List of medieval universities

Mob Quad, late medieval quarters of the University of Oxford

The list of medieval universities comprises universities (more precisely, Studium Generale) which existed in Europe during the Middle Ages.[1] It also includes short-lived foundations and European educational institutions whose university status is a matter of debate. The degree-awarding university with its corporate organization and relative autonomy is a product of medieval Christian Europe.[1] Before 1500 more than eighty universities were established in Western and Central Europe. During the subsequent Colonization of the Americas the university was introduced to the New World, marking the beginning of its worldwide spread as the center of higher learning everywhere (see List of oldest universities).[2]


There were many institutions of learning (Studium) in the Middle Ages in Latin Europecathedral schools, "schools of rhetoric" (law faculties), etc. Historians generally restrict the term "medieval university" to refer to an institution of learning that was referred to as Studium Generale in the Middle Ages.

There is no official strict definition of a Studium generale, the term having emerged from customary usage. The following properties were common among them, and are often treated as defining criteria:[3]

  1. that it received students from everywhere (not merely the local district or region);
  2. That it engaged in higher learning—i.e., that it went beyond teaching the Arts, and had at least one of the higher faculties (Theology, Law or Medicine).
  3. that a significant part of the teaching was done by Masters (teachers with a higher degree)
  4. that it enjoyed the privilege of jus ubique docendi—i.e., masters of that school were entitled to teach in any other school without a preliminary examination.
  5. that its teachers and students were allowed to enjoy any clerical benefices they might have elsewhere without meeting the mandatory residency requirements prescribed by Canon Law
  6. that it enjoyed some degree of autonomy from local civil and diocesal authorities.

Charters issued by the Pope or Holy Roman Emperor were often needed to ensure privileges 4–6. The fourth condition (teaching elsewhere without examination) was originally considered by scholars of the time to be the most important criterion, with the result that the appellation Studium Generale was customarily reserved to refer only to the oldest and most prestigious schools—specifically, Salerno, Bologna and Paris, and sometimes Oxford—until this oligopoly was broken by papal and imperial charters in the course of the 13th century.[3] The fifth criterion (continued benefices) was the closest there was to an "official" definition of a Studium Generale used by the Church and academics from the 14th century onwards, although there were some notable exceptions (e.g., neither Oxford nor Padua received this right, but they were nonetheless universally considered "Studia Generalia by custom").[3]

Modern historians have tended to focus on the first three requirements (students from everywhere, at least one higher faculty, teaching by masters). This has led to contention in making lists of Medieval universities. Some Italian universities, for instance, were quick to obtain papal charters and thus the privileges and title of a Studium Generale, but their student catchment never went much beyond the local district or they had only a couple of masters engaged in teaching. Other comparable schools (notably the more prestigious cathedral schools of France), may have had wider student catchment and more masters, but neglected or failed to secure the chartered privileges and thus were never referred to as Studium Generale. It is common to include the former and exclude the latter from lists of "Medieval universities", but some historians have disputed this convention as arbitrary and unreflective of the state of higher learning in Europe.[4]

Some historians have discarded the Studium Generale definition, and come up with their own criteria for a definition of a "university"—narrowing it by requiring, for instance, that a university have all three higher faculties (Theology, Law, Medicine) in order to be considered a "Medieval university" (very few had all three), whereas others widen it to include some of the more prestigious cathedral schools, palace schools and universities outside of Latin Europe (notably in the Greek and Islamic world).

There is also contention on the founding dates of many universities. Using the date of acquisition of a papal and royal/imperial charter is inadequate, as the older universities, believing their status and reputations sufficient and indisputable, refused or resisted asking for an official charter for a long time. Some historians trace the founding of a university to the first date when evidence of some kind of teaching was done in that locality, even if only local and limited. Others wait until there is evidence of higher learning, a wide student catchment, the emergence of its masters teaching elsewhere or a more definitive mention of it as a Studium generale.


The list is sorted by the date of recognition. At places where more than one university was established, the name of the institution is given in brackets.

