Universität WienAn Historical Tour of the University of Vienna

Archiv der Universität Wien



During the reign of Emperor Franz II (I) the University of Vienna deteriorated until it was no longer a very important institution from the scholarly point of view. Its principle task was to train useful subjects who would do their duty in the service of church and state. The government viewed with suspicion the new intellectual movements that were developing in German universities. There the notions of idealism, liberalism and constitutionalism were widespread amongst both students and professors, and even censorship failed to keep these developments out of Austria. The attitude of the students and some of the teachers in Vienna was determined more and more by ideas of freedom and national identity. Dissatisfaction with the political system in general, and conditions of study in particular, grew in the course of the 1840s, when an economic crisis throughout Europe undermined the old order. In the suburbs of Vienna poverty and hunger were widespread, and the lower middle class, to whom most Viennese students belonged at this time, was threatened with being reduced to the proletariat. The University was producing more graduates than there were openings for academics. The student body and free-thinking citizens had long believed that the government was incapable of solving these serious problems.

The Paris Revolution of February 1848 sent a signal through the whole of Europe. In Vienna the students became the driving force behind the revolutionary movement. A petition bearing the students' demands for a constitution and freedom of the press was handed to the Emperor on 12th March, 1848. A few days later there were clashes with the armed forces, and the Academic Legion was organised under the auspices of the civilian National Guard. In forcing the resignation of Metternich and obtaining royal agreement to a constitution the March Revolution was victorious. And in May the Academic Legion won the day against conservative and moderate liberal forces with its "Storm Petition" (15th May) and "Day of Barricades" (26th May) which followed it. Because of its commitment to solving the urgent social problems the legionaries were held in high esteem amongst the workers and artisans. But the legion stood aside when the civilian National Guard opened fire on demonstrating mineworkers during the "Battle of the Prater" on 23rd August. Now the Vienna Revolution was already on the defensive. Teaching in the University had already been suspended in May; many non-Viennese students had departed, and the number of Academic Legionaries had fallen sharply. After the murder of the Minister of War, Latour, by an uncontrolled mob on 6th October 1848, the Imperial Army under Prince Windischgrätz struck hard against the Vienna uprising. The hopes of the Vienna revolutionaries for support from the Hungarian Revolutionary Army were in vain; on 31st October the Imperial forces took control of Vienna.

The victors exercised rapid and bloody justice. The Academic Legion was disbanded, and many of its members fled to Hungary to join the Revolutionary Army. Students who had been imprisoned had to reckon with forced recruitment into the army in Italy. The University buildings were occupied by the armed forces. Teaching could only begin again in March 1849, and then in various buildings scattered widely over the city, since the government wished to avoid a concentration of students in a single neighbourhood. Of the student demands of 1848 only freedom of teaching and learning survived under the neo-absolutism. In the course of the great educational reform that took place under Minister Count Leo von Thun-Hohenstein the University was reorganised on German lines and the Philosophical Faculty was transformed into a genuine teaching and research Faculty. Finally, in 1867, the basic law of the state was changed to include Article 17, which is still valid today: "Science and its teaching are free."

Lit.: Wolfgang Häusler, Von der Massenarmut zur Arbeiterbewegung. Demokratie und soziale Frage in der Wiener Revolution von 1848 (Wien 1979); ¾ Thomas Maisel, Alma Mater auf den Barrikaden. Die Universität Wien im Revolutionsjahr 1848 (Wien 1998); ¾ Juliane Mikoletzky, "- um der Rettungs der Freiheit willen!" Das Jahr 1848 und die Folgen am k. k. polytechnischen Institut in Wien (Wien 1998).


The University of Vienna in March 18

Academic Legionaries are seen marching from the gate of the university building: they still wear top hats in place of the later more characteristic legionaries' caps. (Title page from Die Universitšt, Archive of the University of Vienna)


Barricade at the old Toll House (Postgasse-Fleischmarkt), 26th May 1848

This was a barricade near to the (old) university. (Lithograph by J. Heiche, in the Archive of the University of Vienna)