By the 1100s, Europe was experiencing dynamic changes. No longer was everyone preoccupied with the daily struggle to survive. A more reliable food supply and the revival of trade and growth of towns were signs of increased prosperity.
This Italian illustration from about the 1300s shows a lawyer lecturing his students in a medieval school.
As economic and political conditions improved in the High Middle Ages, the need for education expanded. The Church wanted better-educated clergy. Royal rulers also needed literate men for their growing bureaucracies. By acquiring an education, the sons of wealthy townspeople might hope to qualify for high positions in the Church or with royal governments.
By the 1000s, schools had sprung up around the great cathedrals to train the clergy. Some of these cathedral schools evolved into the first universities. They were organized like guilds, with charters to protect the rights of members and set standards for training.
As early as the 900s, Salerno in Italy had a respected medical school. Bologna's university, set up in 1158, became famous for legal studies. Paris and Oxford founded universities in the later 1100s. In the next century, other cities rushed to organize universities. Students often traveled from one university to another to study different subjects.