Mighty Historical Cities

Depending on circumstance, location, and a bit of luck, some of these cities were much more successful culturally and economically, gaining military strength and political influence, which affected civilizations from all corners of the globe. We present 13 such cities that once ruled the ancient world.

Veliky Novgorod

Saint Sophia Cathedral Novgorod

This city in present-day Russia, whose name means Novgorod the Great, actually was true to its name between the 12th and 15th centuries. Although the city was constantly under threat by the Swedes and Teutons, the people of Novgorod successfully defended it under the leadership of their prince Alexander Nevsky. Eventually, though the city was defeated by the Mongols, it still managed to negotiate and retain a large degree of its independence, and soon reached its peak of prosperity.

In the 14th century, Novgorod had a huge population of over 400,000 people, and was arguably the busiest port city in all of Europe. With the settlement thriving as a center of commerce, the Novgorod empire expanded dramatically, eventually extending all the way from the Arctic circle to the Ural mountains.

Unfortunately, the fortune of the city could not last. The leaders of the neighboring kingdom Muscovy (Moscow) were very envious of Novgorod’s fortunes, and the city’s close ties with the Catholic Lithuania caused heavy friction with Muscovy’s largely orthodox population. Finally, in 1478, Muscovy, under Ivan the Great, attacked Novgorod, which robbed the city of most its riches. The city struggled to hold on to its former glory. However, its fate was eventually sealed when a hundred years later, Ivan the Terrible attacked it, executed huge numbers of its citizens, burned much of the city down, and destroyed priceless records. The city never recovered fully from this blow. Muscovy became the new center of politics and society in Russia.


Buildings of Karakorum

The Mongols, once a group nomadic tribes, established the biggest contiguous empire in human history, under the leadership of Genghis Khan. Until the Mongolian conquest was active, the Mongols were constantly on the move, building temporary yurts, and traveling from place to place on horseback. However, once the Mongol empire was largely established, Genghis Khan started the construction of Karakorum, in the year 1220, which was to be the capital of his empire and the central base of operations.

The city was constructed near the Orkhon river, more than 200 miles from Ulaanbaatar (current capital of Mongolia), which made it an important stopping point along the silk road, providing travelers and traders with security, and also a place of worship. However, it was only after the death of Genghis Khan and the rise of his son Ogodei, did the development of the city really pick up pace. Although the city was a small one of only 10,000 people, the influence it had on the immense Mongol empire brought in people from across the globe, who wanted to serve or build political relations with the Khan. The city diminished gradually under the reign of Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, who moved the capital to Khanbaliq, present- day Beijing. Karakorum was mostly destroyed by the Chinese in 1388.