Ranking Year Name Contemporaneous location Current location Notes
1 Circa 1000 (1158 Charter Granted) University of Bologna Holy Roman Empire Bologna, Italy The first university in the sense of a higher-learning, degree-awarding institute, the word university having been coined at its foundation. Teaching there started much earlier since for example Gerard Sagredo born in 980 AD learnt liberal arts there and the town already had a corporation of legis doctores and of causidici[5]
2 Before 1045 (1200 Charter Granted) University of Paris Kingdom of France France The school predates the foundation of the University proper and is attested in 1045 [6] which places its founding before that. The faculty and nation system of the University of Paris (along with that of the University of Bologna) became the model for all later medieval universities. The university of Paris was known as a universitas magistrorum et scholarium (a guild of teachers and scholars), by contrast with the Bolognese universitas scholarium.

The university had four faculties: Arts, Medicine, Law, and Theology. The Faculty of Arts was the lowest in rank, but also the largest as students had to graduate there to be admitted to one of the higher faculties. The students were divided into four nationes according to language or regional origin: France, Normandy, Picardy, and England. The last came to be known as the Alemannian (German) nation. Recruitment to each nation was wider than the names might imply: the English-German nation included students from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

3 1096–1167 (1248 charter granted)[7] University of Oxford Kingdom of England Oxford, United Kingdom "Claimed to be the oldest university in the English speaking world, there is no clear date of foundation of Oxford University, but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris."[8] Teaching suspended in 1209 (due to town execution of two scholars) and 1355 (due to the St. Scholastica riot), but was continuous during the English Civil War (1642–1651)—the University was Royalist. All Souls College and University College have repeatedly claimed that they own documents proving that teaching in Oxford started in the year 825, but these documents have never seen the public light (allegedly, John Speed dated his famous 1605 Oxford maps based on these documents). However, it was not until 1254 that Pope Innocent IV granted to Oxford the University charter by papal bull ("Querentes in agro").
4 1204 University of Vicenza Commune of Vicenza Vicenza, Italy Laical studium generale, it was closed early, on 1209.
5 1209 (1231 charter granted)[9] University of Cambridge Kingdom of England Cambridge, United Kingdom Founded by scholars leaving Oxford after a dispute caused by the execution of two scholars in 1209, and royal charter was granted in 1231. The university takes 1209 as its official anniversary.
6 1212 University of Palencia Kingdom of León Palencia, Spain It was the oldest Studium Generale in the Iberian Peninsula. It disappeared ca. 1264, and its remains transferred to University of Valladolid.
7 1218 (probably older) University of Salamanca Kingdom of León Salamanca, Spain It is the oldest university in operation in Spain. Although there are records of the University granting degrees many years before (James Trager's People's Chronology sets its foundation date in 1134), it only received the Royal chart of foundation as "Estudio General" in 1218, making it possibly the fourth or even the third oldest European university in continuous operations. However, it was the first European university to receive the title of "University" as such, granted by king of Castile and León, Alfonso X, and the Pope in 1254. Having been excluded from the University in 1852 by the Spanish government, the Faculties of Theology and Canon Law became the Pontifical University of Salamanca in 1940.
8 1222 (probably older) University of Padua Commune of Padua Padua, Italy Founded by scholars and professors after leaving Bologna.
9 1224 University of Naples Federico II Kingdom of Sicily Naples, Italy The first public university, founded by Frederick II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
10 1229 University of Toulouse County of Toulouse Toulouse, France
