Master of Arts

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The title magister artium , also liberalium artium magister, was the academic degree that students received in the Middle Ages after studying artes liberales , the seven liberal arts . These were

After successfully completing this art , which represented the basic sciences at that time, the now graduate had the right as a Magister regens to teach the younger students the trivium . So he had roughly the task of today's university assistant .

Canon of the Seven Arts

In ancient Greece the seven subjects were already named, but did not yet form a canon . The four mathematical subjects were named for the first time in Plato's Politeia as those subjects which, in addition to philosophy, essentially lead to the knowledge of reason in the training of the “ideal statesman” .

Encyclopaedically , they only dealt with Varro (1st century BC) in the Disciplinae , which also dealt with medicine and architecture, and Cicero . Seneca brought them into the counting that is still common today. a. taken over by Martianus Capella and sung about as wedding gifts in the didactic poem “Of the marriage of Mercury and philology”. Cassiodorus and Isidore of Seville ( Etymologiae ) carried out their teaching material further . As usual at medieval universities, Greek authors were also presented, for example for the grammar Donatus , for the rhetoric Rhetorica ad Herrenium , for the arithmetic and music the two institutions of Boëthius and for the dialectic his secondary literature on the Organon of Aristotle .

Development of the master’s degree

The instruction in the seven arts stood as a preparatory course between elementary instruction - reading and writing with first Latin lessons , arithmetic and singing - and the actual study of the sciences, among which theology was in the foreground in the early Middle Ages . The curriculum of Artes was imparted in the monastery schools and cathedral schools as well as by "free Masters" and in municipal schools.

When the universities emerged, they were divided into four faculties divided, of which the Faculty of Arts ( Facultas Artium ) was responsible for the liberal arts and became the forerunner of the Faculty of Arts. With the main faculties of theology , law and medicine , it was integrated into the Studium generale .

As an academic degree, the artist faculty awarded the title of baccalaureus artium after an exam and, based on this, the magister artium after the second exam . The license to teach ( licentia docendi ) in the liberal arts was partly to be acquired as part of the bachelor's degree, but only in full with the master's degree. From the 15th century, the doctor ( Doctor philosophiae ) took its place.

The Magistri artium (“teachers of the arts”) included philosophical texts from new translations by Aristotle and his Arabic commentators in the previous curriculum during the scholastic period . On the other hand, rhetoric and music took a back seat, as did grammar, unless they were continued as a kind of linguistic logic. On the other hand, dialectics became more important , which was developed into a study of physics and metaphysics with the mathematical and scientific Artes (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy) . In addition, there were courses on ethics , economics and politics as “practical philosophy” .

In their lectures and internships, the magistri thus had to represent a subject matter that was quite clearly delimited in the early Middle Ages, but later under the influence of Aristotelian philosophy experienced a strong expansion towards physics. The subjects of the trivium lost some of their importance, as did the magistri’s teaching authorization from the 15th century.

In the transition from Renaissance humanism in the 15th and 16th centuries, the model of the Studia humanitatis emerged , which was less based on a canon of subjects than on the classic educational goals of Cicero . The Artes were reformed again, also with regard to the educational goals in school and private lessons. The subjects of the trivium became more “classical” and enriched with Greek poets , while in philosophy the practical application and the study of history came to the fore.


  • Gunter E. Grimm: Literature and scholarship in Germany: Studies on the change in their relationship from humanism to the early enlightenment. Walter de Gruyter, 1983, ISBN 978-3-11-093136-5
  • Jürgen Miethke: Studying at medieval universities. Chances and risks. Collected Essays. Brill, Leiden 2004, ISBN 978-90-04-13833-9