Towns as centers of a population devoted to commercial activity or as communities endowed with legal entity hardly existed anywhere in medieval Europe before the eleventh century. Some towns had survived the disorder of the Dark Ages, since societies require meeting places for religious purposes, to administer justice, and to muster military forces. These early centers were often located in old Roman towns where bishops resided, along well-established trade routes over which a trickle of commerce still passed, or on high ground which afforded some defensive advantage against the lawless bands of rovers or foreign invaders. Many early town were fortresses as well as episcopal residences. Walled and protected by deep moats, the town surrounded a castle in the center which served both as the home of the territorial lord and as a place of refuge for the neighboring population. In France these fortresstowns were called bourgs, and in Germany and England they were known as burgs and boroughs respectively. During the Dark Ages towns and town life constituted but a minor part of life and involved relatively few people. Nevertheless, towns and bourgs were the steppingstones in the development of European cities. [excerpt]
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Bloom, Robert L. et al. "2. The Rise of Towns and Town Life. Pt. V: The Rise of Capitalism and the National State to 1500." Ideas and Institutions of Western Man (Gettysburg College, 1958), 7-17.