• Natural Law at the Universities of Altdorf, Bamberg, Erlangen, Ingolstadt/Landshut/München and Würzburg in the 18th and 19th centuries

    Ingolstadt and Würzburg

    The University of Ingolstadt was founded in 1459 by the Wittelsbach Duke of Bavaria, Ludwig IX. Until the reorganization of the German territories at the beginning of the 19th century and the formation of the Bavarian kingdom, the University of Ingolstadt remained the only university of the Bavarian territory (Landesuniversität). In Würzburg an abortive attempt to found a university was made already in 1402 by Bishop Johann I von Egloffstein, the first in Germany by an ecclesiastical prince. Bishop Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn had more success in 1575 by expanding the gymnasium that his predecessor Friedrich von Wirsberg had instituted.

    The two universities were similar in some respects, both being academia catholica and representatives of post-Tridentine Catholicism. They were also connected through constitutional and personal links. Thus the 1566 Ingolstadt statutes were a model for the foundation of Würzburg. And the lawyer Johann Adam Ickstatt and his pupil Johann Georg Weishaupt taught at both universities. In Würzburg, Ickstatt taught Ius publicum et Ius naturae for ten years before moving to Ingolstadt in 1746, where he taught Ius publicum, naturae et gentium et Ius oeconomico generale and masterminded the reform of the university. Still, the universities developed differently during the 17th and 18th centuries, and this presumably had an effect on how natural law was received. At Ingolstadt - after an existential crisis during the middle of the 16th century - the newly founded Societas Jesu took over main parts of the university, and although Ingolstadt never became an entirely Jesuit university, it became a symbol of the counter-reformation and lost its South German preeminence to Salzburg and Würzburg. Although the Jesuit dominance ended in the middle of the 18th century, Ickstatt and especially his pupil Johann Georg Lori were facing opposition when trying to introduce new textbooks and compendia written by Protestant authors. At Würzburg University, on the other hand, already Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn tried to limit the Jesuit influence, and with the election of the imperial vice chancellor (Reichsvizekanzler) Friedrich Karl von Schönborn to the see of Würzburg in 1729 the green light was given for the establishment of natural law as a teaching subject. Schönborn, who was keen to modernize his territory, immediately began to reform the Academia Julia. For the faculty of law this meant the introduction of several new subjects, such as Jus publicum, Jus feudale et praxos and Jus naturae et gentium. The last, it seems, was mainly regarded as a propaedeutic subject for the Jus publicum and later for legal training in general. Schönborn admitted Lutheran and Reformed students, and when he offered Johann Adam Ickstatt the new chair in Ius Naturae in 1731 (15 years earlier than the Ingolstadt chair), Ickstatt was free to use the latest textbooks for his teachings, most of them written by Protestant authors.

    Concerning the sources relating to the University of Ingolstadt the situation is the following. In 1800 the university was first relocated to Landshut and then – only 26 years later - to Munich. As a result most of the sources concerning Ingolstadt are preserved at the university archives of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University, which is the legal successor of the University of Ingolstadt. For example, all lecture timetables from 1777 onwards and a printed list (starting in 1472) including all doctoral candidates and their dissertationtopics are available there. Some earlier lecture timetables can be found at the Bavarian State Library. Additionally the papers of the Bavarian authorities are preserved at the Bavarian State Archives, and here we find curricula for all faculties as well as drafts thereof and lecture timetables with comments.

    Regarding Würzburg, the Urkundenbuch (1882) by Franz Xaver von Wegele is of special interest as it preserved many documents from the university history which were lost during WW II. Wegele for example edited a list (Kurzes Verzeichnis dessen, was an der Universität unentgeltlich gelehrt wird) showing all courses, including courses in Naturae et gentium jus, which were free of fees in 1734. The lecture timetables from 1785/86 onwards are available at the Würzburg university library. Another important source of information until the middle of the 19th century is Friedrich Anton Leopold Reuß’ collection of original documents. The volume concerning the faculty of law contains documents ranging from the end of the 16th century to the middle of the 19th century, including dissertations, princely orders, bibliographies for exam revisions, etc. A similar volume concerning the faculty of arts, includes a list of publications of the faculty members.


    Altdorf, Erlangen and Bamberg

    Altdorf. The so called “Academia Norica”, founded by the City of Nuremberg in 1575 as a gymnasium illustre in the nearby small town of Altdorf, received university privileges in 1622. It was one of three universities in the Holy Roman Empire – besides the Universities of Cologne and Straßbourg– founded and maintained by an Imperial city.  Due to its location, Altdorf held an exceptional position in the educational landscape of the Empire until the early eighteenth century: it was the only Protestant University in South-East Germany, and it attracted many Protestant students from the Habsburg territories, such as Bohemia and Silesia. The Faculty of Law in particular enjoyed a distinguished reputation. Georg Andreas Will, Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, wrote in his history of the University, published in 1795, that the chair of natural law and the law of nations had been installed in the Faculty of Law (in 1757). In his opinion this was a mistake, as natural law already had been taught in addition to Ethics and Politics as parts of Moral Philosophy. The lecture timetables, which have survived for the period 1624 to 1809, when the University of Altdorf was closed, confirm that the professor of moral philosophy, Christian Gottlieb Schwarz, had offered lectures in natural law regularly from 1709 into the 1750s. In fact natural law had been taught in both faculties since the end of the 17th century, starting with lectures on Grotius’ De jure belli ac pacis by the lawyer Johann Christoph Wagenseil in 1679.  Although from 1709 till the middle of the 18th century the Faculty of Law was lacking lessons in natural law , it now became  part of the public lessons (collegia publica/collegia ordinaria),  while lectures on natural law in the Faculty of Philosophy remained additional to the ordinary curroculum (lectiones extraordinariae).

