Law has been taught in Pavia since 825, when the Holy Roman Emperor Lothair established Pavia as the seat of a High School for students in law from Lombardy, Liguria and Piedmont. By the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Pavia school of law had developed great fame, not least for the very important collection of Lombard and imperial law known as the Expositio ad librum papiensem.
The present University of Pavia was founded in 1361, on the initiative of Galeazzo Visconti, Lord of Milan and Pavia, who, from Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia obtained the establishment of a Studium Generale for the teaching of civil and canon law, philosophy, medicine and the liberal arts. The university has since operated continuously, except for a few brief closures due to wars and epidemic, through Visconti, Sforza, Spanish and Austrian eras, and finally within united Italy, performing the important and delicate function of training the royal, administrative and intellectual elites of Lombardy, while also many students from the rest of the peninsula and the larger Mediterranean and European areas.
The fame of the university was in large part due to the Faculty of Law (reformed extensively under Maria Theresa of Austria, Napoleon and subsequent to Italian unification), which educated future lawyers, judges and notaries, but also those embarking on high-level political and administrative careers.
Among its students, the Faculty of Law thus attracted future cardinals, such as San Carlo Borromeo, playwrights such as Carlo Goldoni, writers of political and legal works including Cesare Beccaria and Carlo Cattaneo, statesmen such as Giuseppe Zanardelli and Ezio Vanoni. Among these many students was Maria Pellegrina Amoretti, the first the first female graduate of the University of Pavia and the first Italian woman to graduate in Law.
The faculty also attracted illustrious professors, particularly in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, also when many students arrived from the countries of northern Europe, in particular Burgundy, Switzerland and Germany. The student registers of these times reveal, for example, the prestigious names of the great Baldo degli Ubaldi, Filippo Decio, Giason del Maino, Jacopo Menocchio and Andrea Alciato, future founder of the Scuola Culta Europea.
The Faculty of Law continued to flourish in the second half of the 1700s and the 1800s. The nineteenth century, in particular, began with the brief but significant teaching periods of figures such as Ugo Foscolo and Gian Domenico Romagnosi, and ended with distinguished scholars and teachers including the Romanist Contardo Ferrini, succeeded by another famous teacher, Pietro Bonfante.
In the twentieth century, thanks mainly to Benvenuto Griziotti, the Department developed the field of financial law, a subject previously little cultivated in Italy. Over the last hundred years the prestige of the department has been nurtured by further illustrious professors, including Pasquale del Giudice, Arrigo Solmi, Pietro Vaccari (historian of the University of Pavia) and Giulio Vismara in the history of law, Rodolfo de Nova in international law, Giuseppe Stolfi in civil law, Oreste Ranelletti, Arnaldo De Valles in administrative law, Pietro Nuvolone in criminal law, Tommaso Mauro in ecclesiastical law, Ferdinando Bona in Roman law, Vittorio Denti in civil procedural law, and Vittorio Grevi in criminal procedure.
Under the reforms of Law no. 240 of 30 December 2010, the former Faculty assumed the name of Department of Law, and in this guise continues its outstanding reputation, with contributions from many scholars succeeding the historic masters.
In recent years, the department has engaged in a series of structural and educational developments, including an increase in the range of programs offered, with particular enrichment of subjects in the areas of international and comparative law, law of the European Union, labour law, relationships between law and other sciences, all in relation to cross-languages and information technologies.
In the 2020-2021 academic year, the department launched a new three-year Bachelor’s program in Law on prevention and safety, alongside the more traditional five-year single-cycle Master’s program in Law and the three-year Bachelor’s in Legal Services Sciences.
For many years, thanks to the activation of the Erasmus program, many students from Pavia have spent study periods of various lengths in other prestigious European universities, while even greater numbers of foreign students flock to Pavia, recalling the attendance from “ultramontane” nations in long-ago periods, and bringing closer the achievement a single “Europe of culture”.
In other countries, the departments of legal studies are designated by terms that explicitly indicate their primary subject: law (French droit, Spanish derecho, German Recht), thus in France the faculté de droit, in countries of anglo-saxon tradition the “Department of Law / Law School / Faculty of Law”, and in Spain the facultad de derecho. This is not the case in Italy, where the “dipartimento di giurisprudenza” takes its name from the term that collectively designates the set of disciplines dealing with law.
The Italian noun giurisprudenza derives from the Latin iurisprudentia, itself from iuris, genitive of ius (law) and prudentia, which in this context means "science", "knowledge". The term designates not only all legal sciences (private, criminal law, etc.), but also the activity through which judges produced rulings (giurisprudenza in syntagms such as "giurisprudenza della Corta di Cassazione”). Moreover, “giurisprudenza” is not fully equivalent to etymologically similar terms in other languages, differing in particular from English “jurisprudence”, which instead designates instead the philosophy and general theory of law.