Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

University of Bologna

Italian university

Click to enlarge

Bologna, the UNIVERSITY OF.—A tradition of the thirteenth century attributed the foundation of this university to Theodosius II (433); but this, legend is now generally rejected. The authentic “Habita”, issued by Frederick Barbarossa in 1158, was at best only an implicit recognition of the existence of the school at Bologna, and the bull of Clement III (1189), though it speaks of “masters and scholars”, has no reference to a university organization. The university, in fact, developed out of the “Schools of the Liberal Arts” which flourished’ at Bologna early in the eleventh century. An important feature of the general education given in these schools was the Dictamen, or Art of Composition which included rules for drawing up briefs and other legal documents. The study of grammar and rhetoric was closely connected with the study of law. At the same time, the political, commercial and intellectual growth of the Lombard cities created a demand for legal instruction. Ravenna, long the home of jurisprudence, lost its prestige through its conflict with the papacy, and Bologna was its successor. Towards the close of the eleventh century Pepo is mentioned in connection with the revived study of the “Digest”; but it was Irnerius who began the study of the entire “Corpus Juris Civilis” and organized the school of law as distinct from the arts school (1100-30). Along with this revival of the Civil Law came the epoch-making compilation of the Camaldolese (or Benedictine) monk, Gratian. The “Decretum Gratiani” (q.v.), published about 1140, became at once the recognized textbook of canon law. Bologna was thus, in its origin, a “jurist” university. The work of Irnerius and Gratian was continued by such men as Odopedus (d. 1300), Joannes Andrea (1270-1348), St. Raymond of Pennafort (1175-1275), and Ricardus Anglicus, who later became Bishop of Chichester (about middle of thirteenth century).

The fame of its professors drew to Bologna students from all parts of Italy and from nearly every country of Europe. It is said that their number at the beginning of the thirteenth century was 10,000. Bologna was known as the “Mater studiorum”, and its motto, “Bononia docet”, was literally true. The foreign (non-Bolognese) students formed two “universities”; that of the Cismontanes and that of the Ultramontanes. The former comprised seventeen “Nations”, the latter, eighteen, including the English. The nations were organized on a plan similar to that of the guilds. Each framed its own statutes, elected its own “Consiliarii,” and held its own meetings. The rector was elected by the students. “The masters, also, were grouped in guilds or colleges. In the examination of candidates for degrees, the authority of the masters was supreme; in other matters the students had full control. In the conflicts that often arose between them and the city, the students enforced their claims by emigrating to other towns—Vicenza (1204), Arezzo (1215), Padua (1222), Sienna (1321). Appeal was sometimes taken to the pope, who as a rule decided in favor of the university. Notable among these papal interventions was the Bull of Honorius III (1217).

Bologna in its earliest organization was a “student” university: professors were hired by the students to give instruction. The lectures were either “ordinary” or “extraordinary”, a distinction which corresponded with that between the more essential and the less essential of the law-texts (Rashdall). Ordinary lectures were reserved for the doctors; the extraordinary might be given by a student as part of his preparation for the baccalaureate. (See Bachelor of Arts.) This classification of teachers survives in the modern German university. At Bologna, no examination was required for the Bachelor’s degree; permission to lecture was granted the student after a five years’ course in law. For the Licentiate, the candidate was obliged to pass a private, and for the Doctorate a public, examination (Conventus, Inceptio). The examinations and the conferring of degrees belonged originally to the masters; but in 1219 Honorius III prescribed that no one should receive the Doctorate without the consent of the Archdeacon of Bologna. In 1292 Nicholas IV decreed that all who were licensed doctors by the Archdeacon of Bologna should have the right, without further examination or approbation, to teach everywhere. These enactments not only enhanced the value of the degree, but also affected the organization of the university. Functions hitherto exercised by private corporations passed into the hands of an official commissioned by public authority, and that authority was ecclesiastical. The degree system of Bologna was henceforth the same as that which had already been established at Paris; and these two schools became the models upon which the later universities were organized.

