I have understood that urbs is not just a "city", but more properly a "major city". The L&S entry implies that it refers to a walled town, but city walls are rare nowadays. What makes a city an urbs in the modern world?

Recently, when answering a question, I referred to New York as urbs (to distinguish the city from the state). I think I would call New York an urbs, but it got me wondering about the word. Where would you draw the line?

I understand that there is not going to be a hard definition, but some examples, counterexamples, or other insights would be illuminating. I am not looking for a list of all urbes, but a rule of thumb. Is it just a matter of size, or do cultural or administrative considerations enter the picture? Or should I just call whatever would be a "city" in English an urbs in Latin?

1 Answer 1


Finding an answer on that question already heavily depends, in my oppinion, on what you consider as a Latin urbs. I understand "Rome" as the most prominent translation, since you could reffer to Rome, using urbs, without anymore further words needed for clarification. You may argue about the translation of urbs, but I'll use mine as a starting point for now.

Rome probably played an enormous important role in the whole imperium, or even figured as a role model.

I would consider so called Global Cities as a modern equivalent.

Here are some characteristics of global cities from Wikipedia (that even fit the ancient rome):

  • dominance of the national region with great international significance

  • financial headquarters

  • diversity in language, culture, religion, and ideologies

  • multi-functional infrastructure

  • high-quality educational institutions

So New York totaly fits, other examples would be London, Singapore, Paris, Tokyo, Mumbai, Franfurt, but because world population has grown since ancient Rome, there are too many to be mentioned here.

  • Thanks! This sounds reasonable. I should remark that while urbs can refer to Rome (like ἄστυ to Athens), it was also used for some other cities in antiquity.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 15:02
  • Shure, but that way it fit best into my argumentation :) Commented May 1, 2018 at 15:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.