A street in Priene, Turkey
Priene seems to have firmly wedged itself into my imagination of late. Yesterday, after writing about it as a lost city, I got to thinking about what it must have been like to live or visit there. This morning, I found some images that I could stitch together to offer a sense of how it may have been configured. There are two versions:
Archaeologists tell us that there were 80 blocks, about 120 feet by 160 feet, with 8 residences per block, typically. And they tell us that at its largest, Priene had a population of about 5,000 people. Naturally, I started doing the math, to get a sense of the place. Intuitively, I thought that sounded pretty dense. Let’s explore.
Each block is 19,200 square feet. If there are 8 residences per block, that means each one is 2,400 square feet. Each had an outdoor courtyard (for fresh air, and for chickens?), with surrounding rooms. Let’s keep this in mind as we keep calculating.
If there were 80 blocks, with 8 residences each, and a maximum population of 5,000, this means that in each of the 640 residences, there was about 8 inhabitants. I am not a paleo-anthropologist, but I suspect some were family, and some were slaves or servants. In any event, they got an average of 300 square feet apiece, not counting the common space of the courtyard.
But let’s keep going. If there were 80 blocks at 19,200 square feet, that’s about 36 acres for 5,000 folks, or about 140 people per acre. Now in the contemporary world, urban population densities are measured by the square kilometer, so let’s extrapolate. At Priene’s density of 140 people per acre, and since there are 247 acres in a square kilometer, we can compare Priene to cities of today by calculating that if it were a square kilometer, Priene would be home to 34,580 folks.
Consulting a chart of the most densely populated cities in the world, we see that this density is 15% greater than the densest city in the world, Mumbai, and 2.5 times more dense than Shanghai. Yikes. Intuition was correct, and then some.
Now it’s easier to imagine life in the walled city of Priene. It must have been very exciting, and interesting, to stroll the streets, bursting with activity and crowded with people. It seemed so serene the day we visited.
Now I’m wondering about other ancient walled cities we have experienced: Rhodes, Tallinn, Dubrovnik, Visby…