11 1235(1306) University of Orléans Orléans, Duchy of Orléans, Orléanais, Kingdom of France Orléans, France In 1219, Pope Honorius III forbade the teaching of Roman Law in the University of Paris. Then, a number of teachers and disciples took refuge in Orléans. In 1235 Pope Gregory IX, in a bull, affirmed that teaching Roman Law was not forbidden in Orléans. Later, Pope Boniface VIII, in 1298, promulgated the sixth book of the Decretals, he appointed the doctors of Bologna and the doctors of Orléans to comment upon it. Pope Clement V also studied law and letters in Orléans and, by a Papal Bull published at Lyon, 27 January 1306, he endowed the Orléans institutes with the title and privileges of a University.[10][11]
12 1240 University of Siena Republic of Siena Siena, Italy Originally called Studium Senese, was founded by Commune of Siena in 1240. In 1321, the studium was able to attract a larger number or pupils due to a mass exodus from the prestigious neighbouring University of Bologna. Closed temporarily in 1808–1815 when Napoleonic forces occupied Tuscany. On November 7, 1990 the university celebrated its 750th anniversary.
13 1241 University of Valladolid Kingdom of Castile Valladolid, Spain One hypothesis is that its foundation is the result of the transfer of Palencia's studium generale between 1208 and 1241 by Alfonso VIII, king of Castile, and Bishop Tello Téllez de Meneses.
14 1261 University of Northampton Kingdom of England Northampton The University of Northampton was founded in 1261 by King Henry III. Abolished in 1265.
15 1272 University of Murcia Crown of Castile Murcia, Spain The University of Murcia was founded in 1272 by the King Alfonso X of Castile. It had no continuity after 14th century, until it was re-founded in 1915.
16 1289 University of Montpellier Lordship of Montpellier, Kingdom of Majorca Montpellier, France A bull issued by Pope Nicholas IV in 1289, combined all the long-existing schools, since 1160, into a university.
17 1290 University of Macerata Papal States Macerata, Italy The University of Macerata (Italian: Università degli Studi di Macerata) was founded in 1290, organized into seven faculties.
18 1290 University of Coimbra Kingdom of Portugal Coimbra, Portugal Begun its existence in Lisbon with the name Studium Generale (Portuguese: Estudo Geral). Scientiae thesaurus mirabilis, the royal charter announcing the institution of the University, was dated 1 March of that year, although efforts had been made at least since 1288 to create this first university in Portugal. The papal confirmation was also given in 1290 (on 9 August of that year), during the papacy of Pope Nicholas IV.
19 1293 University of Alcalá Crown of Castile Alcalá de Henares, Spain The University of Alcalá was founded by King Sancho IV of Castile as Studium Generale in 1293 in Alcalá de Henares. It was granted Papal Bull in 1499, and quickly gained international fame thanks to the patronage of Cardinal Cisneros and the production of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible in 1517, which is the basis for most of the current translations. The University moved to Madrid in 1836 by Royal Decree. The Moyano Law of 1857 established Complutense as the sole university in Spain authorized to confer the title of Doctor on any scholar. This law remained in effect until 1969.
20 1300 University of Lleida Principality of Catalonia Lleida, Spain Founded in 1300 as Estudi General, after a 1297 granting Papal bull. It was closed down in 1717 along with the banning of the rest of Catalan universities and the original political institutions of Catalonia. Refounded on December 12, 1991.
21 1303 La Sapienza University of Rome Papal States Rome, Italy Founded by Pope Boniface VIII, but became a state university in 1935. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, the university "remained closed during the entire pontificate of Clement VII".
22 1308 University of Perugia Papal States Perugia, Italy Attested by the Bull of Pope Clement V. On May 19, 1355, the Emperor Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor issued a Bull confirming the papal erection and raising it to the rank of an imperial university.
23 1321 University of Florence Republic of Florence Florence, Italy The University of Florence evolved from the Studium Generale established by the Florentine Republic in 1321. The Studium was recognized by Pope Clement VI in 1349.
