Charts & Graphs

The Prospective Student’s Guide to Medieval Universities

A handbook for time travelers.

  • Tapestry of turreted buildings next to water with people in front

    Schola Medica Salernitana

    est. c. 850

    Best for

    aspiring doctors and surgeons

    Worst for

    bookish types

    Work alongside renowned physicians at the only accredited medical program in southern Italy, but don’t expect any formal classroom instruction or a robust arts curriculum.

    Notable Scholars

    Gilles de Corbeil, French royal physician and poet
    Constantine the African, prolific translator of Arabic medical texts

  • Library room with a large globe in the center

    University of Bologna

    est. 1088

    Best for

    aspiring lawyers and politicians

    Worst for

    the squeamish

    Practice politics by joining one of the many powerful student organizations. Fair warning: you may overhear anatomy students talking about human dissection over lunch.

    Notable Scholars

    Saint Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury and high-profile martyr
    Several popes, including Constantine the African and Innocent IX

  • Limestone building with a fountain in front

    University of Paris

    est. 1150

    Best for

    aesthetes and xenophiles

    Worst for

    aspiring doctors and civil attorneys

    Receive a premier education in logic, theology, or the arts as part of a vibrant international student body. The school lags behind its peers in medicine and the law—especially civil law, the study of which Pope Honorius III prohibited in 1219.

    Notable Scholars

    Saint Thomas Aquinas, philosopher and father of Thomism
    Peter Abelard, philosopher, poet, and inventor of the concept of limbo

  • Building at the end of a courtyard seen through an ornate archway

    University of al-Qarawiyin

    est. 859

    Best for

    connoisseurs of architecture

    Worst for


    The ornately decorated al-Qarawiyin madrassa in Fès was founded by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri of Kairouan, but women won’t have any luck gaining entry there—or to any other medieval university.

    Notable Scholars

    Pope Sylvester II, first French pope; might have introduced Arabic numerals to Europe
    Ibn Khaldun, author of the definitive history of Muslim North Africa

  • Aerial photograph of a green quadrangle surrounded by buildings

    University of Oxford

    est. 1096

    Best for

    aspiring power brokers

    Worst for

    the faint of heart

    Located midway between Northampton and Southampton, the university is a seat of cultural, ecclesiastical, and political influence. One drawback: hostile locals, who lynched two students in 1209 and killed sixty-three scholars in the Saint Scholastica Day riot of 1355.

    Notable Scholars

    Roger Bacon, or Doctor Mirabilis, who proposed a flying machine before Leonardo da Vinci
    William of Ockham, or Doctor Invincibilis, creator of Occam’s razor

  • A cluster of buildings in a desert

    University of Sankore

    est. c. 1100

    Best for

    perpetual students

    Worst for

    self-directed students

    Stay insulated from the hardships of medieval life for as long as possible—on average, scholars at Timbuktu’s Sankore madrassa take a decade to complete their studies. Expect mandatory coursework in philosophy, Islamic law, and Arabic grammar; students also need to memorize the Quran.

    Notable Scholars

    Ahmed Baba, legal scholar and author of sixty books
    Mohammed Bagayogo, renowned lecturer and professor