A populist and controversial politician in the ancient Republic of Rome, Tiberius Gracchus urged the Senate to confiscate land from the rich and redistribute it to the poor. But wealthy members didn’t like the idea, and in those days, voting didn’t necessarily happen with paper ballots.

Senators took the legs off chairs and used them to beat Tiberius to death.

That same year, 133 B.C., Rome became the first city to reach a population of 1 million, according to some historians.

Alexandria, a commercial hub on the eastern Mediterranean, reached the 1 million mark a century later. And it’s possible that the Mayan civilization and perhaps a Chinese dynasty or two also built cities that surpassed that milestone.

Some say Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, had 1 million residents before it fell to the Ottomans in 1453. But cities with seven-digit populations remained extremely rare until the 19th century.

When John Adams became president and Ludwig van Beethoven finished his first symphony in early 1800, only 3 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. The Industrial Revolution, however, was already beginning to lure people off farms and into factories, swelling the size of cities around the world.

London hit the 1-million mark in 1810; Paris in 1850; and Beijing in 1855.

New York reached 1 million in 1875, five years after Berlin. And Tokyo got its 1 millionth resident in 1886.

By the mid-20th century, more than 80 cities around the world were bigger than Rome at the peak of the old empire. And by the start of the 21st century, more than 450 cities had reached a million.

Now that Tulsa seems ready to join the club, as explained elsewhere in this issue of Tulsa World Magazine, it’s not such an exclusive club anymore.

The United States has 52 other metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people. China has at least 102. And worldwide, the United Nations counts more than 500 cities with a population of at least 1 million.

These days, a city doesn’t count as a real metropolis until it reaches 10 million. But that’s not such a rare category either anymore. China alone has 15 megacities and India six.

A million isn’t what it used to be.

Michael Overall



Twitter: @MichaelOverall2

Staff Writer

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Michael writes news features and personal columns on a variety of topics. Phone: 918-581-8383