24 1336 University of Camerino Papal States Camerino, Italy The great literate and jurist Cino from Pistoia, living in Marche in the years 1319–21, and in Camerino in the spring of 1321, remembers the territory blooming with juridical schools. Camerino had been a center of learning since no later than 1200, offering degrees in civil law, canonical law, medicine, and literary studies. Gregory XI took the decision upon the request of Gentile III da Varano with the papal edict of 29 January 1377, directed to the commune and to the people, authorizing Camerino to confer (after appropriate examination) bachelor and doctoral degrees with apostolic authority.
25 1339 University of Grenoble Dauphiné Grenoble, FranceThe university was founded in 1339 by Dauphin Humbert II of Viennois and Pope Benedict XII to teach civil and canon law, medicine, and the liberal arts.
26 1343 University of Pisa Republic of Pisa Pisa, Italy It was formally founded on September 3, 1343, by an edict of Pope Clement VI, although there had been lectures on law in Pisa since the 11th century. Nowadays is one of the most important universities in Italy.
27 1348 Charles University of Prague Kingdom of Bohemia Prague, Czech Republic Three of four faculties closed in 1419, joined with Jesuit university and renamed Charles-Ferdinand University in 1652, split into German and Czech parts in 1882. The Czech branch closed during the Nazi occupation (1939–1945), and the German branch closed in 1945.
28 1349 University of Perpignan Principality of Catalonia Perpignan, France Founded in 1349 by Peter IV of Aragon, it was closed in 1794. Refounded on 1971, and on 1979 as independent university with the name Université de Perpignan Via Domicia.
29 1356 University of Angers Charles V of France Angers, France Founded in 1356, closed down in 1793, and reestablished in 1971. By 1080, the Studium or the School of Angers was already a renowned scholarly institution. It received the title "university" in 1356, and in 1364, Charles V granted the university its autonomy and privileges.
30 1361 University of Pavia House of Visconti Pavia, Italy Closed for short periods during the Italian Wars, Napoleonic wars, and Revolutions of 1848.
31 1364 Jagiellonian University Kingdom of Poland Kraków, Poland Founded by Casimir the Great under the name Studium Generale, it was commonly referred to as the Kraków Academy. The institution's development stalled upon the king's death in 1370, primarily due to a lack of funding. The academy lacked a permanent location, so lectures were held across the city at various churches and in the Kraków Cathedral School. Further development again resumed in the 1390s, by the initiative of King Władysław Jagiełło and his wife Jadwiga of Poland; at which point the school became a fully functioning university with a permanent location. The university was forcibly shut down during the German Occupation of Poland (1939–1945). The staff was deported to Nazi concentration camps, and many of its collections were deliberately destroyed by the occupying German authorities. Within a month after the city's liberation, the university again re-opened with some of the original pre-war staff who survived the occupation.
32 1365 University of Vienna Holy Roman Empire Vienna, Austria Modelled on the University of Paris.
33 1367University of Pécs Kingdom of Hungary Pécs, Hungary
34 1379University of Erfurt Holy Roman Empire Erfurt, GermanyDisestablished 1816 and reopened 1994. The first universities founded in the German-speaking world were Prague (1348), Vienna (1365), and Erfurt (1379). The University of Erfurt is thus considered to be the oldest university in what is present day Germany.[12]
35 1386 Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg Holy Roman Empire Heidelberg, Germany Founded by Rupert I, Elector Palatine.
36 1388 University of Cologne Holy Roman Empire Cologne, Germany Founded by the city council of the Free City of Cologne. Pope Urban VI granted University charter in the year of foundation. Closed in 1798, refounded in 1919.
37 1391 University of Ferrara House of Este Ferrara, Italy Founded by Marquis Alberto d'Este.
38 1396 University of Zadar Kingdom of Croatia and Dalmatia Zadar, Croatia Founded by Raimund de Vineis.
39 1404 University of Turin Duchy of Savoy Turin, Italy Founded by the Prince Louis of Piedmont during the reign of Amadeus VIII.
40 1409 University of Leipzig Holy Roman Empire Leipzig, Germany Founded when German-speaking staff left Prague due to the Jan Hus crisis.
41 1413 University of St Andrews Kingdom of Scotland St Andrews, UK Founded by a Papal Bull
