A university for Vienna
The ancient universities of Bologna, Paris, Prague and Oxford gained a new rival: from 1365 the newly-founded University of Vienna, the oldest university in the German-speaking countries, offered the opportunity to study in Vienna.
The charter contained the ‘mission statement’ of the University of Vienna.
Thus we are obliged by Almighty God and all human creatures in this world, to establish and endow such an institution in our lands, so that firstly our Christian faith be spread and propagated all over the world, then that the common weal, justice and human reason be increased … and that both the learned and the ignorant man be educated in human reason and true knowledge through God’s teachings.
Duke Rudolf IV founded the University of Vienna in 1365. It was a matter of prestige for the duke, who realized that a university could have immense importance for his land. The University of Vienna was intended to invest its founder with glory, just as the University of Paris reflected the splendour of the French kings. It was intended as a rival to the university at Prague, which attracted many Austrian students, and to stem the flow of students to foreign universities and strengthen the independence of Rudolf’s territories. The University of Prague had been founded in 1348 by Emperor Charles IV, Rudolf’s father-in-law, with whom he vied for prestige.
The university was divided into faculties – the liberal arts (later the Philosophy Faculty), jurisprudence and medicine – and ‘nations’: an Austrian, Saxon, Bohemian and a Hungarian nation, which were however later altered and extended. This division into nations was not abolished until the nineteenth century.
Rudolf IV died on 27 July 1365, before his comprehensive plans for the university and the creation of a university precinct could be realized. Although funds were lacking, teaching started. Initially rooms and staff were shared with the Latin school of St Stephen, thus enabling the university’s very existence in its early years.
In 1384 the Pope finally gave his consent to the establishment of a theological faculty, thus allowing it to develop full university status with four faculties and facilitating its subsequent rise.
Duke Albrecht III, who was interested in natural philosophy, founded a separate college (Collegium Ducale) with masters of the arts and doctors of theology together with a number of positions for jurists and physicians. The regulations of his charter for the university from 1384 which confirmed and added to the deed of endowment issued by Rudolf, formed the basis of the university’s constitution until 1849.
Until the fourteenth century, the model for the University of Vienna was the Sorbonne in Paris, from where scholars were also invited to teach. Italian physicians who had been summoned to Vienna as personal physicians to the Habsburgs taught at the medical faculty. Galeazzo da Santa Sofia, a physician from Padua, introduced autopsies to Vienna, a practice that had long been common in other centres of learning, for the purpose of teaching anatomy. The first of these autopsies took place in 1404.