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This is a list of the oldest extant universities in the world. To be included in this table, an educational institution must satisfy a traditional definition of university at the time of its founding. Chronologically it must have been founded before 1500 in Europe or be the oldest university derived from the medieval European model in a region. It must also be still in operation, with institutional continuity retained throughout its history, and so some early universities, most notably the University of Paris which was suspended from 1793-1896, are excluded.
The word university is derived from the Latin: universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars". The term was coined by the Italian University of Bologna, which, with a traditional founding date of 1088, is considered the first university. The origin of many medieval universities can be traced to the Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools which appear as early as the 6th century and were run for hundreds of years as such before their formal establishment as university in the high medieval period.
Other institutions of higher learning, like those of ancient Greece, ancient Rome, Byzantium, ancient China, ancient India, the Arab world, are not included in this list due to their cultural, historical and structural dissimilarities from the medieval European university from which the modern university evolved.
The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars". The term was coined by the Italian University of Bologna, which, with a traditional founding date of 1088, is considered the first university. The origin of many medieval universities can be traced to the Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools which appear as early as the 6th century and were run for hundreds of years as such before their formal establishment as university in the high medieval period.
The university as an institution was historically rooted in that medieval society which it in turn influenced and shaped:
The university is a European institution; indeed, it is the European institution par excellence. There are various reasons for this assertion. As a community of teachers and taught, accorded certain rights, such as administrative autonomy and the determination and realization of curricula (courses of study) and of the objectives of research as well as the award of publicly recognized degrees, it is a creation of medieval Europe, which was the Europe of papal Christianity...
No other European institution has spread over the entire world in the way in which the traditional form of the European university has done. The degrees awarded by European universities – the bachelor's degree, the licentiate, the master's degree, and the doctorate – have been adopted in the most diverse societies throughout the world. The four medieval faculties of artes variously called philosophy, letters, arts, arts and sciences, and humanities – law, medicine, and theology have survived and have been supplemented by numerous disciplines, particularly the social sciences and technological studies, but they remain none the less at the heart of universities throughout the world...Moreover, the university is a European institution because it has, in its social role, performed certain functions for all European societies. It has developed and transmitted scientific and scholarly knowledge and the methods of cultivating that knowledge which has arisen from and formed part of the common European intellectual tradition.
From the early modern period onwards, the university gradually spread from the medieval Latin west across the globe, eventually replacing all other higher-learning institutions and becoming the preeminent institution for higher education everywhere. This process occurred in the following chronological order:
The earliest and only universities before the colonization of the Americas were established and run in medieval Europe.
|Year||Contemporaneous location||Current location||Name||Notes|
|1088||Commune of Bologna||Bologna, Italy||University of Bologna||The first university in the sense of a higher-learning, degree-awarding institute, the word university having been coined at its foundation.|
|1167 (1254)||Kingdom of England||Oxford, United Kingdom||University of Oxford||"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." 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").|
|1209 (1231)||Kingdom of England||Cambridge, United Kingdom||University of Cambridge||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.|
|1218 (probably older)||Kingdom of León||Salamanca, Spain||University of Salamanca||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.|
|1222 (probably older)||Commune of Padua||Padua, Italy||University of Padua||Founded by scholars and professors after leaving Bologna.|
|1224||City of Naples||Naples, Italy||University of Naples Federico II||The first public university, founded by Frederick II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.|
|1229||Kingdom of France||Toulouse, France||University of Toulouse|
|1240||Republic of Siena||Siena, Italy||University of Siena||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.|
|1241||Kingdom of Castile, Crown of Castile||Valladolid, Spain||University of Valladolid||One hypothesis is that its foundation is the result of the transfer of Palencia General Survey between 1208 and 1241 by Alfonso VIII, king of Castile, and Bishop Tello Téllez de Meneses.|
|1289||Kingdom of France||Montpellier, France||University of Montpellier||The university is considerably older than its formal founding date, associated with a bull issued by Pope Nicholas IV in 1289, combining all the long-existing schools into a university.|
|1290||Papal States||Macerata, Italy||University of Macerata||The University of Macerata (Italian: Università degli Studi di Macerata) is a university located in Macerata, Marche, Italy. It was founded in 1290 and is organized into 7 faculties.|
|1290|| Kingdom of Portugal|
|Coimbra, Portugal||University of Coimbra||Begun its existence in Lisbon with the name Studium Generale (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.|
|1293||Crown of Castile||Alcalá de Henares, Spain||University of Alcalá||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.|
|1303||Papal States||Rome, Italy||La Sapienza University of Rome||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".|
|1308||Commune of Perugia||Perugia, Italy||University of Perugia||Attested by the Bull of Pope Clement V.|
|1321||Republic of Florence||Florence, Italy||University of Florence||The University of Florence evolved from the Studium Generale, which was established by the Florentine Republic in 1321. The Studium was recognized by Pope Clement VI in 1349.|
|1336||Papal States||Camerino, Italy||University of Camerino||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 has 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.|
|1343||Republic of Pisa||Pisa, Italy||University of Pisa||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.|
|1348||Kingdom of Bohemia||Prague, Czech Republic||Charles University of Prague||Three of four faculties closed in 1419, joined with Jesuit university and renamed Charles-Ferdinand University in 1652, split into German and Czech part in 1882, Czech branch closed during Nazi occupation (1939–1945), German branch closed in 1945.|
|1361||House of Visconti||Pavia, Italy||University of Pavia||Closed for short periods during the Italian Wars, Napoleonic wars, and Revolutions of 1848.|
|1364||Kingdom of Poland||Kraków, Poland||Jagiellonian University||Founded by Casimir the Great. Development stalled after his death, re-established from 1400 onwards. |
Closed during the German occupation of Poland 1939-1945.Re-opened after the occupation.
