One of the attractions of medieval urban history is the fact that major conceptual problems in the field continue to be debated. In a stimulating review article by J.H. Mundy, ’Philip Jones and the medieval Italian city-state‘, J. of European Economic History, 28 (1999), 185–200, one distinguished scholar is taxed for holding views now dismissed by some, but of which he is by no means a unique surviving representative. One of these views assumes a clear distinction between the antique city, supposedly a bureaucratic centre with limited economic functions, and the medieval city, as the home of industrious artisans and nascent capitalism. The image of the non-profit-making ancient town may be overly indebted to the nature of the literary sources and to the prevalent interests of classicists; but, although many would now agree that both the elements in the above equation need qualifying, a more focused comparison is presently lacking, and a fine book is still waiting to be written on the transition from the ancient world to the middle ages in urban history.