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This Week In History

The University of Constantinople. February 27, 425 AD.

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Byzantine society was generally a quite educated one. Primary education was widely available, sometimes even at village level and uniquely in that era for both sexes. Female participation in culture was high and scholarship was fostered not only in Constantinople but also in institutions operated in such major cities as Antioch and Alexandria.

Aelia Eudocia, Theodosius´ wife, had been raised and educated in traditional and classical sophist education from Athens, but her goal was to blend classical pagan education with Christianity. This was her way of using her power as Empress to honor teachers and education, something that was very important to her in her life.

The original school was founded in 425 by Emperor Theodosius II at the urging of his wife Eudocia, 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 both 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 but did not last very long, 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 Istanbul University, which survives to this day as the first higher education institution following the conquest of the City.

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