabwe, the city of Great Zimbabwe has left many mysteries unexplained. It was certainly an extremely wealthy city and is best known for its buildings that were erected for royalty in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Oxsw Iqse Mbxm00srfp9shzdgaeii1 Vhf87j4yq9 Qsjfvjryaw9cg86yu6xaddbrlhtjpsnxb3glctgg6gq2rjtnv73nhklblzffyfd2scpcnvoqodpoh5vxwtxfh Glh Df Hjbxmj2qqq
Photo Courtesy: Mike/Flickr

There was also a wall in the city separating the rich from the poor. Great Zimbabwe started as a meager farming community but transformed into a grand center for trade in the region. The reason for its sudden decline (following its height in the 14th century) is unknown, remaining a mystery to this day.

Advertisement

Damascus

Sitting as the capital of Syria, Damascus is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. It has been ruled over by several empires, from Roman to Ottoman, and has served as an important cultural hub for all of them. It isn’t as wealthy as it once was, but it’s still an important city.

Hulous Jwqygpal71dmh8vfqrkbypxw9lps4vzyb Wi2wmbwq Dsteszqj2ri0e8haioee463jija2x2jr3qps9 5uk C0poyxrziwtyoidlxbial7ri2 Otoap2aohn7zvhzr21uwxib17bag
Photo Courtesy: Arian Zwegers/Flickr

Damascus first began to grow in riches thanks to its merchants. As a swiftly growing center for trade, the city began to accumulate wealth. It’s still home to many industries and is known as the City of Jasmine.

Uruk

Located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Uruk was at one point considered part of Mesopotamia (which means, literally, "the land between rivers"). In 3500 B.C., it was the largest city in the world. Being so close to the Euphrates allowed the city to harvest large quantities of grain.

3yprqrxrvhlloyl0nonzcqc9mt1zpq6solycubldlqs84njvzusd1h6v8vroruxf0zvgdsiugf Ghyu9vzgc0ujkjpu7kpfylw9uryhpontvfazobrtkexc Uxqs4uw6f3q4qj Vt Dwbx44aa
Photo Courtesy: Tuna Ölger/Pixabay

As the harvest improved, so did trade, and the city enjoyed advances in writing, crafts and industry. This led to an increase in prominence and wealth. New buildings stand atop the ancient ruins — people continue to live in the area today.

Cahokia

Developed by the Illiniwek Native American Confederation, Cahokia had a short-lived time of glory, peaking around 1100 A.D. — but it was indeed glorious. While the culture didn’t have a writing system in place, Cahokia (located near St. Louis, Missouri) had extremely fertile soil, which meant it had a great abundance of crops.

Nioqnzo5i4vq5 Mejhkutf8qxsvfofmkxollxy0wn43nuojygk1cxvmlno 2iyw05c47rj Rs0tahl1tkncp7ioj5vecrso3xkhlp5khcirscvbmjumlxpr6vrpaj1wdgnvqlkyvmkmg Ghpoa
Photo Courtesy: Steve Moses / Flickr

The food they were able to grow was the key to this society’s power at the time. They were able to trade well and wielded their day's currency with an ease that raised them to great economic heights.

Advertisement

Amsterdam

Currently a center mostly for tourism, Amsterdam was, at one point, the wealthiest city in the world. Founded in 1270, the city began to experience an age in which it operated as the world's greatest maritime power. It grew exponentially in wealth thanks to trade and its role as a cultural hub for the world.

Xyizsmmywlzcnpvg9i0mgkwkib5a6oc8nwvrakqagy0jasz2ye9 Pdjhbbkudwedrgouz3qaumu3y7mui X6m4a17mnfabvchvigdxcolo Kuh3f0d9mwjl96tnuctm Rons8v X Q1jd372ha
Photo Courtesy: 1919021/Pixabay

In addition to general trade (headed by the Dutch East India Company), Amsterdam specialized and was the leader in the diamond trade. The city acted as a global center for finance, which helped it rise in wealth.

Cusco

This city was the capital of the Inca Empire, even though it was standing before the Incas got there; they conquered it and used it as their own. Cusco was full of art and culture from people of varying backgrounds, and under the Incas, the city developed highways and aqueducts. It was a very modern city.

Lrnup6 Buu6xbjqmaiui8 Tv2meey84feb U8duhrdcvg4y9kome Y Yniowj6lgm8q Bcw U0zzz7zczfoyulnfdtx9 Nf3edkyzgv Bf660rbx551vatkrqmqi92ez28mksonoimp6s 34bg
Photo Courtesy: Poswiecie/Pixabay

Cusco was located fairly centrally in the Inca Empire, making it a natural center for trade and culture. Through the years it amassed grand riches and rose to prominence quickly, serving its people well.

Timbuktu

We've all heard the expression "from here to Timbuktu," but why is the city so famous? It all began in the 12th century when it turned from a seasonal home to a permanent city. The city quickly flourished following a change in trading routes and became rich from trading salt, gold, ivory and, unfortunately, slaves.

