Upon opening the University of Mainz in 1477, the Archbishop of Mainz, Elector and Chancellor of the German nation, Diether von Isenburg had successfully turned his predecessor’s dream into a reality. Founding the university meant that he was keeping the spirit of the times – at that point almost all of the larger territorial states had already founded their own regional universities. In addition to Theology, Medicine and Church and Roman Law, the seven "free arts" of Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectics, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music were also taught.

Established as a renowned university within just 40 yearsThe University of Mainz developed very well: within the first few decades, the number of students rose to 200 and by 1508 the university had already built up an excellent reputation (Petrus Ravenna). However, as the quick succession of attempts at reform in 1523, 1535 and 1541 reflect, not everything at the university was perfect and it soon experienced its first crisis, which was mainly caused by a lack of money. The Reformation also took place during this period, leaving its mark on Mainz.

The Archbishop of Mainz had several goals in mind when he decided to open a Jesuit college in 1561: Comprehensive educational initiatives were intended to aid the Catholic Counter-Reformation and to help revive and stabilize the university. This latter goal succeeded not only for the area of Theology but for Medicine as well. In fact, this measure was so effective that the university ended up needing a new building. Between 1615 and 1618. a special building was built especially for the university, the Domus Universitatis, where the Journalistic Seminar and the Institute for European History are located today.

Like other universities in Europe, Mainz experienced a significant decline in the number of students as a result of the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648). When Swedish troops occupied the city, members of the university abandoned the city and continued teaching "in exile," in cities like Cologne. It took the university a long time to recover once the war was finally over.

Strong Economic Foundation

Following the abolishment of the Jesuit order in 1773, the College of Mainz was disbanded that same year. As a result, the university and its bylaws had to be reformed once again. In 1781, the Mainz University Fund was established, which for the first time created a secure economic foundation for the university. Another important reform was the expansion of the disciplines offered: various areas of History were taught in a new Faculty of Historical Statistics, as well as Political Science and Statistics. The Faculty of ‘Cameralism’ was also established, where students studied subjects such as Applied Mathematics, Botany and Veterinary Studies for Livestock.. Of course, the curriculum also continued to include Theology and Medicine. This wide range of subjects attracted up to 700 students over the following few years. The Enlightenment was an important influence on the university during this period. It was around this time that Georg Forster was employed as the University Librarian in Mainz – these days he is one of the most famous scholars to have studied at the old university in Mainz.

The French Revolution also left its mark on the city of Mainz. In the wake of the Revolution, the first Republic on German soil was founded in 1792. As a result of the wars and unrest, as well as the conquest and recapture of the city, teaching at the University of Mainz finally ceased. The Faculty of Medicine held on for the longest, continuing to award doctorates until 1818. However, they too held their last lectures a mere five years later. Nevertheless, the Mainz University Fund continued to exist, as did the Mainz "Accouchement," a school for midwives that was founded in 1784. This meant that a little of the university tradition was preserved until 1946, when the university reopened. A priest seminary also remained open. In the meantime, authorities continued to discuss re-establishing the, however their plans never managed to be brought to life due to a lack of funds.

Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

On May 15, 1946, the college resumed its teaching activities under the new name of "Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz." A total of 2,088 students were enrolled in the opening semester, and for the first time female students were also allowed to enroll. Courses in the Natural Sciences began in the winter semester of 1946/47, which led to the number of students enrolled at the university to climb to 4,205. By reopening the university, the French military government was fulfilling its plan to help to educate the Germans in a "new spirit". It was also the first university in their newly-founded state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The university was located in a group of former barracks, which enabled it to present itself as a campus university. However, he campus was also a reasonable distance away from the center of town. In order to make sure the university plays an important role in the city and the lives of its residents, various institutes are located in the center of town and the university organizes many events there, such as lectures and the science fair, which has been held since 2002.

In the following decades, the University of Mainz continued to grow. The increase in the number of students greatly benefited the university as it meant it could expand its range of course which in turn attracted even more students. Along with other aspects, the general course of studies, the international summer school and the numerous international partnerships, especially with French universities, reflect the aims which were set out by the citizens of Mainz and the French military government when they decided to reopen the university. However, the role of theologians, the name of the university and many of street names on the campus forge links to the "old" university. In this way, the Johannes Gutenberg University draws on many fine and honored traditions, which also signify an obligation that is set forth in its mission statement.