Capital Cities and Strategic Centers of an Alternate World?

Are there any cities that fell out of prominence in ancient times, but definitely could have retained prominence into the modern era? Or locations that didn't host strategic or capital cities historically, which definitely could have?

For example:
  • Hattusa (Had 50,000 people in the Bronze Age. Fell with the Hittite Empire)
  • Nineveh (Had almost 250,000 people. Fell with the Assyrian Empire, and may or may not have been resettled later)
  • Memphis, Egypt (Could have remained the premier city of Egypt without the construction of Alexandria. Pretty close to Cairo and Fustat, so had potential in later eras)
  • "Little Egypt" in Southern Illinois, at the confluence of the Missisisippi and Ohio Rivers, definitely could have become a highly populated center.
 
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Does Babylon count?
Yeah, Babylon counts. As does any location that could have remained, or become a massive city in early modern and modern times.

Another one: Sarai Batu could have been rebuilt by the Russians as a southern fortress, or simply survived as the capital of the Golden Horde.

Ninevah still exists as Mosul-Ninewah.
Oh, I didn't realize that. I thought it was a nearby but distinct location that was later absorbed, like Fustat into Cairo and Carthage into Tunis.
 
Zeila is an ancient and historically large city in Somalia just east of the red sea. It is in good position, and was formerly used, to control trade between the Mediterranean and Indian oceans, and by land into the african horn. I fell from importance OTL only after the French took over Djibouti to the west and built a railway into Ethiopia.

Many different PODs could have Zeila one of the more important cities in the world.

As an (perhaps overly kind) example:

  • Minor PODs in mid 19th century result in a considerably different scramble for Africa.
  • By 1915 France controls much of the West Africa it did OTL, but also most of Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and parts of the Sudan.
  • Zeila is the primary city of France outside the metropole. It is the capital for the whole French East Africa. It houses the largest colonial garrison and the war fleet for all the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the principal port of call for trade ships between Asia (and oceania, east africa, etc.) and Europe (and north africa, north east north america, etc.). It is the head of a railway that extends to Algiers, Dakar, and will soon connect to Cairo and Lagos.
  • Over the next few decades great wars happen, then decolonization. Zeila ends up the principal city of a new sovereign state, Tanetjer, it's capital and largest city, and the communication, power, and transportation hub.
  • 1950 Population of Tanetjer is 15 million, Zeila makes one fifth that.
  • Tanetjer is an african and multicultural success story, it quickly becomes not just the most developed country in africa, but wealthier even than parts of Europe. Improved medicine and nutrition see a massive boom in the population, then as that population ages the country has fewer dependents to productive people and sees an enormous growth in its economy. Nuclear and hydroelectric power is made use of, desalination and irrigation take place, and immigrants come from all over africa and across the indian ocean.
  • 2016 Population of Tanetjer exceeds 150 million, the Zeila metropolis is among the largest in the world at around 30 million. Home of the tallest building ever constructed. Known as the gateway to Africa, the gateway to the world, and even as God's City.
 
Tiwanaku, Cuzco, and Quito could all have been far larger cities than OTL in a different world; they're all strategically important in the Andes and all have access to some of the Andes' best agricultural terrain nearby. Tiwanaku was actually one of the Americas' largest cities long before Europeans came, IIRC. Another city that could have been absolutely enormous if the entirety of the Pampas was controlled by one power is Montevideo, as it's the best port for hundreds of miles, or so I've heard claimed. Better than anything in Southern Brazil or Argentina, if those claims are to be believed.
 
Zanzibar could've been almost as big, if not as big, as Singapore is OTL instead of a backwater in Tanzania, probably assuming no Zanzibar Revolution and the Sultanate of Zanzibar continuing onward. It would've been a very important business and commercial center for all of East Africa and to a lesser extent, the Indian Ocean region as a whole.

Antioch in a Christian Syria is bound to be bigger and more important than it is nowadays, possibly even making a good capital.

Volubilis/Walili in Morocco could've remained the capital of the region following the Arab conquest, or at least been a city as important as Meknes or Fes, instead of being abandoned.

Ctesiphon has a similar story, since it was abandoned in favour of Baghdad.

There's been a lot of capitals of Spain, so Madrid's prominence would probably translate to another place like Toledo. A lot of alternate capitals in Europe would result in them being far more important, like Targoviste or Iasi as capitals for Romania rather than Bucharest.

Speaking of capitals, if Washington DC was never built, then another city (Philadelphia?) would receive a lot more prominence nationally and internationally and probably a few hundred thousand more people, minimum.

"Little Egypt" in Southern Illinois, at the confluence of the Missisisippi and Ohio Rivers, definitely could have become a highly populated center.
It's far too vulnerable to flooding compared to even other Mississippi River cities that basically make a place like St. Louis far better.
 
If the Mongols hadn't ruined the Middle East (up to the present day, in places) then there are many cities that would be larger or, well, still exist in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Bombay/Mumbai was made a commercial center by the Portuguese as Calcutta was a commercial/political center for the British and numerous other places . No colonization of India and the urban patterns of India would be unrecognizable from OTL.