Oauhkkrdu0acv8r4muhictqfxwnhvtteywhcuw9g7ycnrt Znu0reihcmybr3g5ey3utsxfy0sed0 Vps9mlgzbahki86valnf6zxjdjisqbx3rs9usbe6a4ctecku2h4eigawjfazxwmpwgmg
Photo Courtesy: upyernoz/Flickr

Over the next several hundred years the city continued to grow in wealth and knowledge and became a cultural and economic center for the region, but it began to decline in the early 17th century.

Advertisement

Carthage

While perhaps not as well-known as some of the other cities on this list, Carthage played an immensely important role during the first millennium B.C. It was the capital of the Carthaginian civilization in what is now Tunisia and was considered the trading hub of the Mediterranean region.

E2jjfdxgwwsd9crmp9bos4236fvufoaawmtqyjbvlcrf Mnaydb5dpuzj1cb6wffqdy4v6 Ixipk5a1eta5vlhpo0zvqrslw 6qrsr1eoipd3dh Okzbkl9cpahd7eqakw06vwinb3ev0ouycq
Photo Courtesy: Drahuška/Pixabay

After the Roman invasion, Carthage became the Roman Empire's major city in its African provinces. It changed hands several times over the next thousand years and still stands today, though no longer as an economic pillar of the region.

Ani

Not every city operates above the ground. One city in particular, the ancient capital of Armenia, kept many of its structures underground; archaeologists have found 823 underground structures and are still expecting to find more. Even above the soil, it has hundreds of churches, temples and other buildings.

Tytqq0cu8bi6nbmwfgsiyzpjzzgkaxyuqzpgsuqgrdgbjrlq Vpxnpt3iyuzmj3t59n Kplakr Yzt6jqhdzpunes56 Kymaxyawb4 5adoubulnjvvjpkas62o0b 4 Gl Auug8ouglbjuxfg
Photo Courtesy: Blondinrikard Fröberg/Flickr

At its peak, Ani had wealth and power similar to those of Constantinople, and its reach stretches back in history to the Bronze Age. Known as "The City of 40 Gates," Ani was rich and powerful even with much of its architecture underground.

Caral

From the first known civilization in the Americas (the Norte Chico civilization from Supe, Peru) sprang the grand city of Caral. The city seemed to reach for the sky in every possible sense; most of the architecture consisted of huge pyramids, earth and stone platformed mounds, and huge temples.

V6bv83rfr Gcluyru60s1 1n6iblrqis34r1jzqjkj V95xf73cdk50gdq6gketlcjzdfm6nit9mmd Actn Gmm4vxdtl7elclfx1 Ri2bhehm5cn9klx3otsfrw6kd3gljuyoqkdytbi2zeia
Photo Courtesy: Erika Vicente/Pixabay

Complex agricultural practices were the foundation of the city’s wealth, but Caral also enjoyed vast arrays of art and culture and was very modern for its time. Several thousand years later, architects are still in awe of the magnificence of this ancient city.

Advertisement

Jericho

Settlements in Jericho date back as early as 9000 B.C. The city sits between Mt. Nebo and the Dead Sea and enjoys natural irrigation from the Jordan River. It’s also near the best oasis in the region.

D721brru0dmibuizxpv 1ieiybhsaunqszm6e58ao4rvllzyjso1amqi7pn8tqagst7tyikcjqaogtut7isxw3epywq1pjpgudx8ynlirtagpeuzemdttdus Y8kwwacbd7 Utfko Ntpqehxa
Photo Courtesy: FLASHPACKER TRAVELGUIDE/Flickr

The natural advantages of Jericho allowed its inhabitants to grow a special type of plant, which in turn produced an oil that was highly valued in the ancient world. It was the most expensive oil on the market. Jericho used this to its advantage and enjoyed immense wealth.

Xi'an

As a city over 3,100 years old, Xi'an, the modern-day capital of Shaanxi Province in China, is bound to have accumulated some wealth over the years. At one point, Xi'an was actually the starting location for the Great Silk Road — the most famous and wealthy trade route in the world.

Z4wjtdtg02ylbxfimsx0ras1vgzztz3nwx9q9ohnmsulqw5hwshqjbapgxz A2zk Sjc3ehgxhqjsz 5oi Rmmeoo4pmnf71g3zuw Ia66o1pmj45vwqerfuezxpp2stecbyvd4bmrmkey2ykw
Photo Courtesy: Christel/Pixabay

It once served as the home for several dynasties' ruling houses. Today, Xi’an is known for being one of the four great ancient capitals of China, due to how much power and wealth it has held over the years.

El Dorado

While most people assume this city is only a legend, there are those who believe that it did actually exist — at least in some form. It’s said to have been located somewhere in Central or South America, usually in what we now know as Colombia.

O8ir5r Tkllfckvfs5hh2 Yeesh6ageknn5mzoks Zed38bdauimlazhgzgnmhsmnbpttzkh3kurrero1vokwdwgmgeoqmtnrflkrzcugayjwocl Lk3fnbczzq2m2chxwklw Diuru Bo6gma
Photo Courtesy: Nahid Sultan/Flickr

It was based on a myth that surrounded an actual city (name unknown), ruled by a king whose people were so rich they had vast troves of gold at their command. The legend grew until Spanish conquistadors believed in a city made entirely out of the precious metal.

Advertisement