The purpose of this paper is to document and interpret urban-rural differences in mortality in the past. To this end, we used data on mortality in Wielkopolska, Poland, in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. The data on mortality in rural areas (N = 1,173,910 deceased), small towns (N = 573,903 deceased), and Poznań, the capital of the Wielkopolska region (N = 86,352 deceased), were gathered from original Prussian statistical yearbooks (Preussische Statistik). Causes of death were also analyzed (rural areas, N = 449,576 deceased; small towns, N = 238,365 deceased; Poznań, N = 61,512 deceased). Mortality measures such as crude death rate (CDR), infant death rate (IDR), and neonatal and postneonatal death rates were calculated. Life tables were constructed for both stationary and stable population models and measures of the opportunity for natural selection calculated (Crow's index Im, potential gross reproduction rate Rpot, and biological state index Ibs). Relative frequencies of leading causes of death were computed. Stratification depending on the place of residence was evident in all mortality measures as well as in the values of the life tables and the measures of the opportunity for natural selection, but it was reverse of what is observed today in developed countries. In Poznań (a large industrial city), the mortality situation was the least favorable. It was caused by large population density, lack of water supply and sewage systems (up to 1896), and bad working conditions. The values of CDR ranged between 26.89–31.46, and IDR between 190.6–280.5. Newborn life expectancy (for a stable population model) was 31.6 years, Im = 0.79, Rpot = 0.85, and Ibs = 0.47. The most common causes of death were tuberculosis, other diseases of the respiratory and circulatory systems, dysentery and diarrhea, and cancer. These diseases were less common in rural areas, so they had the most favorable values of mortality measures (CDR between 22.87–27.32, IDR between 181.8–219.4, life expectancy of newborn e0 = 42.12, Im = 0.55, Rpot = 0.93, Ibs = 0.60). Infectious diseases (other than tuberculosis), frailty at birth, and frailty in old age were the most frequent causes of death in rural areas. Small towns (population <20,000) had a mortality intermediate between city and rural areas. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.