The development of the law schools at Bologna lead as one result the reduction of the Liberal Artsto a position of secondary importance. On the other hand, two factors in the situation favored the Arts and made possible a new growth in the university, namely, the restoration of the Aristotelean philosophy and the introduction of mathematics from the Arabian schools. The physics and physiology of Aristotle formed the basis of the study of medicine, while mathematics opened the way to astrology, and eventually to astronomy. Among the physicians of note in Bologna were a number of ecclesiastics, one of whom, Nicolaus de Farnham, became (1241) Bishop of Durham. Churchmen were forbidden to study medicine by Honorius III (1219). But there was no regularly organized school of medicine until Thaddeus of Florence began his teaching, about 1260. From that time onward the medical faculty grew in importance. Surgery received special attention; dissection was practiced, and the foundations of modern anatomy were laid by Mundinus (1275-1326). Closely allied with the work in medicine was the study of astrology. A famous astrologist, Cecco d’Ascoli (d. 1327), declared that a physician without astrology would be like an eye without the power of vision. The scientific study of astronomy was founded by the investigations of Novara and his disciple Copernicus (1473-1543). Both medical and mathematical studies were influenced by Arabian scholarship, in particular by that of Avicenna and Averroes. As these were also philosophers, their theories came to be part of the Scholasticism of Bologna, and their authority was scarcely inferior to that of Aristotle.

Theology had long been taught in the monastic schools; but the faculty of theology in the university was established by Innocent VI in 1360. Its chancellor was the Bishop of Bologna, and its doctors depended upon him rather than upon the student-body. The faculty received many privileges from Urban V, Boniface IX, and their successors. The popes, in fact, favored the university in every possible way. Gregory IX and Boniface VIII sent it the Decretals (q.v.); Benedict XIV, various bulls and encyclicals. Among its benefactors were Martin V, Eugene IV, Nicholas V, Paul II, Innocent VIII, Paul III, Pius IV, Clement VIII, Urban VIII, Innocent X, and Clement XII. Gregory XI founded (1372), in connection with the university, the Collegium Gregorianum for poor students of medicine and philosophy. Other colleges with similar scope were established by laymen and ecclesiastics (see list in Moroni). One of the most important was the College of Spain (Casa Spagnuola, or Collegio Maggiore), which owed its existence and endowment to Cardinal Albornoz (1364). The papal legates at Bologna took an active part in the direction of the university and eventually became the supreme authority. In the course of time, also, the student-body lost its control, and the various schools were consolidated in one university organization.

In the development of modern literature and science Bologna took an important part. The famous Cardinal Bessarion, a leader in the Renaissance movement, was legate from 1451 to 1455. Under his influence classical studies flourished in the university, and Humanists like Filelfo (1398-1481) and Guarino were among its professors. To these should be added, in more recent times, the great Mezzofanti (1774-1849). In the natural sciences, especially, Bologna points to a long list of distinguished men: the anatomists Achillini (1463-1512), Vesalius (1514-64), Varoli (1542-75), and Malpighi (1628-94), the botanist Aldrovandi (1522-1607), and the physicist Galvani (1737-98) are among the most illustrious. The number of women who taught at Bologna is also remarkable, including Novella, daughter of Joannes Andrea the jurist, Laura Bassi (1711-78), and Maria Agnesi (1718-99), mathematicians, and Clotilda Tambroni (1758-1817), professor of Greek.

During the Napoleonic wars, the university suffered considerably: chairs were suppressed, and the existence of the entire university was often endangered. The popes, in particular Leo XII, came to its assistance, reorganized the faculties, and provided generously for the continuation of scientific work. Their control, however, ceased when the Papal States were merged in the present Kingdom of Italy.

The university now comprises the faculties of philosophy and letters, mathematics and science, law, and medicine, with schools of pharmacy, agriculture, and engineering. The professors and instructors number 190; the students, 1800. The library, founded in 1605 by Aldrovandi, contains 250,000 volumes. One of the most important institutes connected with the university is the Academy of Science, established in 1690 by the generous Count Marsigli, and reorganized by Pius VIII in 1829.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!