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University of Rome

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The University of Rome must be distinguished from the "Studium Generale apud Curiam", established by Innocent IV in 1244-5 at Lyons for the convenience of the members of the pontifical Court and of the persons who flocked from all over the world to the Holy See. The Studium comprised the faculties of theology and of canon and civil law. Clerics and priests could not only attend the lectures in the latter branch, but were allowed to teach it, despite the prohibition of Honorius III. The Studium accompanied the popes on all their journeys and was thus transferred to Avignon. In accordance with the Decree of the Council of Vienne, the Studium Curiæ was the first, owing to the generosity of John XXII, to establish chairs of Arabic, Hebrew and Chaldaic; there was, moreover, a professor of Armenian. At Avignon professorships of medicine were also instituted. During the Schism both the popes at Avignon and those at Rome had a Studium Generale; but in the former theology alone was taught. In the fifteenth century the Studium Generale was abolished in favour of the University of Rome. Previously King Charles of Anjou, out of gratitude for his election as senator of Rome, had decided, 14 October, 1265, to erect a Studium Generale "tam utriusque juris quam artium" (of civil and canon law and of arts), but his plan was not carried into execution. The real founder of the University of Rome was Boniface VIII (Bull "In supremæ" of 20 April, 1303), who established it in order that Rome, the recipient of so many Divine favours, might become the fruitful mother of science. The chief source of revenue of the university was the tribute which Tivoli and Rispampano paid the City of Rome. It is worthy of note that a school of law already existed in Rome in the thirteenth century.

The transference of the papal Court to Avignon did not at first injure the Studium Generale. John XXII took a deep interest in it, but limited the granting of degrees to the two faculties of law. The Vicar of Rome was to preside at the examinations; to obtain a degree the Candidate had to study six years (five for canon law) and profess the same for two years. There exist documents from the year 1369 showing that degrees were then granted. But later, in the days of anarchy that overtook the city, the Studium gradually decayed. In 1363 the statutes were reformed; among other changes, provision was made for obtaining foreign professors, who would be independent of the various factions in the city. In 1370, however, or a little later, the Studium was entirely closed. Towards the end of the century the Roman Commune tried to restore the university by offering very large salaries to the professors. Innocent VII in 1406 gave it new statutes and arranged with Manuel Chrysoloras to accept the chair of Greek literature. But the death of Innocent and the subsequent political and ecclesiastical troubles frustrated this plan. The real restorer of the university was Eugene IV (10 October 1431). He drew up regulations for the liberty and immunity of the professors and students, and increased the revenues by adding to them the duties imposed on wines imported from abroad. For the purpose of government, four reformatores, Roman citizens, were appointed to assist the rector. The position of chancellor was given to the cardinal-camerlengo. The university was located near the Church of Sant' Eustachio, where it had first been established. The first college for poor students was the Collegium Capranica (1458 see ROMAN COLLEGES); but the later plan of establishing another was not realized. The Studium of law soon flourished; but the theological faculty, on account of the competition of the Studium Curiæ, was not so successful. Under Nicholas V the classical studies developed rapidly owing to the labours of Lorenzo Valla, Poggio Bracciolini, Bruni, Francesco Filelfo, Pomponio Leto, and the Greeks, Lascaris, Chalcocondylas, and Musuros. But the process against the Academia Romana under Paul II reacted on the university. Sixtus IV intended to suppress it and reduced the salaries of the professors. Better days returned with Alexander VI, who began the present building of the Sapienza, which was remodelled in the seventeenth century. It seems, however, that it was Leo X who suppressed the Studium Curiæ in favour of the University of Rome. In 1514 the latter had 88 professors: 4 of theology, 11 of canon law, 20 of civil law, 15 of medicine, the remainder teaching philosophy, mathematics, rhetoric, grammar, and botany. Lectures were given even on feast days. The number of students was very small, being frequently less than the number of professors. The blame is to be laid on the latter, whose other official and professional duties interfered with their lectures. Leo X established in the Campidoglio a chair of Roman history, the lectures to be open to the public; the first to fill the position was Evangelista Maddaleni Capodiferro. Leo also granted a new constitution to the university, obliged the professors to hold a "circle" with the students after their lectures, forbade them to exercise any other profession, and imposed a penalty for lectures omitted. He appointed three cardinals protectors of the university.

As a result of the occurrences of 1527, the university remained closed during the entire pontificate of Clement VII. Paul III immediately after his accession reopened it, obtaining distinguished professors, such as Lainez, S.J., for theology, Faber, S.J., for Scripture, Copernicus for astronomy, and Accorambono for medicine. It is from this date that the university assumed the name of the Sapienza (a name used previously elsewhere, as at Perugia). In 1539 the professors numbered 24; 2 of theology, 8 of canon and civil law, 5 of medicine (one teaching anatomy and one botany), 5 of philosophy, 3 of Latin, and 1 of Greek literature. Julius III entrusted the administration to a congregation of cardinals. Pius V enlarged the botanical garden of medical herbs previously established near the Vatican by Nicholas V, and allowed the bodies of condemned infidels to be used for the purposes of anatomical study. He also established chairs of Hebrew and mathematics. A mineralogical museum (the "Metalloteca" which was after abandoned) was founded in the Vatican. Under Gregory XIII adjunct chairs with salary attached were established for the young doctors of Rome, who might later become ordinary professors. In that and the following centuries the professors of theology were generally the procurators general of the various religious orders. Sixtus V granted 22,000 scudi to extinguish the debt encumbering the university. He gave to the college of consistorial advocates the exclusive right of electing the rector who, until then, had been elected by the professors and the students, and he instituted a congregation of cardinals, "Pro Universitate Studii Romani". At the end of the sixteenth century the university began to decline, especially in the faculties of theology, philosophy, and literature. This was due in part to the formidable concurrence of the Jesuits in their Collegio Romano, where the flower of the intellect of the Society was engaged in teaching. Moreover, Plato was the favoured master in the Sapienza, while Aristotle was more generally followed elsewhere. Among the distinguished professors in this century besides those already mentioned were Tommaso de Vio, O.P., later the celebrated Cardinal Gaetano; Domenico Jacovazzi; Felice Peretti (Sixtus V); Marco Antonio Muret, professor of law and elegant Latinist; Bartolomeo Eustacchio, the famous anatomist.