    Regarding the sources for Altdorf, the main part is preserved at the Erlangen-Nürnberg University Library and at the State Archive in Nuremberg. The material retained at the City Library of Nuremberg is also interesting: Here one can find the literary remains of several Altdorf scholars, such as the natural law professor Johann Christian Siebenkees and the professor of philosophy and history Georg Andreas Will (1727-1798). Wills’ papers include some 8.000 letters, and his library, the Bibliotheca Norica Williana, bequeathed to the City Library six years before his death in 1792, contains 15.500 prints, 2.400 manuscripts and 6.000 letters, inter alia an almost complete collection of Altdorf dissertations. Lecture notes may be found in these collections.

    Erlangen. The University of Erlangen may in some respects be regarded as successor to the University of Altdorf. Altdorf’s declining significance in the second half of the 18th century is presumably associated with the foundation of the more modern university at Erlangen in 1743. Margrave Friedrich of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, intending to provide higher education and training for his future civil servants as well as to further the reputation of his reign, established this new institution of learning in his secondary residence.  In doing so he followed the example of the reform universities of Halle and Göttingen. In Erlangen jus naturale was usually taught by lawyers, though as part of their second professorship at the Faculty of Philosophy. Around the middle of the 19th century, ius naturale disappeared from the timetables of the Faculty of Philosophy and merged into the Philosophy of Right, taught at the Faculty of Law.

    Research on the history of the University of Erlangen can be based on extensive source material preserved at the University Archive, the University Library, and the State Archives in Nuremberg and Bamberg. The lecture timetables have been preserved for the entire period of relevance to the natural law project. Of great use are two recently completed projects at the University of Erlangen:  A catalogue of all professors who taught there from 1743 to 1960, including their biographies and publication lists; and a register of all graduations from 1743 to 1885, based on prints, library catalogues and archival material. The University Archive holds a large number of unprinted dissertations, as only a small proportion of graduation theses actually appeared in print. 


    Bamberg. In 1647/48 Prince-Bishop Melchior Otto Voigt von Salzburg (1642-1653) enhanced the “Collegium Ernestinum” to an Academy. The “Academia Ottoniana Bambergensis“ consisted of a Faculty of Theology and a Faculty of Philosophy and was run by the Societas Jesu. Only in 1735 was a Faculty of Law added by Friedrich Karl von Schönborn, Bishop of Würzburg and Bamberg, who had also been responsible for the university reforms in Würzburg. The Faculty of Law existed until 1803, when the University of Bamberg was closed because of the secularization of the bishopric. In contrast to the University of Würzburg no chair of natural law was established at Bamberg. But as early as 1735 Alexander Hammer, highest-ranking law professor, was instructed to include “Ius naturae et gentium” in his private lessons. Until the middle of the 18th century, natural law was usually taught by the professor who also taught public law. Later Ius naturae was combined with Institutiones as both disciplines served as basis for higher studies in law. In the beginning Ius naturae et gentium was not favoured by the students, who argued that their fathers had not visited such lectures. But the Bishop’s government insisted. During their own education most of the Bamberg law teachers had also visited protestant universities (Göttingen, Marburg, Gießen, Jena, Leipzig, Halle and Altdorf).

    Concerning the textbooks, Schönborn instructed the professors to base the public lectures on natural law on Johann Gottlieb Heineccius. After his reign, the teaching of natural law was primarily based on Samuel Pufendorf (1772/73-1776/77), Gottfried Achenwall (1777/78-1786/87), Ludwig Julius Friedrich Höpfner (since 1787/88) and Gottlieb Hufeland (since 1797/98).

    The Bamberg law faculty lecture lists from 1756/57 onwards are still extant, with small gaps that can be filled by using the rich Bamberg archival material. Especially for the early years of the law faculty the instructions by the prince bishop to the university teachers are very useful. Apart from the teachers’ names they show us the subjects taught as well as the textbooks that the lecturers were supposed to use.

  • Director

    Diethelm Klippel
    Universität Bayreuth
    Rechts- und Wirtschafts-
    wissenschaftliche Fakultät
    Gebäude B 9
    95440 Bayreuth




    Katharina Beiergrößlein
    Iris von Dorn
    Universität Bayreuth
    Universitätsstraße 30
    95447 Bayreuth


    Universität Bayreuth
    Rechts- und Wirtschafts-
    wissenschaftliche Fakultät
    Gebäude B 9
    95440 Bayreuth

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