Symbols of independence
LMU’s history goes back over 500 years, and its list of official insignia is long. It includes the Rector’s gold chain of office, matriculation registers and even scepters. Most of these testify to the University’s independent legal status.
The halberd, a combination of spear and battle-axe, is a fearsome weapon: The spike and the axe-blade are each honed to a lethal edge, and the whips attached to its fasces emphasize its offensive purpose. It was meant to signify the power to punish, but was probably never used as such. It was probably displayed during court sessions to underline the tribunal’s legal status, says Dr. Claudius Stein of the University Archive. In cooperation with legal historian Professor Hans-Georg Hermann, Stein has been investigating the symbolic nature of this particular insignia, as well as its function and the story of how it ended up at LMU (see box below).
Its role as an emblem of the University’s legal status as an independent jurisdiction encapsulates what transforms an object into an insignia. The term normally implies not only a representational but also a certain material value – as in the case of a crown or a scepter. But matriculation registers – of which the University Archive possesses 200, covering five centuries – and of course the University Seal are also classified as insignia.
The matriculation register of 1472, delicately decorated and elaborately tooled, includes a painted miniature (das Schwurblatt) on which immatriculated students swore fealty to the University: “Whether student or professor, only those whose names were recorded in these books – and had sworn the oath – were recognized as members of the University as a legal corporation,” Claudius Stein explains.
Dignity decreed – at a price
The most important of the University’s insignia that is still in regular use is the Rector’s Chain of Office. A replica of the original is worn at official events, such as the annual celebration of Founder’s Day in June, by the President of LMU. The real thing is safely stored in the strongroom of the University Archive. It became one of the University’s official insignia during the reign of King Ludwig I, and it signals a renewed emphasis on tradition which meant a great deal to the monarch. “The ancient seals were reinstated, while the compulsory uniform worn by faculty members was abolished – and the King decreed that the Rector should wear a chain of office,” says Dr. Katharina Weigand at the LMU Archive, an expert on the life of Ludwig I. Of course, that does not mean that the monarch presented the University with such a status symbol: The University had to stump up the cash. “That is quite typical for Ludwig I. He was all for the revival of ancient traditions, as long as it didn’t cost the monarchy anything. Any ensuing costs had to be borne by the institutions themselves.”
Ludwig I also permitted LMU’s two scepters – one assigned to the Faculty of Arts, the other to the three „professional“ Faculties of Theology, Law and Medicine – to be publicly displayed in solemn processions and at academic festivals. “At many universities the Rector also carried a scepter,” says Claudius Stein, “so we wondered why LMU just has the two Faculty scepters.” The puzzle was solved in the course of a conference held at the Archive last February, which was devoted entirely to insignia. An examination of account books dating from the University’s years in Ingolstadt, undertaken in the course of an unrelated research project, revealed that the scepter that signified the three senior Faculties must also have served as a symbol of the Rector’s authority.
Melted down, for reasons of liquidity
Some of the University’s insignia, as well some of the precious Cimelien from the University’s Treasury, no longer exist. This is largely the result of the actions of King Max I. Joseph, the father of Ludwig I. Max I. Joseph was intent on extending the State’s influence over higher education, a policy which was at odds with the large degree of legal autonomy traditionally enjoyed by the universities. Not only did he see to it that the University‘s Seal was destroyed, and replaced by the official seal of Bavarian State, he also appropriated many valuable examples of the art of the gold- and silversmiths from the LMU’s collections and had them meted down with a view to improving Bavaria’s parlous financial position. It was also intended to demonstrate that the State was now master of the University’s accumulated material and immaterial assets. The University’s tableware, goblets and other drinking vessels (and generous quantities of wine) were part and parcel of academic festivals. But when the collection was sold by auction, the tradition of such akademische Gastereien inevitably died – due to drought.
From table-top highlight to insignia: the Golden Ship
Perhaps LMU’s most remarkable insignia – and a real treasure in its own right – escaped being consigned to the smelting furnace. It is a drinking vessel crafted in the form of a carefully detailed sailing vessel made by Caspar Hentz in Augsburg in the last decade of the 16th century. We believe that the ship owes its survival to its originality and craftsmanship, and to the historical significance of its donor, Claudius Stein explains. For an inscription on the flag at the top of the main mast informs us that the later Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II donated the work to his alma mater in the year 1594. It is actually an especially elaborate table-top decoration and not an insignia at all, Stein points out. “But in the year 1830, when Founder’s Day was celebrated for the first time, the Golden Ship was displayed in a prominent position during the speech given by the Rector. This established a tradition, such that the Ship has effectively taken on the character of an insignia.”
It is not always easy to draw a clear distinction between the functions of insignia and symbols. This is exemplified by a further recent acquisition: A banner made by female members of the Bavarian royal family in the revolutionary year of 1848, calling on students to remember their duty of loyalty to the King. The banner was severely during the upheavals of that year, and the passage of time has not improved its condition. But it displays a unique combination of the German national colors – black, red and gold, albeit in the wrong order – and the emblem of Bavaria. “This combination reflects the view of German national unity held by Ludwig I. As King of Bavaria, he regarded a unified German State as a threat to Bavarian sovereignty, but he nevertheless acknowledged the cultural unity of the German nation.”
Even conserving this flag in its present state will be a complex and expensive undertaking. The University Archive therefore welcomes contributions from all those interested in preserving LMU‘s important collection of historical insignia.
The peripatetic halberd
The halberd is first mentioned in the year 1774 – when the University was still domiciled in Ingolstadt. In 1881, it was presented to the Bavarian National Museum on permanent loan. But in 1942, when the Rector of the University of Rome La Sapienza was scheduled to visit Munich, the University demanded it back. The halberd incorporates a distinctive bundle of rods, which evokes the fascis that had been the symbol of order in Ancient Rome, signifying the authority of the city’s magistrates. Most probably, the University’s then Führer-Rektor, Walther Wüst, intended to impress his guest from Fascist Italy by showing him the piece – for the term ‘fascism’ is itself directly derived from the Latin word for bundle.
Stowed in the cellar of the Munich’s Residenz, the halberd survived the war years undamaged and then passed to the agency responsible for the management of the Bavarian State’s palaces, gardens and lakes. It was returned to LMU in 1986 and housed in the Faculty Cloakroom. In 2016 the halberd was finally consigned to the care of the University Archive.