In the seventeenth century the decline was rapid. Many of the professors had the privilege of lecturing only when they pleased; most of them were foreigners. The medical school alone continued to prosper owing to the labours of Cesalpino and Lancisi. The Academia dei Lincei promoted the study of the natural sciences and was honoured by Benedettino Castelli, the disciple and friend of Galilei, and Andrea Argoli; later Vito Giordani the mathematician attracted many students. Only two jurisconsults of note are found during this century, Farinacci and Gravina. Giuseppe Carpani brought the students together at his home to familiarize them with the practice of law. The most important event of the century occurred in 1660, under Alexander VII (1655-67), when the university buildings begun by Alexander VI (1492-1503) were completed. Alexander VII established moreover the university library (the Alexandrine Library) by obtaining from the Clerks Regular Minors of Urbania, whom he compensated by giving them permanently the chair of ethics, the printed books from the library of the Dukes of Urbino. In addition he founded six new chairs, among which was that of controversial church history, first filled by the Portuguese Francesco Macedo. Innocent XI erected a fine anatomical hall. The most celebrated and relatively speaking most frequented schools were those of the Oriental languages. Under Innocent XII a move was made to suppress the university and assign the buildings to the Piarists for the free education of young boys. Fortunately the plan was not only not executed but resulted in a radical reform and the introduction (1700) of a new regime which benefited in particular the faculty of law.

Clement XI purchased (1703) with his private funds some fields on the Janiculum, where he established a botanical garden, which soon became the most celebrated in Europe through the labours of the brothers Trionfetti. Benedict XIV, who had been a professor and rector of the university (1706-19), promulgated in 1744 new regulations concerning especially the vacations, the order of examinations, and the selection of professors, which was to be by competitive examination, whereas from the time of Innocent XII they were ordinarily appointed by the pope. Another Edict (1748) dealt with the rights and duties of the professors and established chairs of chemistry, botany, and experimental physics. The following chairs were then in existence: 6 of jurisprudence; 6 of medicine; 15 of arts (including theology). In 1778 the sciences were divided into five classes: theology, 5 chairs; jurisprudence, 6; medicine, 9; philosophy and arts, 5; languages (Latin, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac). But a rector of that time deplored the inertia of the professors and the laziness of the students. Pius VII (1804) founded the mineralogical and natural history museum, and in 1806 a chair of veterinary science. From 1809 till 1813 the French system was in force. Leo XIII in 1824 established the Congregation of Studies, and gave it control of the universities in the pontifical state. Many professors at Rome as at Bologna had to resign their chairs on account of their political opinions, which resulted in the university failing to keep pace with the universities in other states, for instance, the chairs of public and commercial law were not founded till 1848; and that of political economy still later. Among the distinguished professors of the eighteenth century were the jurists, Fagnano, Renazzi (also the historian of the university), Petrocchi; the professors of medicine, Baglivi Tozzi, Pascoli; the mathematician, Quartaroni; the Syrian scholar, Assemani; and Menzini and Fontanini the littérateurs; in the nineteenth century the Abbate Tortolini and Chelini, mathematicians. In 1870 there were 6 professors of theology, 8 of law, 2 of notarial art, 13 of medicine, 4 of pharmacy, 11 of surgery, 3 of veterinary science, 15 of philosophy and mathematics, 8 of Italian and classical philology, and 4 of Oriental languages. Under the new Government all the professors who refused to take the oath of allegiance were dismissed, among those refusing being the entire theological staff. These alone then formed the pontifical university, which came to an end in 1876.

The university is now under the control of the Italian Government and is called the Royal University. Its present state is as follows: philosophy and letters, chairs ordinary, 23, extraordinary, 3; tutors, 13; physics and mathematics, chairs ordinary, 23, extraordinary, 7; tutors, 16; law, chairs ordinary, 16; tutors, 8; medicine, chairs ordinary, 20, extraordinary, 2; tutors, 15; philosophy and letters, professors, 33; docents, 33; physics and mathematics, professors, 34 (with 4 assistants); docents, 41; law professors, 17; docents, 36; medicine, professors, 35; docents, 98. Annexed to the university are schools of philosophy, literature, and natural science, archæology, medieval and modern art, Oriental languages, pharmacy, and applied engineering. There are also institutes of pedagogy, chemistry, physics, mineralogy, zoology, botany, anatomy, anthropology, geology, physiology, the astronomical observatory of the Campidoglio, many medical institutes and clinics, and finally the Alexandrine library. The number of students in 1909-10 was 3686. Owing to the growth of the university after 1870, the building of the Sapienza was insufficient, consequently the schools of physical and natural sciences had to be located elsewhere.


See the Annuario della Reale Università degli studi di Roma (1870-71 to 1909-10) RENAZZI, Storia dell' Università degli Studi di Roma (Rome, 1803-6); CARAFA, De Gymnasio Romano eiusque professoribus ab Urbe condita (Rome, 1751); DENIFLE, Die Universitäten des Mittelalters, I (Berlin, 1885); Relazione e notizie intorno alla Regia Università di Roma (Rome, 1873).

About this page

APA citation. Benigni, U. (1912). University of Rome. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Benigni, Umberto. "University of Rome." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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