Early Universities

Universities have been around under many names for over a Millennium. What they all have in common is a desire to train primarily young adults for scholar and professional service. In this post, we will look at three early medieval universities along with the influence of the Catholic Church in higher education at that time.

Bologna

The school that became the University of Bologna was initially a law school.  There was a need for experts in Roman Law, particularly the Justinian code, due to the influence of the Catholic Church. The school was officially recognized in 1158 by Frederick I.

By the 13th century, there were over 10,000 students. This led to a need for better organization among the students. This was done through the development of organizations that represented students by country of origin. The country representation then joined one of two campus-wide groups. The two main organizations in Bologna were the universitas citranontanorum and universitas ultramontanorum.

With organization began a push for social justice. There was often tension between students and teachers as well as students and the local community. As college kids of today, sometimes the university kids could cause the local community behavioral problems. There were scuffles between students and the local community that were called town and gown riots. “Town” refers to the non-academic and “gown” to students. In other parts of Europe, the fighting could be deadly.

At Bologna, the students pushed for and won the right to be judged by the university for their misdeeds. At this time, there were no official university buildings. This led to classes being held all over the city in random places. If there were any disagreements with the locals the students and or even the teachers would threaten to leave.

Salernum

Salernum was another early university. Some have suggested that it was started in the 9th century. Salernum focused on medicine and was supported by Constantine of Carthage. Constantine was a scholar who studied music,  math, medicine, and even necromancy.

Salernum was also associated with the crusades. The famous Robert de Guiscard, the father of the crusader Bohemond,  supported this institution. Wounded crusaders would visit the school as they returned from battle in the Middle East. As the school grew, eventually students who wanted to practice medicine had to pass a government exam and serve under an experienced doctor for at least one year.

Naples

The school that became the University of Naples was organized in the 13th century as a law school. Naples was originally just several independent schools and teachers who were group together to make one academic community. The word “university” means one community.

By creating a single corporate body it was possible for the government to give privileges to the university such as conferring degrees. This prevented just anyone from starting a university and conferring degrees. Even the title of professor was controlled. A professor was a magister or doctor/teacher while a medicus was a practitioner

Role of the Church

The church was always looking for ways to extend its influence. When teachers, students, and the local community were fighting, the Pope was often serving as an intermediary. This naturally increased the influence and prestige of the papacy.

The church was also eager to recognize universities officially. This was similar to accreditation today and allowed students and teachers to work or study all over Europe at other schools. As such, both sides benefited from this transaction. However, the goal was not so much to asses the quality of the school as it was to gain influence over universities. As such, papal approval did not necessarily mean an excellent school but a school that the church had influence over.

Conclusion

These three universities played a critical role in the development of higher education in Europe, in particular, the continental side. Each school was reacting to the needs of the local community whether that was teaching law medicine or some other subject. The church was aware of the growth of this model of education and was sure to have influence in its development.

1 thought on “Early Universities

  1. Pingback: Early Universities — educational research techniques – Nonpartisan Education Group

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