It was not necessarily the size of its population or its area that made the distinction in Palestine between a city and a village. What mattered was the wall—which was often doubled, with houses built between the outer and the inner wall, while outside might be a cluster of villages which supplied the city with provisions and labour. Palestinian cities were not large and it has been estimated that even 1st‐cent. Jerusalem did not occupy more than 200 acres, though it had a population of about 10,000. City walls were provided with gates for entry and exit which were essential but which were also the easiest places for an enemy to breach and therefore were well fortified by the inhabitants. The gate area was often used for meetings and court sessions (Ruth 4: 1–6) and just outside the wall might be a spring which could be tapped for supplying water to the city by means of a tunnel.

The Roman occupation of Palestine brought improved amenities to cities, including Jerusalem. Imposing streets might be flanked by equally impressive dwelling houses equipped with baths and decorated walls. A theatre was built in Jerusalem by Herod the Great; and streets on the model of a Graeco‐Roman city. The magnificently reconstructed Temple was virtually a new building and is sometimes, rather misleadingly, called the Third Temple. Pontius Pilate (governor from 26 to 36 CE) authorized the construction of an aqueduct for water much needed by the swollen population at festivals—though as he, a Roman, paid for it out of Temple funds, it provoked a riot, which is possibly referred to in Luke 13: 1–2.

With their structure of social interdependence cities have often been part of Christian imagery, from the New Jerusalem of Revelation through Dante to modern writers such as Charles Williams.