|1365||Holy Roman Empire||Vienna, Austria||University of Vienna||Modelled on the University of Paris.|
|1367||Kingdom of Hungary||Pécs, Hungary||University of Pécs|
|1386||Holy Roman Empire||Heidelberg, Germany||Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg||Founded by Rupert I, Elector Palatine. The oldest in Germany.|
|1391||House of Este||Ferrara, Italy||University of Ferrara||Founded by Marquis Alberto d'Este.|
|1404||Duchy of Savoy||Turin, Italy||University of Turin||Founded by the prince "Louis of Piedmont" during the reign of Amadeus VIII.|
|1409||Holy Roman Empire||Leipzig, Germany||University of Leipzig||Founded when German-speaking staff left Prague due to the Jan Hus crisis.|
|1409||County of Provence||Aix-en-Provence, France||University of Aix-en-Provence||Founded by the Count of Provence Louis II december 9, 1409.|
|1413||Kingdom of Scotland||St Andrews, UK||University of St Andrews||Founded by a Papal Bull|
|1419||Holy Roman Empire||Rostock, Germany||University of Rostock||During the Reformation, "the Catholic university of Rostock closed altogether and the closure was long enough to make the refounded body feel a new institution".|
|1434||Kingdom of Sicily||Catania, Italy||University of Catania||The oldest in Sicily. Founded by Alfonso V of Aragon.|
|1450||Crown of Aragon||Barcelona, Spain||University of Barcelona||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.|
|1451||Kingdom of Scotland||Glasgow, UK||University of Glasgow||Founded by a Papal Bull|
|1456||Holy Roman Empire||Greifswald, Germany||University of Greifswald||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).|
|1457||Holy Roman Empire||Freiburg, Germany||Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg||Temporarily transferred to Constance in 1686–98 and 1713–15.|
|1460||Holy Roman Empire||Basel, Switzerland||University of Basel||Founded in 1460 (Schola Basiliensis), the University of Basel is the oldest university in Switzerland. |
|1472||Holy Roman Empire||Munich, Germany||Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich||Founded in Ingolstadt in 1459, transferred to Landshut in 1800, moved to Munich in 1826.|
|1477||Holy Roman Empire||Tübingen, Germany||Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen|
|1477||Kalmar Union||Uppsala, Sweden||Uppsala University||Uppsala's bull, which granted the university its corporate rights, was issued by Pope Sixtus IV in 1477, and established a number of provisions. Among the most important of these was that the university was officially given the same freedoms and privileges as the University of Bologna.|
|1479||Kalmar Union||Copenhagen, Denmark||University of Copenhagen|
|1481||Republic of Genoa||Genoa, Italy||University of Genoa||Founded in 1481 (Genuense Athenaeum).|
|1495||Kingdom of Scotland||Aberdeen, UK||University of Aberdeen||King's College was founded by Papal Bull in 1495 and Marischal College in 1593; they merged in 1860|
|1495||Kingdom of Galicia||Santiago de Compostela, Spain||University of Santiago de Compostela||The university traces its roots to 1495, when a school was opened in Santiago. In 1504, Pope Julius II approved the foundation of a university in Santiago, and the bull for its creation was granted by Clement VII in 1526.|
|1499||Crown of Aragon||Valencia, Spain||University of Valencia|
The majority of European countries had universities by 1500. After 1500, universities began to spread to other countries all over the world:
No one today would dispute the fact that universities, in the sense in which the term is now generally understood, were a creation of the Middle Ages, appearing for the first time between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It is no doubt true that other civilizations, prior to, or wholly alien to, the medieval West, such as the Roman Empire, Byzantium, Islam, or China, were familiar with forms of higher education which a number of historians, for the sake of convenience, have sometimes described as universities.Yet a closer look makes it plain that the institutional reality was altogether different and, no matter what has been said on the subject, there is no real link such as would justify us in associating them with medieval universities in the West. Until there is definite proof to the contrary, these latter must be regarded as the sole source of the model which gradually spread through the whole of Europe and then to the whole world. We are therefore concerned with what is indisputably an original institution, which can only be defined in terms of a historical analysis of its emrgence and its mode of operation in concrete circumstances.
Thus the university, as a form of social organization, was peculiar to medieval Europe. Later, it was exported to all parts of the world, including the Muslim East; and it has remained with us down to the present day. But back in the Middle Ages, outside of Europe, there was nothing anything quite like it anywhere.
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