The First Hungarian University: Studium Generale of Pécs

Hungarian universities are one of the oldest in Europe. The first studium generale was established in Pécs in 1367 on the initiative of King Nagy Lajos

The first universities were organized spontaneously in major cities of Western Europe. The oldest university was founded in Bologna in 1088, followed by the universities of Oxford (1167), Salamanca (1134) and Cambridge (1209). The first universities in Central Eastern Europe were established in the midd-14th century, at the initiative of a ruler and with papal consent. The first university in the region was established in Prague in 1348, followed by the university of Krakow (1364) and Vienna (1365). The founding charter of a university was issued by the Pope and this document regulated certain rules, rights and privileges of the universities.

The medieval universities were called studium generale. The traditional academic program typically covered the seven liberal arts: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Furthermore, a student could advance to one of the higher faculties: law, medicine and theology. (Although, only a few universities could teach theology because the popes wanted to control theological studies.) The education at these first universities was conducted in Latin and done by masters.

The founding charter of the first Hungarian university was issued by a decree of Pope Urban V (papacy: 1362-1370) in 1367 at the request of King Nagy Lajos (reign: 1342-1382). The real spiritual father of the university was the Bishop of Pécs, Vilmos Koppenbach (1361-1374), who was also the king’s diplomat and confidant. It is unusual that the university was not established at the royal seat. According to the papal charter, Pécs was particularly suitable for cultivating science – this reputation may have been due to the operation of a Chapter School as well as the activity of the four mendicant monasteries, which paid special attention to education. Another reason for establishing the university here may have been that the territory of the diocese of Pécs was one of the most densely populated areas of the Kingdom of Hungary in the Middle Ages, as a result, the bishop of Pécs had the second largest income after the archbishop of Esztergom.

The University of Pécs was organized based on the model of the University of Bologna. The chancellor of the university was the respective bishop of Pécs, who exercised jurisdiction over the students and professors and awarded the successful students with the title of doctor. Regarding the university faculties to be set up, the papal charter declared the creation of a studium generale, where canon law and civil law would be taught. The pope – like in Krakow and Vienna – did not allow the teaching of theology here either. There is no data on the existence of a medical faculty. The most famous professor at the university was Galvano Bethini de Bononia [Bologna], who came at the invitation of his friend, Bishop Koppenbach. He received his law degree from the prestigious University of Bologna and was one of the greatest canon law experts of his time. He taught in Pécs between 1372 and 1374. The first Hungarian university was so attached to its founder, Bishop Vilmos, that it began to decline rapidly soon after his death. It probably ceased to exist in the 1390s, and it was almost certainly no longer in operation when the second Hungarian university was founded in Óbuda in 1395.