42 1419 University of Rostock Holy Roman EmpireRostock, Germany During the Reformation, "the Catholic university of Rostock closed altogether and the closure was long enough to make the re-founded body feel a new institution".
43 1425 University of Leuven Duchy of BrabantLeuven, Belgium Founded by a Papal Bull.
44 1432 University of Caen Kingdom of England Caen, France Founded by John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford, during the period of English control of Normandy during the Hundred Years' War. When the French regained control of Normandy the University was recognized by French King Charles VII.
45 1434 University of Catania Kingdom of Sicily Catania, Italy The oldest in Sicily. Founded by Alfonso V.
46 1441 University of Bordeaux Kingdom of England Bordeaux, France Founded by a Papal Bull.
47 1446 University of Girona Principality of Catalonia Girona, Spain Founded by Alfonso V of Aragon (known as King Alfonso the Magnanimous) in 1446, when he granted the privilege of teaching degrees in grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, theology, law and medicine in the city of Girona, which led to the creation of the General Studies ("Estudis Generals").
48 1450 University of Barcelona Principality of Catalonia Barcelona, Spain Founded by Alfonso V of Aragon as Estudi general de Barcelona after the unification of all university education. For forty-nine years prior to that foundation, however, the city had had a fledgling medical school founded by King Martin of Aragon, and in the 13th century, Barcelona already possessed several civil and ecclesiastical schools.
49 1451 University of Glasgow Kingdom of Scotland Glasgow, UK Founded by a Papal Bull.
50 1456 University of Greifswald Holy Roman Empire Greifswald, Germany Teaching had started by 1436. Founded by initiative of Heinrich Rubenow, Lord Mayor of Greifswald (and first rector), with approval of Pope Callixtus III and Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, under the protection of Wartislaw IX, Duke of Pomerania. Teaching paused temporarily during the Protestant Reformation (1527–39).
51 1457 Freiburg (im Breisgau) Germany Teaching started in 1460 (three weeks after the opening of the nearby University of Basel with which it was competing at the time.
52 1459 Basle City of Basel, located in the Holy Roman Empire, part of the Swiss Confederation after 1501 Switzerland Established by Papal bull in 1459, the university started teaching in 1460 and has never interrupted its activities since. The Protestant Reformation triggered a crisis during which the university lost part of the students and faculty to its neighbouring rival in Freiburg-im-Breisgau.
53 1459 Ingolstadt Germany
54 1460 Nantes France
55 1464 Bourges France
56 1465 Pressburg Slovakia
57 1470 Venice Italy
58 1471 Genoa Italy
59 1474 Zaragoza Kingdom of Aragon Spain
60 1476 Mainz Germany
61 1476 Tübingen Germany
62 1477 Uppsala Sweden
63 1479 Copenhagen Denmark
64 1483 Palma, Majorca Kingdom of Majorca Spain
65 1489 Sigüenza Crown of Castile Spain
66 1495 Aberdeen United Kingdom
67 1498 Frankfurt on the Oder Germany
68 1499 Valencia Kingdom of Valencia Spain

See also


  1. 1 2 Rüegg 1992, pp. XIX–XX
  2. Roberts, Rodriguez & Herbst 1996, pp. 256–284
  3. 1 2 3 Rashdall, H. (1895) The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, Vol. 1, p.8–12
  4. Rashdall, H. (1895) The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, Vol. 2, p.4–5
  5. Pierre Riché (1999). Ecoles et enseignement dans le haut moyen age. Editions Picard. p. 176.
  6. Pierre Riché (1999). Ecoles et enseignement dans le haut moyen age. Editions Picard. p. 184.
  7. Adolphus Ballard, James Tait. (2010). British Borough Charters 1216–1307. Cambridge University Press.
  8. "Introduction and history". University of Oxford. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  9. Hilde De-Ridder Symoens (2003). Cambridge University Press, ed. A History of the University in Europe: Universities in the Middle Ages. 1. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-521-54113-8.
  10. Charles Vulliez, « Les bulles constitutives de l'université d'Orléans du pape Clément V (27 janvier 1306) : un évènement ? 700e anniversaire de l'université d'Orléans (1306–2006) », Bulletin de la Société archéologique et historique de l'Orléanais, nouvelle série, vol. XVIII, no 150, octobre 2006, p. 5


Further reading

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