c. 1200: Birth of the European University

Europe’s first universities are born in Paris and Bologna around the year 1200 when masters and students form guilds known as universitas magistrorum et scholarium. A few years later, the first English universities evolve in Oxford and Cambridge. By 1300, Europe has 18 universities. By 1500, it has 70.


With the rise of the university, masters of theology assume the role of heresy police from the church. There are about 50 known cases of academically related heresy trials in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.


The first victim is Master Amalric of Bène. Around 1206, he is found guilty of false teaching because of his pantheism. Four years later, he is excommunicated and his followers are burned at the stake outside the gates of Paris.


But the majority of cases convict books and not persons. Most offenders are free to continue their careers if they recant their views and burn the problematic books.