In traditional accounts of European universities, the period around 1800 is seen as one in which a decadent institution was given new life, but in the form of two rival traditions: the Humboldtian or Berlin model, and the specialized French system. This paper argues that the centralized, state-directed, utilitarian university was a powerful form, which survived more or less intact from the Enlightenment to the later nineteenth century. It was an invention of the enlightened absolutist state, and Napoleon’s University was just one form of it, though an influential one. In post-1815 Europe the model retained its attractions for both neo-absolutist governments and liberal ideologues, and it was only the advance of secularization, industrialization, and political democracy that concluded a century-old phase. And what then emerged, and has survived, was a fusion of the Humboldtian and the state-directed ideals.