In European history, the Middle Ages, or Medieval period, lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: Antiquity, Medieval period, and Modern period. The Medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, the High, and the Late Middle Ages. The medieval time of history spans a period of more than 700 years, beginning around the year 800. During this time, there were key advances in society, government and religion.
Much positive came from the medieval times, but the period was not without tremendous problems. Population explosions caused poor sanitary conditions which led to the Black Death where nearly half of Europe’s population died. Much enlightenment could be found in the Church, but there was much injustice done in the name of religion. A particularly dark time in Church history was the Inquisition where in a blind quest for heretics, many innocent people were tortured and executed in the name of Christianity.
Overall, the medieval period can be divided into the Dark Ages, the High Middle Ages and the Later Middle Ages, the period which preceded the Renaissance. Much was introduced in this period and while some of the developments which had their birth in this time fell by the wayside and have been forgotten or lost to history, much that we take for granted today has roots during this period of human development. Then came the universities, arts and great architecture.
A university (Latin: “universitas”, “a whole”) is an institution of higher education and research which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects and provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education. The word “university” is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which roughly means “community of teachers and scholars.”
Meanwhile, back in Europe, the early Middle Ages saw a decline of not only Greek literacy but Latin as well. In the face of successive barbarian invasions, the Roman aristocracy abandoned the city for rural estates. Rome’s population decreased and few schools remained open. Some learning was preserved and transmitted in private households and monasteries. Medieval education was modeled on the Roman curriculum of the trivium, consisting of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, and the quadrivium consisting of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (Durant, 1950).
The reign of Charlemagne (768-814) heralded a brief interlude of cultural expansion. Charlemagne himself was only marginally literate; he could read but was never able to learn to write. Still, he patronized the arts and enthusiastically embraced learning. Charlemagne exhorted every cathedral and monastery to establish schools (Luscombe, 1997). The Carolingian “renaissance” did not long outlast Charlemagne’s life time. The establishment of monastery and cathedral schools, however, led to an increasing literacy rate even after the Carolingian dynasty went into decline.

The Coronation of Charlemagne (AD 800)

The 12th and 13th centuries saw the establishment of the earliest medieval universities. Informal schools were established in various regions of Europe, when teachers began to collect students. Universities initially emerged not as physical edifices, but as associations of students who contracted lecturers to teach them. Universities were formalized when they were granted charters. The University of Bologna can trace its origins back to the late 11th century and received its charter in the 12th century. Other early universities established in Europe include the University of Paris in France and Oxford in England. They modeled the structure of schooling after the trade guilds. After five years of study at a university a student might obtain a bachelors degree after passing private and public examination. After three more years of additional study and further public examination, a student might obtain a masters degree. The masters degree entitled a scholar to teach anywhere in Christendom.
The teachers in these schools such as those of those of Chartres, Orleans, and Reims were usually clerics, and the curriculum was generally infused with doctrinal themes and perspectives. Scholars and would-be scholars were expected to delve into the intepretative studies of sacred texts by the church fathers in exercises known as patristic exegesis. However, depending on their different regional locations and the composition of their teachers, the curriculum of cathedral schools tended to vary widely. School with teachers from Spain or who were recipients of the Islamic traditions in education would include mathematics, astronomy and the natural sciences into their teaching. Other schools proceeded in different directions: the school at Orleans offered studies in the classics, while Chartres specialized in mathematics and music.

Some of the earliest institutions of higher education to emerge in the early part of the middle ages were those in eastern Europe: the university at Constatinople was founded in 2 C.E. and others existed during the same period in cities such as Alexandria, Antioch and Athens.

One of the key figures in the rise of the medieval university was Pope Gregory VII. In 1079, he issued a papal decree mandating the creation of cathedral schools that would be responsible for educafting the clergy. This decree ultimately led to the proliferation of educational centers which evolved over time into the universities of medieval Europe. In Italy, the University of Bologna was founded in 1088 while the University of Paris coalesced out of a loose conglomeration of various monastery schools and the center at Notre Dame sometime around 1119. In 1231 under the sponsorship of Robert Sorbon, a theological college was established. Over the centuries this theological college would evolve and emerge as the Sorbonne University of Paris.
In England various different colleges were established in Oxford between 1167-1185, and in 1209 the first college of the University of Cambridge was established. Some of the earliest colleges to have been formed included Balliol College founded in 1260 by John Balliol in Oxford. At Cambridge, Pembroke College was founded by Mary de St. Pol, wife of the Earl of Pembroke in 1347, and Corpus Christi College in 1352.

In the next century, colleges such as King’s College (1441) and Queen’s College (1448) were added to Cambridge University.

University class, (1350s)

The development of universities during the Middle Ages provided and still provides an important center for scholarship and intellectual exchange. At universities scholars from all over Europe would come together as a single student body. Aided by a common tongue, the universities help forge a single intellectual community over the face of the greater part of a continent. Since the Middle Ages, the university has become such an entrenched institution in intellectual development, it is hard to picture the face of scholarship outside of its context. The modern disciplines of the sciences are particularly deeply rooted within this academic hierarchy that was initially developed in the Middle Ages.

In the early Middle Ages, education was offered primarily to the clergy and to a few members of the ruling classes. Prior to the 5th-6th centuries C.E. scholarship and education were put primarily into the service of translating, organizing, copying and codifying of sacred texts, as well as materials from the classical era. Education was conducted primarily in cathedral and monastery schools, or in the private homes of the wealthy. Part of the emergence of cathedral and monastery schools came about through the reforms of Charlemagne. Charlemagne recognized that his empire would require the services of a body of well-educated clerical bureaucrats to survive. His decree and the creation of cathedral schools allowed intelligent boys from humble families to pursue an education that would eventually put them in line for the administrative tasks of the Carolingian empire.

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One response

  1. Sorry Sir. I want to ur area of specification. This is becos am a govt stundent of Abia State Univeersity. And very soon I will submit my project topic. Pls reply me

    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone provided by Airtel Nigeria.

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