Some of these ancient cities date to a time when history was still not written.
According to Professor M. E. Smith of Arizona State University, in his work, The Sage Encyclopedia of Urban Studies, “The demographic definition, based on Louis Wirth’s concepts, identifies cities as large, dense settlements with social heterogeneity.”
This gives us a lot of room to search for and investigate some of the oldest cities on the surface of the planet.
Textbooks tell us that a city is usually described as an urban center where we find commerce and administrative levels ruled by a certain law system.
But other factors play a role when defining a city, such as the population of the urban settlement and the number of buildings it has, the level of government present, and its walls or fortifications.
So, what is the oldest city on Earth then?
The answer is confusing when thinking about the oldest of them all.
Damascus’s ancient city is widely recognized as the oldest continuously inhabited city on Earth, as scientists have found habitation evidence dating back as far as 11,000 years. Excavations at Tell Ramad on the city’s outskirts have revealed that the general area was inhabited as early as 9000 BC.
Byblos. According to Philo of Byblos, this ancient city had a reputation as the “oldest city in the world” in Antiquity.” Settled from the Neolithic (carbon-dating tests have set the age of earliest settlement around 7000 BC), Byblos exists as a city since the 3rd millennium BC.
On the other hand, Jericho is also recognized by various scholars as the oldest cities of them all. Located in modern-day Palestine, we find traces of habitation from 9000 BC. Fortifications date to 6800 BC (or earlier), which means Jericho is also the earliest known walled city on Earth.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the city was destroyed and abandoned several times (sometimes remaining uninhabited for hundreds of years at a time).
Luxor (Thebes) in ancient Egypt rightfully takes part in the list of the oldest cities on Earth. First established as Upper Egypt’s capital, Thebes later became the nation’s religious capital until its decline in the Roman period. Thebes was inhabited from around 3200 BC.
Another ancient city we must mention in this list is Aleppo, modern-day Siria. Evidence of habitation at Aleppo dates back about 8,000 years, but excavations at a site 15 miles north of the city show the area was inhabited about 13,000 years ago. It is worth mentioning that Aleppo appears in historical records as an important city much earlier than Damascus. The first record of Aleppo may from the third millennium BC if the identification of Aleppo as Armi.
Eridu, which the Sumerian King List states as the oldest cities on Earth, is one we can’t avoid mentioning. As noted by the Sumerian King List: “In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28800 years. Alalngar ruled for 36000 years. 2 kings; they ruled for 64800 years. Then Eridu fell, and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira.”
Furthermore, according to the Sumerian King List, Eridu was the first city in the world. The opening line reads:
“[nam]-lugal an-ta èd-dè-a-ba
When kingship from heaven was lowered,
the kingship was in Eridu
Varanasi is an ancient city said to have been founded by an ancient Hindu deity. According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was founded by Shiva. Excavations in 2014 led to the discovery of artifacts dating back to 800 BCE. Further excavations at Aktha and Ramnagar, two sites in the vicinity of the city, unearthed artifacts dating back to 1800 BCE, supporting the view that the area was inhabited by this time.
Uruk competes in the list as the oldest cities in the world. It was founded in ancient times by a ruler named Enmekar. The city is also mentioned in the Sumerian King List.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh builds the city wall around Uruk and is the king of the city.
Archeologists have discovered multiple cities of Uruk built atop each other in chronological order.
Uruk XVIII Eridu period (c 5000BC); the founding of Uruk
Uruk XVIII-XVI Late Ubaid period (4800–4200 BC)
Uruk XVI-X Early Uruk period (4000–3800 BC)
Uruk I-XVI Middle Uruk period (3800–3400 BC)
Uruk V-IV Late Uruk period (3400–3100 BC); The earliest monumental temples of Eanna District are built
Uruk III Jemdet Nasr period (3100–2900 BC); The 9 km city wall is built
Faiyum, also known as Crocodilopolis, is a city worth mentioning in this list. The ancient city, home to the worship of the Crocodile God, was established southwest of Memphis. It was founded around 4,000BC.
Sidon. Located in modern-day Lebanon, Sidon has been an urban center spanning back more than 6,000 years. It was considered the most important Phoenician city due to its location and acted as a crucial port in the Mediterranean.
Rey, also known as Rhages, is an ancient city located in modern-day Iran.
A settlement at the site was traced back to around 6,000 BCE as part of the Central Plateau Culture. The ancient city of Rey is mentioned in the Avesta (an important text of prayers in Zoroastrianism) as a sacred place, and it is also featured in the book of Tobit.
Beirut, located in modern-day Lebanon, was found to have been inhabited for more than 5,000 years.
The area around the city was found to have been inhabited for far longer. Several prehistoric archaeological sites have been discovered within Beirut’s urban area, revealing flint tools of sequential periods dating from the Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic through the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.
Plovdiv. Located in modern-day Bulgaria, the history of Plovdiv spans more than eight millennia. Numerous nations have left their traces on the twelve-meter-thick cultural layers of the city. The earliest signs of habitation in Plovdiv’s territory as far back as the 6th millennium BCE.
Athens. The home of Philosophy and the birthplace of western civilization.
According to scholars, the ancient city was inhabited for more than 7,000 years. It existed before the days of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Historical evidence has found evidence of the human presence in Athens between the 11th and 7th millennium B.C.
Argos. Like Athens, evidence has been found that this ancient city existed as an urban center for more than 7,000 years. In fact, Argos competes together with Athens as the oldest city in Europe.
Jerusalem (Old City). The birthplace of three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jerusalem is one of the many cities that came into existence between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago in the thriving Levant region.
Luoyang, located in modern-day China, was erected more than 4,000 years ago, making it the oldest continuously inhabited city in Asia. The ancient city of Luoyang was one of the Seven Great Ancient Capitals of ancient China.
Annaba. This is perhaps one ancient city you’ve most likely never heard about. However, it has great historical importance. The area of Annaba has yielded evidence of very early human occupation at Ain el Hanech, near Saïda (circa 200,000 BC), including artifacts that show remarkable toolmaking craftsmanship.
According to some sources, prehistoric Algeria was the site of the most advanced development of flake-tool techniques in the Middle Early Stone Age (Middle Paleolithic). The ancient city dates back to the 12th century BC when the Phoenicians inhabited it.
The Ancient city of Cholula, home to the largest pyramid on Earth, the Great Pyramid of Cholula is one of the oldest ancient cities on the American Continent. Traces of inhabitation can be found going back as far as the second century BC. It is the oldest still-inhabited city in the Americas.
Erbil. The Citadel of Arbil is a fortified settlement in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. The city corresponds to ancient Arbela. The settlement at Erbil can be dated back to possibly 5000 BC, but some scholars argue that urban life can be traced back to around 2300 BC.
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