The Urban Milieu and Civic Status
In the Middle Ages, the towns of Europe exercised an economic force and a social impact which easily outstripped their actual demographic profiles. They were sites of administration and defence; of commerce, industry, and monetarisation; and they were communication centres both geographical and intellectual. Yet the scattered urban populations were far overtaken in number by the peasantry, and owing to poor sanitation and high rates of disease, towns must have been net importers of population from the countryside. And when one looks at the general outline of economic development in medieval Germany, it is indeed just where urban concentrations were greatest that the adjacent landscapes were the most prosperous: the Rhineland, Westphalia, upper Swabia, the lower Elbe region, and eastern Saxony.
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