Medieval universities brought prestige and profit to the cities in which they were located. Local merchants provided students with housing, food, clothing, and entertainment. But students could also create problems for university communities. The priest Jacques de Vitry complained, “They were always fighting and engaging in scuffles.”

Student Life

University life offered few comforts. A bell wakened students at about 5 A.M. for prayers. Students then attended classes until 10 A.M., when they had their first meal of the day.

Afternoon classes continued until 5 P.M. Students usually ate a light supper and then studied until bedtime. Since the first medieval universities did not have permanent buildings, classes were held in rented rooms or in the choir loft of a church. Students sat for hours on hard benches as the teacher dictated and then explained Latin texts. Students were expected to memorize what they heard.

A program of study covered the seven liberal arts: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, grammar, rhetoric, and logic. There were separate programs for the further study of law, medicine, and theology. To show mastery of a subject, students took an oral exam. Earning a degree as a bachelor of arts took between three and six years. Only after several more years of study could a man qualify to become a master of arts and a teacher. Theology was the longest course of study.

They tell me that, unlike everyone else, you get out of bed before the first bell sounds in order to study, that you are the first into the classroom and the last to leave it. And when you get back home you spend the whole day going over what you were taught in your lessons … Many people make themselves permanently ill through excessive study; some of them die and others … waste away day after day.

—Boncomagno da Sigma

A map shows medieval universities.
Image Long Description

Most medieval universities were supported by a church or monastery.

Analyze Maps

Locate: (a) Paris, (b) Rome, (c) London. Which area had the greatest number of universities? What factors do you think contributed to this?

Women and Education

During the Middle Ages, women were expected to pursue their “natural” gifts at home—raising children, managing the household, and doing needlework. Only men were expected to seek an education or write books. Women were not allowed to attend universities. This exclusion seriously affected their lives.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments