Studies by GDL Vilnius residents in Europe

Vilnius University
DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

GDL inhabitants studied at Vilnius University, as well as in other educational institutions in the country, along with secondary and higher education institutions such as gymnasiums, colleges, seminaries and universities in countries nearby (Poland, Royal Prussia, and the Duchy of Prussia) as well as European countries farther afield (Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, and elsewhere). The dominant direction of movement was from the East to the West. They did not go to, for example Riga, Revel (Tallinn), or further to Scandinavia or England. Most went to study at universities.

More than 80% of the students studied for just one semester and did not receive a bachelor’s degree, which is why it is not worth exaggerating the quality and quantity of knowledge. During the afore-mentioned period approximately 1700 people from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania maybe have studied abroad (which included those who studied in Poland). Around 800 students are recorded in the second half of the 17th century. This is not very much when compared to students from Silesia who studied abroad at European universities, which has been estimated to be more than 1700 from the middle of the 16th century to the beginning of the 18th century. There is also evidence that about 50 students from the GDL had studied at a number of the most important European schools of higher education.


The Traces of Lithuanian Students

Lithuanian Students at Foreign Universities in the 14th-18th Centuries is a list that is currently the only publication that lists the students from the GDL at the afore-mentioned education institutions. It was published only in 1987, though it was prepared already in 1956 and supplemented with additional information in 1961-1962. However the collected data has not been suitably treated, as often the persons, their place of their origin, and their social status has not been identified. This is essential, as the same person often studied at several universities, thus number of students could be exaggerated. This problem cannot be solved without identifying them. And without other data, it is a risk to decide upon the national identity of student by surname or place of origin alone. For example, in 1615 a student was recorded at the Protestant Marburg University as “Cornelius Winholdus Wilnensis Litvanus.” Lithuanian historian P. Reklaitis considered him to be a “Lithuanian noble” (also, he was recorded as attending Basel University in 1616). However he was from a family of Dutch merchants from Vilnius, and most likely there was little chance of him having become Lithuanianized.


Thus the Latin reference “Lithuanus,” or Lithuanian, in matriculation lists was only a sign of the GDL state or territory they were from, and not their nationality. Often it was correct when describing a person with the reference “Polonus,” or Pole: if one wanted to say “Poland,” or “Kingdom of Poland,” it would also include the GDL. There are cases when the same person was recorded or would be recorded differently in different university matriculation lists, in some places saying “Lithuanus” and in others saying “Polonus,” and sometimes even both.

The most important sources for those studying abroad are the matriculation books of schools of higher education in which new students were recorded. However V. Biržiška’s publication doesn’t reflect the matriculation information published. For example, information from the gymnasiums of Gdansk and Torun, data from other various schools of higher education (for example universities in Krakow and Bremen in the 17th-18th centuries) was published in a shortened form. Even the matriculation books that have survived have various chronological gaps (for example, the matriculation books of Krakow University from 1643-1719 have not survived), which is why one can only get a more comprehensive overview of the information by working additionally with the archives and other sources of schools of higher education and the cities they were located in.


For example, the matriculation books of Collegium Hosianum do not have records of the sons of Dr. Sebastijonas Šperkovičius (Eustachiusz Szperkowicz), himself a three-time burgomaster of Vilnius. However from other sources we do know that they studied in 1644-1646 and later, and about 10,000 gold coins were spent for this. In the second half of the 17th century, two sons of advisor J. Juškevičius (Juśkiewicz) studied at Krakow University. In the middle of the 17th century, the son of burgomaster S. Krasovskis (Stefan Krasowski) also finished Krakow University.

Aristocracy of Education


Those from the cities strove to study abroad, as often only studying law, theology or medicine was able to atone for one’s lowly origins and allowed them to achieve a secular or spiritual career, even perhaps nobility, what not to mention a career in their native town and city administrative organs. The best opportunities were had with doctoral degrees. Thus a doctoral degree in theology, law or medicine even allowed average people to take up the prestigious spiritual role of a clerical canon. However one thing is to desire it, and another to be able to. The data shows that there were only about 30% of students from cities that studied abroad, while the other percentage was dominated by the nobility. Between students in Royal Prussia and Warmia, it was the opposite – city inhabitants dominated, comprising up to 90% of the lists. These disproportionate numbers was greatly determined by the different economic power and cultural and social aims of the city inhabitants.

