Nation (university)

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Student nations or simply nations (Latin: natio meaning "being born"[1][2]) are regional corporations of students at a university. Once widespread across Europe in medieval times, they are now largely restricted to the older universities of Sweden and Finland, in part because of the violent conflicts between the nations in university towns in other countries. Medieval universities were large metropolitan centres with students from many different domestic and foreign regions. Students who were born within the same region usually spoke the same language, expected to be ruled by their own familiar laws, and therefore joined together to form the nations. The most similar comparison in the Anglo-world to the nation system is in the collegiate system of older British universities or fraternities at American universities; however, both of these comparisons are imperfect. In Portugal and Brazil, there are fraternities called Repúblicas, but this has nothing to do with the natio original concept of nations (they are created for lodgement purposes).

Examples in medieval universities

University of Paris

In the University of Paris there were the French, Normans, Picards, and the English, and later the Alemannian nation. Jean Gerson was twice elected procurator for the French natio (i.e. the French-born students at the university) in 1383 and 1384, while studying theology at Paris. Also at Paris, Germanic speakers were grouped into a single nation.[3][4]

The various nations in Paris often quarreled with one another; Jacques de Vitry wrote of the students:

"They affirmed that the English were drunkards and had tails; the sons of France proud, effeminate and carefully adorned like women. They said that the Germans were furious and obscene at their feasts; the Normans, vain and boastful; the Poitevins, traitors and always adventurers. The Burgundians they considered vulgar and stupid. The Bretons were reputed to be fickle and changeable, and were often reproached for the death of Arthur. The Lombards were called avaricious, vicious and cowardly; the Romans, seditious, turbulent and slanderous; the Sicilians, tyrannical and cruel; the inhabitants of Brabant, men of blood, incendiaries, brigands and ravishers; the Flemish, fickle, prodigal, gluttonous, yielding as butter, and slothful. After such insults from words they often came to blows."[5]

University of Oxford

The students who attended the medieval university in Oxford arranged themselves into two nations who quarrelled constantly. These two nations were called the australes and the boreales. The australes originated from south of the river Trent, and was the more powerful of the two nations. The Welsh were also considered part of the australes, along with scholars from the Romance lands. The boreales came mainly from the north of England and Scotland. [6]

The nations at Oxford were eventually disbanded in 1274 in an effort to maintain peace in the town. [7] This measure was largely unsuccessful and conflicts between the nations continued. One such as on 29 April 1388 when Welsh students, who were according to the chronicler Henry Knighton semper inquieti, fought with their northern counterparts. The following year the boreales ran amok in the town chanting 'war, war, war, slay, slay, slay the Welsh dogs' killing and looting as they went, before rounding up the remaining Welsh students and urinating on them as they kissed the town's gateposts 'goodbye'.[8]

University of Leipzig

There were also smaller subdivisions, even cities, like Natio Misnensium[9] for students from Meissen at the University of Leipzig, established in 1409, where other nationes were those of the Saxonum, Bavarorum, and Polonorum.[10]

University of Prague

A similar division of students had been adopted at the Charles University in Prague, where from its opening in 1347 the studium generale was divided among Bohemian, Bavarian, Saxon, and Polish nations. When there was not a "natio" of a given nationality, students were assigned to another nation.

University of Bologna

In medieval Bologna there existed three separate universities. Two for the study of law, one for students from Italy (but not Bologna) the universitas citramontanorum and another for students from outside the peninsula the universitas ultramontanorum. The final school was for the study of arts and medicine universitas artisarum et medicorum. [11] The ultramontane university was divided into fourteen different nations as early as 1265, such as the Gauls, Picards, Burgundians, Norman, Catalan, Hungarian, English, Gascon et al. whereas the citramontane university was split into three nations; the Romans, Tuscans and Lombards. [12]

Students entering the Natio Germanica Bononiae (15th century)

The most important and powerful of the ultramontane University of Bologna was the German nation. One of its most famous members was Nicolaus Copernicus who, in 1496, enrolled into the Natio Germanorum (Natio of the Germans).[13][14][15] a privileged university organization that included German-speaking students from many regions of Europe.[16][17]

University of Padua

Students in the University of Padua were divided in 22 nations, which referred to the different territories ruled by the Republic of Venice, to the biggest states of Italy, and to the main states of Europe. Nations were: German (also called Alemannian), Bohemian, Hungarian, Provençal, Burgundian, Spanish, Polish, English, Scottish, Venetian, Overseas (Venetian Greek Islands), Lombard (East Lombardy and West Veneto), Trevisan (North and East Veneto), Friulian, Dalmatian, Milanese, Roman, Sicilian, Anconitan, Tuscan, Piedmontese and Genoan.[18]


In Finland, student nations (Finnish: osakunnat) exist at the University of Helsinki and Aalto University School of Science and Technology, where they are legally sanctioned and established in the mid-1600s and 1800s, respectively. Named after regions in Finland, students had to join according to their own geographical roots before membership became voluntary in 1937. Today, students can usually choose to join any nation. Both, Finnish and Swedish speaking nations exist. Organizations termed nations exist also at other universities, although they are legally considered associations. In Finland, student nations co-exist with a wide range of other student organizations, such as Student Unions.


