Urban life became increasingly important during the High Middle Ages. But there were few real cities. The largest city in Western Europe was Paris and it had only about 60,000 residents in 1200. Most had only a couple of thousand people. In spite of their small size, these towns became more meaningful.
Trade was the primary reason for the growth of towns. They often grew up on rivers or any location where commerce was rife. People were drawn to towns for the economic opportunities they offered. They often wanted to escape serfdom or dreary lives in sedate villages. If a serf lived in a town for at least a year, he could claim to be free.
The development of urban life coincided with the decline of feudalism. In feudalism, most people were peasants, and a lucky few were nobles. But the growth of towns led to the creation of new classes of people. These new classes—merchants and craftsmen—represented a threat to the old social order.
Although they were small, the development of thriving towns was a major event during the High Middle Ages.