China definitely never had to settle on Beijing as its capital in the 21st century. The Chinese have semi-traditionally moved the capital around with every new dynasty.
 
If the Mongols hadn't ruined the Middle East (up to the present day, in places) then there are many cities that would be larger or, well, still exist in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Bombay/Mumbai was made a commercial center by the Portuguese as Calcutta was a commercial/political center for the British and numerous other places . No colonization of India and the urban patterns of India would be unrecognizable from OTL.

China definitely never had to settle on Beijing as its capital in the 21st century. The Chinese have semi-traditionally moved the capital around with every new dynasty.
Which Middle Eastern cities? No major city in the Mid East was destroyed beyond repair by the Mongols. For the most part too, the cities of the Kwarezm and Uzbek that were destroyed were later built back by the Mongols, such as Samarqand which became greater during the Timurid state than before the Mongol invasion, despite being the capital of the Kwarezmshahs. As well the cities of Iran and Iraq returned to dominance right after the Timurid invasion during the Safavid period.
 
Kiev or Novgorod could be a capital of an earlier united Rus with no Mongol Invasion

Japan could have an inversion where the Capital remains Kyoto, Tokyo only became capital because Kanto was given to the Tokugawa by Hideyoshi, which became their new land and center power in a Shogunate where the Tokugawa weren't strong to rule by force.
 
But for my list:

Zanzibar: a truly well placed city and one that could've seriously flourished as the premier port of East Africa. A state based there would have deep connections with the Mid East and draw cheap labor from both Africa and India.

Samarra: Keep the Abbasid powerbase firm in Samarra by stabilizing the unstable. Possibly by stopping the Khawarij revolts in Ninewah. The city could by the mid Abbasid period, eventually reach Baghdad power levels. I could envision it as the largest city in Iraq or at least Mosul sized.

Tyre: Avoid Alexander's siege and voila. The city is very well placed and on a island so thus well protected in general. I could see it being a capital of a parallel Lebannon or more interestingly a city state like Singapore.

New Orleans: Could've attained a far larger population from 1850 to 2010.

Palmyra: Create an independent Syriac state or a heavily Syriac Muslim state and likely you have Palmyra bustle. It is well placed in the interior and on trade ruotes. Much better then Dimshaq or other ancient cities like Halab or more ancient Mari, Eblah or Ugarit.

Ugarit, Ebla, etc... Both some of the wealthiest cities on earth during the Bronze Age. However, I doubt if they survived, would be part of a greater Syria.

Antioch: A Christian Mid East as an adjunct to Mare Nostrum will keep Antioch enormous and the main center of European trade to the Mid East.

Susa: what w declined city. Avoid its destruction by Assyria and continue to find ways to boost its power and integrate Iranians or have them use it as opposed to Persepolis or later northern Iranian cities. Perhaps a southern oriented Iran.

Kaffa: could've remained the dominant Black Sea Port with a state based in the Crimea and or keeping Russia out.

Hattusa: very well placed to rule the interior of Anatolia.

I can think of some others later.
 
Most major cities and capitals in sub-Saharan Africa were chosen pretty arbitrarily, so it wouldn't be hard to have another city rise to prominence there instead. Two interesting cases I've found are in Congo-Brazzaville. Pointe-Noire, the second largest city now, seems like a better place for the capital of the Republic of the Congo than Brazzaville on the border (across the river from the DROC's capital). If that were the case, it would have two, three, or more times as many people. Also regarding Pointe-Noire, if both Congos were united, then it would be a natural place for a port to the interior Congo, and could easily be HUGE. There's also Point Indienne, not far north, which apparently has an even better harbour than Pointe-Noire--the Congo-Brazzaville government has received proposals for a port to be built there. It might've been good for development there instead of Pointe-Noire, and could be just as big either in a more OTL like scenario or in the scenarios I listed before.

Which Middle Eastern cities? No major city in the Mid East was destroyed beyond repair by the Mongols. For the most part too, the cities of the Kwarezm and Uzbek that were destroyed were later built back by the Mongols, such as Samarqand which became greater during the Timurid state than before the Mongol invasion, despite being the capital of the Kwarezmshahs. As well the cities of Iran and Iraq returned to dominance right after the Timurid invasion during the Safavid period.
Nishabur? It still exists and lots of people live there, but it's far less significant than it was pre-Mongols in favour of nearby Mashhad.

Kiev or Novgorod could be a capital of an earlier united Rus with no Mongol Invasion
Not just those, the entire Golden Ring of cities could have been capitals of Russia instead of Moscow, as well as Tver. Moscow could only really ever rise because the leaders of its rivals had some unfortunate run-ins with the Mongols plus Moscow effectively bribed the Russian church to move their seat there.
 