Nations exist in some of the ancient universities in Scotland, although their significance has largely been forgotten. Nations never existed at the University of Edinburgh, and were abolished at St Andrews following discussions at the Royal Commission on the Universities of Scotland, which later led to the Universities (Scotland) Acts.[19][20] Student nations continued into modern times at the University of Aberdeen and the University of Glasgow for the specific purpose of electing a Rector of the university.


When Uppsala University was founded in 1477, the system of 'nationes' was copied from Sorbonne in Paris where a Scandinavian nation had existed. At the Swedish universities of Uppsala and Lund, a system of student nations (nationer) remains, and until June 30, 2010 students were required to enroll in a nation. Historically, also Tartu University, founded in 1632 in then Swedish Estonia had nations. It is now voluntary, but still most of the students choose to remain members. The nations are named on regional lines, where the nations in Lund take their names from provinces and areas in southern Sweden, and those in Uppsala take their names from all over Sweden, except for the Scanian lands, the traditional catchment area for Lund, which was founded in 1666 to provide higher education for the youth in the newly conquered areas. (Until 2010, there was a "Skånelandens nation" in Uppsala, but it had no activity, and only existed as a legal fiction for those students who did not wish to take part in the activities of the other nations.)

Traditionally, students were required to be members of the nations whose area one came from, but with one exception (Södermanlands-Nerikes nation at Uppsala, though international students are an exception to this), this requirement is now voided. The nations are in charge of the kinds of social activities which are at other universities normally handled by the student unions, such as bars, clubs, theatre companies, orchestras, sports societies, and also some housing.

See also


  1. "Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, nātĭo". Retrieved 2015-02-22. 
  2. Harper, Douglas (November 2001). "Nation". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  3. "Miscellanea Scotica: Memoirs of the ancient alliance between France and ... - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-02-22. 
  4. "Historical Tales of the Wars of Scotland, and of the Border Raids, Forays ... - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-02-22. 
  5. "Medieval Sourcebook: Jacques de Vitry: Life of the Students at Paris". Retrieved 2015-03-09.  line feed character in |title= at position 22 (help)
  6. "Mobs: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry". Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  7. "Rasdhall's Universities of Europe, Vol 2". Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  8. >"The medieval student". Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  9. "Abhandlungen der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig ... - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-02-22. 
  10. "Abhandlungen der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig ... - Google Books". Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  11. "A history of the universities in Europe, Volume 1 - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  12. "Rashdall's Universities of Europe, Volume 1 - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  13. "Documenta Copernicana: Urkunden, Akten und Nachrichten : Texte und Übersetzungen - Nicolaus Copernicus - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-02-22. 
  14. "The Sleepwalkers - Arthur Koestler - Google Books". 2006-07-07. Retrieved 2015-02-22. 
  15. "The Life of Copernicus (1473-1543) - Pierre Gassendi, Oliver Thill - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-02-22. 
  16. Alexandre Koyre (1973). The Astronomical Revolution. Cornell University Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-486-27095-5. Retrieved 22 February 2015. Although great importance has frequently been ascribed to this fact, it does not by any means imply that Copernicus ever considered himself to be a German. The 'nationes' of a medieval university had nothing in common with nations in the modern sense of the word. Students who were natives of Prussia and Silesia were automatically described as belonging to the Natio Germanorum. Furthmore, at Bologna, this was the 'privileged' nation 
  17. Lonnie Johnson (1996). Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends. Oxford University Press. p. 23. ISBN 0-19-510071-9. Retrieved 22 February 2015. It is important to recognize, however, that the medieval Latin concept of natio, or "nation," referred to the community of feudal lords both in Germany and elsewhere, not to "the people" in the nineteenth-century democratic or nationalistic sense of the word. 
  18. "Archivio antico - Archivio Generale di Ateneo - Università degli Studi di Padova". Retrieved 2015-02-22. 
  19. [1] Archived June 5, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  20. "Full text of "Officers of the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen, 1593-1860"". Retrieved 2013-10-14.