May 20, 2011

The University of Constantinople, Founded In 425 A.D.

The University of Constantinople, sometimes known as the University of the Palace Hall of Magnaura (Πανδιδακτήριον της Μαγναύρας), in the Roman-Byzantine Empire was founded in 425 under the name of Pandidakterion (Πανδιδακτήριον). A few scholars have gone so far as calling it the first university in the world, although that status is more usually given to University of Bologna, depending on ones definition of "university", and considering the University of Bologna was the first to use the term Universitas. The school at Constantinople had been an academic institution for many years before it was called a university; the original institution was founded in the 5th century by the emperor Theodosius II. The university included schools of medicine, philosophy and law. At the time various economic schools, colleges, polytechnics, libraries and fine arts academies were also open in the city.


Byzantine society was highly educated by the standards of its time, with high levels of literacy, compared to the rest of the world. Significantly it possessed a secular education system that was a continuation of the academies of classical antiquity. Primary education was widely available, even at village level and uniquely in that society for both sexes. It was in this context that the secular University of Constantinople can be understood. Further it was not unique in the empire as for many centuries, before the Muslim conquest, similar institutions operated in such major provinces as Antioch and Alexandria.

The original school was founded in 425 by Emperor Theodosius II with 31 chairs for law, philosophy, medicine, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, rhetoric and other subjects, 15 to Latin and 16 to Greek. The university existed until the 15th century.

The main content of higher education for most students was rhetoric, philosophy and law with the aim of producing competent, learned personnel to staff the bureaucratic postings of state and church. In this sense the university was the secular equivalent of the Theological Schools. The university maintained an active philosophical tradition of Platonism and Aristotelianism, with the former being the longest unbroken Platonic school, running for close to two millennia until the 15th century.

The School of Magnaura was founded in the 9th century and in the 11th new schools of philosophy and law were established at the Capitol School. The period of decline began with the Latin conquest of 1204 although the university survived as a non-secular institution under Church management until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and was re-established by Mehmet II as the first higher education institution in Istanbul under the new name of the city.