The city inhabitants of Vilnius were some of the most influential in the GDL. Vilnans gathered the greatest capital and made the biggest careers. This is why the students from Vilnius began studying abroad starting from the Middle Ages in places like Krakow University and the University of Königsberg. However the students mentioned in documents from Krakow University and Charles University from 1404 that were “from Vilnius” most often, it seems, were clerics and nobles. There were always a fair number of them in the GDL capital. For example, “Matthew from Vilnius” (Mathias Wylna, de Wylna), who studied at Charles University in 1404 and 1408, was already at the time the Canon of Vilnius, and then became the Bishop of Samogitia, Vilnius and Lutsk. There were a number of other students from Vilnius that were clerics. However some of them could have been from the secular world.


New research on the data collected by Biržiška will add to this. For example G. Zathey claims that 183 students from Vilnius studied at Krakow University in 1610-1642. However an analysis of the source shows that many of them were just from the Vilnius bishopric (a place of a more specific origin is most often not indicated), while those that are shown as being from Vilnius itself (“Vilnensis”) in 1608-1626 are less than 20. Among the former there were also Vilnans, while a part of them were city inhabitants, for example Mikalojus, the son of Vilnius wojt Tomas Bildziukevičius (Tomasz Bildziukewicz) in 1632, and Konstantinas, the son of Dr. Motiejus Letovas (Maciej Lettow), in 1641, among others. Only 12 students were recorded as being from the Vilnius bishopric in Krakow University documents in 1720-1780.

There were about 50 Vilnans that studied at the Gdansk Gymnasium in 1586-1740. Almost all of them were city inhabitants. Many of them were recorded as just “Vilnan” (Lat. Vilna, Vilnensis), however next to some of the names it was written “Lithuanian” (Lat. Lithuanus). Only in the case of Dr. Letovas’ son Konstantinas was it written “Pole-Lithuanian” (Lat. Polono-Lithwanus), because his father had purchased property in Royal Prussia. The descendants of immigrants from Germany and other countries in Vilnius (such as the Gibels, Engelbrechts, Winholds, and Sztrunks in the first half of the 17th century) studied abroad particularly often, even if they later on remained merchants.


There were also city inhabitants that studied at Torun Gymnasium: In 1621-1630 there were 10 from Vilnius, and another 9 from Kaunas, Mogilev, Smolensk, and Slonim. For example, in October 1622 two sons of Vilnan Izaokas Kononowicz were registered there. These Orthodox sons of a member of the elite of the Vilnius city government were accompanied by a pedagogue. This is a rare case, as generally pedagogues only accompanied nobles. In 1630-1656 there were 6 students from Vilnius registered, and 5 from Mogilev and Navahrudak. In the second half of the 17th century there was only one that remained of those that came from Vilnius, and 2 from Kaunas. The 18th century is similar – with 4 persons from Vilnius.

Students from Vilnius studied the arts, medicine, and theology. However just a few received doctoral degrees, for example Stanislovas Leopoldas, the son of burgomaster Aleksandras Romanovičius (Aleksander Romanowicz), received a doctoral degree in medicine in Padua around 1673. From the middle of the 17th century, the number of Vilnius residents studying abroad declined. This was influenced by the economic and cultural decline of cities, which weakened the chances of city inhabitants to make a career. However more Vilnius residents began studying in a Vilnius University that was becoming more secular.


Interesting fact:

Those from the cities strove to study abroad, as often only studying law, theology or medicine was able to atone for one’s lowly origins and allowed them to achieve a secular or spiritual career, even perhaps nobility, what not to mention a career in their native town and city administrative organs. The ones that went to study most often studied in Poland, Royal Prussia, the Duchy of Prussia, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and France.



V. Biržiška, Lietuvos studentai užsienio universitetuose XIVXVIII amžiais, redagavo ir papildė M. Biržiška su A. Šapokos įvadu, Vilnius, 1987; A. Ragauskas, Vilniaus miesto valdantysis elitas XVII a. antrojoje pusėje (16621702 m.), Vilnius, 2002, p. 244–256.

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