Most major cities and capitals in sub-Saharan Africa were chosen pretty arbitrarily, so it wouldn't be hard to have another city rise to prominence there instead. Two interesting cases I've found are in Congo-Brazzaville. Pointe-Noire, the second largest city now, seems like a better place for the capital of the Republic of the Congo than Brazzaville on the border (across the river from the DROC's capital). If that were the case, it would have two, three, or more times as many people. Also regarding Pointe-Noire, if both Congos were united, then it would be a natural place for a port to the interior Congo, and could easily be HUGE. There's also Point Indienne, not far north, which apparently has an even better harbour than Pointe-Noire--the Congo-Brazzaville government has received proposals for a port to be built there. It might've been good for development there instead of Pointe-Noire, and could be just as big either in a more OTL like scenario or in the scenarios I listed before.



Nishabur? It still exists and lots of people live there, but it's far less significant than it was pre-Mongols in favour of nearby Mashhad.



Not just those, the entire Golden Ring of cities could have been capitals of Russia instead of Moscow, as well as Tver. Moscow could only really ever rise because the leaders of its rivals had some unfortunate run-ins with the Mongols plus Moscow effectively bribed the Russian church to move their seat there.
You are correct, Nishapur is an example. However, it was going to decline if the Silk Road collapsed. It was placed in very open land and thus susceptible to attack. I could see it as the capital of a Turkic state such as the Kwarezmshah or other like nations.

However, powerbase of Iran, not likely, it is too Far East to command the far more populous areas of the interior Iranian Plateau.
 
I think for a city to survive and grow over a long period it needs to be in a lucky spot. Consider london. The romans chose it as the lowest crossing point on the thames, it was easily accessable from gaul and so became the civil and military centre of roman power in britain. They built roads. When roman power waned the site survived because it was a good site for boats crossing the north sea. When anglo saxon states began to grow the remaining roads river and sea connections pulled the center of power to london. Once england has a capital in london we add court and nobles to the existing trade and communications. These forces remain and grow auto-catalysing until london needs to grow a lot. Luckily the surroundings are mostly flat and good farm land stretches a long way in all directions. By tudor times london is the only city in England and the process continued.

So are these cities in places where they can claim several reasons to exist? That means they are more likely to survive changes in dynasty, religion and culture. Do they have luckier neighbours?

I can imagine no world after 1000bc without istanbul.
 
I think for a city to survive and grow over a long period it needs to be in a lucky spot. Consider london. The romans chose it as the lowest crossing point on the thames, it was easily accessable from gaul and so became the civil and military centre of roman power in britain. They built roads. When roman power waned the site survived because it was a good site for boats crossing the north sea. When anglo saxon states began to grow the remaining roads river and sea connections pulled the center of power to london. Once england has a capital in london we add court and nobles to the existing trade and communications. These forces remain and grow auto-catalysing until london needs to grow a lot. Luckily the surroundings are mostly flat and good farm land stretches a long way in all directions. By tudor times london is the only city in England and the process continued.

So are these cities in places where they can claim several reasons to exist? That means they are more likely to survive changes in dynasty, religion and culture. Do they have luckier neighbours?

I can imagine no world after 1000bc without istanbul.
Some cities that fit your description and somewhat London like:

New Orleans, the city resembled London in terms of its relation to the rest of Louisiana for much of its history and its location on the Mississippi River is near perfect placement. It will almost always remain in some form, unless the sea swallows southern Louisiana, which I suppose is possible.

A city roughly corresponding to Alexandria and a counterpart up the Nile. This has been in place for thousands of years.

There will always be substantial ports in the west coast of the Levant and trade cities further inland as counterparts and overland trade. Examples, Ebla, Ugarit, Latakia, Halab, Dimshaq, Jerusalem, Palmyra, Raqqa, Beirut, Tyre, etc.... Some of which are world successes and other were extremely unlucky.

Etc...
 
Piratini could've become far bigger if Rio Grande do Sul had survived as an independent state; Piacenza could've been far bigger and more important than it is today, if it hadn't been subjected to the "rape, pillage and burn" treatment by Francesco Sforza in 1447.
 
In more recent times you had Trieste, declining from main port and trade hub of the Austro-Hungarian empire to provincial Italian city. In some timeline it must now be the Imperial capital of some federalised Austro-Italo-Hungarian Empire.

Pavia was the capital of the Longobard Kingdom, it could have retained a status of political capital/court, especially if Northern Italy had unified during the Middle Ages.

Pisa lost much of its importance after its defeat in the battle of the Meloria and the subsequent silting up of the Arno.

In Greece you had Thebes, if it had not be destroyed by Philipp of Macedonia the city could maybe have thrived until today.

Obviously Carthago (I mean not getting absorbed into Tunis but keeping instead more of what it was before the romans burned it).
 
You are correct, Nishapur is an example. However, it was going to decline if the Silk Road collapsed. It was placed in very open land and thus susceptible to attack. I could see it as the capital of a Turkic state such as the Kwarezmshah or other like nations.

However, powerbase of Iran, not likely, it is too Far East to command the far more populous areas of the interior Iranian Plateau.
IIRC, there are parts of Iran that still haven't recovered to the pre-invasion population levels. I don't recall which though; I'm basing this off half remembered notes from a class I took on the Mongols. If I recall correctly, much of the irrigation system built up over the centuries fell into permanent disrepair due to lack of the will and population to maintain it in the century after the conquest.
 
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